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Nichole Holze

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Shark teeth in the Sulphur River? Yes! In fact, I’ve even found a Mosasaur tooth! Located near Ladonia, Texas, the North Sulfur River Fossil Area is a paleontologist’s dream. An ancient sea once covered east Texas and specifically in Ladonia, the conditions were perfect for fossil preservation. Additionally, the Caddo Indigenous population inhabited the area for centuries prior.  It’s a beacon for fossil hunters, both professional and amateur alike.

By Accident

Ironically, the fossils were discovered by accident. In the 1920’s, the North Sulphur River was significantly smaller and more shallow. It was a narrow and winding river that was prone to flooding. In an attempt to create more tillable farmland and improve water flow from storm runoff, a channel was dredged in the middle of the river. Originally only twenty feet wide, it accelerated the erosion problems in the river and it’s now over three hundred feet wide. However, that dredging failure is how the fossils were discovered. The fossils in the Ladonia Fossil Area on the North Sulphur River date back to the Cretaceous period and up to the Pliocene epoch. There are lots of marine bivalve fossils such as ammonites and baculites. There are even shark teeth and most excitingly, mosasaur teeth.

We have been several times and I would recommend saving your expedition for the cooler weather of the fall, winter, or spring. Summer is just too hot and dry to safely explore. Remember your “ten essentials” anytime you’re headed out for an adventure.

 

There are a few things to remember as you prep for your fossil hunting adventure at the North Sulphur River:

1) Check the river level before you go, a simple Internet search for the “North Sulfur River water level ” will take you to the Army Corps of Engineer’s website. The water level needs to be two feet or below to safely dig. The area is prone to flash flooding, so check the weather as well.

2) The ramp down to the riverbed can be slick and potentially muddy.

3) There is no shade on the riverbed and because of that it can get exceedingly hot and dangerous.  Take more water than you think you need, wear sun hats and sunglasses, and consider bringing an umbrella to give shade for younger children. We all use a Camelbak water bladder in our backpacks while we hike and dig. Leave extra water in your car for the drive home.

4) There are also no bathrooms, so be prepared to squat behind some trees. Please practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out any toilet paper if used.

5) Pack a lunch and lots of snacks. Snacks are a powerful bargaining chip for tired kiddos to gain you some extra time to fossil hunt.

6) Wear waterproof shoes with good grip, or an old pair of running shoes. The riverbed can be very slippery and simple rain boots are too slippery. Plan on getting wet.

7) You do not need any special tools, though a screwdriver may be helpful if you are wanting to dig out of the clay and mud on the walls of the riverbed. Bring along a container to protect your fossil finds.

8) A comfortable backpack to carry everything in, one you don’t mind getting dirty.

9) You’re in nature. There will be wildlife. We have only seen one  small, non-venomous snake, however in the hot summer months there may be snakes of all kinds as well as hogs. Be aware of your surroundings and consider bringing a hiking pole or stick. Or, in our case, an old nine iron. It works great for moving snakes or using to get up and down the steep embankments.

10) Have fun!!! There are few places in the world where you can legally collect fossils and we are lucky enough to be only two hours away from a prime paleontology hotspot!

Pro-Tip

The best time to go is just after a hard rain, once the waters recede. Please remember to be respectful of other fossil explorers and keep pets on leash when there are other people around, keep loud music to a minimum, and carry out all trash. Happy adventuring!

There is no fee to visit. For more information, look up the “Ladonia Fossil Park” on Facebook or check the Dallas Paleontological Society’s website HERE.

Ladonia, TX is about two hours west of Texarkana and a little over an hour northeast of Prosper, Texas.

There are hidden gems and wonderful places to discover in every state, and state parks in Oklahoma are no exception. Beavers Bend State Park, near Hochatown, Oklahoma is an over 3,000 acre state park that boasts some of the most stunning landscapes in the eastern half of  the state. The Lower Mountain Fork River runs through the park and provides ample opportunities for floating, boating, as well as fishing and fly fishing. Nearby Broken Bow lake is a large and beautiful lake for even more boating and water recreation. The state park also operates a 40 room lodge, as well as rental cabins, RV sites, and tent sites. It’s a wonderful place for families to explore, with a miniature train to ride, seasonal horseback riding, miniature golf, boat rentals, a swim beach, and more. The Forest Heritage Museum has dioramas depicting the history of the area, painted by the Smokey Bear artist, Harry Rossoll. The museum has a wealth of history and information, as well as an art museum, which sometimes features wood cutting art from local artisans.

