In October, I headed back to Wichita for a writing conference. This time, it was a fall road trip, which allowed me to explore parts of Arkansas and Kansas. I have been looking forward to seeing more of both states since earlier this year. My father was born in Mist, Arkansas, a small town, so seeing a place I had never experienced seemed like a good excuse.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs is steeped in history, from an early resort town to a gambling town and now a historical town. I chose to stay at The Waters Hotel across the Street from Bathhouse Row. It was an old medical building that was transformed into a Hilton Hotel. You could see the entire town from the rooftop bar. Two large buildings dominate the skyline: the Arlington Hotel and the Medical Arts Building.
The Arlington Hotel is a magnificent structure but has seen better days. Built in 1924, it will celebrate its 100th year in 2024. The hotel is where Al Capone stayed when he was in town. You can stay in his suite, Rm 443. I wondered why he chose such a low floor—the reason- a tunnel from his room’s closet to the Southern Club across the Street. You can see his suite here.
Eight bathhouse buildings remain on Bathhouse Row, a National Park Site. During the late 1880s through the early 1960s, the mineral springs of Hot Springs were to have curative powers for many ailments. Today, two of the spas are available for visitors to ‘take in the waters.” Each bathhouse is unique in its design, so visitors should explore each one. The Superior bathhouse has been converted into a brewery. It is the only brewery housed within a National Park. Here is a link to learn more about the history of bathhouses.
Hot Springs also has a presidential connection. President Bill Clinton lived in Hot Springs as a child. The house is not open for tours and looks as if it could use some TLC. Here is some information about the home.
Fort Smith, Arkansas
Fort Smith has a busy, welcoming downtown area, with history at every turn. There are several museums located downtown.
The Fort Smith National Historic Site has one building from the original fort built in the 1890s, which served as a military barracks and later as a jail and courthouse. The site also contains the gallows from Judge Issac Parker, built in 1873 and used through 1896.
The U.S. Marshall’s Museum opened in July 2023. It is a magnificent place to learn the history of Marshall’s service from its inception in 1789 to the present day. The Wall of Honor is a memorial to those officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. The names of many of the incidents struck me. I remembered them but did not realize the U.S. Marshall’s role in those incidents. This museum should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. It tells the story of heroic men and women in law enforcement. Put this on your list to see. It is well worth a visit.
On my way to Wichita, I quickly stopped in Pawhuska to visit Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman’s store, The Mercantile, and restaurant. The food was good, and the service was terrific. I definitely recommend a visit, just for the biscuits. Early morning is best to beat the crowds.
Bentonville is the home of Walmart, Sam Walton’s mega empire that humbly began in 1962. I chose Homewood Suites for my overnight accommodation.
Alice Walton, Sam Walton’s daughter, created Crystal Bridges in 2011. This magnificent space of more than 217,000 square feet houses some incredible works of art. How it has integrated into nature is nothing less than spectacular. The Bachman-Wilson House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was built in New Jersey in 1956 and reconstructed in Bentonville in 2015. This museum is enormous. Get there early and plan for a day or two to see everything.
Hillary and Bill Clinton wed in the house they owned in Fayetteville. It is within easy walking distance of the campus and the stadium. I was glad that Arkansas had an away game that day, or I would have never been able to reach the house.
The home sits atop a hill on West Clinton Drive, just off Stadium Drive. It is a small one bedroom one bath house with some additions. It is a modest house but a fitting start for a pair of young law professors. They wed in the main living area of the home. There you can see Hillary’s wedding dress. They married in the front room of the home. They lived there until Bill was elected the Attorney General of Arkansas.
I spent three days in Wichita in June and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was happy to be back so I could discover more about the largest city in Kansas. While there, I attended the Midwest Travel Network Writer’s Workshop.
This historic hotel sits on the border of Old Town Wichita. The Keen Kutter warehouse building was built in 1906 and converted to a hotel around 2006. I had a room on the 3rd floor facing 1st Street. It was a bit noisy with the traffic, but it did afford me a nice view of the Old Town. The room was comfortable, with a large bath and a small kitchen. The hotel hosted our first day of the workshop.
