Lake DeGray, Arkansas

Sunset at Lake DeGray

Sunset at Lake DeGray

I am going to give another “shout out” for Arkansas. LakeDeGray is a US Army Corps of Engineer project. There are six class A campgrounds with a total of 428 campsites. Corps camping also includes 2 class B campgrounds and a primitive camping area. DeGray Lake Resort State Park is located on the north shore and offers in addition to camping a newly renovated 96 room lodge and restaurant, an 18 hole golf course, tennis, and horseback riding. Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 is located along the eastern shore of the lake. Dedicated in April, 1994, the scenic byway runs for about 237 miles and has long been recognized as one of the most scenic drives in America.

Fishing pole in boatIt is a beautiful and a non-crowded lake. We had previously checked out most all the Corps campgrounds on a motorcycle ride, but found for our tastes the Alpine Ridge Campground to be our favorite. There are 49 campsites. Many are first-come-first-serve (non-reservable) and are on the water. The good news is that it is not that crowded so should you arrive on a weekday you more than likely would not have any problem getting an unreserved spot. You can reserve sites online, which is what we did and then switched to a water front site when we got there. Each site has privacy and lots of shade. If you have your senior pass (62+) the Core campsites are only $6 to $9/night, depending if you are on the water or not. (If you don’t have the Senior Pass it’s $12/$18.) They have electrical hookups. They do not have water hookups, but fresh water can be easily filled at the dump station on the way in. Water stations are situated throughout the campground for jug filling.

The lake has a shoreline of 247 miles and the reservoir covers 13,400 acres. The fishing is suppose to be great (although Bob and I did not even get a nibble, but that’s pretty normal). Their website touts that it offers “Arkansas’ finest fishing for hybrid stripped bass and great angling for walleye, crappie, bream and catfish.” During the warm months people water-ski, sail, snorkel, kayak, as well as just boat for pleasure. They even scuba dive on the lake. Even on a busy weekend you hardly see another boat. There are lots of fingers of shoreline as well as little islands where you can boat out to, unload you stuff and play for the day.

 If you ever get to Arkansas, you absolutely have to check this lake out!

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Porta-Bote (or Fold-A-Boat)

Porta-bote in action

Porta-bote in action

The RV lifestyle is not going to work unless we can get out on the water. Problem is how to bring all the toys with you when hauling a fifth-wheel. We absolutely have to bring the Harley, and we absolutely have to have a boat. Bob is researching a swivel-trailer that hooks into the frame of the fifth-wheel so we can pull the motorcycle. But pulling a boat in addition to the Harley? Not going to work.

We remembered a funny little boat we saw a few years ago while we were camping in Florida. It is called a Porta-Bote, or Fold-A-Boat. It folds up flat and is the size of a surfboard. We watched the fellow unload and then unfold it. Within a very short time he had it ready to put in the water. We watched in disbelief as he pulled it to the water, put his motor on the mount and then head off down the water. The boat looked sturdy and was moving at an impressive pace. Wow, we thought. We need to check into that thing!

When the boat came back at the end of the day, Bob headed over and quizzed him as to what the heck it was. What a find. The fellow sang high praises. He said that it is made of high impact polypropylene which is an engineered resin originally developed for use in the aerospace field. It is so hard it is resistant to sharp rocks and/or collisions; impervious to sand, salt, and acid. He said it is virtually indestructible as well as being very light weight. He gave us the information we needed to do our research. We soon found that they don’t come on the resale market very often. We kept looking and were excited when we finally found one on Craig’s List last year. It belonged to a widow in Arkansas. She and her husband had only used it a couple of times before he passed away. It is 12’ foot long. (24” wide and 3” thick when folded).  Just what we had decided we wanted as the 8′ and the 10′ seemed to us to be a bit too small and the 14′ too long.

Indian Pass Sunset

Indian Pass Sunset

We took it with us last year to Indian Pass, Florida where we spent the winter. It worked perfectly. We were able to load it on the truck for transport when we had the motor home, but since buying the fifth-wheel we have been in a quandary wondering how the heck we were going to haul it.  The company sells RV mounts so one can put it on the side of the vehicle; or on the roof, but they are $329 (often on sale for $199). Bob was also reluctant to drill holes in the trailer, although if need be he would have done so. Some people load it on top, but even though it folds into the size of a surf board, we hated the idea of driving down the road, not being able to see it and wondering if it blew off or not. It is 12’ long, so we did not think we would be able to get it in the trailer, just because of angles. But…yeah! We were pleasantly surprised when we tried it as it fits easily and lays on the floor without being in the way at all. Problem solved.

Bob and Finnean fishing

Bob and Finnean fishing

It is a great little boat. Despite the flexible floor, it feels very sturdy. Even Finnean (our Westie) feels very safe and secure riding in it. We have a 6 hp motor on it, and although it works fine, we are thinking that a 9 hp would be better. It’s great for fishing. We are thinking about buying the bow ladder that the company sells so we can jump in when we want to go for a swim.

Unfolding it and getting it out on the water takes less than 20 minutes. Here’s how we do it:

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

Arkansas? Where? What’s Arkansas? That’s what my friends from California ask. Even the Weather Channel tends to ignore Arkansas. All the states surrounding Arkansas have their names identified on the weather map; but Arkansas’ name is sadly missing. And then I am noticing that the travel blogs either miss Arkansas altogether or they make a brief stop in Little Rock (maybe because the Weather Channel notes it on their map?) I feel a calling! I have to educate everyone that will listen about this beautiful state; Hot Springs in particular.

When we first moved here, four years ago, I was told that Arkansas is the only state that has borders with five other states: Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana. I was told that Arkansas (being in the middle of course) was left undeveloped and natural (the state  logo is: The Natural State) so that the bordering states would have a place to come to for hunting, fishing, golfing, boating, and relaxing, which is why there is so little industry here. Whether that is true or not, I cannot tell you; but I do know that there are very few places in the United States where one can drive for hours and see only a handful of cars. You can get anywhere in the state without having to get on a major highway.

