There are some attractions that are unique to Arkansas alone. And there are others that can be found in only one other location in addition to Arkansas. Check out these wonders on one tank of gas.
Begin in central Arkansas at the Little Rock Zoo. Here, in addition to all the wonderful animals and exhibits, you’ll find the restored Over the Jumps carousel. Rare even when it was built, this priceless antiquity is now more precious in that it is the only one still in existence in the world. Less than 150 carousels survive today from the approximately 8,000 that were made during their heyday of 1887 to 1935 and even fewer are being restored. The Over the Jumps, also called the Arkansas Carousel, is even scarcer with its undulating track. Many Arkansas baby-boomers have fond memories of riding it when it was part of War Memorial Park. Now back in pristine condition, they are sharing it with their families. It isn’t just for kids, you know.
One of only two in the United States, the Big Dam Bridge is also in Little Rock. Head west from the zoo to see the longest bridge built specifically for pedestrians and bicyclists and the second-longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge of any kind.
The over $9-million project connects trails on the Little Rock and North Little Rock sides of the Arkansas River. It is 14-feet wide, rises nearly seven stories above the river. The span is so impressive that it was recently named by the Society of American Travel Writers as one of the “Top 10 Bridge Travel Sites” in the U.S. and Canada.
Next is Benton, just down the road via I-30. Here you’ll find the Gann Museum of Saline County. It is housed in the only known structure in the world made completely of bauxite. Originally the office of Dr. Dewell Gann, Sr., the structure was built in 1893 by patients who couldn’t afford to pay the doctor for his services. Today it is a museum of Benton and Saline County, including a large collection of the rare Niloak pottery, which was produced in Benton from the 1920s to the 30s.
From Benton, head west on U.S. 70 to Hot Springs, the Spa City. Attractions and things to do are plentiful here. There’s never a dull moment, unless you want one to relax and just do nothing. Another one of only two is the X-Coaster at Magic Springs & Crystal Falls Water and Theme Park. This ride is definitely not for the faint of heart, is how the managing director of Maurer Rides, the German manufacturer, describes it. The X-Coaster is the first of its kind in the U.S. and only the second in the world. Another “only” – Magic Springs is the only theme park located in a national park.
Fifty-six miles south of Hot Springs is Murfreesboro and the Crater of Diamonds State Park. The best-known one-of-a-kind in the state and one of the oldest, the state park is the only diamond-producing site in the world open to the public. It is located above an eroded volcanic pipe and for a small fee visitors can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep what they find. In addition to the digging area, Crater includes Diamond Springs Water Park, a campground, museum and store.
SIDEBAR: If you add this to your trip, it may make it a tank-and-a-half excursion but it’s definitely worth the visit. Crowley’s Ridge in eastern Arkansas is a unique geological formation believed to have been created by water, ice, and wind action over a 50-million-year period. It is unique on this half of the world; the only known land form similar to it is found in Siberia. The ridge extends for 200 miles from southern Missouri south through eastern Arkansas to Helena-West Helena. The only uplifting in the otherwise flat Arkansas Delta, the anomaly rises 200 feet and is just 12 miles across at its widest point. One of the best places to experience this phenomenon is at Mississippi River State Park near Marianna. You may have to blink your eyes a couple of times to make sure you’re not imagining the scene before you. The rolling hills and valleys of this park makes you think you are in the Ozarks or Ouachitas, not the Delta. Camping, boating, kayaking, camping, bicycle rentals and interpretive programs beckon you to stay awhile. It’s a beautiful park definitely worth visit. While you’re in the area, take in the historic town of Helena-West Helena. It’s rich in both Delta Blues and Civil War heritage. A re-created For Curtis is the newest addition to the town’s attractions.