Beaver’s Bend Nature Center

One of our favorite stops is the Beaver’s Bend Nature Center, a charming building that houses hands-on learning opportunities. Here you can touch a variety of natural specimens like feathers, turtle shells, antlers, snake sheds, and more. There are often naturalist or ranger led programs that take place around a campfire by the river when the weather is right. Plus, check the schedule for arts and crafts programs and guided nature hikes.

Explore Hiking Trails

There are also multiple hiking trails at the park, ranging from less than a mile to ten miles. We’ve explored them all but our favorite trail is the strenuous and “expert” rated Skyline trail. The trail weaves through, up, down, and around the entire park, joining several trails together and offering incredible views of the river along the way. Do not underestimate this hike! Yes, our children have done it, but they are not novice hikers and have regularly hiked many 6 to 8 mile hikes before we took them on this trail. It is a beautiful hike that will push you and take you to some gorgeous views, up and down mountains, and beside a beautiful creek. One tip, the last mile and a half of hike is on paved road to get back to your vehicle.

Here are a few things to keep in mind for this hike:

  • Remove or hide all valuables from your car when you are leaving.
  • Pro tip: stash a change of clothes for everyone and a salty snack for the ride home, in the trunk. Plus extra water.
  • Use an app like AllTrails or Gaia to download an offline version of the map before you begin hiking. Cell service is spotty and having an offline map is helpful for navigation purposes.
  • In the AllTrails app, you can look up the Skyline Trail and begin navigating. It will show where you are on the trail and you can course correct if you veer off.
  • Carry plenty of water, using a water bladder like a Camelbak in your backpack to save on space and weight.
  • Remember the Ten Essentials.
  • Carry extra snacks to help encourage everyone to keep going. Sometimes we play a game where we take a bite of a good snack (like a GoMacro bar) every mile or every half mile.
  • Sing songs as you walk, tell a story as you walk, talking makes the miles pass by and it’s a great way to build into your relationships.
  • This trail is best hiked in the fall through the spring, avoid the summer month’s due to heat and insects.
  • Wear bug spray and tick repellent.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and the weather, bring raincoats if rain is suspected and be mindful of trails becoming dangerous in wet conditions.
  • There are several water crossings that may become difficult after a hard rain, in high water.
  • Start your hike early so you have plenty of time to hike in the daylight, the hike can easily take five to six hours depending on your pace.
  • Remember to take photos and enjoy your journey!

Keep in Mind

This trail is not suitable for young children and novice hikers. There are some very steep ascents and descents, as well as portions along cliffs and water crossings. If you’d like to hike at Beaver’s Bend State Park with younger children, I would recommend the Lookout Mountain Loop, the Tree Trail, the Spill Way Loop, Friends Loop, or Lakeview Lodge trail. For any hike you embark on, please remember to practice Leave No Trace principles, carry out what you carry in, do not shortcut switchbacks, and be respectful of the natural environment or any animals you may encounter.

Beaver’s Bend State Park is a treasure in southeast Oklahoma, that’s worth visiting all year round. Don’t’ forget to check the Forest Heritage Center Facebook page for program offerings and events!

There’s a unique history surrounding Little Rock, Arkansas that you may not know about. You may know that there’s an Air Force base there. You may also know that it was an important location during the Cold War, a difficult time in the US and World History. What you may not know is that at one time,  there were 18 ICBM (intercontinental nuclear missile) silos surrounding the Little Rock area. They were Titan II missile silos that housed nuclear weapons on a Gemini rocket, designed to be launched into space in under one minute. Crews of four men would work 24-hour shifts, followed by 24 hours off. They would meet at the Air Force base in the morning and drive to the missile launch control silo to begin their work day. They were given codes on paper, to be confirmed by the crew in place for a changeover, and the paper was burned. By 1986 these sites were all decommissioned and destroyed.  However, thanks to the ingenuity and tenacity of one person with a unique determination, one of those missile sites have been renovated into a luxury rental that you can stay in!

The exterior of Titan Ranch.