Lake Catherine

Lake Catherine

There are many beautiful and interesting places in Arkansas, one really can’t go wrong almost anywhere you visit. The beauty of Hot Springs is that there are so many wonderful state and federal campgrounds within a few miles of downtown: Gulpa Gorge Campground, Lake Catherine, Lake Ouachita (my favorite), Lake DeGray State Park, and Brady Mountain (Army Coors of Engineers). I am not big on private campgrounds, mainly because of the expense, but if you are interested in rock hunting, Coleman Crystal Ron’s Mine has a campground charging $12/night, or $300 a month. You can walk to the mine to hunt for crystals from your campsite!

Thermal waters

Thermal waters

Hot Springs itself is actually a national park. (Something not told to the tourist but important to know is that in the downtown area, one side of the street [the side with all the bath houses] is National Park, and the opposing side is city. The reason this is important to know is that if you are going to get a speeding ticket, make sure you are on the city side, as the National Park side’s fines are double.) A colloquial name for Hot Springs is “The Spa City.” Hot Springs gets its name from the naturally thermal spring waters found there. There are wonderful walking trails that take you up above the town by the thermal waters.

Bath House Row

Bath House Row

A must is to spend a day at one of the bath houses. Before doing so, take the tour at The National Park Bath House. They do a wonderful  as well as entertaining job of educating you on the history of the bath houses. My favorite spa is Quapaw Bath House, mainly because it is one of only two that use the actual waters from the springs. You can pop in just to sit in the shared thermal pool for only $18. The water has been Carbon-dated at 4,000 years old and is high in silica, calcium, magnesium, free carbon dioxide, bicarbonate and sulfate. It has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. Of course there are private baths and a whole range of spa packages.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens is just one of the must see’s. It is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the Natural State. The botanical garden is on a 210 acre peninsula  and is the University of Arkansas. It doesn’t matter what time of the year one visits, it is spectacular as well as magical. Christmas time is especially sensational.

The downtown area has the Gangster Museum, a Wax Museum, the historical Arlington Hotel where Al Capone stayed, restaurants and shops. Our favorite spot is the Ohio Club, which is reported to be the hangout of Al Capone. It is just a fun, happening place!

As far as Hot Springs Village, CBS News aired an interview with the vice president from RealtyTrac regarding a recent study on: “The Top Cities for Boomers to Lead the Good Life.” Hot Springs Village was rated the number 3 place to retire in the United States. 

The criteria used was:

  1.  Places that have a high percentage of retirees already and that have established themselves as retirement hot spots.
  2.  Not only must they be good places to live, but must have markets with price appreciation and also a good rental investment, so that those who are not ready to retire now can buy a house, rent it out and make money in the interim.
Hot Springs Village

Hot Springs Village

And, Chicago’s: Golf Chicago TV had a segment on Hot Springs Village. The introduction was to stay tuned to hear about a little-known golf mecca in Arkansas (and the word Arkansas was said with a distinct “oh my gosh, Arkansas?” tone). They touted the nine golf courses, 13 lakes, and beautiful walking trails as a must see. (Have to watch the intro, then scroll forward to 17:48 to see the segment on the Village.)

 Hopefully I have whetted your interest in visiting Hot Springs. It really is a great spot to visit. (I don’t know why the Weather Channel doesn’t put it on their map???)

 

Bob’s Firefighter Tribute Harley

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Arkansas has beautiful roads to ride. Doesn’t seem to matter what direction one goes: right or left, all roads lead to something wonderful with wide, tree-lined sweeping turns, fabulous scenic views and very little traffic. We had a Harley Davidson Dyna Wide Glide when we first moved from South Carolina to Arkansas. It was a great bike, but over long distances it wasn’t that comfortable for me and it did not have much storage.

Took delivery in February at the nearby market parking lot....snowed an hour after we got it home!

Took delivery in February at the nearby market parking lot….snowed an hour after we got it home!

We wanted to have a unique custom bike so Bob started looking for a Road Glide that he could personalize and make it a one of kind. He looked on the internet and found a 2009 Road Glide that had been totaled by the insurance company. The bike had approximately 600 miles on it, lots of extras and little damage. Because it had been totaled by the insurance company, we were able to purchase it for about 1/3 of the cost of a new one.

The bike was in Reno, Nevada. We paid a trucker $500 to deliver the bike to Arkansas. Bob repaired and replaced the damaged parts, put extended saddle bags on it and custom fenders, all of which we found either at motorcycle swap meets or on EBay. We had the bike custom painted by a local man in Hot Springs. Bob drew out the design and did most of the prep work. The whole project took about 6 months. We are extremely happy with the bike. It is definitely unique and gets a lot of attention wherever we go. Best of all, it honors the firefighters. (Bob is a retired Los Angeles City Firefighter). On one side of the tour pack it has the 9/11 Flag Raising; the other side has a picture of a horse-drawn steamer (original fire engine) engulfed in fire; on both saddle bags is a fire rescue helicopter (Bob worked helicopter); along with some Harley graphics. The painter was incredible. He surprised us and added the Fireman’s Prayer to the top of the tour pack. He was worried that we might not like it, but when he saw the tears in both of our eyes when we read it, as have many since, he knew he had made the right decision. It is beautiful.

Fireman’s Prayer

When I am called to duty, God,
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life,
whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
before it is too late,
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert,
and hear the weakest shout,
quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling,
to give the best in me,
to guard my friend and neighbor,
and protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I must answer death’s call,
bless with Your protecting hand,
my family one and all.

Amen.