Sep 16, 2019 – The New Normal

Vivian in the wheelchair at sunset, Catherine’s Landing RV park near Hot Springs. Concrete pads were an extraordinary luxury.

To most, accessibility is taken for granted. The word “inaccessible” has no context to an able-bodied person. Like discrimination, you really don’t get it until you’ve experienced it. The short of it was, Vivian had only one good leg while the other was basically a useless appendage for two months following the break. Because of a minor misstep on wet grass, her ankle bent underweight and within an instant, many things became inaccessible to her. Accessibility soon became the new standard by which we measured everything. Accessibility, or lack thereof, became the lens through which we viewed RV travels.

An unconventional approach to negotiating the fifth wheel stair steps; the step stools served as knee rests.

Why bore you with the details of how we acquired medical equipment, negotiated post-surgery follow-up visits, and all the research on bimalleolar fracture recovery, when instead, I can describe the remarkable places we visited in Arkansas during the few weeks following the surgery. I was not comfortable leaving Vivian alone during that time after her surgery; consequently, my photography plans were mostly scrapped. And of course, fishing was no longer on Vivian’s itinerary. More to the point, Vivian could not do anything without my assistance, so whatever fun things we did would be casual sightseeing that a) we both enjoyed, and b) offer a certain level of that precious commodity – accessibility. As we crossed off our respective itinerary plans, we were left with one item intact – casual sightseeing.

Downtown Eureka Springs as viewed from a tour tram. These streets wind through the city and no two intersect at a 90 degree angle. And there are no traffic lights!
Most homes have at least two stories, built into the rocky terrain.

This ironically led us to Eureka Springs. I say ironic because this historic Ozark mountain town is also known as the ‘stairstep town’ because of its mountainous terrain through which streets and walkways wind. A visit to Eureka Springs for able-bodied persons would require a respectable amount of effort walking those steep walkways perusing quirky shops, visiting the cave grottos, touring the museums, taking in the historical Victorian architecture and so on. We had to find an alternative which was a tram tour and one that accommodated the wheelchair.

Grotto Spring was one of our tram tour stops. The grotto needed to be protected from street construction in 1890, so an enclosure of limestone and ornamental stonework was created.
Inside Grotto Spring.

The essence of Eureka Springs revolves around the healing powers of the spring water that were known to the Native American long before European Americans discovered it. Among those European Americans was Dr. Alvah Jackson, credited for discovering the springs which he claimed to have cured his eye ailments. He wanted to share that so during the Civil War he set up a hospital in a local cave to treat soldiers. Afterwards, Eureka Springs became a popular tourist destination and was once promoted as a retirement community for the wealthy.

The Cresent Hotel, built as a resort for the rich and famous, was eventually purchased after standing vacant for a long time having and is open for business.

Because of the famed healing powers of the spring water, you can imagine that Eureka Springs attracted many colorful characters including Norman G. Baker, who was run out of Iowa in 1937 for practicing medicine without a license (his story is well worth the read). At that time, Eureka Springs was a depressed town following the stock market crash. Millionaire pseudo-doc Baker moved to Eureka Springs with his cancer patients, reopened the Crescent Hotel that had fallen into disrepair and turned it into a cancer-curing hospital. As Baker commenced in promoting his cure which was to drink the area’s natural spring water, the spa and resort mountain town enjoyed renewed vitality (the hospital apparently cleared ½ million dollars in one year). But alas, federal charges against Baker for mail fraud in 1940 sent him to prison for four years.

The essence of Eureka Springs.

Two weeks following Vivian’s accident, we land in the American Spa, Hot Springs where we stayed for 10 days. There was much to see and do, so we wasted no time getting to The National Park where we could partake in accessible park ranger tours.

The Fordyce Visitor Center where ranger-led tours give you a glimpse into the bathhouses long before it became a national park in 1921. Prior to that, it was designated as Hot Springs Reservation in 1832.
A tour of a bathhouse shows you how it looked over a hundred years ago.
One of the 2 locations where you can stick your hand in the thermal water. It comes out of the ground at 147 degrees F, but by the time it reaches the pool, it’s cool enough to touch without scalding.
People come to fill up their water bottles from one of the many thermal spring fountains in Hot Springs. The hot springs were protected by Congress in 1832 with the intention the water be used.

And we weren’t going to let inaccessibility keep us from enjoying lunch at the famous McClard’s Bar-B-Q restaurant. I think what put McClard’s on the map besides its food are the prominent people who visited it, including Bill Clinton who is the only person whose reservation is accepted and the only one for whom a change to the menu was made (after Clinton’s by-pass surgery, they added an item that did not include bread or added sugar). Clinton enjoyed eating at McClard’s while growing up in Hot Springs and as president, continued to do so.

Our truck parked on the right, we waited for lunch crowd to leave so that Vivian could more easily navigate through the tiny restaurant.
Smoked turkey is a popular dish at McClard’s and I savored every bite while Vivian enjoyed the ribs.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, we drove to Little Rock to visit the William J Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Think whatever you want of the Clinton’s, but this museum was well worth it, and on an accessibility scale of “don’t bother” to “I can enjoy this 100%”, Vivian enjoyed our visit thoroughly throughout this modern building with wide open spaces. The library also houses temporary exhibits and during our visit, we had the great pleasure to see Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea. A non-profit art project founded by Angela Haseltine Pozzi in 2010, tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches are used to create monumental art installations.

Enjoy the slideshow below of the Clinton library. Built next to a pedestrian bridge on the Arkansas River, the building cantilevers over the river in the spirit of “building a bridge to the 21st century”.
Throw away plastic and rubber become art, an exhibition at the Clinton Library.

Following that, we stopped in to pay homage to nine brave children at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. It was a solemn visit to the small visitor center built across the street from the infamous school where those children walked the cruel gauntlet that led them to integrated education.

The words of segregation, in response to the police protection for the Little Rock Nine.
The words of Carlotta Walls, “Super Negro”.
Little Rock Central High School is the only operating high school designated a National Historic Site.

My memory of these places is somewhat tainted by the degree of inaccessibility we experienced. As I write this, Vivian has had full mobility for several months (11 months have passed since the break). Despite the inconveniences of struggling to push the wheelchair up a steep path or hoist it into the truck for the umpteenth time, or entering a campground bathroom with “handicapped accessible” signs only to discover there were no rails in the stalls or not being able to move the wheels on a gravelly uneven ground, we never forgot that this was a temporary inconvenience and nothing more. So yes, our final weeks of our 2019 travels got disrupted in a big way; but we had good times and we got over the bad times.  

RV Tips and Issues. I highly recommend that both of you (if you are two) feel comfortable with every aspect of moving your rig; dumping, unhooking, hitching, driving, backing up, unhitching, hooking up -repeat cycle. If one of you goes down for the count, the other needs to step in. I will admit, I was relieved Vivian was able to drive the fifth wheel, which meant she could do the backing-in because that has been her designated job from the start and she is much better at it than I am. Of course you can also rely on the kindness of strangers.

4 thoughts on “Sep 16, 2019 – The New Normal

  1. Your post brought back so many memories for us. Although we never made it to Eureka Springs, it sounds very similar to the small town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Did you get a chance to visit any of the spas? We too loved our tour of Central High School. Such a powerful and heart-wrenching story. So glad Vivian is feeling better and back to crawling under the RV!


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