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Jet Skiing on Lake Hamilton

Hot Springs has five lakes in the area, with the main three being Lake Ouachita, Hamilton, and Catherine. Each have their own unique qualities and traits about them that sets them apart from the others. But, there is one thing I know that they all have in common, and that is that I would love to ride a jet ski on any and all of them…

 Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine are both man-made lakes created by Arkansas Power and Light, Catherine was created in the 1920′s with the building of Remmel Dam, and Hamilton in 1932 with the creation of Carpenter Dam. The forming of these lakes combined with the thermal waters really helped out with tourism in Hot Springs in the early years, and continues to draw people here today. Lake Ouachita is the largest lake within Arkansas’ boundaries encompassing 690 miles of shoreline and 40,000 acres of water. Ouachita is also a very frequented destination for scuba divers around the world, since the lake is so clean. I however, decided to ride the jet ski on Lake Hamilton…and I had a blast!

I hadn’t been on a jet ski, before yesterday, in 15+ years so it felt really good to get back on one. If you’ve never ridden a jet ski, then you definitely need to as soon as possible! Being on a jet ski is such a cool and unique experience because it is relatively small giving you a TON of maneuverability, while not giving up any power or speed. I was speeding by boats left and right while turning on a dime, and being able to get into much shallower water than a boat would. Jet skis are even powerful enough to sling around a loaded tube from the back of it. I’ve seen many people being thrown back forth across the wake of a jet ski, while desperately clinging to their tube!

There are many places to rent boats and watercrafts/toys on and around all the lakes around Hot Springs. I would suggest going to Salty Dog Boat & Jet Ski Rental for any of your Lake Hamilton needs. They’re in a great location and have great service.

In closing, if you haven’t ever ridden a jet ski on the lake, then you aren’t using the lake’s full fun potential. Get out there and do it! Enough said.

Contact: (501) 525-6400, www.saltydogboatingcenter.com

Location: Lake Hamilton, Hot Springs, 71913

There are few things that I think everyone should do before they die: read the Bible, see a Dave Matthews concert, go skydiving, and I officially have a new one to add to the list…play disc golf at Cedar Glades park.

I was really excited to be going out to play disc golf at Cedar Glades because it would be my first time ever playing this sport as well as being inside Cedar Glades Park, which is located close to downtown Hot Springs. I have only ever heard good things about the fast-growing sport that is disc golf, and so had been wanting to play for some time. The sport of disc golf is basically exactly how it sounds, frisbees+golf. There are three basic discs (just like different golf clubs) the driver, mid-range, and putter discs. Each disc differs in weight, size, and how much it curves after you throw it.  And, just like on a real golf course, there are 18 holes with the par varying depending on the hole. There are even some holes with a par 5!

In the disc golf world, the Cedar Glades park course is actually a pretty well-known venue. It’s considered a world-class disc golf course, designed by one of the premier disc golf course designers, John Houck.

Now, you might be thinking that since this course was designed by a legendary course designer and attracts people from across the country, then maybe it’s not fit for a beginner or someone who’s never played before, but actually it’s designed to be easy enough for beginners, yet stay challenging enough for the pros. My dad and I actually got around 13 pars between the two of us, even though we’ve never played before.

Even in the 105 degree heat, we played through 18 holes of disc golf in relative comfort. I mean, yeah we were sweating a lot and had to drink a lot of water, but since the course is smack dab in the middle of a forest, there’s shade practically everywhere you go, lending you a cool breeze and blockage from the sun!

Cedar Glades park has many features and fun things to do besides the disc golf course, including; 15 miles of mountain bike and hiking trails (recently voted as best trails in the state of Arkansas by Mountain Bike Series), camping areas, remote control car track, an ADA-accesible control deck, and a climbing wall!

All in all, I had a great time playing disc golf for the first time on a great course, created by a well-known designer, in a park that has a lot of things to offer. I definitely recommend going out and trying disc golf if you haven’t already, and know that if you do you will have a blast! I hope you will go out there and play sometime, I know I’ll be back there soon!

