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I decided to get out today and do something that the Spa City is frequently favored for…hiking one of its many mountainous trails. Although I accomplish most of my experiences by myself, I was glad to have my mother accompany me on this hike. When I was a small boy, my grandparents always took on me atop West Mountain to hike the different trails, so I was eager to come back and see if I could remember any of it…

Sunset trail is the longest trail in Hot Springs National Park, encompassing more than 17 miles of terrain. My mom and I decided to forgo hiking the whole trail, and instead stuck to just the first section, which is 5.8 miles there and back.  As I often am with most of my ventures, I was surprised by how cool and breezy it was on the trail. Sunset trail winds in and out of the various trees growing on the mountain, creating a shaded and breezy environment.  The terrain on the trail changed from rocky gravel to clay and dirt multiple times. This particular trail is classified as moderately difficult, due to the many steep inclines and declines found throughout it.

I had a great time on the trail and enjoyed the many different views offered, observed the different kinds of wildlife (white-tailed deer, small garter snake, and box turtle) found throughout the trail and just being out in nature. The trail presented a multitude of opportunities for viewing downtown Hot Springs in a unique way, at a high elevation. Sunset trail even boasts a secret, known only to the locals. The duck. My mom and Aunt informed me of a look-out point available from West Mountain that over looks downtown, that they used to frequent with their boyfriends. They used to park there at night and look down at the city lights, which are said to take the shape of a duck (although my Aunt confessed that she wasn’t too  concerned about looking around at the lights while she was parked with her boyfriend)! 

 I had a great time hiking along Sunset trail on West Mountain and definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone! It was a very nostalgic experience for me, as I even recognized many of the big rocks and boulders I used to climb/play on when I was a kid. Sunset trail is just one of many nature and mountainous trails to hike in Hot Springs and seems to be one of the most popular trails in the area. Fun for all ages, especially young adults, I plan on coming back to Sunset trail and hiking the other parts of it! So, don’t forget to bring some bottled water (but don’t litter) and get out there and start hiking!

Contact: www.nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/sunset-trail.htm

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I wanted to visit some of Hot Springs’ oldest attractions, and after some extensive research (aka I googled it), I found that the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo (A.A.F.P.Z) is a Hot Springs attraction that has been entertaining people since 1902.

The A.A.F.P.Z was founded to amuse the huge influx of people, who at that time, came to the Spa city for the thermal baths and natural resources located within the area. In the early years, Hot Springs didn’t have much to offer people entertainment wise other than the springs themselves, so there was a big need for an attraction of some sort, and thus…the “Gator Farm,” as it was first called was born. In 1945, new management changed the name of the business and also added different kinds of animals that people could see and interact with.

I haven’t been to a zoo or a place to view animals since I was a little kid, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, how many fierce animals could you keep in downtown Hot Springs? The answer, somewhat surprised me…There must have been at least 50-60 gators and many more various animals on display at the A.A.F.P.Z. The location isn’t very big, but all the animals get adequate room and living conditions and seem to enjoy interacting with people.

As an added bonus, I caught the Farm at alligator feeding time, which is a must see. They feed their gators every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at noon, until around mid-October. The guys that get in the cage with these animals to feed them and put on a show are real professionals. The handlers get up close and personal with the gators and seem to just  barely pull their hands out of the animals’ gaping mouths just in the nick of time, as their snouts snap shut. I’m sure I was thinking the same thing as everyone else, as we all thought that feeding the big gators would be the most exciting part of the feeding, but the little gators (up to 4 feet) were by far the most intense! The big gators were kind of slow-moving and docile, just happy to get fed, but these little guys went crazy as soon as the handler stepped foot onto their territory. Leaping into the air to try to nip their feeder as well as each other, these smaller versions of their counterparts in the opposite cage were insanely aggressive, which the handler soon found out as he had to drop the feeding bucket and jump over the fence as the tiny gators swarmed him!

Is the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo the San Diego Zoo? No. But, for a small location, and cheap price, I believe this Hot Springs’ attraction is time and money well spent. If you’re not into the whole “gator scene,” the A.A.F.P.Z has many other animals on display, as well as a petting zoo to interact with many more well-behaved exotic animals.

I enjoyed my time at the A.A.F.P.Z and would recommend it to others around the Hot Springs area. The friendly and engaging staff are really helpful and make your time that much more pleasant. Good for families, kids, and young adults. The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo has something for everyone!

