Summer 2020 Road Trip - Plan E...The One Where We Wore Masks and Distanced

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I know a number of people just aren't comfortable with any kind of travel right now, and that's perfectly fine. I know a lot of people would have also scrapped all hopes of traveling when your plans keep getting canceled or changed. Ultimately, we were in dire need of a getaway and as the pandemic progressed, I started to formulate a plan.

Originally, we were supposed to go to Pensacola Beach for a week followed by a week at WDW. My daughter's softball team backed out of the Pensacola tournament and my parents scrapped the idea of going to Disney. We still kept the idea of Disney on the table for a while, but as we got into May and found out our check in day was opening day for the parks, we chose to reschedule any Disney plans. I also had an alternate road trip plan that didn't include Disney, in the event that we stuck with softball in FL. I eventually came up with a road trip based on that plan that didn't involve Disney or softball, but even that had to be moved by a week and shifted a little because of back to school stuff (most of which was eventually canceled as well). Eventually, we hammered out the dates, booked our lodging, made sure all was still good for the dog with boarding, dealt with some car headaches and planned on this...



Highlights of the trip involve...
-lunch in Texarkana, TX
-Hot Springs, AR
-Memphis, TN
-lunch in Jackson, TN
-Nashville, TN
-Gatlinburg, TN
-New Orleans, LA

Day 1 - July 17th

While we stopped somewhere around Nacogdoches, TX for some snacks, it was very clear by Texarkana that we needed some real lunch. It was 93 outside by this point and people thought we were crazy, but the aim was to find a spot with outdoor dining. We were having trouble getting the filter to work to give us options, but we wound up at a Mexican place with a few tables outside. They warned us that there were no fans, but that's ok. While warm, that part of TX is much drier than the Houston area. So, it wasn't too bad.



Yeah, that's the gang. Kendall is on my right, Sam directly across from me and David to my left. I'll show up later in the report.

Food was decent.









The drive to Hot Springs, AR was fairly simple from here and not too long either. I was driving, so no pretty pictures of all of the water/lakes as we drove in. Our hotel was a Comfort Suites. It had decent reviews and we've stayed at Comfort Suites that we've liked, so I wasn't overly concerned. Just last summer, we stayed at one in Moab, UT and really liked it. Check in was pretty simple and everyone went up to settle into the room.



On the surface, it doesn't look too bad, but after further inspection...it was a bit of a mess...and of course, they were at full capacity. I'll spare you the pictures, but bedding was stained, floors were stained, carpeting damaged, lampshades damaged, and some areas off to the sides that could have used a more thorough vacuuming. Oh yea, and mildewed grout. Ick. I had everyone bring pillows from home, I had a can of Lysol spray that I have been using sparingly until the trip, I had a big thing of Clorox wipes, and a bottle of Microban. So basically, I cleaned up the room, took pics of what was wrong (even the deadbolt had issues), plugged in the air purifier/UV light, and threw on the Do Not Disturb sign to protect the bubble. Yeah, not sure if it helps or not, but I bought this UV light air purifier that we used during the trip. It's supposed to be able to cycle the air in a hotel room in about an hour.



We hit the road after that to explore. Thankfully, the hotel had a big staircase at the end of the hall, near the parking lot, so we could avoid the elevators for the bulk of the trip.



I don't know about you guys, but when we go on road trips, we enjoy playing Count the Waffle Houses.



The kids were supposed to be taking pics for me, but naturally, they had to take pics of each other to get things started.





Eventually, they started to focus on fun and interesting stuff.









We weren't planning on a ton of exploration today, but we found a part of the national park where you could drive up to some of the overlook sections...so, we drove up.





Not that there were a ton of people up there, but people were being very good about giving everyone space and waiting their turns. i.e. no crowding in the covered overlook.



 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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July 17th Continued...

There was also a big observation tower up there, but it wasn't in our plans for the day.



We took a few more pics of the view...