Contact: cgpark@garlandcounty.org, (501) 623-2854

Location: 461 Wildcat Rd. Hot Springs, AR, 71901

Castleberry Riding Stables

Looking for something to do that’s off the beaten path, and out of the sights and sounds of the city? Then Castleberry Riding Stables may be just the place for you!

If you’ve ever been horseback riding, then you know how rewarding an experience it can be. Just you and your horse, experiencing the great outdoors…it’s a unique experience all its own. I’ve never been much of a horse guy (by that I mean horses usually scare the crap out of me), but Mr. Castleberry made me feel relaxed and right at home atop the huge, old, white stallion I was on, named Dakota. Castleberry Stables was featured in Southern Living Magazine, is the oldest riding stable in Arkansas, and is in a great spot due to its ability to make you feel like you’re a thousand miles away from the city while remaining relatively close to downtown Hot Springs (only about 8 miles away). I was also pleased with the rustic look of the waiting area and welcome center, complete with more Western memorabilia then you could think of.

The Castleberry stables house around 15 horses of different sizes, ages, and colors, so if you’re an experienced rider, or a first-timer like myself, Castleberry Riding Stables has a horse to fit your needs. Mr. Castleberry personally leads you throughout the Ouachita Mountain range, across beautifully scenic trails and through small brooks and streams on a 45 minute ride. He also knows a lot about the history of the Ouachita Mountain range, as well as many rivers and animals in the area. Castleberry also has hay rides, breakfast rides, and is available for retreats for churches and civic organizations.

I had a lot of fun out at Castleberry Riding Stables (and overcame my fear of horses), and would highly recommend it to anyone in the Hot Springs or Hot Springs Village area, as it is one of the most fun things I’ve done this summer. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sitting atop such a powerful animal, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. As I mentioned in some of my earlier blogs, this would be a great place to take a date that is fun and unique, Mr. Castleberry even mentioned that it was a good date spot.

So, if you’re ever in the area and are looking for something fun to do, you should definitely check out Castleberry Riding Stables!

Contact: (501) 623-6609, (501) 624-7291

Location: 537 Walnut Valley Rd., 71909

Tiny Town USA

Since I am nearing the end of the summer, I want to try and visit a couple of places that might not be as well-known as the big, and well publicized attractions in the city. I came across the idea of going to Tiny Town from the recommendation of my boss and many other good reviews written about it online. Not only does Tiny Town have some great online reviews, but it was even featured on the Jay Leno show some years ago in a segment about the most interesting people in Arkansas…

Tiny Town USA is in essence a town made of many miniature models/figures of varying shapes and sizes, complete with mini churches, fire depots, trains, animals, an amusement park, a 4 ft. tall mountain, celebrities, wild west scenes, and much more. Tiny Town has been in business for 47 years and counting, and has been a place of enjoyment for people of all ages. As a review I read on their website said, Tiny Town really is a place for all ages. Before arriving at Tiny Town, I thought it was going to be an attraction geared only towards children and little kids, however I found myself caught up in the detail and hard work put into these mini sculptures. You really can’t help but appreciate all the sweat and resourcefulness that this family has put into a project of this magnitude. All of Tiny town’s miniatures and buildings are hand carved and made by the Moshinskie family. Also, almost all of the miniatures and buildings are made from recycled material and odd bits of extra material lying around. The most expensive piece to make out of the whole town was a building that cost $4 to build.

I have to say that what makes Tiny Town so enjoyable is the staff that runs it. It’s entirely run by the Moshinskie family who love showing off their family’s man-made attraction. A member of their family will give you a tour around Tiny Town and tell you many interesting facts about the artwork you see, as well as answer any questions you might have. Another interesting aspect of Tiny Town is its ability to be so interactive with customers. Throughout the room there are many buttons and levers to press that make things happen throughout the small town!

If you’re looking for a day of fast paced excitement and exhilaration, I wouldn’t suggest going to Tiny Town USA. However, if you want to go somewhere where you can see something worth appreciating and have fun while you’re there….I would suggest you stop by one of Hot Springs’ longest running attractions, Tiny Town.

