My inaugural #vanlife road trip started with a whimper. I was headed from Austin to northern Arkansas for a week-long road trip to @vanarchyintheozarks. In order to avoid rush hours and get some miles under my belt, I decided to head out around 8:00 PM. Unfortunately, I only made about 200 miles when I got a flat tire. (Fortunately, I had missed my exit and had to pull a u-turn off the interstate - right next to an all night gas station.)
I could have changed it myself, but it was cold, I was in a sketch part of town, and I’m kinda lazy. Besides, that’s why I pay for Roadside Assistance. Even though it was midnight, a nice local mechanic came out while I waited with a hot cup of coffee.
I drove on down the road to a quiet suburban town and slept in a hotel parking lot for the night. It just happened to be next to a tire store, so I replaced my spare in the morning before continuing on.
Travel Date: November 4
It took 348 miles until I saw my first hill. The rough part about owning a van in central Texas is that it takes a looooong time for the scenery to get interesting. Fortunately, once I got to Arkansas, things got more impressive. I had a blast zipping around the Ouachita National Forest “Talimena Scenic Drive” and the Ozark National Forest “Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway."
I ended up sleeping in a hotel parking lot, again. I was only 70 miles from my destination, but the sun was setting and I didn’t want to miss any of the cool scenery along the way. At this latitude, the temperature had dropped to the 40s overnight so I was happy for my industrial strength -35 F rated sleeping bag.
Travel Date: November 5-6
Vanarchy in the Ozarks was my first van rally and it was a blast! Since I had just purchased my van, I didn’t have time to do any renovations other than a deep cleaning. For this first trip, I chose to set up the van just like I did my Honda Fit last summer - throw a mattress in the back and go.
The rally was filled with a variety of full-time and part-time #vanlifers. I estimate there were about 70 vans there. Everyone had their doors open so people could peek in and get ideas. Such an amazing community vibe!
Favorite memories were sitting around the firepit discussing favorite travel destinations with fellow travel lovers. :)
Travel Date: November 7
I decided to take the scenic route back to Texas and hit up a few tourist stops along the way. I got a great lunch recommendation from a local who was party-crashing the van rally. (I had a fascinating conversation with him over the campfire. He was a relatively young guy who grew up on a Native American reservation in northern Minnesota and is currently managing a horse riding resort a few miles down the road from the rally’s campsite.) The Cliff House Inn Restaurant was parched on the side of a cliff with an amazing balcony overlooking the Ozark Mountains and the Buffalo River.
I then continued winding my way through the hills to Hot Springs National Park. I had visited there a few times when I was a child on family road trips, so I was excited to see it again. I drove up to the top of Hot Springs Mountain to the observation tower and then strolled along The Grand Promenade which meanders along the backside of the historic Bathhouse Row which catered to wealthy tourists in the early 1900s.
I ended the day by driving down to the town of Murfreesboro, AR to position myself for the next day’s adventures. It was a tiny town and I felt conspicuous in my van, so I decided to pay the $18 for a campsite in the local RV park. I know technically in an RV, but I justified the fib since my van is the same size as a large tent I wasn’t hooking up to water or power.
Travel Date: November 8
Today, I ticked off a Bucket List item which has been on my list since I was TEN YEARS OLD: Crater of Diamonds State Park. I don’t remember how I heard about this place, but I remember being obsessed with the idea that you could go some place to mine for diamonds and keep whatever you found. I was tickled that this place was pretty much on my way home from the Ozarks.
I set out early and rented a bucket, spade, and sifting screens. The process is pretty straight forward: you wander out into an open field, shovel dirt into a pail, lug it over to a water trough, and start sifting small amounts until the bucket is empty. And repeat for as long as you want throughout the day.
Lemme tell ya, mining ain’t easy. The idea of the backbreaking labor put in by the 49ers and the Yukon gold rushers boggles my mind. I was done after three hours. I didn’t strike it rich, but I pretended I did by taking a photo of the white quartz I found. :) All in all, I’m so happy to now have a visual to go with my childhood dream.
Since I got done quicker than I had planned, I managed to drive all the way back to Austin that same day.