I visited the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Joliet, IL after I left Chicago. This is where my mom and stepfather live now. There were bell chimes ringing military songs and the site was easy to find. I was surprised when I checked out the stone to find out that my stepfather was a Vietnam War veteran. He was stationed in Germany during the war, but I thought it was a different one. I also forgot that he was not much older than me, which is why I didn’t make the connection. I had to confirm with Kathy, and she gave me the numbers and I got it. I am glad that they are resting in peace together now. It’s a large and beautiful place and I will visit again when I’m in the area.
Since this was going to be a long drive, I decided not to do too much sightseeing (right) and focused on getting through Missouri to Arkansas. I found a Casey’s gas station after driving 8 hours and got permission to spend the night in their parking lot behind the store. It was a good thing because I had a belly ache and needed to use the rest room a couple of times during the night. UGH!
The next morning I drove to Arkansas and stopped at the visitor center. They gave me a lot of information and suggested I drive the scenic route, which I did. Actually, I drove back roads most of the way. It was slower, but much more comfortable to drive, with little distractions and a peaceful, easy feeling. Took a break for lunch in Seary and went on my way to Hot Springs, which is kind of on the way to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. When I get sidetracked, I don’t mess around!
Stopping at the visitor center in Hot Springs, I was told that there are almost 50 springs scattered around the buildings and trails and are sealed for safety. The observation tower was cool, but you couldn’t climb it because it was closed. There was also a little gazebo with a nice overlook of the town. I browsed the gift shop and then drove back down, wandered around the short trail behind the bath houses and stopped at a couple of the Gov’t owned buildings. Lamar and Fordyce Bath House were some of the original bathhouses and were well preserved. The rest of the buildings housed restaurants, cafes, and a couple of hotels had working baths. This was a very popular place in the early 1920’s and the remaining buildings showcased how grand the elite vacationed back then. I was surprised at how small this National Park was (not biased here). Apparently, Hot Springs has a bunch of hiking trails, so if I go again, I’ll be sure to take the hikes. One thing I noticed was that there were water spigots in a couple of places where people could fill their water for free. I took a couple of bottles to fill up and never tasted such fantastic water!! One side of the street is Federal Park and the other side is the city of Hot Springs (Bill Clinton’s birthplace). It was not too crowded, but I was tired from all of the driving.
The Crater of Diamonds State Park campground was the next stop. It sounded like fun and I was very curious about what I’d find.
I got there late in the afternoon just before the visitor center/registration closed. I had bought a ticket to go into the mine online and was all set to settle in for the night and relax. The campground was quiet, spacious and clean with full hook ups. There were a couple of trails to walk in and a grill, firepit, tent pad and picnic table were also provided. Nice shower room, too!
The next day I walked over to the visitor center where the mine sat behind it. I rented a basic kit (shovel, bucket, and 2 screens) and headed out to find the mother lode. OMG! If you are not a rock hound, don’t bother! The mine was an open dirt field and the last time they plowed was in September, which was about 2 months before I got there. Plowing is done several times a year to dig up dirt with new stones. Supposedly you can see shiny stones after it rains if they are there. If you want to get dirty (I had enough of that in ND) and shovel up 20 buckets of dirt to sift through, you might get lucky and find a stone. I dug up a few red and yellow rocks, but have neither the patience or stamina to do this, so I just stayed a couple of hours. However, people do find stones there, and a 4 carat yellow diamond was found earlier this year. They even had storage cages for the serious rock hounds (probably YouTubers). I will keep one rock for a souvenir to add to my collection. Good luck to you would-be miners!
The next morning I hiked the trail, which was about a mile loop to the Little Missouri River. Most of the trail was paved and there were work out stations along it too. Then I left to drive back on HWY 7 for the scenic route toward Louisiana. Arkedelphia, AR (yes that’s a real town) was easy to get lost in. After asking a couple of people for directions, I finally found my way back to HWY 7 and merrily drove on.
Enough sightseeing for 2 days!