Contact: www.tinytowntrains.com, (501) 624-4742

Location: 374 Whittington Ave, 71901

Quapaw Baths & Spa

I wouldn’t be doing the Spa City justice if I didn’t visit an actual Spa right? Right. If you’re a young person who enjoys relaxing, getting pampered, getting massaged or any of the above, then Hot Springs is the perfect place for you! Historic bathhouse row, in downtown Hot Springs offers you a chance to take a peek into the city’s past and learn why Hot Springs became so famous in the 1900′s through today.

 Participating in a massage or bath on bathhouse row puts you in some pretty good company. With big names such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Al Capone, and the legend Babe Ruth, people from every walk of life have come from all over the country to take part in the thermal waters that gush out of the ground at 143 degrees F. With the problem of what to blog about next solved, the only question that remained was which bathhouse to go to…The Buckstaff bathhouse is a very traditional styled spa and lets you experience the same type of treatment that people experienced back in the “Golden Age of Bathing.” While the traditional style may appeal to the older generation, I chose to visit the newest addition to bathhouse row, Quapaw Baths & Spa. Where as the Buckstaff is the classic bathhouse option, the Quapaw could be considered the more modern option.

To give you some background on where I am coming from, before my visit to the Quapaw, I had never been to a Spa or had a massage of any kind, and to tell you the truth, I was a bit skeptical. But, as I stepped into the thermal waters, all my skepticism melted away. The Quapaw Baths & Spa is a very clean establishment that has a friendly and inviting staff, warm tone, and high-quality equipment to get you loose and relaxed. The Quapaw offers a wide variety of different packages for customers to choose from including things like massages, facials, body polishes, and many more. I chose to get an hour soak in the thermal waters accompanied by a 25 minute swedish massage….I’ve never felt more relaxed in my life.

Now, for those of you who are a little timid of the whole being clothed in just a robe thing, relax (no pun intended). The staff of the Quapaw makes sure that even the most shy customers feel right at home in their establishment, which is complete with personal massage and changing rooms.

Overall, I went to the Quapaw bathhouse a little skeptical of the whole “massage and spa scene,” but left with a new appreciation for it. The expertly trained masseuse that worked on me, massaged out some knots in my back that I’m sure have been there for a long time. I would definitely recommend the Quapaw Baths & Spa bathhouse to anyone visiting the area, and am sure if you are a skeptic like I was, that after one visit, you will see it in a new light…

Contact: www.quapawbaths.com, (501) 609-9822

Location: 413 Central Ave, 71901

I just got back from visiting a few likely “date spots” in the Spa City. I tried to choose some activities that are often frequented by people going on dates, so that I could give you the 411 on the best “date spots” in the city. I went to two places that are pretty much the staple of first dates, the movie theater and mini golf. This, is what I found…

I decided to start by checking out one of the two movie theaters in town, the Behind the Mall Cinema (BTMC) located off of Central Ave, behind the mall (duh). Well, I wish I could say that I had a great movie going experience, but that was just simply not the case. The BTMC started rubbing me the wrong way because they would only accept cash for tickets and concessions. I mean come on, it’s 2010, if you don’t accept plastic by now something is wrong. So, I had to venture over to their ATM machine, which charged me $2.00 for being without cash, and then headed to the ticket line, which brings me to my next grievance. The BTMC sold their tickets for the show and concessions from the same line! Which means that it took people twice as long to get through the line and into their seats. A separate line for concessions and tickets would help cut down the huge lines, as well as speed up the time that customers get into their seats. Although the lines were painfully long and slow, the friendly staff helped ease some of the anger that I was slowly building for the small theater. Needless to say, I wasn’t too excited for the movie once I finally sat down…in my obnoxiously squeaky seat. On a good note, the lights dimmed and the movie started right on time, which isn’t always the case at movie theaters, but unfortunately there were some other things that needed improving.

