Dear Friends of Arkansas,
We must open this letter with an apology. Our snide comments in the last letter were directed towards Arkansas and we should point out that they were meant only towards EAST Arkansas. The Ozarks of West Arkansas redeemed the state.
A thunderstorm hit us while traveling northwest through the Ozarks and we decided to pull off the road at a little place called Blanchard Springs Caverns. Turns out, this little place is one of the top three National Caverns in the nation – up there with Sonora Caves in Texas (ofcourse they’re bigger) and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Our tour guide through the caves was an insane pony-tailed man who had been doing tours for 14 years. He could have been a character from the show “King of the Hill”. Yep. That’s right. Yep. The caves had some unbelievable rock formation – 100 foot rock curtains and an amazing “soda straw” room which was a labyrinth of stalactites and stalagmites. And oddly enough, the place had an incredible lighting design by the same guy that did the lighting for the Met in New York and the Boston Opera House. What brought him to the holes in the ground under Arkansas I have no idea. But he did a good job.
Our next stop was Branson, Missouri. Yes, THE Branson. Having lived near Tennessee’s version of kitsch city, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, we was a bit disappointed. Branson is kind of like a poor man’s Pigeon Forge. Yes, it does have its unique aspects, such as the Ray Stevens theater and the World’s Largest Banjo and Fiddle. But even those were a bit of a let down. The Ray Stevens theater didn’t have a 100 foot neon, bobbing Ray Stevens head outside like I would have liked to have seen. And the Banjo and Fiddle were fake. They had neon lights for strings and were made of fiberglass. Now if you are going to make claims about having the World’s Largest Banjo and Fiddle, you better have real ones. Don’t make me go get Dean Kain from “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” to come kick your butt (note that he is also Scott Peterson in the TV movie of the Laci Peterson case, so yea, you better be scared).
After driving through the traffic-jammed Branson and eating at a Country Buffet (which could have easily gotten away with the title “Deep-Fried Buffet”), we headed into Oklahoma. We set up camp in the hills of the Osage Indian Reservation as a storm was brewing up in the west. At 1AM we were awoken by cracks of lightning and a torrential rain. I believe in Oklahoma they say it was “raining polecats and prairie dogs”. The heavy rain continued until 7 in the morning and at 5:30am we were forced to abandon our tent as it began taking in water. We slept the last couple hours wet and cold in our car.
The Osage campground wasn’t a completely terrible experience. On the way out, we stopped and photographed several wild deer and turkey in the park. The deer let us get pretty close to them but once the pimp-daddy buck showed up sporting his “bling-bling” set of antlers, they began making some scary, loud nose-blowing-like sounds. That was our hint to give them some privacy. Now the turkeys were great. Every time I honked my horn at them they would all let out a chorus of gobble-gobbles. I felt like a conductor and nature was my symphony. I’d honk my horn and get a “gobble-gobble” from the turkeys followed by a nose-blow from the deer. This went on for 15 minutes until my loving wife’s patience had grown thin. I could have gone another 15 though.
The Great Salt Plains were our next odd stop. 11,000 acres of barren land covered with a layer of salt. Because of the storm the night before they didn’t exactly have their shimmering white look, but it did make it easy for us to dig for crystals. Yes, these salt flats are the world’s only place where you can dig for selenite crystals. Why is that so great? Quite frankly, I don’t know. Apparently it is a favorite Okie past time and they even have contests every year to see who can dig up the largest ones. For the non-geologists, selenite is formed when a concentrated saltine solution combines with gypsum. Anyway, we dug around a bit, and got a ziplock bag full (great cheap souvenirs to hand out to the friends back home – yes that’s you).
The highlight of the last two days was our stop at the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. Back in 1907, Samuel Dinsmoor built this concrete cabin and filled its yard with an elaborate web of concrete sculptures. They all have some sort of religious or political significance and it is really a sight to behold. If you get a chance, hit the website, where I’ve put up several photos. I really can’t do the place justice with words.
So that sums up the last two days. Sorry for the length of the email but apparently the Osage Indians don’t use cellphones so I couldn’t send out Monday’s email. Those of you that read this far congratulations, you’ve won yourself a selenite crystal.
2140 miles down with the Rockies in sight,
William and Heidi