Last week, Ol' Fuj and I were on the brink of a significant case of PES (Postal Employee Syndrome). From April 26 through May 7, we got in the whopping total of two rides. Other than those two days, it was raining every time we had a chance to go for a spin. Between the two of us, we had had enough.
We decided to head to LA (lower Arkansas) to my mom's house. We would attempt a ride on Saturday and attend church on Sunday (Mothers' Day) with mom. There was a significant rain chance in LA, but not quite as high as in northwest AR, and it would be warmer in LA.
To keep my 93 year old mother from making a big fuss over our visit, I didn't call her until we were about two hours away on Friday night.
We got up Saturday morning to overcast skies. Quite by design, I did not watch or listen to any weather prognostications on Saturday morning. I won't start a ride in the rain, but I'll ride in it if I get caught.
We decided to ride up AR Highway 7 from El Dorado toward Camden. We had never done that ride before. We took a couple of back roads to get to highway 7.
Highway 7 is designated as a scenic byway, and as I understand it, it runs the entire length of the state south to north.
I didn't realize it until we had been a few miles, but there are no bill boards on this road. There are just miles and miles of small hills, honey suckle (which smelled really nice), pine trees, wild flowers, an occasional oil well, crows, cardinals, wood peckers, and an old buzzard (yours truly). The motorists were for the most part very courteous.
Our first big encounter on the road was the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources.
South central Arkansas was in the very early 1920s, a boom town. Oil was discovered there, and the population grew quite rapidly in a short period of time. In my childhood and youth, one could see active oil wells all over the area. Some were aged, and some were fairly new. There were three oil refineries in the area. Two remain in operation, now.
The museum is a worthwhile stop. There are a number of displays which document the history of the oil business, the bromine business, and the Sparta aquifer among other things. When the wells were drilled, one of the by products was brine (salt water), and it was discovered that these brines were reasonably rich in bromine. There are several bromine plants in the area. I remember seeing some large waste areas with sandy soil and dead vegetation where brine was, I suppose, pumped off the oil wells. Obviously, that practice has changed, and those areas are healing. The museum features various programs and presentation. The current one highlights GPS technology
Inside the museum, there was this display of a burning well.
The drillers hit a gas pocket, and the well eventually exploded and created the crater. When I was old enough to drive, we went to the crater once in a while and shot our .22 rifles We tossed cans and bottles down into it and tried to sink them before they could do so on their own. You could still see oil bubbling up occasionally. The crater is still there, but it is a state attraction and is under fence.
After the brief stop at the museum, Fuj and I continued on up the road toward Smackover, AR which like El Dorado was a boom town way back when.
You can Google Smackover to get to the Chamber of Commerce site, click on "history" and learn about the name. Fuj and I get to go to the neatest places... Alma, Hogeye, LeCompte, Smackover..... eat your hearts out.
Highway 7 was resplendent with various and sundry wild flowers. To wit:
As I mentioned earlier the honeysuckle was also blooming, and the air was filled with that fragrance.
The road is walled with trees, oak, hickory, sweet gum (I believe people on the West Coast call these liquid amber), and pines.
We made it to Camden but not before encountering a light rain. We were, however, prepared for it, so no problem.
We made it back to mom's house with 63 miles in the bag. We needed to do this as my birthday was Sunday, May 10, and I did not get to do a birthday ride in '08 due to, what else, foul weather.
Perhaps the best part of this experience awaited me. If you will recall, there was or is a "you're too skinny" thread on 50+. As I had burned a little over 2,300 calories on this ride, I felt like eating, and as usual, my mom felt like cooking.
If there was ever a "win-win" situation, this was it. REAL fried okra, purple hull peas, home made cornbread (with yellow corn meal from War Eagle Mill [water-powered grist mill] in northwest AR), a pasta casserole, and ham. Ice cream and strawberries for dessert. I ate with wild abandon (multiple helpings), which made my mother a happy camper. Had I let her in on my plans to visit, she would have had a cherry pie ready.
About 45 minutes after we got in from the ride, the bottom fell out. Big thunderstorm. Who cares. We finally got in a decent ride and a birthday ride!!! We made to church on Sunday, and my older brother drove in to attend as well. A great weekend!