The next day we were on the road again en route to Mufreesboro to dig for diamonds. Crater of Diamonds State Park (http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/) is the only place in North America where you can dig for diamonds and the only place in the world where you can keep what you find. We arrived to find all kinds of people scattered throughout the park's diamond search area, a 37-acre plowed field that is the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe that 95 million years ago. The volcanic activity brought to the surface the diamonds and some of the semi-precious stones lucky visitors find here today. While any color diamond can be found at the park, the three most common colors unearthed by visitors are white, brown and yellow, as well as more than 40 types of rocks and minerals, such as lamproite, amethyst, banded agate, jasper, peridot, garnet, quartz, calcite, barite, and hematite. Margi got us geared up (rubber boot covers, shovel, two-level sifters, apron and gloves) and taught us how to prospect. We were digging, dumping, sifting and searching all morning trying to find the perfect diamond to take home. While we didn’t find our “retirement,” we had fun (and were entertained) and realized we need to set aside an entire day (not just a few hours) for diamond mining next time.
The hard work from diamond digging made us drive straight to the closest restaurant, which was Buddy’s Ranch House Cafe. I tweeted: “You know you're in Arkansas when you order The Big Bad Buddy Burger for lunch while surrounded by Razorback decor & signs: Go hogs!" While surrounded by Razorback fanatics, I was deathly afraid to tell anyone I was a Florida Gator. I quickly ate my Big Bad Buddy Burger and we got back on the road.
Next stop, Hot Springs and the Gangster Museum of America (http://www.tgmoa.org/), which depicts an historic account of the life and times of the most notorious gangsters in America and their relationships in the spa city. During the 20s-40s era, Hot Springs was the Las Vegas of the U.S. Notable villains such as Al Capone, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano all vacationed in Hot Springs in an effort to treat illnesses and find comfort in the hot water.
After learning about the city’s “underground” gangster life and hearing some of the history, it was time to check out these famous bath houses. Eight bath houses make up Bath House Row, located in the Hot Springs National Park which sits in Downtown Hot Springs. We toured the Quapaw Bath House (http://www.quapawbath.com/), which is a 24,000-square foot Spanish Colonial revival style building built in 1922. Although it once served guests in the early part of the century, it has been completely renovated and offers massages, facials, thermal baths and body treatments. While this is the only bath house of the eight to be renovated for modern spa use, a few of the other bath houses have been restored for other uses and are certainly worth seeing.
After touring the Quapaw, we found several of the hot springs around town. It was evident because the steam from the hot water would fill the air above these openings. This water coming out stays a nice 143 degrees year round and is known to be more than 4,000 years old. Very cool….or should I say hot?
We opted for dinner at Belle Art Italian Ristorante (http://www.belleartigroup.com/), which specializes in home-made pastas and specialty dishes. This is one very authentic Italian dining experience in the heart of the bath house historic district, courtesy of owners Penny & Chef Joe Gargano.