And then it was back to driving and leaving the cameras in the kids' hands. I tell ya, there were some crazy narrow hairpin turns and switchbacks on that thing, but town wasn't too bad. At least the kids are getting better at spotting interesting things and angles.









Now, you may be wondering why I've included a pic of Dick's Sporting Goods. Before leaving the house, the kids and I joked about what daddy might forget. He'd later ask why I didn't remind him, but that often comes off as nagging while in the moment. Well, on the drive up, it came up that he forgot his bathing suit. He immediately starts wondering where there's a Penney's. Not exactly the first place people think of for a bathing suit, but he worked there during college and it's always the first place he thinks of for any kind of clothing. I found him one, but suggested Dick's since it's closer to the hotel...in case we need to go back.

After he got a bathing suit (which would later need to be returned for a bigger size...but couldn't b/c their computers went down...and would wind up being a side trip in Nashville), we started looking at dinner options. At first, we weren't having much luck...until we realized that the diner style place right next to us that interested us earlier...had outdoor seating. So, we went to the Purple Cow.



Not only was there space outside, but they did a nice job of distancing all of the tables.



Before considering any kind of real food, Kendall had to have a purple milkshake.



I thought it might be grape or berry flavored, but it tasted like the frosting that Baskin Robbins or Carvel puts on ice cream cakes.

Meanwhile, Sam was really bummed that she was missing softball. She was using my phone to follow her team's games on the GameChanger app.



I started with a salad.



Sam got the dinner of champions...chili cheese fries...



Kendall opted for chicken tenders after going on about burgers forever. I think David had the same.



My burger had to be redone because they originally made it with a normal bun.



David and I noticed a number adult milkshake options on the menu as well. I got the grasshopper and he got the White Russian. Mine had so much chocolate that I was having to spoon it out from the base.





The sun was starting to set and we were done with our food. Time to head back to the hotel.



Not much of a view from the hotel room, but a nice sunset to end the first day.




COMING UP - Day 2 in Hot Springs...a tour of the national park and the town, as well as a trip to Garvan Gardens and dinner near the water.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Looking forward to seeing your adventures!

Thanks!!!

Looking at that map, it appears you came close to our house in GA on the way to Gatlinburg. Looking forward to more!

I was wondering if we were near you guys. We were in a part of GSMNP one morning and were heading to NOLA later that day. I guess it was a little bit faster for it to route us through GA vs. going through TN.
 

epcotisbest

Well-Known Member
Thanks!!!



I was wondering if we were near you guys. We were in a part of GSMNP one morning and were heading to NOLA later that day. I guess it was a little bit faster for it to route us through GA vs. going through TN.

Oh, I got your route backwards. You left the Smokies on the way to NOLA, through Georgia. If you came out of the Smokies on Hwy441 south you headed near us. I hope the less than stellar part of your trip did not leave a bad impression of the GA/NC mountains area.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th -

We slept in a little, but wanted to get a semi-early start so we could grab some breakfast. I was nervous about it. This Comfort Suites was still doing "normal" complimentary breakfast and I wasn't sure what that would look like during a pandemic. Let's just say that this would have been a nightmare at any time. There was a massive crowd waiting for food...some with masks...some without. We weren't too keen on sitting and eating there, so the we surveyed the food options from afar and got in and out as quickly as possible. Poor Kendall was the last one out. Shortly before I got to the sausage, a woman accidentally dropped the tongs on the floor. I had just been using my own plastic fork and spoon to serve myself (and advised everyone else to do the same), so we could avoid the whole shared utensil thing, so it wasn't a big deal. However, the girl in front of Kendall came up with her own disgusting solution. She put her bare hands into the sausage and dug down to the bottom to get the ones beneath the pile. Kendall said she was a teen, so it's not like it was a young child who didn't know any better. This was just some disgusting kid with horrible manners. So, Kendall had to alert the staff so they could get a whole new tray of sausage. While we'd have another morning at this place, this would be our last time eating breakfast there.

After we ate, we drove back into the area near the national park. The previous day, we'd scoped out the parking situation. I'd heard that parking on the street was tough, but that there was a free garage that was pretty close. So we headed there. Even the walk down from the garage was filled with pretty views, statues and fountains.













