Little Rock, Arkansas—Worth a Stop
Once again, we have hit the road! Attempting to escape winter in Indiana, we thought the Southwest would be fitting, besides offering something different from our previous Florida winter excursions. As 2014 slipped away, we warmed up the Airstream, de-iced and de-winterized it, packed in our clothes and provisions, and prepared for several weeks on the road. We were headed toward warmer climes . . . at least, that was what we had envisioned. First night’s stop—Little Rock, Arkansas, 500 miles from home, a relatively easy drive.
Downtown Riverside Park is the place to park your rig if you want to take in the sights of this city and be close to some great activities. Not a terribly big place, the park has 61 sites. Owned by the city of Little Rock, it offers full hookups at a reasonable $20-some rate. What it lacks in ambience and a natural setting, is made up for in its prime location. Want to see the skyline of Little Rock from your RV windows? Have a site adjacent to the scenic Arkansas River? How about being within walking distance of a great Riverwalk Trail? That and more are the benefits of staying here. We wasted no time getting out and about.
Adjacent to the campground, stretching across the Arkansas River, the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge is a pedestrian/bike-only walkway that leads directly to the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. We headed over.
The Clinton Presidential Library is situated on 17 acres of land located on the banks of the Arkansas River. The $160-million-dollar structure is the largest presidential library in terms of physical area (the Reagan Library has the greatest space overall, due to adding the Air Force One Pavilion in 2005) and it contains the largest collection of presidential papers and artifacts in U.S. history. It has an authentic replica of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, as well as an interesting collection of personal memorabilia from Clinton’s two terms in office. Having previously toured the museum when we passed through Little Rock several years ago, Chris will tell you that the exhibits are as interesting as he suspects Bill Clinton himself to be. It would be a totally worthwhile place to take in.
Making it even more worthwhile was the temporary exhibit currently showing, featuring a Chihuly Collection of glass sculpture. Dale Chihuly has become renowned for his ambitious architectural installations now found around the world in cities, museums, and gardens. He is credited with elevating the perception of the glass medium from a craft to a fine art. Regrettably, we failed to take in the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle last summer, but this exhibit gave us a second chance.
Darkness was falling as we made our way back across the bridge to settle in for the evening, our first night on the road. With a chill in the air, we didn’t have our usual desire to do a loop around the campground, but fortunately I had reason to step outside before turning in. An incredibly, unexpected and stunningly beautiful sight was right outside our door. No doubt about it—Chris would have to see this!
There are actually three pedestrian bridges crossing over the Arkansas River in close proximity to each other. Koontz Electric installed over 1,300 Philips fixtures on all three of the bridges and with each fixture being able to deliver 16.7 million colors. After some research I learned that the bridges can be programmed to produce individualized light shows for each bridge, or synched with each other to create the same scheme across all three. The possibilities for color combinations and patterns are virtually endless. The result is a diverse collection of gorgeous light schemes which glint against the skyline and reflect in the river. It was an amazing sight to see.
Yet another bright sight greeted us next morning. The dawn light was creating colorful hues on a cloud-filled sky. Shining directly into our bedroom window, it impelled me to jump out of bed, throw on warm clothes, grab my camera and dash out the door. As the sun broke the horizon, I caught the moment, illustrating how perfect our location was.
Our pre-breakfast walk took us back over the same Clinton Bridge. With the sun reflecting off Little Rock’s “sky-scraping” buildings, that’s our campsite overlooking the scene. From that high point, we had a great view.
The Clinton Library has an equally impressive location. Built on the opposite bank of the river, the building is cantilevered over the water. Its location was intended to echo Clinton’s campaign promise of “building a bridge to the 21st century.”
The Library Complex is part of a 30-acre city park, which is known as the River Market District. In the 1980s the area was struggling, with businesses departing and warehouses standing empty. The concept of a River Market envisioned a way to bring people back and now includes restaurants and cafes, the Market Hall (with 15 dining establishments), a permanent facility for a Farmer’s Market, the Riverfront Park, Riverfest Amphitheater, River Market Pavilions, the Presidential Center, the Arkansas Nature Center, hotels and much more.
Connecting it all, as well as threading through restored natural areas is a 17-mile loop known as the Arkansas River Trail. A rail trail, it runs along both the north and south banks of the Arkansas River and makes Little Rock the only city in the country with four pedestrian bridges that stretch over a navigable body of water. As an alternative route, bicyclists can take extensions to add another 10 miles of paved trail. Or depart from the trail and bike 15.5 miles to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, where a great hiking trail goes to the top of (where else?) Pinnacle Mountain.
Not realizing what lay ahead down this pathway, we followed as it led away from the Clinton Library.
The Central Arkansas Nature Center was an attraction that tempted us to stop. Free admission to a very well-designed facility is an asset to the entire Market District. We found excellent indoor displays and a great bookstore, as well as outdoor areas with boardwalks winding through wetlands.
Further on we passed the Riverfest Amphitheater, as well as the River Market Pavilions. Outdoor fountains, bricked pavement, landscaped gardens—this area was excellently planned. A real asset for the city.
Two blocks up from the river we were in the heart of downtown Little Rock. Hoping to find a warm morning drink led us in this direction; the holiday decorations were an added treat.
Market Hall is a year-round, indoor market that encompasses 10,000 sq. ft. under a single 40’ vaulted roof. Appearing to be the main focal point of the district, it is a place that entices your sense of smell and taste. There is a diverse medley of owner-operated shops and stalls selling everything from barbecue to sweets to ethnic foods and more. Adjacent to the building is the outdoor Farmers’ Market permanent pavilion. Operating on Tuesdays and Saturdays from May through October, you can find a medley of home-grown foods and crafts.
Regrettably, we were a few weeks too late (or too early).
But we did find those morning drinks to warm our chilly fingers.
Soon enough our Little Rock explorations came to an end. The trail led further on, but we didn’t follow. It was time to hit the highway and move on. As they say in the theater—“Leave them wanting more” . . . that was the mantra for our visit here. Little Rock was our kind of place . . . something to satisfy us on many levels. We’ll take with us a desire to return . . . when we have more than part of a day to spend . . . and the day is slightly warmer.
And not to forget to reserve that special site.
From the banks of the Arkansas River,
Airstream Travelers, Melinda and Chris