Location: 847 Whittington Ave, Hot Springs 70901

Contact: (501)623-6172, www.arkansasalligatorfarm.com

Walk of Fame

I recently heard about the Arkansas Walk of Fame attraction in downtown Hot Springs, so I decided to check it out. I had no expectations or pre-determined thoughts about it because I simply had never really heard much about it…

The Arkansas Walk of Fame was established in 1996 and is located in downtown Hot Springs on Central Avenue, right next to the Visitor’s Center. Basically, the Walk of Fame is a long row of plaques on the ground (over 25) depicting various well-known state figures, and their contributions to our society. Examples include Bill Clinton (former U.S President), Sidney Moncrief (Razorback and NBA basketball star), Douglas MacArthur (5 star general in the US Army), Pat Day (thoroughbred racing hall of fame) and many, many more.

The plaques themselves are really descriptive and give good details to highlight each of the Hall of Fame’s inductees. A downside for the Walk of Fame is that there’s no Tour Guide or audio information being given, you simply walk down the sidewalk and look at the different plaques line up. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “This doesn’t sound too exciting.” Well, if you thought this, you are definitely right. This being the case, I wouldn’t suggest the Walk of Fame to people who are looking for fun things to do in the Spa City, unless they are an extreme history buff on the state of Arkansas. For all others, it’s a fairly hot and boring experience.

As I wouldn’t go out in the city specifically looking for this attraction, it’s still an interesting thing to look at if you’re already in the area.

Location: Central Avenue, Hot Springs

Contact: http://www.arkansasties.com/Garland/Structures/WalkofFame/Walk.htm

Duck Tours

So, I finally gave in and did it…I rode a Duck. It seems like every time I get on the road I have at least 2 Duck sightings, and they are almost invariably packed full of people! So, I decided it was about time to get on a Duck, and see what they were all about…

For those of you who don’t know, riding a Duck in Hot Springs, although it may sound like it, doesn’t pertain to anything bizarre going on with animals and is  not gonna get you arrested for animal cruelty. The Duck Tours in Hot Springs are one of the most popular and best ways to have some fun while learning a little bit about the city. A Duck, originally called a DUKW by the Army, is an old WWII amphibious vehicle developed by the U.S to deliver cargo and troops from sea, directly to shore. The DUKWs were crucial in several battles during WWII and were also used in the Korean War. Today, the Ducks as the National Park Duck Tours calls them, are used in Hot Springs to give people a unique way to tour the city!

Upon stepping onto the Duck, I was prepared for an hour and a half of swimming in my own sweat, but it actually wasn’t near as bad as I thought. The Duck’s big and tall frame coupled with its wide open sides allows for passengers to get the most out of the cool breezes that blow across the lake, creating a fairly comfortable climate.

The tour guide, or captain as they are called, boarded the Duck and we were finally off. Our Captain, who was hilarious, reminded me of a cross between Bill Engvall in looks, and Larry the Cable Guy in his sense of humour. Mixed in with the humour however were many interesting facts about the city and its history. Whether I was lost in the beautiful scenery or laughing at jokes the Captain was making, I was entertained for the entirety of the trip.

The tour really took on a unique twist when the Captain turned the Duck towards the lake and, just like they were made to do…drove right in! Yes, the Duck Tour takes you across Hot Springs by land and water. While I think it’s top speed on the water is probably 2.5 mph, it was still exciting to be on the water in a vehicle with wheels!

Riding a Duck is a very unique experience and is something I would recommend to anyone visiting Hot Springs. I really enjoyed this experience and look forward to more in the future!

Location: 418 Central Avenue (Across from the historic Bath House Row)

Contact: (501) 321-2911, www.rideaduck.com

So, what better thing to do in Hot Springs to highlight some unique attractions around the city than by going trophy fishing with a legit guide? Well, the answer is nothing…That’s why I chose to tag along with Captain John T. Hall as he went out on one of his famed trophy striper fishing expeditions.

My day started by waking up well before dawn, at 3:15 am. Needless to say, I’m not much of a morning person, so waking up this early was only going to happen for a chance to catch some trophy fish. Mr. Hall’s other customer for the day, Dave Wallace, and I were met by Mr. Hall and his tricked out fishing boat at 4:00 am at a McDonald’s fairly close to where we were going to be putting in. As soon as I met John T. Hall I knew it was going to be a good day. Mr. Hall’s old school personality and way of doing things was original and energizing, which is much-needed when you are up that early in the morning.

