Monday, October 8, 2007

A Short Detour Through Hell

After I got back to the car in Hot Springs, it was pretty dark, pretty late. So I drove on up north on Hi-7 in the blackness, testing my driving skills to the max, especially since I was getting rather tired. I didn't see too many roadside critters, perhaps a couple of deer and a few armadillo-pizzas. I debated over the relative intelligence of Texas armadillos vs. Arkansas armadillos, as I rarely ever see 'dillos flattened on the road in Texas, land of the Armadillo, but once I cross the border into Arkansas, the highway seems to be paved with the poor things. Either Texas dillos are smarter or quicker than Arkansas dillos (what, the water?) or Texas Highway Department clean-up crews are more fastidious than their Arky compatriots. Eventually I found a Wal-Mart. Whether or not true, I've been told by several sorts that Wal-Mart parking lots are legal havens for travelers and safe enough for a parking-nap. So I got out and stretched and explored the store for awhile, until I got tired enough to go into a car coma, brushed my teeth and went back out to the car. It was deathly hot, wherever I was, and I feared I might have parked close to some sort of garbage lot...smelled to high heaven. Zillions of bugs under the lights, too. But I packed it in, crawled into the back of the minivan, moved stuff about, and proceeded to sleep. And immediately discovered that this wasn't going to happen. Not having seriously compared the differences between my old van and the Toyota, it did not occur to me that this would be a problem. First, I couldn't fully lie down; the rear seat was cut off by the tire wells and so was not nearly as long as the van's bed had been. I'm pretty short, but I either had to curl up in a tight fetal position or stick my legs out in bizarre positions to get anywhere in a sleeping-kind of situation. Second, there was no way to open the windows. The rear ones could be cracked about 3/4 inch open, just enough for the bugs to crawl in, but not nearly enough to get oxygen. The temperature soared, as did the humidity. Being a stubborn cuss, I tried my best to at least rest...figured maybe I'd pass out for a while at the very least. But I tossed and turned (well, as best I could) and soon I was fully drenched, could not breathe, and the windows were completely fogged over and coated with bugs. The little air there was stank, which certainly didn't help matters, and I finally gave up. I was swimming in sweat and starting to gasp. Then I found out that I was really in trouble. The middle doors, unlike the old van, did not unlock. The car had all manner of child-safety locking devices (mom always gets stuck in the car) and there's no way to unlock the doors except from the front driver's seat console. Waaaaaaay up there. And I'm waaaaaay back in the back. With boxes and batteries and seats and stuff in the way. I tried my best to reach either front door handle, but couldn't. After 15-20 minutes and close to passing out from lack of air, I was nearly in a panic. Dreading becoming a headline, "45-Year-Old Texas Woman Found Dead in Dardanelles Wal-Mart Parking Lot," I tried finding a yardstick and slapping the buttons...though I hit one, I still had to open a door, argh. Finally I just climbed over stuff, cracking a few cases and bruising my chest but good, and thwacked the front button and opened the door and gasped a few minutes. It took longer to figure out how to also open the middle door to get out of the back of the car, and sobbing from frustration and work, managed it and rolled out. Breathed a while, collected myself, cursed the universe some, and then went around and straightened stuff and situated myself back in the driver's seat, soaked to the bone and very unhappy. It was closing in on 4am and so too late to do much of anything else but go least if I were moving, there'd be some cool air, and a lot fewer bugs and stench. So I drove on, eventually getting a hold of myself, but still angry. Turned out the stink was just the Arkansas River, which while a handsome, big body of water, always seems to smell like death warmed over. I played a lot of follow-the-leader (me as the leader) on the swerves of the highway, and cooled off a bit in every sense, still wondering what the Universal meaning of that kind of peril was, wondering if I could make it as far as Harrison without fainting, and I found a rest stop that hadn't been there before. It was on the left and I nearly missed it, but I got pulled in and stopped. Desperately needed water if nothing else. Just one other car was there, and I got out and went to the rest room and freshened up, got some water, and walked back out. The other person left, and I looked up. Suddenly I was paid back for all the hell in Dardanelles. Above I could see the Milky Way in all its glory, and we were still in the Perseids meteor shower, so stars were falling one way and another. I was at a canyon overlook, and it was dark and cool and I had it all to myself. But I was so tired I just went over to a bench and laid down and looked up for awhile, ooing and ahing and telling Them Than Be that, ok, I guess we could call it even after all. Still grouchy, but the night show was worth it. Afraid I'd fall asleep on the bench and strangers would find me in such a vulnerable position, I went to my car and rolled down the window, managed to get the seat down pretty far, and I could watch most of the sky and rest at the same time. Ah, I can rest in the car, just not in the back. I did nod off for awhile, until dawn. So I took some dawn pix, light flowing over an Ozark canyon. I recognized the area...for eons this had been a scenic pull-over. Not sure when it got upgraded to an official Rest Stop (restrooms, water, maps, etc.). Had a lot of interesting plants I wasn't familiar with...especially something with some sort of golf-ballish fruit and/or floofy flowers. I thought maybe they were passionflowers, but wasn't sure. (Just looked up some pictures online, yes, I think that's what they were...gee, how'd I know that?) Anyway I walked about along the overlook decks in the morning cool, and shot a few more pictures before heading further up the road.
Morning in the Ozarks.
The Ozarks are the oldest mountain range in the world.
I also hit another common stop, Scenic Point, which has a nice gift shop and a tower. It overlooks the Buffalo River canyon. But it was still very early and nothing was open, so I just climbed the tower and watched the rising sun a bit, and moved on to Jasper and Harrison.

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