I wasn't really sure what we'd be able to see, since much of the park is anchored by the Bathhouse Row bathhouses. All are historic buildings, some are in use for private businesses, and some are used by the NPS. Still, it involves being inside. Whether you are worried about high touch areas or airborne risks...or even a bit of both, indoors is definitely less safe and harder to manage. So, we didn't know what would be open to the public. The Buckstaff Baths was the first house we got to, and I believe this one is still open for actual bath experiences.







I had no desire to pay for a bathhouse bath experience, so we appreciated it from the outside. Although, I was a bit curious. I had an uncle who contracted Polio and my dad informed me that he was taken to one of the bath houses in Hot Springs at some point to see if the waters would help heal him. It didn't help, but always interesting when our travels cross paths with some of our family history.

Next up was the Lamar Bathhouse.





Just to give you an idea of house close together these all are...



This building up on the corner is part of NPS, but I believe it's more admin. offices and such for the park.



NPS uses Lamar as a gift shop, so we were able to go into this one.









They offered to let us take pics in the tub and said we'd be allowed to take off our masks. AR's mask mandate wasn't going into effect for another couple of days, but I chose to have K leave her mask on. Safety of course, but it also will make it clear when this trip occurred when we're looking back on pics in the coming years.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Oh, I got your route backwards. You left the Smokies on the way to NOLA, through Georgia. If you came out of the Smokies on Hwy441 south you headed near us. I hope the less than stellar part of your trip did not leave a bad impression of the GA/NC mountains area.

Yes, we took 441 to push us towards Atlanta. As for the bad stuff, the park portion was just a mix of poor timing and dumb luck. That can happen anywhere and I can't fault the park for that. We liked what we got to see of Gatlinburg and if we ever travel that way again, wouldn't mind staying there...although, I'd pick a different hotel. Our issues were that both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge felt "normal." I'll detail it more in the TR, but you'd never know there was a pandemic going on. I also wasn't prepared for Pigeon Forge, and to a lesser degree, some of the more touristy aspects of Gatlinburg. In my mind, I thought it would be more like the little towns around the national parks out west.
 

HouCuseChickie

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Original Poster
July 18th Continued-

If you've looked into my previous national park trips, I really like the funny books. Hot Springs didn't let me down!



Kendall also remembered our national parks book, so she made sure to get it stamped.



There was all kinds of bath inspired souvenirs, but nothing we really wanted, so we headed back out.





We didn't go in, but Hot Springs has quite the gangster/mobster history. Back in the days of Al Capone, this was the hot spot for them to vacation and it was neutral ground for all.

Next up...Ozark...











The building was closed, but I got a good laugh at the fake plants...



Yes, we went to a national park and saw fake plants!

The details of this next one are pretty awesome.









We decided to stop and sit for a bit here. People were lined up on the other side for what looked like some kind of brunch seating, but we were content to sit and enjoy.







I was really hoping we'd be able to get into this next one...





I'd read varying reports on what was open and was hoping we'd be able to check out inside.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th Continued...

It looked like it would be really neat...







I really wanted to get a better look at all of that stained glass.



I don't know how much we really would have been able to see, but guests weren't being allowed in. So, we were stuck with whatever we could see outside.





Sam was beyond bored and growing angry with us. So, we decided to step away from the bathhouses and hit some more natural parts of the park.









What's interesting is that the springs were supposedly like Yellowstone's terraced springs at Mammoth before people dug into them to add all of the plumbing to feed the bathhouses. It makes you realize how the establishment of the national parks and the various rules and laws that went with that protected so many other natural wonders. Just seeing the early history of other parks, man surely would have destroyed the other parks for profit without these protections. It also makes me wonder what the US and its parks would have been like had our country's growth occurred from west to east vs. east to west.

Oh well, it was time to find a spring...



And we found it...











I was really bad about video this trip, but I did remember to take one here. I think I was just trying to show the steam coming off of the spring.