Titan Ranch

Titan Ranch, located just northeast of Conway, Arkansas, is one of these nuclear missile bases. It has been painstakingly restored by GT Hill. The entire process of the opening, cleaning, renovation and updating is documented on his largely followed Titan Ranch YouTube channel, and I highly recommend checking it out. The process was eye-opening, and a great history lesson. It was time-consuming and costly, but thanks to GT’s determination to recover and preserve some history, you can experience it firsthand by touring or staying the night at Titan Ranch.

Underground Missile Silo

Nichole is pictured with her kids in the entryway of their suite at Titan Ranch.

Titan Ranch is located in Vilonia, Arkansas, just northeast of Conway. Driving up to the ranch, you would never guess that you’re headed to an underground missile silo. Our stay at Titan Ranch began with driving down the gravel road, leading between cow pastures, the reason for the name “ranch.”  Cows looked back at us, munching away, while we wondered if we were headed to the right place. We met with Nick, one of the current hosts, who led us down the steps into the bunker. From there, we watched a video all about the missile base, the history, and the long and difficult renovation. It’s a lot of heavy information in a short time, but worth absorbing every minute of it. Lucky for us, Nick was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. We were joined by GT himself, who gave us an incredible tour, along with stories about the restoration effort and a few “SNAFU” moments during the massive project. Take the time to ask questions and hear the stories. It’s worth it, I promise.

Missile Launch Control Center

The rental space is inside what was once the crew quarters and missile launch control center. The silo which housed the Gemini missile is sealed off and still remains destroyed. Walking across the gangplank feels something like a sci-fi movie, and my children’s insistence on bringing Star Wars costumes was rather apropos. Entering the next space,  where the computers and control units would have been, you can still see the places on the floor where the desks with the key slots sat when it was an active site.  It’s a bit of a chilling experience. The control room space sits on level two of an internal, solid steel “birdcage” structure. The steel structure needed to be able to move within the concrete silo and dome, in order to remain operational regardless of what was occurring outside. GT has renovated the second level to be a multipurpose space, complete with projectors, a sound system, party lights, multiple whiteboards, and tables and chairs if needed. For us, there were two, queen size beds set up for my children. My son was absolutely thrilled to learn how to use the tablet to control the lights in the room.

Level two of Titan Ranch.

Originally, the launch control center had standard steps to reach multiple levels. While renovating, GT decided to put in a spiral staircase to save space and it adds to the industrial ambiance. Moving down from level two is the kitchen and entertainment space on level one. Titan Ranch missile control center comes with a full kitchen, stocked with drinks refrigerator, and a massive projector equipped with multiple movie streaming options along with some saved movies. There were tons of movie options for children and my kids had a blast watching Paddington on the huge white walls of the silo. For a one-night stay, I would recommend bringing all of your own food. There are not many food options close by, and besides, who else can say they cooked themselves dinner in a missile silo launch control center? GT has also set the space up to be able to host DJs and dance parties, for any kind of event.

Master Suite

The master suite is on the very top floor of the “birdcage” and is housed in what used to be crew quarters. The space has been turned into a luxury master bedroom, complete with an open concept walk-in shower, soaking tub, and enclosed toilet room. The large master bed appears to be floating above the floor, thanks to a creatively designed cantilever.  One of the strangest things about the master suite is the domed concrete ceiling. If you stand in the middle of the room and talk, the sounds seem strangely muffled but also echo at the same time. You have to try it to see what I mean.

The Master Suite.

That night, the only clue we had that it was way past bedtime was our fatigue. There are no windows in the space and no inclination that the sun had retreated and the moon was up. I tucked my children into the beds on the second floor, while my son picked a color for the light to stay while they fell asleep. I retreated upstairs to enjoy the incredible shower in the master suite and stayed up entirely too late reading a book in bed. Amazingly, we all slept wonderfully. The next morning, my kids enjoyed the donuts I’d brought for them and another movie on the projector. I enjoyed a cup of coffee in the master suite thanks to the in-room coffee bar and read a few more chapters. All too soon, it was time to check out. But not before my kids donned their Star Wars Mandalorian costumes for a little photo shoot. GT and Nick met us again to check out and we got to see a sneak peek into the other side of the complex. Titan Ranch has a little gift shop with some fun coffee mugs and t-shirts and I bought my kids’ t-shirts.

Level one of Titan Ranch.

Bucket List Worthy

While I wouldn’t recommend this for small children, it’s certainly a bucket list-worthy experience for adults and older children. There are only a few places in the United States where you can tour a former nuclear missile silo, but only one with luxury accommodations where you can also host a party, and it’s only a few hours away.  Unsettling as that history may be, it’s worth it just to say you did it.

