An adventure and a family field trip all wrapped up in one town; is it possible? We are going to go on a quest to clue you in on what I consider to be the smartest field trips for your money. We are also going to talk about some remote learning options that are available for road-tripping families trying to find the best experiences that Hot Springs has to offer.
Learning from experience the Hot Springs way can mean a lot of things; it means getting your hands covered in red clay while making geologic discoveries, it means building a better understanding of your natural surroundings as you examine native flora and fauna, it means discovering the intersection of where art meets science, it means knowing your history, it means the geometry of a curve ball, and it means testing out just how hot that water is that you discovered bubbling above the ground.
America’s First Resort has much to offer the inquisitive mind and to teach for those willing to learn and become engaged. It's an attractive valley town, not just for those seeking a healthy lifestyle retreat, but for those seeking to delve deep into a veritable well of educational opportunities. The only hard part can be deciding just where to begin.
For fans of Babe Ruth and the roots of professional baseball, the Historic Baseball Trail is a real home run. Go and download the Hot Springs Baseball Trail App for a convenient self-guided tour. The app will take you throughout the town leading you to points of interest like the one found directly outside the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo. According to the designated trail description, this site is where Babe Ruth hit one of the first-ever 500-foot-plus home run drives that landed directly into the alligator farm from a nearby baseball park on Whittington Avenue.
A fond family destination, the Arkansas Alligator Farm at the tail-end of historic Whittington Avenue is still family-owned and operated. Established in 1902, the Bridges family has made alligator wrangling their business and have taught the public about these cold-blooded now for generations. Open year-round the Alligator farm features other live animals and offers a fun and safe outdoor environment for the family.
Hot Springs, for those who do not know, is also a major destination for artists and art enthusiasts. Downtown Hot Springs hosts a monthly gallery walk and other touring art exhibits such as the current Hall of Fame Baseball Photography exhibit “Picturing America’s Pastime,” now on display at the Hot Springs Convention Center through October. The show features 51 photographs from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibit includes panoramas and photos from award-winning journalists and esteemed sports photographers and is a good round off either before or after you tour the historic baseball trail.
If you are still seeking more fun in the sun and want to make geology a subject of interest on your family field trip, then be sure to bring a shovel and go seek out the crystal clear quartz buried over at Ron Coleman Mining. Another family-owned and operated business visitors have sought unique mineral treasures at this mine for more than thirty years now. Aside from being popular among local mineral hounds, Coleman's Mining is considered by many to be one of the best local quartz mines for visitors from all over the country. Take a break from your digging while you are there and jump on the zip lines that will take you over the mine itself for a stunning view of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains.
Another outdoor learning adventure planted in the Ouachitas is Garvan Woodland Gardens. For many adults and children, the Gardens have become a definite must-see. Especially now with its new Evans Children's Adventure Garden and treehouse, there is just so much exquisite outdoor beauty to appreciate. Also, be sure to take a walk-around the Hixson Nature Preserve that borders on Lake Hamilton and take a peek at the Perry Wildflower Overlook. Owned by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Garvan Gardens flourishes in part thanks to the university landscape architecture program, which helps to maintain the grounds. The affiliation with UofA has extended opportunities in learning for both children and adults also. Garvan Gardens continues to strive in its mission to educate the public about plants and conservation here in the natural state.
Lunch time in Hot Springs offers up a myriad of the most delectable "nom noms." For the most starving minds your best option is 420 Eats, a local food truck court, it offers up a variety of options all in one convenient place. Near the Hot Springs Greenway Trail in downtown you have the option of choosing some yummy Southern Style “Soul Food” from Mama Vees or let your hair down and feast on some fresh Asian food from Rock N Roll Hibachi. There is also Arroz Con Frijoles which is a Mayan style food truck offering unique fare that is South of the Border. 420 Eats also often hosts visiting trucks that bring new and unique flavors, desserts and more plus there are fun outdoor games and plenty of available seating for you and your family.
Mid-America Science Museum offers science enthusiasts a one-of-a-kind diversion into all things science-related. Take in an electrifying Tesla Theater show where visitors learn all about inventor Nikola Tesla or go on a walkabout on the Oaklawn Foundation DinoTrek to see and hear the dinosaurs crowding the 21-acre property. A favorite among families at this museum, of course, is the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, an outdoor interactive treehouse towering above the creek that flows through the museum property. On display through October be sure to visit Bionic Me, a traveling exhibit on display in the traveling exhibit hall, this exhibition explores the inventive and ingenious medical and industrial breakthroughs that have helped enhance the human experience.
Are you interested in becoming a Hot Springs National Park Junior Ranger? If you are planning to visit Hot Springs National Park anyway and you are scouting extra learning opportunities, then you might consider this program centered on exploring, learning, and protecting the parks! The National Park Junior Ranger program is targeted to children between the ages of 5 to 13 but is available to all ages. To gain your Junior Ranger badge, you must first complete a series of activities during your visit to Hot Springs National Park and share your answers with a park ranger to receive your badge.
To receive a Junior Ranger booklet, visit the National Park Service ranger station at the Fordyce Bathhouse on historic Bathhouse Row, where you can also take a look at other information and resources about the National Park.
As a parent, it is often easy to take your area learning resources for granted. Lessons about life, big or small, are best when learned with family and when traveling out on the open road. So whether you are a radical, road schooling fam out on an extended vacation or you are just looking for some leisurely long-distance learning, then there is a fountain of possibilities for you and your loved ones when you visit Hot Springs.
Born in Hot Springs, Jim Miller is a local writer and independent marketing consultant who has recently gone through the metamorphosis of becoming a father. A five-year marketing professional he has worked for area nonprofit organizations and small businesses here in Hot Springs for the past ten years. Nowadays he mostly dedicates himself to spending time with his wife and his 8-month old son Archimedes. Listen for him at least most of the time every Tuesday at 8 am on KUHS Radio 102.5 FM.