We saw a multitude of animals on our way to the lake, including many deer. When we made it to Lake Ouachita Mr. Hall backed his boat into the water, and drove his truck back up to the parking lot. Once we were all settled into the boat, we were off. We went to the first spot of the day, one of John’s “honey holes” as he calls them, which was in fact right beside the Blakely Dam (if you don’t know about the Blakely Dam, feel free to read what I thought of my experience while I was there). Mr. Hall loaded up 7 rods and reels with some live shad (I’m sad to say the shad that we were using as bait were about the same size as a fish I would’ve caught on my own), cast them into the dark water, and thus begun our waiting game.

We didn’t have to wait too long before one of the rods began to dip low in the water and let out line furiously! Mr. Hall yelled to Dave to grab the rod and reel like his life was at stake. After a hard-fought battle, Dave’s fish finally breached the surface, a 12 pound monster over 2 feet long, where it was netted by Mr. Hall’s oversized net, big enough to fit two of me inside it. From that point on, we did some major damage to the school of fish surrounding our boat, as we hauled in 4 more fish, all weighing over 10 pounds.

The fishing itself was pretty uneventful after that as we moved to a few different “honey holes” which didn’t prove to be as sweet as the first. Although the fish throughout the rest of the day weren’t keeping us entertained, Mr. Hall did a great job making sure we weren’t bored. Whether it be through one of his many stories, feeding the blue heron with some dead shad, or giving us historical information and facts about the lake, Mr. John kept us interested when there was no fish activity. He even provided complimentary drinks and snacks aboard his vessel.

I would definitely go on another fishing trip with Mr. John T. Hall, and guarantee that anyone with him would have a great time on the lake with him, fish or no fish. But, with somebody who previously held the state record for striper, a ginormous 53 pounds, the latter is almost a given.

Location: 120 Waggoner Hot Springs, 71913

Contact: (501) 622-9972, www.fishing-boating.com/trophy-striper/

This past weekend was a first for me…It was the first time I had ever gone to the Blakely Dam on Lake Hamilton. My mom, who is a native of Hot Springs, has always told me stories about the Blakely Dam, saying things like “My friends and I used to dare each other to jump in the cold water.” Well, a few days ago I found out exactly what she was talking about.

Some good friends of our family came down to the Spa City to visit us recently, and even brought their boats so we could all go out on beautiful Lake Hamilton together. My girlfriend and I were excited about getting to go out on the lake and were anxious to jump in the water! That is however, until we jumped in the lake by our house and realized that the temperature of the lake was warmer than bath water. Yeah, not exactly what you would call refreshing on a hot summer’s day with the temperature ranging in the mid 90’s. So, anyway, we swam around for a little while, constantly diving to the bottom to try to get a little cooler, until it was time to get in the boats and head toward the Blakely Dam.

The water was pretty choppy that day because it was the weekend, and during the weekend there are more boats on the water, the more boats there are on the water, the more choppy it becomes. But luckily, as we rode the watery rollercoaster towards the dam, the number of boats started to thin out. And, by the time we were about 5 min away from the dam, there were only a couple of boats within our sight, which meant the lake regained its smooth covering once again.

 Now, we come to the part in the story where you could cue in the scary music to start to play. As I looked ahead toward our quickly approaching destination, skinny tendrils of fog began to creep up and around our boat! And, before I knew it, we were plunging bow first into a fog the likes of which I have never seen! Our visibility must have been around 5 feet or so, because we couldn’t even make out the boat we were following. With the horn repeatedly blowing to warn other boats of our location, we made our way slowly through the foggy haze and into a little break in the fog.

After everyone in our group found each other, we all cut the engines and took in our surroundings. With fog rising up against the steep-sided banks and gnarled trees twisting out to touch the water, it really did look like a scene from a scary movie! At this point, everyone was already getting cooled off by the fog and we hadn’t even put a toe to the water yet. Needless to say, I reached down and felt the water with my hand…and was surprised to find that it didn’t come out with icicles covering it! It was by far the coldest water I have ever felt, and growing up splashing around in the Spring river, that’s saying a lot. Well, of course we all had to “man-up” and jump in, and all I can say is, wow. I felt like I was in Alaskan waters!