Nichole’s kids are pictured at the top of the stairs in the master suite.

Rockhounding is the hobby collecting of rocks, fossils, and geologic specimens from a natural environment. Arkansas has an environment that led to it being one of the best places in the world to rockhound for quartz crystals! In fact, it ties with Brazil for the quality of the quartz specimens.

The Ouachita mountain range in central Arkansas is home to some of the best quartz veins in the entire state and there are plentiful mines, both commercial and public. The commercial mines regularly produce museum-quality specimens for both private collectors and museums around the world. But, the beautiful quartz crystals can also be dug out by the general public at several of the mines. One of those places is free to explore, and located just outside of Mt. Ida, Arkansas!

Crystal Vista is an abandoned commercial mine that is now open to anyone to explore and hunt for quartz crystals. The four-acre, crystal digging area sits atop Mount Gardner and there is a .8-mile trail that leads to the top. The trail to the top is very steep, because, remember, you’re hiking up to the top of a mountain! Once you’re at the top of the trail, take a moment to enjoy the incredible scenery before you focus on the ground. The crystals can be found through two methods: surface hunting, and digging into the mountain. Both methods can produce great results, especially after fresh rain!

Here are a few tips to enjoy your crystal digging experience at Crystal Vista in Mt. Ida!

What to bring:

  • Sturdy hiking shoes for the hike up and down the mountain, sandals are not recommended due to the rocky terrain.
  • Clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, long sleeves and pants recommended for sun protection but also to protect from thorns, sharp rocks, insect bites, etc.
  • A hat and sunglasses, plus sunscreen and bug spray.
  • A five-gallon bucket to hold tools on the way up and tools plus crystals on the way down.
  • A small, clear bag or container to hold your smaller crystals and keep them safe.
  • Hand gardening tools, such as a trowel and small, hand rake.
  • A long, flat head screwdriver, and rubber mallet if desired.
  • Lots of water, plus extra water to leave in the car for afterward.
  • A picnic lunch plus snacks.

Things to keep in mind:

  • There is spotty or no phone service in this area. Bring a satellite communicator if absolutely necessary (I personally recommend the Zoleo satellite communicator).
  • Beware that it can get VERY hot in the summertime, so plan accordingly.
  • The weather can change quickly in the spring, and storms can pop up fast so be sure to check the weather forecast before you go.
  • You are exploring a wild area, and there may be wildlife in all forms including the possibility of snakes. Be aware of your surroundings and look before you pick up or move any rocks or logs.
  • Please practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out what you pack in.
  • There are no bathrooms, bring your own toilet paper and please pack it out.

Have you ever heard of an Acrocanthesaurus atokensis? Did you know that it’s actually the state dinosaur of Oklahoma? You can see a cast of the most complete specimen ever found of this dinosaur on display at the Museum of The Red River, in Idabel, Oklahoma. The actual specimen was discovered just ten miles from the museum, in Atoka, in 1940.

Inka Predecessors, on display through June 5, 2022

This quaint museum in the small town of Idabel is worth a visit. It was built in 1974, thanks to the efforts of Quintus and Mary Herron. The government was conducting archeological surveys in the area during that time, and they had no place to store the artifacts they discovered.  The Herrons felt strongly that the history should be archived and preserved for everyone to learn from and enjoy. Thanks to their efforts,  the Museum of the Red River was officially established.

Native American Art

A vast collection of Caddo pottery inside the Museum of the Red River.

The Museum of the Red River is home to one of the largest collections of Native American and cultural archeological artifacts within a 150-mile radius! The many pieces of art and artifacts come from around the world but also give special recognition to Native American contributions.  When you enter the museum, you’ll go through the Don and Mary Etta Heron Reception Hall, which features beautiful sculptures and murals by Oklahoma and Texas artists, as well as art from indigenous artists. The Gregory H. Perino Archaeological Study Area is home to prehistoric stone tools and points, as well as a vast collection of Caddo pottery.  There are also rotating exhibits housed in the Mary Bratton Curtis gallery, and it currently features a collection of Inka pottery from South America! The exhibit is called “Inka Predecessors” and will be on view through June 5th, 2022.

Blog Writer Nichole Holze and family posing with the Oklahoma State Dinosaur, Acrocanthosaurus atokensis.