We decided to climb up a little to get a better look around...



The pic below is an old bandstand. I guess live music outside was once a common thing in this area.



Yeah...she's still bored.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th continued...

It is still pretty neat looking down...







Clearly, we were all on different pages with this adventure. I wound up over near a restricted area by the old hospital. At least there were some interesting things for pics.













The rest of the bunch finally found me.



We found this sort of promenade area and decided to take a bit of a stroll...



We happened upon a portion of the springs that they channeled into a chute, and it looks like they also could control the flow.





Horrible vid, but I did take a little...


Sam decided to go with running to deal with her boredom.





Around this time, we opted to head back down to Bathhouse Row to finish looking at the bathhouses.









This bathhouse was unoccupied. I have to wonder how much it is to rent it or use it for allowed purposes. I wish it would have photographed, but it also had some neat stained glass on the ceiling. I just kept getting reflections when I tried to take pictures.


Coming up...we finish up Bathhouse Row, we look around the Arlington Hotel, and we go to an interesting spot for pizza.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th Continued...

So, we're back down along Bathhouse Row...



I was feeling a little thirsty, so I decided to duck back into an alcove use one of the nearby taps from the springs to fill a bottle.



Yeah, it was a bit warm at first, but at least I could say I tried it and it helped keep me hydrated for a bit.

It is also interesting to see all of the little areas with fountains channeling the springs.



David also pointed out how even the most basic side windows were adorned with decorative stained glass.



And look, there's also a spring back here...



...but not everyone seems impressed.



Ok...heading back out to the street now that I have my water.



And we're coming up on our next bathhouse.









The Hale Bathhouse is currently a luxury hotel. I vaguely recall seeing it as an option, and while the prices really aren't that bad, I wasn't in the mood to spend $280-360 per night to say we stayed here...especially with local tax rates. I've always thought ours was high, but various parts of AR and TN have insanely high rates.

OK...moving on...last house on the block.







We were hoping to go into Superior since it's now a brewery, but they were closed.

Something else you see in Hot Springs are lots of little plaques and signs. It may not seem like much, but you get a good idea of the city's rich history.



We passed this along the way...maybe...hopefully...later.



Next stop was the Arlington Hotel. I did consider staying here as it looked neat and the rates were shockingly low, but the beds were only doubles and a lot of reviews spoke of it needed major love.



It is pretty stately though. We never did get to see if they light up the shooting star on the front at night.





The decor inside is interesting. You get the impression that they've done some work on it, but some areas, especially outside, make it clear that they are still working on it. There are also parts that feel like they are straight out of The Shining.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th Continued-



















This was a favorite of the mobsters, back in the day.

Inside really didn't look too bad, but the areas outside definitely needed work. Some might just be a good cleaning, but others are areas where plaster is coming apart, among other things.





We decided to sit down for a little bit (after finding the non-smoking section benches). K shared her stamps with me.



Sam and David chit-chatted about softball.



On the way out, I got a pic of the cool fountain in the middle of the city. I'd eventually get the other side, but I kind of like this angle.



I'm guessing this is supposed to be the front.



The city itself has some neat structures, but there's just not enough money feeding in here to fix them up. This building looks like it was pretty neat at some point, but now, many of the windows are broken and there are other signs of concerning wear.



While the crowds weren't insane, there were enough people that we walked quite a bit with our masks on.



Lots of neat things along the way. These rocks were up against a parking area.



Everything felt so green and flowery.



And now we're coming into a section with a lot of plaques and signs.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th Continued-











David made a friend outside of the Ohio Club.



I tried walking back here, but there were a ton of ultra pushy peddlers up front, so I just moved on.



It was also really bizarre, but we were followed by this man portraying Jesus for quite some time.



And if you've ever watched the movie Big, I found the Zoltar machine...and it was LOUD! I approached it and it started talking. It started a woman nearby on the street so much that she jumped.



While we were driving around to scope out parking the day before, we spotted a neat looking pizza place. So, this would be lunch...we hoped.





