We traveled northwest along the Arkansas River, through Pine Bluff, to about half way to Little Rock, to our next location along the Arkansas River at Tar Camp Corps of Engineers campground. Since nearly all of the trip was along the four lane US65 and I-529, it was an easy and quick trip. When we pulled into Tar Camp we were pleasantly surprised. Nearly all of the sites back up onto a great view of the Arkansas River and we had one of these sites. I would argue that they have the sites angled backward as we had to find get turned around before backing the RV into the site. Of course, this also meant that we would not have to get turned around to leave next Monday, so maybe I’m wrong. In any case, it was very easy to back the RV into the site and we quickly got set up. The sites were especially nice since the picnic tables came with a nice cover over them, which made for a great place during the rains later in the week. We also enjoyed watching the many barges moving up and down the river all week.
With rain forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, we took advance of the great cool weather on Tuesday and went to the explore Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. As the crow flies, the park is less than 15 miles from the campground, except it is on the other side of the Arkansas River. We had to travel all the way into Little Rock before being able to cross the river and travel back to the state park. Thus this 15 mile journey took all of an hour. As you probably guess, the Toltec Mounds have nothing to do with the Toltec Culture in Mexico. It was misnamed back in the late 1800s by the owners of the property and the name has stuck. While not as impressive as many of the ancient Native American sites we have seen in our travels, a lot of this is due to past farming practices. Of the 18 mounds that were there originally, only about 5-6 remain today. In addition, the ten foot high earthen embankment that surrounded the complex on three sides is mostly gone to the plow. The two largest mounds, which are abut 40 feet high, of course still remain and are still the focal point of the complex. In terms of size, this is one of the largest in the country and certainly the largest in Arkansas. Like all of the other complexes we have visited, this one is primarily for ceremonial and religious purposes as there is little evidence that very many people actually lived on the site. The embankment, which is somewhat unique, is believed to mark the edge of the sacred area as opposed to any defensive use. There were likely hundreds of small farming communities scattered all around the area that congregated at this location for ceremonies multiple times of the year. There is also strong evidence that the mounds themselves were placed to create sight lines for astronomical events such as the summer or winter solstice, likely to time these events. There are two hiking trails, the shorter of which is paved and travels to and around the main Mound A. We elected to take the longer unpaved trail that cover the entire complex, as well as, the major mounds. Both trails have numbered stops along them, with along with the brochure you get at the Visitor Center, provides a lot of good detailed information about their culture, mound building, and archeological work over the years. It was another fascinating look into the ancient Native American culture dating from 650 to 1150 A.D. It still amazes me that this spans 500 years as compared to our society that dates to just over 200 years! The most interesting thing we saw, however, was not the mounds themselves. Rather it was their Native American garden where they are attempting to identify the plants cultivated or gathered and to plant the wild natives to these plants that still exist today. One of the seeds they are working with is similar in size to rice, but they don’t know what it is. They call it SeedX. Unfortunately, in early spring very few of these plants are identifiable or may not even be planted yet. Still it was fascinating to see the wide variety of plants they grew or gathered to make up a large part of their diet.
As predicted, Wednesday was cloudy and threatened rain so I spent the day working on our reservations for the next month through Missouri. However, it never rained that day, although it threatened most of the afternoon. The rain finally came overnight with a vengeance. We probably got between 3-4 inches of rain, however, Little Rock recorded over 5 inches and had quite a bit of flash flooding. We worried about what this would do to the Arkansas River that we were so close to, however, we never detected any significant rise in the water level although the current certainly got a lot faster over the next couple of days. I guess the COE flood control is effective! It continued to rain off and on all day on Thursday, so we just spent another day in the campground where Kal enjoyed watching TV since we were so close to Little Rock.
