After spending five days in Florida's three National Parks, The Bearded Man sets off Saturday morning on one of the longest drives of his three month tour. Key West to Hot Springs is a 21-23 hour drive any way you slice it - and there are many, many ways to slice it. The Bearded Man has decided to break the 1,353 mile leg into a 3 day and 2 night tour of the deep south.
Loaded up and packing a barrel of hot coffee, The Bearded Man will leave Key West tomorrow at 5:00 AM, headed for his evening layover at Grayton Beach State Park. Located in Santa Rosa, on Florida's Emerald Coast, The Bearded Man should blend right in to what's commonly referred to as 'a sophisticated and chic collection of waterfront communities'. On the way to Grayton, stops are planned for Orlando - to visit a friend at one of Disney's famed water parks - and Sawdust, Florida, which is famous for being 5,056 miles from The Vatican, something no other town in Florida can claim.
After filling up on a blueberry smoothie and an applewood bacon, cheddar and egg roll-up from The Summer Kitchen Cafe in Rosemary Beach, The Bearded Man hits the road bright and early Sunday morning - Destination Tupelo, Mississippi. Mississippi. Mississippi. (I love spelling Mississippi.) Birthplace of The King. He of rock & roll and Cadillac fame. He of Viva Las Vegas and Ed Sullivan fame. Thank you....thank you very much. Along the route to Tupelo, there will be stops in Half Chance, Alabama (trying to discover where the other half of a chance went) and Scooba, Mississippi, if only to see what a town named Scooba can possibly look like (it is completely under water and simply spelled incorrectly?)
Few people can transition so seamlessly from the sophisticated, chic of Saturday night in Santa Rosa to the Elvis Presley Lake and Campground in Tupelo on Sunday night. From stellar reviews in Grayton Beach, "Everything was clean and fresh. We felt comfortable, almost like being at home", to "Do Not Waste Your Time!!!!! This park was horrible!!!! Park is very poorly maintained. Bathrooms do not have any doors, toilet paper, soap dispensers or paper towels. The Campers ragged and appear to live there long term. We defiantly want be going back here unless it's just to put in boat to fish", posted lovingly by one D. Dunn. The Bearded Man is undeterred and is looking forward to meeting several down and out Elvis impersonators.
Up and at em Monday morning for the last few hour drive to Arkansas's Hot Springs National Park, with only one brief stop in West Point, Mississippi along the way. Never, ever to be confused with West Point, New York, this particular West Point is best known for The Howlin' Wolf Blues Museum and the annual Prairie Arts Festival, which used to include The Howlin' Wolf Blues Festival, but it's now called the Black Prairie Blues Festival. This year the festival will feature Stormy Monday, Lightnin' Malcolm and Jarekus Singleton. Tickets are $20 in advance or by telling anyone in West Point that you can spell Mississippi really fast.
Hot Springs National Park has a long and colorful history. American Indians came to Hot Springs for thousands of years to quarry novaculite to make tools and weapons. In 1804 the Dunbar-Hunter Expedition, sent by President Thomas Jeffereson, visited as past of an exploration of the southern reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. In the early 1800's, a, town sprang up around the hot springs, in order to accommodate the many travelers who came to the area for their health, resulting in Hot Springs being known as the "American Spa". To protect this unique national resource and preserve it for the use of the public, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature had requested in 1820 that the springs and adjoining mountains be set aside as a federal reservation (not to be confused with the Indian reservations being established around the same time). On April 20, 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed legislation to set aside "...four sections of land including said (hot) springs, reserved for the future disposal of the United States (which) shall not be entered, located, or appropriated, for any other purpose whatsoever." This makes Hot Springs National Park the oldest national park among current N. P. S. parks, predating Yellowstone National Park by forty years. Click here for a detailed history of Hot Springs. https://www.nps.gov/hosp/learn/historyculture/index.htm
Hot Springs National Park is in an urban area, surrounding the north end of the city of Hot Springs. The hot springs emerge along a fault on the western side of Hot Springs Mountain which is in the downtown area of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, commonly referred to as Bathhouse Row and the Grand Promenade. To use the hot springs you must visit a bathhouse, which The Bearded Man will be doing, hoping they can help his back after spending many days in the driver's seat.
The Bearded Man will be pitching his tent at the Gulpha Gorge Camp Ground, just off US Hwy 70B. He plans on hiking a stretch of the Goat Rock Trail, keeping a watchful eye for the last of the spring beebalm wildflowers and the many 400 pound black bears that roam the park. The Bearded Man would hate to have to hurt one of these mighty creatures should he find himself confronted. As a man trained in the fine art of "bear subdue technique' he is painfully aware of his power to do harm and chooses to use it wisely and sparingly.
While at the park The Bearded Man will also visit the newly dedicated monument to Ranger James A. Carey, the first National Park Service Ranger killed in the line of duty.