The original Wichita Airport began in 1930, but the Art Deco building was not completed until 1935. The WPA paved the runways. Exhibits include the history of aviation in Wichita, which is significant still today, The Tuskegee Airman, Women in Aviation, and Women in Early Aviation. A selection of aircraft is on display at the rear of the building. Be sure to walk up to the tower; you will see downtown.
This art gallery and teaching studio is located on the outskirts of Wichita. We attended a culinary class there. Sixteen people and ten recipes. It was controlled chaos, but the dishes were delicious. One art exhibition was striking. These young people had endured years of life ‘in the system,’ and they had created shoes that represented their journey. The stories were heartbreaking. Evoking a reaction is what art should do.
I am usually not one for zoos, but Tanganyika was different. There was a lot of space, the animals were well cared for, and visitors could get up close with supervision. These behind-the-scenes experiences are always fun. We got up close to a sloth and an otter. I had no idea sloths’ fur was so soft or that an otter sounded like a cat.
First Pizza Hut on the Wichita State College Campus. Two fraternity brothers created and founded Pizza Hut in Wichita. The original building sits near the stadium. Original exhibits inside show you how Pizza Hut began.
This beautiful garden lets visitors see bees, trees, and flowers. Even though the growing season was ending, it was still peaceful. We had our class next to the carousel. It was the only day we had a bit of rain, but it only improved the garden.
Each evening at 9 p.m. (depending on the time of year), the Keeper statue is lit over the Arkansas River. Native American artist Blackbear Bosin created this landmark in 1974 to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. Locals and tourists come out to see the Keeper. It is a must-see when in Wichita.
Food in Wichita
We ate a lot of delicious food in Wichita and visited several restaurants.
Our first night at Public for dinner in a family-style farm-to-table restaurant. Our second night to Piatto for Napolitano Pizza and Hopping Gnome Brewery for hand-crafted beer. On day three, we dined at Home Grown for lunch, then began a progressive dinner at Doma for an extensive array of appetizers, First Mile Kitchen for steak, and Wine Dive for smores. We wrapped up our culinary adventure with 1400 Edelside for breakfast and lunch. Edelside is located in the Wichita Art Museum, which hosted our final day of the workshop. Each location was simply delicious, and the service was quick. My kudos to each kitchen as they catered to our tastes.
Fort Scott, Kansas
I left Wichita for a hosted visit to Fort Scott. It was only a two-hour drive. I thoroughly enjoyed the small, walkable downtown area. There were shops galore and plenty of restaurants.
The Courtland is an old-world hotel with tin ceilings and wood paneling. Entering the lobby, you walk back to circa 1900. The rooms are comfortably appointed with showers and club chairs. A continental breakfast is offered.
I was impressed with the ranger who gave me a site tour. Jessica was well-versed and passionate about conversation. We walked around the site as she told me the history of Fort Scott and its importance in the town’s founding. It is a remarkable place with the tall grass that initially surrounded the site.
The cemetery was established in 1862 as a burial ground for Civil War soldiers. This tranquil place continues to accept veterans.
I did not know much about Gordon Parks, but the museum dedicated to his memory gave me an in-depth look at his life and career. And what a career it was, photographer, musician, director, songwriter, and more. The annual Gordon Parks festival was in full swing when I arrived.
Fort Scott Food
I met a fellow writer for dinner at the Nu Grille. We couldn’t resist the 1950s diner vibe. The burgers were good, and the service was exceptional. On Saturday morning, Lucci’s Cafe provided a tasty breakfast. It was full of locals, which is always a good sign. The servers knew everyone by name. The food was simple and delicious. Highly recommend.
On my way home, I stopped in Mist, Arkansas. My father was born there in 1924 in this rural community of farmers. Suffice it to say, there is not much there, cultivated fields and a few houses. When my travels allow, I will explore other areas of Arkansas on future trips to discover more about where Dad spent his early years.
Next year’s Midwest Travels
My travels in the Midwest have been insightful and enjoyable, and that will continue in 2024. I look forward to seeing Shipshewana, Indiana, in June 2024 for the Midwest Travel Network Conference. Here is a link to another journey through Kansas.