I am definitely not a movie theater critic or anything, but in my opinion, in order to have a great movie experience, the theater needs to have stadium seating, or at least a way to always have an unobstructed view of the screen. This however was not the case for the BTMC, and resulted in my view being partially obstructed the entire movie. I also felt like I wasn’t getting the full movie experience because the movie wasn’t fit right for the screen, in the beginning of the movie the director’s name hung halfway off the screen.

After having a bad experience at one “date spot,” I almost lost hope for the city, but then I pulled into the parking lot of Funtrackers Family Park and my spirits were immediately lifted! Funtrackers is an excellent miniature golf “date spot,” complete with go karts, bumper boats, and a fully stocked arcade. The focal point of their mini golf course is a huge volcano that actually erupts every couple of minutes, spurting a 25 foot ball of fire! With waterfalls and caves to go into, Funtrackers mini golf course is one of the best around and a very desireable place to take that special someone. But the fun doesn’t end there! Funtrackers boasts the fastest go karts in town, and when you combine that with an exciting fast-paced track you can only come to one conclusion…fun!

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend going to the Behind the Mall Cinema (try checking out the Carmike Central City 10 theater) for anyone, it is in dire need of some upgrades. However, Funtrackers Family Park has many different things to do and is fun for everyone, including young people! So, if you’re going on a date in Hot Springs…take her mini golfing.

Location: Funtrackers Family Park – 2614 Albert Pike, 71913 Behind the Mall Cinema -4501 Central Ave, 71901

Contact: Funtrackers Family Park – http://www.funtrackersfamilypark.com/, (501) 767-8140 Behind the Mall Cinema- (501) 525-0883, http://www.btmcinema.com/

How could I have a blog about fun things to do in Hot Springs and not mention Magic Springs & Crystal Falls?! If you don’t know, Magic Springs & Crystal Falls is a popular amusement/water park located in Hot Springs, and is actually a pretty big deal. So, I decided that I should go and experience the fun for myself!

Magic Springs is a fairly large theme park with enough rides and entertainment to suit anyone’s needs. Yes, I found that between the thrill rides and family rides, all the way down to the kiddie rides, Magic Springs caters to every age venue. Between the variety of rides and entertainment in the theme park and all the different water rides and slides in Crystal Falls, I doubt anyone could not have a great time once they step through the entrance gates.

I’m not gonna lie, it had been a long time since I last rode an amusement park ride. On top of that, I had never been on a roller coaster that flipped upside down. So, you can sympathize with me when I felt a little apprehension at walking through the gates, down the sidewalk, and smack into a huge yellow iron beast, complete with loops, flips, twists, turns, and gut wrenching drops…named The Gauntlet. Right then and there, I vowed to ride the Gauntlet before I left the park…

My girlfriend and I decided to try out some of the water park stuff before we rode the coasters, and started out by taking a dip in the lazy river and wave pool. The lazy river was very cooling and refreshing with enough current to move you swiftly through the park. Having been to the water park in Little Rock (Wild River Country) recently, I feel I have the right to compare the two. Wild River Country’s lazy river was rather warm and slow-moving along with some of its other slides and rides, whereas with Crystal Falls, it is the opposite . The main thing that I think separates Crystal Falls from Wild River Country is the assortment of different water attractions that it offers. Not only do they have water rides that use one and two person tubes, but there are rides that use water mats and even boogie boards! Which brings me to the main new attraction at Crystal Falls, the Boogie Blast. Boogie Blast is a ride that lets people try their hand at catching some waves. The Boogie Blast generates a constant wave (big enough to make Bodhi from Point Break happy) that allows for a long, safe, and fun ride for beginners and experts, which makes it fun for everyone!

After cooling off in Crystal Falls, we changed our mindset and decided to work our way through the long list of Magic Springs’ attractions. We started off with some of the older and more classic rides such as Arkansas Twister (a great wooden coaster), Dr. Dean’s Rocket Machine (a rocket that shoots you skyward), and the Rum Runner Pirate Ship (a pendulum based ride). But, as we neared the end of our stay in the park, I knew the time had come…I had to face my fears and ride The Gauntlet. After boarding the coaster, with feet dangling, I was having some second thoughts, but luckily a 10-year-old girl who was in line right behind me encouraged me to stick with it, and succeeded in making me feel like much less of a man. Needless to say, I conquered my fear, rode the giant behemoth and actually loved it! All the loops and corkscrews were a lot of fun and made me want to ride it again and again.