Community Programs & Events

The museum also has programs available for school groups, homeschool groups, and small group tours. Each tour has the option to add a hands-on pottery-making experience.  Throughout the year they have various festivals and celebrations, their biggest and most well-known is the Acrofest, which is usually held in March. This dinosaur-themed festival has something for the whole family including great food vendors, live music, face painting, balloon artists, various crafts, and sometimes life-size dino replicas! The museum also hosts art classes, lectures, and many opportunities to learn and experience one of the most enriching museum experiences in the four states area.

The Museum of the Red River makes for a great stop on your way to the Broken Bow area from Texarkana. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM, and on Sundays from 10 AM to 3 pm. Check their Facebook page and website for any upcoming events. Be sure to subscribe to their newsletter HERE to be in the know for the next Acro Fest!

It’s without a doubt the most wonderful time of year and local businesses are looking festive! It’s a great time to take advantage of the free photo opportunities available in Texarkana and the surrounding areas.

Downtown Magic

Downtown Texarkana has kicked the holiday magic up a notch this year and there are festive things on every street. The business all along Broad Street have fun scenes painted on windows or decorated storefronts. It’s especially beautiful to stroll in the evening as the streetlights come on.

The Regional Arts Center and the ArtSpark outdoor art display have been updated with Christmas and holiday scenes, be sure to go snag a photo with your favorite piece of art. My daughter’s favorite is the saguaro with the holiday lights and my son’s favorite is the wolf.

Then, head on over to 1894 Gallery to grab some photos outside, and if they’re open, head on in to check them out while you’re there. It’s a phenomenal, ever-expanding art gallery featuring local and regional artists. Some of our favorite photos are the beautiful, red, phone booth out front and the antique garage door. Keep your eyes on the windows for a full display of nutcrackers in all different shapes, sizes, and styles.  For a bit of Polar Express whimsy, grab some photos on the railcar across the street.

Hold Onto Your Britches

From there, keep heading east in Arkansas for Crossties. You can’t miss the Christmas tree forest display outside of the event venue. Local businesses and residents can adopt a tree and decorate it according to a theme of their choosing. The trees are beautiful both day and night but pop over at dusk for some extra special holiday magic as the lights come on. A wonderful thing about this event is that the money raised from the event goes toward Hold Onto Your Britches Foundation, which helps bring Christmas trees to local children in need.

As you head back up State Line, don’t miss a stop at the recently renovated photographer’s island in front of the post office. You can’t miss the giant Christmas tree which splits the state line! The newly renovated area features new signs and maps, as well as Astroturf green space and parking spaces for food trucks.

Christmas on Main

As you are celebrating the holiday season, be sure to check out the new Christmas on Main by the Perot Theater. The event is on December 18th and will feature several Christmas movies, an ice skating rink, and a special appearance by the man himself, Santa Claus.

Wishing you and your family a truly wonderful holiday season!

Glamorous Camping

Autumn is without a doubt our favorite season in Arkansas. The humidity finally releases its stranglehold on our weather, and cooler temperatures arrive as the colors begin to pop among the trees.  It’s enjoyable once again to sit around a campfire and our weekends are packed with outdoor adventure. Camping is always one of our favorite pastimes, but have you ever heard of glamping? It’s camping, leveled up. Glamping, or “glamorous camping” is all the enjoyment of the outdoor adventure, without sacrificing creature comforts. Arkansas is home to many glamping experiences, but central Arkansas is especially lucky because it’s home to Ouachita Wild Glamping Tents. This glamping company is run by an amazing mother and daughter team and is based in Mena, Arkansas.

The tents that Ouachita Wild uses are sixteen-foot, canvas “bell” tents that are completely weatherproof. Our camping trip was in early November, during a cold spell, and we were nice and toasty inside the tent thanks to a propane heater and an electric heater to use as we needed. However, if you prefer to camp in the summer heat, they also offer air conditioning inside the tents so you can sleep restfully. Speaking of sleeping restfully, they can fit three beds inside the tent! Our tent had two twin size beds and one queen-sized bed. The beds are memory foam mattresses and come complete with all the bedding, no sleeping bags are needed for this camping trip!

A Magical Experience

If you’re an avid camper and have your own cooking supplies, great, bring them along! If you’d rather take all of the planning and hassle out of your excursion, Ouachita Wild Luxury Tents can provide everything you need, and I do mean everything! We brought our own cooking set up, but they have everything you need to cook an extraordinary camp meal. They even provided camp chairs, firewood, a coffee maker, and plenty of cozy details to make the entire experience magical.