We couldn't get into the main building and only saw signs for take out. Then we realized that they were letting us take out from one of their windows and we could use any of their outdoor seating...some of which was pretty darn cool.



Everyone decided what they wanted and grabbed a table while I sat down on the steps to put in our order. Drink options were limited, but they were offering a full menu and they were going as far as having cups for clean and used pens. At least David got a good table.





I also got a fun cup for my tea.



It looks like we have company!



We didn't have to wait too long on the food either.







Definitely one of the better gluten free pizzas I've had.

After eating, I wandered the restaurant a bit...

 

Songbird76

Well-Known Member
July 17th Continued...

There was also a big observation tower up there, but it wasn't in our plans for the day.



We took a few more pics of the view...







And then it was back to driving and leaving the cameras in the kids' hands. I tell ya, there were some crazy narrow hairpin turns and switchbacks on that thing, but town wasn't too bad. At least the kids are getting better at spotting interesting things and angles.









Now, you may be wondering why I've included a pic of ****'s Sporting Goods. Before leaving the house, the kids and I joked about what daddy might forget. He'd later ask why I didn't remind him, but that often comes off as nagging while in the moment. Well, on the drive up, it came up that he forgot his bathing suit. He immediately starts wondering where there's a Penney's. Not exactly the first place people think of for a bathing suit, but he worked there during college and it's always the first place he thinks of for any kind of clothing. I found him one, but suggested ****'s since it's closer to the hotel...in case we need to go back.

After he got a bathing suit (which would later need to be returned for a bigger size...but couldn't b/c their computers went down...and would wind up being a side trip in Nashville), we started looking at dinner options. At first, we weren't having much luck...until we realized that the diner style place right next to us that interested us earlier...had outdoor seating. So, we went to the Purple Cow.



Not only was there space outside, but they did a nice job of distancing all of the tables.



Before considering any kind of real food, Kendall had to have a purple milkshake.



I thought it might be grape or berry flavored, but it tasted like the frosting that Baskin Robbins or Carvel puts on ice cream cakes.

Meanwhile, Sam was really bummed that she was missing softball. She was using my phone to follow her team's games on the GameChanger app.



I started with a salad.



Sam got the dinner of champions...chili cheese fries...



Kendall opted for chicken tenders after going on about burgers forever. I think David had the same.



My burger had to be redone because they originally made it with a normal bun.



David and I noticed a number adult milkshake options on the menu as well. I got the grasshopper and he got the White Russian. Mine had so much chocolate that I was having to spoon it out from the base.





The sun was starting to set and we were done with our food. Time to head back to the hotel.



Not much of a view from the hotel room, but a nice sunset to end the first day.




COMING UP - Day 2 in Hot Springs...a tour of the national park and the town, as well as a trip to Garvan Gardens and dinner near the water.
Just look at that smile sans braces!!! I'd have been ordering corn on the cobb, just because I could!

I WANT that grasshopper milkshake!!
 

Songbird76

Well-Known Member
Yes, we took 441 to push us towards Atlanta. As for the bad stuff, the park portion was just a mix of poor timing and dumb luck. That can happen anywhere and I can't fault the park for that. We liked what we got to see of Gatlinburg and if we ever travel that way again, wouldn't mind staying there...although, I'd pick a different hotel. Our issues were that both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge felt "normal." I'll detail it more in the TR, but you'd never know there was a pandemic going on. I also wasn't prepared for Pigeon Forge, and to a lesser degree, some of the more touristy aspects of Gatlinburg. In my mind, I thought it would be more like the little towns around the national parks out west.
Pigeon Forge....isn't that @InnKpr 's territory? I haven't stayed at his Inn personally, but I've seen pictures, and it's bound to be better than a comfort suites if you ever go back that way.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Just look at that smile sans braces!!! I'd have been ordering corn on the cobb, just because I could!

I WANT that grasshopper milkshake!!

That kid cannot stop smiling!

The milkshake was sooooooooooo good! More places need adult milkshakes.

