The Southern Highpoint Tour of 2012
Driskill Mountain LA, 535 ft.
Magazine Mt. Arkansas, 2753 ft.
Taum Sauk Mt. MO, 1,772 ft.
May 1st, 2012
A Day of Gentle Hills and Riotous Towns
After a delightful breakfast at the Belle of the Bends in Vicksburg, we crossed the Great River into Louisiana and to the third shortest high point in the US, Driskill Mt. in Louisiana. This is big wide alluvial country, with huge farms above and oil &gas below. Driskill is in the NW corner of the state, and is the only part we saw with recognizable topography and natural woodlands. The hike in to Driskill is .8 mile, and is the longest hike on this trip. It is a nice place, and oddly, the location that Jack Longacre – the founder of the High Pointers Club – chose to have his ashes scattered. I guess that he saw more in it than I did.
Martha at the summit of Mt. Driskill
(Wearing a pack that summited Kilimanjaro)
Off to Hot Springs Arkansas
From this mellow start, we headed at flank speed to get to Hot Springs Arkansas – boyhood home of Bill Clinton, and possibly the most corrupt town in the history of the US. Hot Springs is a bit of a geological anomaly – it sits atop an intra-plate hot spot – and produces thousands of gallons per hour of 147 degree water from 47 springs that line the Main Street (Central Ave.) of town. The water is over 4,000 years old and has been used for its curative properties since the beginning of human habitation. People sit in it, lie in it, and drink it – hopefully not in that order – and the springs and bath houses are today the only entirely urban National Park.
The Arlington Hotel
Bath house row – your tax dollars at work
We arrived for our stay at the Arlington Hotel amazed at first by the physical plant, and then at its obvious decay, when viewed up close. The hotel was occupied largely by a convention of employees from municipal water works in the region, who had come with their families to enjoy the wonders of Hot Springs (I was hoping to meet Ed Norton’s cousin). The facilities and clientele of Hot Springs make Atlantic City NJ look like Monte Carlo by comparison. There is an unmistakable and pervasive air of decay in the place – Central Avenue is lined with tattoo parlors in nearly decrepit buildings, and all but one of the bath houses are closed. A large number of the major hotels in town are closed, but not demolished. They remain the deteriorating reminders of a more prosperous past.
The town drifted in and out of its sordid past through major fires (1913) and reached its apogee of corruption in prohibition when it became a favorite of Al Capone. The repeal of prohibition and the end of WWII produced a temporary respite from the mob, but it was not until 1967 the Winthrop Rockefeller – the Governor of the State – finally shut down the casinos for good, actually having a bonfire of the tables and related gambling paraphernalia in the center of town.
A town proud of its heritage
The Majestic Hotel – it’s seen better days
Taking the waters
Compelling promotional materials
Martha and I took a duck boat tour of the city, including a brief trip through the city and then a quick circuit of Lake Hamilton. The driver had a keen sense of self-deprecating humor, and gave a complete history of the Town’s illegal casinos, brothels and speak-easys. Amazingly, the tour also included a brief but meaningful visit to the city landfill, Ford dealership, and two recently busted meth labs. I guess that there is simply no substitute for civic pride.
All aboard – Hot Springs awaits!
The next day saw an early departure at full throttle to the NW portions of the state and Mt. Magazine. This part of Arkansas is largely dedicated to the timber industry, and has very little population. Mt. Magazine is an erosional remnant of flat lying sediments, but has some nice looking cliffs and attracts a large number of climbers. The views from the lookout points were really pretty nice, and overall I was pleasantly surprised.
Martha on the summit of Mt. Magazine
Cliffs near the summit of Magazine Mt.
On to Branson and Taum Sauk Mt.
Branson MO is just 100 years old, and for the last 50 years or so has been the home for Nashville hopefuls, and back-up acts. It has blossomed in the last 20 years or so into a major entertainment center in its own right – but still hewing true to its heritage, continues to promote the acts of the Baldknobbers and the like. It is everything that you can imagine and more. We stayed in a new and otherwise unremarkable hotel, but really enjoyed our time on the river walk in the evening enjoying the people-watching. After all the fun we could stand, we took off for the thrill of another peak – Taum Sauk Mt. – the highpoint of MO.
The Baldknobbers – the cultural foundation of Branson
Fountains and flames fill the Branson evening sky
Taum Sauk Mt is part of the Saint Francois Mountains, some of the oldest intrusive igneous rocks in North America, at 1.5 billion years of age. It was nice to get back onto rock formed of fire, and the topography of the area felt more like home. These mountains have been continuously exposed to erosion for the last 1.0 billion years or so, and have worn down to very deep parts of the intrusive bodies – exposing some really large crystals as a result. The Mountain is unremarkable, and has a sidewalk that runs 1,000 feet from the parking lot to the wooded summit. Next stop – New Madrid, MO – for a little earthquake study, and then Graceland!
Martha on the summit of Taum Sauk Mt.
Adios from Taum Sauk Mt.
(Note the paved path to the summit)