Ouachita Wild Luxury Tents thought of everything, including entertainment! When we opened our tent we were greeted with the cutest table full of card games, other games, and lots of fun. Our children immediately broke out the Skip-Bo and we had an epic Skip-Bo tournament. Though, I think our favorite entertainment was enjoying the campfire as the sun went down, surrounded by magical lighting and a gorgeous starry sky.

Pick Your Place

Our glamping experience took place at Denby Point, on Lake Ouachita, however, Ouachita Wild will set up anywhere within a sixty-mile radius of Mena, Arkansas. Their services aren’t just limited to camping either! Their tents are available for rental for special events, providing lounges at weddings or other events, and they can even do at-home setups for sleepovers or birthday parties, with options for teepees or a movie package!

One of the reasons we took this glamping trip, was to take a moment to reset for the upcoming year. If you’re able to do this with your family, I highly recommend it! Celebrate the end of the year and the upcoming new beginnings, reflect on what went well or what didn’t, and make some family goals and plans for the year ahead! It’s one of our favorite family trips in the late fall and winter season, and the magic of glamping with Ouachita Wild made it even more special.

6 Tips Before You Go

A few tips for your glamping trip:

  • Remember to bring your food! You’ll want to keep your food in a container with a secure lid to keep the critters away (yes, you’re still camping).
  • Don’t forget your favorite coffee or tea.
  • Bring some marshmallows and all the fixings for s’mores.
  • Take along a book (or five) and your family’s favorite card game.
  • Don’t forget to sign the guestbook.
  • Please follow all of the check-out instructions and be gentle with all of the charming decorations that make Ouachita Wild so magical.

You can find more information about Ouachita Wild Luxury Tents and check availability on their website HERE. Also, be sure to follow them on social media on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Green Friday

The day after Thanksgiving is the undisputed kick-off to the holiday season and one of the biggest shopping days of the year. However, in our family, we choose to spend the day outdoors. We decided to participate in the Green Friday movement a few years ago, and now it has become a tradition.

Green Friday is a counter-movement to Black Friday. It encourages individuals and families to spend the day outdoors rather than shopping. The movement also encourages consumers to be conscious of what they’re buying and make more sustainable choices.

One of the biggest players in the Green Friday movement is REI. They close their stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving and do not post to any social media accounts for the entire day. REI always encourages everyone to #optoutside but made waves when they started closing their doors on Black Friday.

If you’d like to participate in Green Friday this year, here are five ways to do so!

  1. Take a hike or go for a bike ride out at the Bringle Wilderness Trails, around Bringle Lake
  2. Meet up with friends at Bobby Ferguson Park, Grady T. Wallace, or Spring Lake Park
  3. Play frisbee or disc golf at Spring Lake Park
  4. Spend the afternoon downtown – have lunch or dinner downtown and take on the #FBTscavengerhunt challenge
  5. Go Geocaching

Small Business Saturday

Another one of our favorite ways to be a conscious consumer is to shop local as much as we are able! If you’re going to be out and about the weekend after Thanksgiving, consider shopping local. The Saturday after Black Friday is known as Small Business Saturday and it’s a great way to give some love to our local businesses.  Here’s how we plan on supporting local after Thanksgiving in Texarkana:

  1. Coffee in the morning from Brewsters Coffee
  2. Plant and gift shopping at Southern Garden
  3. Lunch downtown at Pecan Point and grabbing cookies from Graham Slam
  4. Browsing the downtown shops and boutiques
  5. Hot chocolate and coffee to go from Taste and See
  6. Taking in the holiday lights at Season of Lights

It’s the kick-off to Christmas and however you choose to spend your weekend after Thanksgiving,  I hope you find time to connect with family and friends, and spread a little love to local businesses.

Have you ever stopped for a photo op at a mural? From the wacky to the wonderful, murals are such a fun way to check out a city and grab some social media-worthy snapshots while you explore. Did you know that downtown Texarkana has almost twenty murals to downtown?! And, that number is growing!

Texarkana has been blessed with talented local artists and community members who have added such fun and beauty to the downtown area.  The addition of murals to the Kress Gap in 2019 and 2020 brought an entire alley of color to explore, created entirely by local community members. The unveiling of “Colors of Life” by Joseph Raymond brought the fun on a grand scale by measuring over 125 feet long and ten feet tall!