Friday was our day to head into Little Rock to explore two interesting locations. The first was Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. This is the only site of the National Park Service that is still a functioning school. When it was built back in the 1930s, it was the largest and most grand high school in the country and it is still a beautiful building. However, in 1957 it became a focal point for the desegregation of the public schools. The Supreme Court had ruled school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v Topeka Board of Education and like all public schools, especially in the south, Central High School had to integrate black students. Their plan was to do this slowly over time, beginning with 9 black students in the fall of 1957. Segregationists in Little Rock were not going to allow this to happen so they planned protests and violence to prevent it. In support of this, the Governor called out the National Guard to bar entrance to these students, which lasted for about 2 weeks with the image of armed guards at the school making the national news every night. President Eisenhower tried to defuse the situation, however, he eventually sent in the 101st Airborne Division and federalized the Arkansas National Guard, effectively taking them out of control of the Governor. For about a month they protected the 9 African-American students, however, by the end of October, they were on their own. The stories of their physical and emotional abuse that year are horrifying, but the problems were only starting. Over the summer the Governor signed a series of acts challenging the federal government’s rights to interfere in the education system in the state, which is identified in the Constitution as belonging to the state. His plan was to close the 4 public high schools in Little Rock and have them reopen as private schools, thus continuing segregation. There was even a referendum that passed in support of the plan. In May of 1959, 44 teachers were fired for refusing to sign a pledge in support of the plan along with most of the high school administrators. This year is known as the lost year since all of the high schools were closed. This set off the white citizens in Little Rock who blamed the African-American community for the closings and the year was marked with a lot of violence. Over the summer of 1959, three of the most segregationists on the school board got replaced by more moderate members who reinstated the fired teachers and opened up the schools in the fall of 1959 with the now 8 African-American students included. One had been expelled back in 1957 for retaliating against the abuse and had transferred to a high school in New York City. This did not end the abuse in the high school, but was the first step in finally integrating the schools in Little Rock and marked an important chapter in our history. Since the high school is still functioning, tours are only conducted when school is not in session and you have to have reservations far in advance. Thus, all we could do was check out the great exhibits in the Visitor Center and take pictures of the high school from across the street. Thus it took only about an hour to see all we were allowed to see, still it was an interesting story that I remember from my childhood attending high school when integration and cross busing was still a problem leading to riots in the 60s.
Since we still had most of the day available to us we drove over to explore the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. At first glance, it does not appear as nice as some of the other Presidential Museums we have visited since it did not have the extensive grounds associated with it. It is a mostly glass structure overlooking the Arkansas River and downtown Little Rock. However, once we got inside the building, I had to revise my opinion. It is actually a beautiful building and houses a LOT of information. There is not much to see on the first floor, except the Presidential Limousine, since it primarily a space for large functions such as the luncheon that was going on. The second floor, however, will blow you away. Starting with the excellent video narrated by President Clinton, there is a mock-up of the Cabinet Room and a host of exhibits. The exhibits are all about the accomplishments of his Administration. These range from the economy, education, environment, foreign policy, and many other subjects. While most of the information was a review of things I already knew about, it was still amazing how many good things he accomplished. Besides all of the regulations and bills designed to reclaim, protect, and enhance our natural environment, many of which Trump has now gotten rid of, his most noteworthy accomplishment was the economy. He led our country from massive deficits during the lengthy recession of the 1990, to a balanced budget, and even a massive surplus. In addition to trying to pay off some of the mounting debt, his first priority was the saving of Social Security, which I am now VERY grateful for. Now that the Federal Government has “borrowed” most of the Social Security “excess” and the Republicans under President Trump want to privatize in order to “save” it once again, I am quite scared about its future. I should mention the third floor of the museum, which includes a mock-up of the Oval Office and exhibits of a sample of the international gifts he received while being President. While I enjoyed all the information about his Presidential accomplishments, where I spent over 2 hours looking at, I was disappointed there was little information about his early life, his accomplishments while Governor of Arkansas, or his numerous accomplishments since leaving office. When we explored other Presidential Libraries I enjoyed the parts outside of their years as President as it was information I was not already familiar with.
There really was not a whole lot else we wanted to visit in the area, so we spent the weekend relaxing in the campground where I tried to get caught up on this blog. I did manage to get all of the writing done, but as you have noticed, we did not have a good internet connection all week. I was unable to upload the many pictures to the pages and blogs, so you were all inundated with multiple blogs a the beginning of this week. Such is the life on the road. Sometimes you have good internet and sometimes you have good TV reception, and sometimes you even have both. Although there are also those times when you don’t have either, especially when we like to stay far away from large cities in isolated areas.