Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Arkansas Traveler

Hello from the Natural State. Sounds like the intro to some new age workshop, but it is in fact the slogan of the beautiful state of Arkansas. The twenty-fifth state, Arkansas is in the heart of the Deep South, bordered by six other states, and the Mississippi River. Few places I can think of offer this much physical beauty and diversity in such a small area. But if you're like me, and I hope you're not, the name is a bit confusing. Looks like it ought to be pronounced "Are-Kanzes", like the state of Kansas. Well a lot of other people, including its residents, thought so too. In fact, there are many other ways to pronounce this name, which is a French interpretation of a Quaoaw Indian word. In 1881, the two U.S. Senators from the state had it out and it was decided for good and all that "Are-Kansaw" would be the pronunciation. States like Washington and Maryland don't have these problems.

Anyway, besides the beautiful mountains, valleys, caverns, and waterfalls, there is a natural attraction here that is truly one-of-a-kind. Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond-producing site in the world that is open to the public. Seriously, you can come to this state park and dig for diamonds and other semi-precious stones like amethyst, peridot, garnet, and many others. And the park's "finders keepers" policy means that you get to keep anything you find, regardless of its value. Are you kidding me?! Shirley Strawn, of Murfreesboro, AR, found a 3 carat diamond here in 1990 that is to date the most perfect cut diamond ever graded by the American Gem Society. According to the AGS, a diamond this perfect occurs perhaps only once in a billion. Another diamond, found by a miner before the park's creation, weighed in at over 40 carats. To date, it is the largest diamond ever found in the United States, and goes by the name Uncle Sam. Roughly 60,000 visitors come here every year and they find approximately 600 diamonds. So if my math is correct, and it probably isn't, you have a 1 in 600 chance of finding a diamond. Think Vegas is going to give you those kinds of odds?

But if you want to guarantee you find a gem, rent a timeshare in Arkansas. I am staying at Escapes! to Hot Springs Village, in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with mountain views in the 26,000 acre gated community of Hot Springs. And as you may have guessed, it is located near downtown Hot Springs, the only place in the U.S. with a National Park within city limits. Plus Golf Digest's #1 rated course in Arkansas is in Hot Springs Village, along with fishing, boating, swimming, tennis, waterskiing, and so much more. Looks like you can find a rental here on RedWeek for as little as $86, and own for just $899. The only thing bad I can say about the place is the name. Maybe it's just me, but it's more like a sentence, and having an exclamation point in it gets tiring if you have to keep saying it. I am glad I don't answer the phones around here.

Well, I am off on a little detour to check out what the NY Times called the World's Largest Biscuit, at the Smokehouse Cafe if Eureka Springs. It's every bit of four hours from here, but the thing is the size of a shoe box and their slogan is "eat in, waddle out." How could I not?

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