Looking for a fun weekend activity?

Stay tuned for Downtown LIVE, held periodically on Friday nights. Several businesses stay open late, including art galleries! Enjoy dinner or drinks at one of the downtown dining establishments while you gallery hop. Along the way, see if you can find all of the murals in our scavenger hunt! Or, head downtown to check out the art market at the 1894 Gallery on Saturdays and snap your selfies with the murals along the way. Stay updated on these events on the Main Street Texarkana Facebook page HERE.

Be sure to look high and low to find all of these murals.

  1. These snapshots would be fun to get in the mail.
  2. This silent film star from Texarkana made it big in Hollywood.
  3. Look low for this green star.
  4. Watch out for monsters in the alley.
  5. This little mouse will fight back.
  6. What lovely window boxes, that bloom all year round.
  7. Make sure you get your mix just right for these sweet treats.
  8. Find your favorite color in these colors of life.
  9. Don’t get caught with these intergalactic travelers.
  10. A little bit of nature lets your heart take flight.
  11. Personally, I’ve always loved a bold graphic.
  12. Let your light shine.
  13. Grab hold but don’t let them carry you away.
  14. This community-created art park has something for everyone.
  15. A portrait of a Pulitzer Prize-winning hometown hero.

Can you find them all?! Let us know if you do! Share your post on social media and be sure to tag Farmers Bank and Trust so we can see them. Also use these hashtags #fbtscavengerhunt #txkmuralhunt

In the 1920s there was an oil boom in southern Arkansas. At the heart of that oil boom: El Dorado, Arkansas. The city was also prominent during World War II within the chemical industry. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the economic development of the city and it makes a wonderful day trip from the Texarkana area.

Most recently, the downtown area welcomed the Murphy Arts District, an entertainment and arts-focused district that welcomes performances of all types to El Dorado. They regularly host outdoor concerts in their amphitheater and have begun hosting events indoors again as well.  At the beginning of 2020, MAD partnered with Crystal Bridges to bring an immersive art exhibit to the south-central Arkansas area. The AstroZone exhibit was a futuristic, fully interactive exhibit by Claire Helen Ashley.

The downtown is also host to memorial parks, shopping, and plentiful dining options. There are also state parks and wilderness areas nearby.

Murphy Arts District

Our ideal day trip to El Dorado goes a little something like this.

Start the day at the Murphy Arts District “MAD” playscape! This free, epic playground covers two acres and has something for kids (and adults!) of all ages. My children love the huge climbing structures that offer a challenge even as they are growing older. Another highlight, the seasonal splash pad with a giant razorback hog slide. During the summer months, MAD hosts movie Mondays with a showing of a different family-friendly movie each Monday night at sundown. The movies are shown in the amphitheater outdoors. The soon-to-open Mule Kick Cafe (formerly the Griffin) will also offer food and beverages.

One thing we also love about MAD is that during the 2020 pandemic, they provided FREE virtual art lessons and storytime with a fantastic art teacher from the El Dorado area. My children so enjoyed tuning in each week for a delightful story and art lesson. Those virtual lessons are still available on the Murphy Arts District website and are a great tool for busting boredom.

Coffee Break

Once everyone is tired and hungry, walk over to PJ’s Coffee located downtown. Be sure to grab a photo at the London-style phone booth sitting outside that also doubles as a little free library! PJ’s offers a full menu of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and lunch sandwiches. There’s also an ice cream store right next door for an extra sweet treat.

After lunch, be sure to take a walk to Oil Heritage Park to learn a little bit more about the history of the area. Be sure to also check out Jefferson Street Books and some of the other fun shopping available in downtown El Dorado.

Stroll Through Nature

For one last hurrah before you head out, be sure to drive over to the South Arkansas Arboretum for a little stroll through nature. The paths are paved and are full of interpretive signs to help educate about the different types of trees and flowers. For added fun, make it a little scavenger hunt for different types of leaves or flowers! The arboretum, operated by the State Parks of Arkansas, has something to see in every season of the year.

If you’re looking to extend your stay for an overnight or a weekend, be sure to check out the newly opened Haywood Hotel located downtown or the Union Square Guest Quarters.

Be sure to follow the Murphy Arts District on social media to know about all of their upcoming events!