Overall, Magic Springs & Crystal Falls is a great place to go for some fun, especially for young people! This amusement/water park has fair prices and many thrilling and entertaining rides. If you get a chance, you should also check out one of the many concerts that go on at Magic Springs every year. I would highly recommend Magic Springs & Crystal Falls to anyone in the area!

Contact: (501) 624-0100, www.magicsprings.com

Location: 1701 E. Grand Ave., 71901

This week I wanted to blog about some of the great establishments and opportunities to check out that are geared towards the art and shopping scene. Downtown Hot Springs has a multitude of great shops and stores that carry some very unique pieces of art for your viewing pleasure, including the popular Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).If you know me, then you know that a day of art and shopping isn’t my idea of a perfect day (if you catch my drift), but after spending the day at the MOCA and hopping around different shops in the downtown area, I clocked out from work pleased with what I discovered…

 The MOCA is a fairly new establishment moving into the newly renovated Ozark building on historic bathhouse row in 2009. The MOCA features art from many new artists from around the world as well as numerous works from big names that are recognizable throughout the globe. The major exhibits in the museum change quarterly, with something new coming in every few weeks or so. One of the major exhibits this quarter is a very distinguished name in photography, Ansel Adams. Adams was a master photographer of the American landscape from the 1920′s through the 1950′s. The museum displays 50 photographs by the legendary photographer, which in my humble opinion are actually pretty awesome to look at. Other big names displayed in the museum include Garcia (figurative expressionism), L.M. Chan (leather sculpture), Renzo (lucid realism), and even early sketchings from Rembrandt.

The MOCA is fairly small in size in terms of square footage, it took me around 30-45 min to walk through it, but maximizes the amount of art it displays despite the small amount of space. As I alluded to earlier, I did enjoy going through the MOCA and looking at the different art (the sculptures were my favorite). If you’re an art lover and in the area, you have to make the MOCA one of your stops.

The MOCA isn’t the only artist’s haven in the city however, the downtown area in the Spa City contains many galleries and shops that hold unique and often local art for your viewing pleasure, most of which is for sale. Some of the different galleries include the Fine Art gallery and the Blue Moon gallery, located right next to each other. I walked through both of these places and found many unique and local works from around the city. If I had some extra money to  spend, I would definitely go downtown and buy up some of the art in these shops. The fact that most of the artwork is from local artists in the area makes it that much more appealing.

Another thing to check out is the gallery walk that is held on the first Friday of every month. The gallery walk is a great time where you get a chance to stroll through the different art galleries downtown, with cheese and wine tasting stations set up throughout, and also get a chance to chat with the artists who also turn out for the event.

Overall, Hot Springs has a vibrant and enlivening art community with many opportunities to check out art in its varying forms. I, not being an art person, still found the chances to check out different works from big names to local artists enticing. So, I would definitely recommend checking out the MOCA and downtown galleries to anyone who has any interest in art and also to those of you who are simply looking for something fun to do in downtown Hot Springs.

Contact: MOCA -(501) 609-9966, www.museumofcontemporaryart.com, Blue Moon Art Gallery -(501) 318-2787 www.bluemoonartgallery.com

Location: MOCA -425 Central Ave, 71901, Blue Moon Art Gallery -718 Central Ave, 71901

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Yesterday I took some time to go and check out all the buzz surrounding Garvan Woodland Gardens. Any time I’ve ever heard someone mention Garvan Woodland Gardens, their sentence has always ended with, “You have to go see it, its beautiful,” or something to that effect. So, I figured it was about time that I did.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is basically a huge botanical garden that covers a wide area complete with koi ponds, waterfalls, smooth walkways, and many species of animals. The gardens are a  little way away from the main bustle of the city, but that’s definitely a good thing, I mean come on…who would want to go to a serene nature preserve within the sights and sounds of the city? Garvan Woodland Gardens was founded by Verna Cook Garvan, CEO of ABCO (A. B. Cook Industries) which was her father’s business, as CEO Verna was one of the first female Chief Executive Officers of a major southern manufacturing business. Mrs. Garvan took great care and time to personally pick out where each pathway would lead and also which trees needed to be cut to lay them. For 40 years Mrs. Garvan planted thousands of species of different flowers and plants that now form a superb collection. The gardens are now run by the Department of Landscape Architecture through the University of Arkansas.