To summarize my experience when I was at Blakely Dam, I felt like I was in another world. It seemed crazy to me that this was the same lake that I had just swam in a moment ago, and I was complaining because the water was too warm! I would highly recommend going to the Blakely Dam to anyone and everyone! If you are a visitor or native to Hot Springs and you haven’t been to the Blakely Dam, you need get on a boat and experience it for yourself. It is quite the adventure, and if you think you are “man” enough, dive right in…

Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum

 Have you ever seen anything on display anywhere that was so real and life-like that it was a little creepy? Well, that’s exactly how I felt the entire time I was in the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum. And, before you say anything, I know…I’ve been blogging an awful lot about museums lately right? Well, Hot Springs offers so many great museums, it’s a little hard not to…

The Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, as I recently learned from The Gangster Museum of America, stands now where the old Southern Club used to be. The Southern Club is where many people, including the notorious gangsters of the era (Capone, Luciano, etc) would come to relax and have some fun. Now converted to the Wax Museum, people still flock to this famous site to cool off and entertain themselves.

 I’ll admit it, at first I was a little skeptical as to how “real” the wax replicas would be but, was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The waxy models on display were like clones of the people they were representing, down to the approximate size and shape of the body, color, and life-like hair.

As soon as you enter into the Wax Museum there are already some Wax figures that watch you patiently, as they wait for you to buy a ticket and ascend the stairs up to the first big exhibit. The first exhibit at the top of the stairs was probably my favorite out of all of them, it depicted Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” This display featured Jesus and his disciples eating together around a long table the night before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Apart from looking so much like the actual painting, the exhibit featured an audio narration describing each character depicted from left to right. There were many interesting exhibits such as this one that made use of a lot of different audio and visual spectacles, such as narration and movement of the figures themselves.

Many of the rooms in the museum are devoted to a different and excentric theme. For example, there is a royal theme (Princess Diana, etc), horror theme (not recommended for children, it was freaking scary), and even a make-believe theme devoted to children’s tales and fables (pirates, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, etc).

All in all, the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum was a pretty good stop on my tour of Hot Springs’ attractions. I was pleased with the value and quality that went into each display and exhibit. I would recommend trying the Wax Museum to anyone and everyone at least once, and if you get nothing else out of it, at least it gives you the chance to step right on up to President Obama’s face and tell him exactly how you feel about him!

Location: 250 Central Ave, 71901

Contact: (501) 623-5836, www.rideaduck.com/waxmuseum/index.php

For this blog it’s back to the entertainment, and what better way to highlight Hot Springs’ attractions than by writing about something that is unique only to Hot Springs. That’s right, the Gangster Museum of America (TGMOA) is the only one of its kind! Located in historic downtown Hot Springs, the museum sits right around what used to be a hotbed of activity for the most infamous gangsters in the country…

 Upon entering TGMOA you are instantly greeted by some of the friendly staff, dressed in mobster clothes of course, and await your journey into the heart of the gangster era. Once the tour starts, your informative (and well dressed) guide takes you into the first room and begins telling you the history that the city has had with some of the most recognized names and faces this country has ever seen.

Many of the rooms in TGMOA are solely devoted to different “movers and shakers” in the gangster world. As the tour progresses into the various rooms, the tour guide provides you with many interesting facts orally as well as by playing a video (some of which are actual interviews with the gangsters themselves) on that specific gangster, in whose room you’re in, leaving you with as much information on gangsters as you could possibly want!  The tour provides great historically accurate information, while conveying it in an entertaining way. Big names grace TGMOA’s halls and rooms, names you might recognize such as; Al “scarface” Capone, Owney Madden, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, and many more are.

TGMOA has many fun and interactive displays as well, ranging from holding an authentic Tommy Gun to throwing back the lever on one of the actual slot machines used in clubs in that time period. Also on display are many different items that numerous gangsters owned and used including club signs, menus, wanted posters, as well as brass knuckles.

TGMOA is a great place to go for an afternoon of history and entertainment, and being the only one of its kind, it’s really the only place you could go to experience anything like this. I had a lot of fun at the museum and know you would as well. I would recommend this place to anybody who is visiting the area, as well as to Hot Springs natives, it’s good to know something about the history of your city…and with Hot Springs, that history is jam-packed, full of gangsters.

