The Natural State is booming from the Ozarks to Little Rock

In the past, Arkansas has been associated with an image of swamps and humidity. Fortunately, that negative reputation isn't the least bit true. Arkansas' climate is mild and its scenery is beyond graceful. From north to south and east to west, from cosmopolitan Little Rock to Hot Springs and all the outlying areas, Arkansas is an affordable summer trip that is filled with impressive sites worth seeing.

An unspoiled natural wonder

A trip through the Ozarks in northern Arkansas will show you that the state is full of natural wonders. One, the Buffalo National River, is so alluring it has merited a "National Geographic" piece. The river cascades through geological rock including sandstone, chert and limestone.

Speaking of limestone, the Blanchard Springs Caverns in the Ozarks National Forest is buried beneath layers of it. The caverns are formed in a three-level system, but only two are accessible to the public. If you're seeking a respite from the summer sun, a visit to the caverns will do the trick.

A region fit for a president

The Timberlands Region, which is on the opposite side of the state from the Ozarks, is a pine-covered area that includes Hope, Ark., former President Clinton's boyhood home. Today, you can visit Clinton's home in Hope, which is a two-and-a-half story wood frame house. Even though it has been out of the Clintons' possession for more than 30 years, it's interesting to see the house where Clinton spent the first four years of his life.

Just around the corner from Hope is the Old Washington Historic State Park - a study in how to preserve a state's history. The town of Washington played a vital part in Texas' war for independence in 1835-36. Historians say Sam Houston plotted his strategy for revolt while staying in a town tavern in 1834. Washington, Ark., also became the capital of the state when Union forces captured Little Rock in 1863. Guests truly experience the 19th century when they visit the Old Washington Historic State Park.

Also in the Timberlands is the historic town of El Dorado. Its churches, courthouse and many buildings are designed in a 1920s and '30s motif. An eclectic town, El Dorado offers fine dining, shopping and theater. The Rialto Theater is Arkansas' only working art deco movie house.

Where agriculture thrived

A tour through Arkansas' Delta Region along the Mississippi River reveals an area that took cotton production to unprecedented levels. Once known as a region filled with wild prairie land and wet woodlands, the Delta Region began to thrive with the rise of cotton manufacturing. At the Arkansas Post State Museum, you can learn how the state transformed itself to become an economic player in the South. The museum offers an exhibit devoted to the first European settlement in the Mississippi River's lower valley, as well as many other exhibits and guided walking tours.

The story of the Delta Region is told at the Parkin Archeological State Park. The Parkin site on the St. Francis River is a preserved 17-acre area where a Mississippi Period Native American village was located. Historians study the site for its importance in understanding historic and prehistoric times in this part of Arkansas.

Visit Garvan Gardens
While you're in the area, visit the awesome Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs

A River Valley region worth visiting

Lakes, rivers and streams nestled between the Ouachita and Ozark mountain ranges help lend a graceful beauty to the River Valley region. Small-mouth bass swim around in the South Fourche River while others are being weighed at the new visitor's center at Lake Dardanelle State Park.

Where else in Arkansas can you get as good a take on the Old West as places like the Fort Smith National Historic Site? Fort Smith showcases what's left of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. The restored jail and courthouse, as well as the visitor's center, have exhibits devoted to Fort Smith's military history, federal Indian policy and other topics.

Ouachitas Region shines on

Did you ever want to go on a hunt for diamonds? At the Crater of Diamonds State Park in the Ouachitas Region, it's possible. Diamond hunters can search more than 37 acres of plowed field for their prizes. The park has a "finders keepers" policy where, if you're lucky enough, you might be able to leave with some jewels of your very own. A new aquatic, mining-themed playground includes a wading pool, spray geysers, waterspouts, jets, two water slides and waterfall hideaways.

The heart of the state

Little Rock's culture, nightlife and genteel attitude among its 600,000-plus residents make this city a pleasant destination. Even though there are many attractions in the city, the one that stands out is the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. Just after it opened, the Clinton Presidential Center is featured an exhibit honoring Clinton's love of music. "A World of Music" includes Elvis memorabilia, lyrics by pop singer and activist Bono and a signed Beatles LP.

With the announcement of the plans for the Clinton Center in 1997, the downtown area has seen $1 billion in development.

"Our convention business is booming as well," the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau stated.. "The combination of the Clinton Center anchoring our downtown River Market District and our increase in hotel supply has drawn new conventions to our city."


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