Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Natural Matters

Magnet # 269:  Arkansas - The Natural State

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  The Kline Family

It was on this day in 1836 that Arkansas became the 25th state added to the Union.  The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach the area when Hernando de Soto led his men there in 1541.  But it would be the French who would settle the area, combining it with their holdings in Louisiana.  And when the Louisiana Purchase was made, the Arkansas territory was soon formed in 1819.  I would be another 17 years before the area achieved statehood.  The new state was an important ally for Texas in its struggle for independence, sending both supplies and troops to help free it from Mexico.  But when the Civil War broke out, the state was far more indecisive, voting at first to remain in the Union.  However, when President Lincoln called for the states to send troops, Arkansas refused and seceded less than a month later.  A few smaller battles were fought there.  In the time since the war, Arkansas has been a mainly agricultural state, but it does have some industry of note and was the place where Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart.

I've been to Arkansas on a couple of instances, but have never really spent much time there.  When I was growing up, we drove across the Mississippi River during a trip to Memphis just so I could say that I had been to the Natural State.  And years later, when we were headed back to Montgomery from our trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, we passed through Arkansas.  I must admit, I don't really remember either visit very well.  But there are plenty of beautiful, natural places to be seen there.  Perhaps the most noteworthy is the Hot Springs National Park, one of the first National Parks ever and home to eight historic bathhouses that people have been visiting for over 200 years.  Guests there nowadays can take a soak in the springs themselves or take a walk on one of the many hiking trails that stretch around the area.  Another great place to hike in the state is Blanchard Springs Caverns, which some have referred to as the jewel of the Ozarks.  Of course, here the hike is underground.  The caverns have nearly every kind of cave formation as well as the Giant Column, a 70-foot high stalagmite.  And those two are just the tip of the iceburg - there are so many more stunning natural wonders to visit in Arkansas, like Buffalo National River, Petit Jean State Park, or the Ouachita Mountains.  In fact, any meaningful trip to the Natural State pretty much requires a trip outdoors, so be sure to bring a good pair of shoes when you visit - I certainly intend to.

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