Pigeon Forge....isn't that @InnKpr 's territory? I haven't stayed at his Inn personally, but I've seen pictures, and it's bound to be better than a comfort suites if you ever go back that way.

The Comfort Suites was in Hot Springs, but if we're ever back in the GSMNP area, I will definitely look into things with @InnKpr.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18 Continued-

We were headed to the car to drive to the tower when David realized he forgot his hat. He checked the restaurant first, but my pictures show him hat-less at the pizza place. In fact, the last time my pics showed his hat was when we were sitting outside at the Arlington. So, we headed that way.

Passed one of the ducks on the way.


I did love the various murals throughout the area.


We made it back to the Arlington, but the kids and I took a detour off into the park while David went to the hotel.


We found a trail and a spring we had yet to explore...once David returned.



Obviously, I did what I always do when waiting and took a lot of random pics.




The kids got in on the action and started posing with the adjacent spring.



This was a pretty one. If it weren't for the steam, you'd just think it's a natural waterfall.



David was taking FOREVER and someone was getting sassy!


We finally spotted him crossing the street. The kids ran to him since we weren't waiting where we said we'd be. Imagine that! LOL At least he got his hat...and a soda.


I wish I had the time to take video, but we were rushing along. So all I got in were some pictures of the water flowing down the rocks and a cooperative butterfly.





We made it back to the promenade. I'm still not sure why we walked the full thing, but we did.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
July 18th Continued-

Sam did some more running...


Found another random spring outlet, but nothing was labeled. It did have a drain.


A bit creepy, but the hospital is kind of neat looking.


And I guess if we wanted to play chess or checkers.


We found this old fountain when we got to the bottom.



Water anyone?


We've now pretty much come full circle. We are at the head of that NPS admin building that was off to my right when we started on Bathhouse Row.


And the official national park sign pic. I'm rarely able to get these, but it's nice when I do.


We got into the car and drove up that winding road to the tower. I have no idea how long the wait was or how much they were limiting capacity, but the parking lot was filled with cars and the front of the building was swarming with people. So, we chose to drive farther up the mountain to an area we didn't hit on the previous day's drive.







While we were up at the overlook, I referred to the terrain around us as mountains. David laughed and said they were nothing more than hills. They are - in fact - mountains. They're the Ouachitas. I seem to recall a similar conversation from our trip to the Ozarks in 2014. He still didn't agree and would later have difficulties thinking of the Smokies as mountains...well, at least lower peaks. It brought us to a discussion about "what is a mountain?"

He spent his time growing up in CA and TX, plus all of his ski trips were to the Rockies. So, his definition of a mountain was formed early on from far different things than my mountains. I grew up with the Watchungs (small and not well known) along the western edge of my home town, the Appalachians further west, the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the Poconos, etc. My mountains were more like the Ouchitas and the Smokies...older, more rounded, and covered with trees. The first time I ever saw any younger mountains with a rocky appearance was when I first went to Vegas in 2000. We flew in at night and I had no clue there were mountains around, so you can imagine my shock waking up to the Las Vegas Range. My next exposure to rocky looking mountains was the Alps, later that same year. We saw them in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany. So, I get it...big rocky mountains, especially when snow capped, are really dramatic and can make the older eastern mountains look more like green foothills. Ultimately, this would be my first realization that early exposure to the western parks and regions may have also made our children more than a bit biased.

Regardless of your views on mountains, I think we can agree it's a pretty view and they seemed to enjoy.




There was still a lot of day left and I think everyone was kind of done with the park, so I referred to my little research list of interesting places in the area. I kept coming back to Garvan Woodland Gardens. It's currently owned by the University of Arkansas, but it's a large cluster of gardens along Lake Hamilton, which were originally designed and planted by Verna Cook Garvan. She spent 40 years putting it all together and left it to the university Dept of Landscape Architecture upon her death. David originally balked a bit about the entry fees, but it wound up being one of his favorite parts of this trip. We had a nice distanced chit-chat with a family from Austin, TX for a bit, but it was most just exploring the gardens.

 
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