Location: 113 Central Avenue, 71901

Contact: (501) 318-1717, www.tgmoa.com

Ok, so the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn (L.P.L.I) isn’t exactly a thrilling attraction or a museum, but I figured people would want to know of some good places to stay while experiencing those things. I was informed of the Lakeside Inn by a co-worker who mentioned that it would be a good place to stay for people who are visiting the area, so I decided to tour it and this is what I found…

The Lookout Point Lakeside Inn is a quaint, award-winning, bed and breakfast that caters to your every need. Positioned on stunning lakefront property on lake Hamilton, this B&B is unparalleled in its surroundings and service. Once inside the Inn’s doors, you immediately take in the beautiful craftsmanship of the architecture. Stairs lead down into the receptionist lobby where you can check-in for your stay. The lobby is loaded with brochures, maps, and magazines that can give you ideas of what there is to do in the city, although if you’ve read my blogs you will already know all about them! The lobby is complete with a complimentary snack bar, refrigerator filled with sodas, and coffee maker.

With lake Hamilton jutting out before it, the plush interior of the building, and the continuous gardens surrounding it, it’s safe to say that the L.P.L.I is one of the most gorgeous establishments I’ve ever been to. As opposed to chain motels/B&Bs where every room is the same for every customer, the rooms located within the L.P.L.I are all unique and different, giving customers a specialized experience all their own!

I mentioned that the L.P.L.I won some awards earlier, to be more specific, some of those accolades include; being named best innkeepers of the year 2010-2011 by bedandbreakfast.com, being named a “Top Hotel-Celebration of Place” by National Geographic magazine, being mentioned as one of the top three B&Bs in Arkansas, being a featured garden in Master Gardener’s Tour,  and also having several articles written about it in Southern Living magazine. Now that’s a pretty impressive resume! Due to the majestic beauty of this Inn, many people choose to have their weddings and or honeymoons at the L.P.L.I.

For those who just like to have some time to relax and get away from the world, the L.P.L.I has several board games and books set up in its sun room. The Inn even has its own dock and pontoon boat to take people out on to explore the alluring lake. With so many things in it to do and being surrounded by so much natural beauty, you might not want to leave the comfort of the Inn to venture out into the city!

So, if you’re looking for a place to stay in Hot Springs that encompasses beauty, relaxation, and award-winning service, you could never go wrong with the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn.

Location: 104 Lookout Circle, Hot Springs 71913

Contact: (501) 525-6155, http://lookoutpointinn.com/

The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic (M.B.T.M) is next in line on my list of Hot Springs attractions to visit! The M.B.T.M show was very entertaining to say the least. With elaborate illusions and an alluring personality, Mr. Blade captured my attention from the get-go, the moment he stepped onto the stage.

One of the most enjoyable elements of the show was the fact that it felt so private and intimate. The Magic Lantern Theatre seats around 30-50 people so everyone feels included as there is always a rich supply of interaction with all who are present in the audience. Although people of any age would enjoy this production, due to the many sensational illusions, I found that much of the humor used, although hilarious, was over the heads of children. In fact, I found myself explaining many various things to my girlfriend who didn’t seem to quite understand some of the more suggestive comments that were made.

Mr. Blade is a very mysterious character, as he kept us in the dark about many different elements of his past that he alluded to. For one, he told us that he was in a very successful rock band in the 80’s but wouldn’t concede to tell us the name of said band. He also said that he played the piano with Elton John, had a larger production of his magic show in Vegas many years ago and sold many commercial products on television. Very curious as to if these comments were true or not, I tried to research him when I got back to a computer, but was unable to find any information on the amazing story that is Maxwell Blade’s life. Whether these things are truly fact or fiction, doesn’t really matter because they definitely did what they were suppose to do, which was to enhance Mr. Blade’s persona and performance.

With 90 minutes of drama, entertainment, and interaction, the $15  a head ticket price (for adults) is fairly reasonable. Mr. Blade’s passion for his work really enveloped the audience and pushed his performance to the next level. I enjoyed every minute of my time spent in the Magic Lantern Theatre and would absolutely recommend it to others looking for an evening of excitement, humor, and amusement!

Location: 121 Central Avenue, Hot Springs Arkansas

Contact: (501) 623-6200, maxwellblade.com