I know that strolling through gravel pathways surrounded by blooming flowers and trees isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of a fun time, it’s not too high up on my fun list either. But, different people have different tastes and I’m writing this blog to appeal to many different tastes. So, if you’re into the nature and outdoor scene, this is the place for you! Once you make it to the Welcome Center in front of the gardens, you receive a map of all the different trails going through the gardens along with the names of the different categories of gardens inside the facility. The winding trails inside the gardens can lead you to a number of different attractions and features. You could spend hours in this place! For example, the Garden of Pine Wood, the Hixon Family Nature Preserve, and Dierks Promenade are some popular features available for your pleasure, just to name a few.

I actually did enjoy myself, prior to what I thought before entering the gardens, as I walked around the beautifully landscaped gardens and I would very highly recommend Garvan Woodland Gardens to anyone who enjoys walking and observing nature. I would also highly recommend this spot as a great date destination, a worker told me that they have hundreds of weddings and proposals a year there, so who could argue with those stats? So, overall if you don’t like walking, getting a little hot (its all outside), and/or observing some beautiful scenery then avoid this place, however if you do like any of those things you have to check out Garvan Woodland Gardens for sure.

Location: 550 Arkridge Rd, 71913

Contact: www.garvangardens.org, (501) 262-9300

Continuing my tour of entertainment and attractions in Hot Springs, I stepped aboard the Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat. I had heard many good comments about the Belle and decided that it definitely sounded like it was “blog-worthy.”

The Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat is a 225 passenger riverboat that takes you across the beautiful waters of Lake Hamilton. The Belle has been making its trek across Lake Hamilton for more than 25 years and is still going strong. It has 3 separate decks, 2 of which are enclosed and climate controlled allowing for a pleasant journey. The Belle also has multiple excursions you can choose from, including a sightseeing cruise, luncheon cruise, sunset dinner and dance cruise (the most popular), and even an ice cream social cruise during the summer months.

I chose to take the sightseeing cruise, which sails daily at 1 pm (also at 3 pm June-mid August). The Captain took us on a 15 mile journey of the lake which lasted a little over an hour. One of the many things I’ve learned this summer is that, if you want to have a good tour, you must have a good personality overseeing and narrating your tour with interesting and helpful information. And luckily, the Belle had just that. The Captain narrating our cruise gave me enough information concerning the history and life of Lake Hamilton and Hot Springs, that I now feel confident to write a book on the city. The Captain also made sure to point out many famous mansions and getaways known to belong to different celebrities, spicing up the tour with some humour along the way.

The Belle’s second deck offered a variety of foods, snacks, and drinks available for purchase at its snack bar, which makes the trip that much more enjoyable. I can’t speak personally for the quality of food served on the dinner cruises (because I was on the sightseeing cruise), however I did get a chance to peek at the menu and it had a very good selection of foods ranging from prime rib to shrimp and crab. But, the food must be good because the Belle even caters to different events going on in the city.

Overall, I had a very enjoyable time aboard the Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat and learned a lot about the lake itself. I am most definitely going to come back again and try one of the other cruises that they offer. The Belle is fun for you whether you’re by yourself or with friends, I would also highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good date activity. So, if you’re looking for a more relaxing and scenic attraction in the Spa City, climb aboard the Belle of Hot Springs, sit back, and take it easy on this fun-filled tour of Lake Hamilton!

Location: 5200 Central Hwy. 7 South, 71913

Contact: www.belleriverboat.com, (501) 525-4438

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