Friday, May 13, 2016

Looking at Lakes and Seeing Old Friends

Lake Ouachita Vista
The Ouachita Mountains are home to such wonderful folks as Charlie Weaver and Lum and Abner. These characters would probably not be at all surprised if they visited the Mount Ida and Pine Ridge areas since nothing much has changed in the 80 some-odd years since they inhabited the Ozarks. However, if they ventured into the surrounding areas, they would be astounded at the population growth. Another, now quite so famous, former resident of the area is Near-Normal Traveler, Dave. His misspent youth consisted of running amok around the Lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita fishing, hunting and learning to drive in an old 1950 Dodge. It was a good thing that the car had a high clearance and plenty of spare tires to deal with some of the back roads – one of which we visited on this trip.

Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine are a pair of man-made lakes close to Hot Springs,
Left T to B: Sign on Crystal Springs General Store,
Boat basin
Right: Lake Hamilton
Arkansas created by the Arkansas Power & Light. Lake Hamilton is a 7,200-acre (2,900 ha) reservoir formed from damming the Ouachita River by Carpenter Dam. This 1,000 foot (300 m) long and 100 foot (30 m) high dam houses a hydroelectric power generation facility. The dam and power plant were completed in 1931 and are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are several communities, including Crystal Springs, that have built up around the lake and lots of places to eat and look at the water. While we crossed over portions of the lake as we wandered around Hot Springs, we really didn’t get a good look at it because much of the access is restricted to private roads and access points.

Lake Catherine is much smaller than Lake Hamilton, only about 1,940 acres (790 ha). Its concrete-and-steel Ambursen-type buttressed dam, built in the 1920s also is listed in the
Top L to R: Yurt, Lake Catherine
Bottom L to R: Boat dock, Canada goose
National Register of Historic Places. Around this scenic lake are places to camp and fish; our particular favorite was the Lake Catherine State Park.  There is even a yurt for folks who have neither tent nor trailer in which to stay. I was impressed with the restroom areas that included showers and facilities for disabled campers. The morning we were there was a bit foggy, but the Canada geese didn’t have any issues navigating through the mist.

Lake Ouachita, created by the blockading of the Ouachita River with Blakely Mountain Dam,
Top L to R: Lake Ouachita, Mushrooms
Bottom L to R: Centipede, Rough road
is the largest lake completely in Arkansas. Surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest it is known as the Striped Bass Capital of the World. There are lots of small roads that you can wander along and places to explore. Going up to the overlook can be a real adventure. There are two roads that take you to the top of the mountain: the one on the left is well graveled and leads directly to a nice parking lot with scenic views, then there’s the one on the right. Since the roads aren’t marked and the GPS showed a nice circle, we took the road on the right. Thankfully Dave learned to drive on unpaved Arkansas roads and our car has a high clearance with front wheel drive. This road looks just as passable as the one on the left, lulling you into a false sense of security, but as soon as you get just beyond the half-way point is full of scree slopes, broken rock, and tree limbs that threaten to take out your windshield. However, we prevailed, making it to the overlook. Not only did we have wonderful views, but we also spotted a centipede and some quite attractive mushrooms.

Having seen the lakes, and looking for a more paved area to explore, we headed for Mount Ida. Mount Ida is the seat of Montgomery County and quartz crystal capital of the U.S.
Left: Montgomery County Courthouse
Right T to B: Stage, Cemetery
Founded in 1842 and incorporated in 1890, the 1880s silver boom brought early prosperity and economic development to the city. It has remained a slowly growing small town with the economy shifting to ranching, poultry farming, forest management, and tourism around Lake Ouachita. The small town boasts a lovely old county court house and a small stage from which local artists entertain residents and visitors on Saturday nights in the summer. There’s also a historic cemetery and several period houses.

Near Mount Ida is one of the places that none of us had ever visited: the Lum and Abner Museum. Lum and Abner was a radio comedy program created by Chester Lauck and
Top L to R: Lum and Abner, Potbelly stove, Post office
Bottom L to R: Sampler, Basset hound 
Norris Goff that played from 1931 to 1954, more than 5,000 shows. It was patterned after life in the small town of Waters, Arkansas, near where Lauck and Goff grew up. The show was so popular that in 1936 Waters changed its name to Pine Ridge after the show's fictional town. Lum and Abner were co-owners of the Jot 'em Down Store in Pine Ridge, interacting with the local citizens and frequently getting involved in get-rich-quick schemes.  The show ran on NBC for many years, then after national sponsorship ended, it was broadcast from Texas stations, WBAP (Fort Worth) and WFAA (Dallas). Following the radio program, Lum and Abner shot seven films, the last in Yugoslavia. In the 1970s the Lum and Abner Museum opened with a replica of the Jot 'em Down Store standing next to it; the Museum is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Inside is the original Pine Ridge post office that still serves 12 residents. While I enjoyed looking at all the memorabilia, I was struck by the need for the museum to be cleaned and dusted. The post mistress and museum docent, although busy sorting mail and putting it into boxes, did take time to talk to us about the museum. She was quite knowledgeable of the entertainers, the programs, the items in the museum. She had interesting tidbits about the town and its surroundings, as well. Vince was delighted to see some of the old farming equipment and to hear one of the radio programs he enjoyed in his youth. Dave and I enjoyed poking around the museum, examining pictures of entertainers from the 1930s and 1940s. We all had a good time with the Basset hound who happily greets visitors to the Jot 'em Down Store.

Pine Ridge School timeline

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