Saturday, October 6, 2007

Day 34 – Jaywalking Razorbacks

There was a point today – around 6PM – when I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to find a motel room. I contemplated parking my car outside a 24-hour restaurant and camping out. But everything worked out just fine.

As planned, I got a leisurely start this morning. Hung around the Shreveport Days Inn reading and waiting for my cell phone to recharge. Didn’t want to get to Little Rock too early since I had nothing planned. Finally got going just before 10AM.

I got to the north-bound route by driving through Shreveport rather than around it. I spend so much time on the edges of cities, I figure I should take the opportunity to see at least a tiny bit of the city I’m supposedly visiting. The drive through went smoothly. After all it’s Saturday. (It is isn’t it? I keep losing track of the days.) This drive-through technique would come back to bite me later in the day.

Just past Texarkana I made the obligatory stop at the state welcome center. I picked up a brochure for the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. It was just a bit to the southeast of Little Rock, and the greeter at the welcome center said I should be able to get there by 3PM. I’d been wanting to visit one of these ancient constructions and missed a similar site in my quick trip through Iowa.

I was disappointed not to find any discount books for motels. The pricing in AAA for motels looked kind of pricey. So I looked at the budget motel directories I’d picked up along the way and targeted one that appeared to be relatively close to the Little Rock Zoo. Going to the Toltec Mounds site would be a significant detour and would make getting to the motel a bit more challenging, but hey, it’s Saturday, so I could find a path through the downtown area and maybe scope out the road I would need to take to the zoo.

After the welcome center I pulled off the interstate again in Hope, birthplace of President Bill Clinton. I didn’t go looking for his house. I just had quick lunch. From there it was about two hours to Little Rock. Quite a bit of traffic. Lots of BIG trucks. I arrived at the edge of town from the southwest and zipped around the south edge to the east side and the route to Toltec. Found it with no problems.

At the park interpretive center I watched a video about the site and then went on the self-guided walking tour. It is not an active archeological site. There are now federal and state restrictions on excavating Native American burial sites. It was interesting to learn, however, that only a few of the mounds serve as tombs. Some are platforms, like the pyramids in Central America. And the mounds are positioned to line up with sunrise and sunset on solstices and equinoxes – sort of an American Stonehenge. At 50 feet, one of the mounds is the tallest in Arkansas.

In the 90 minutes I toured the grounds and interpretive center I learned a lot, including about cypress knees. I also saw more turtles than I had ever seen in one place. There is a boardwalk at the edge of the lake that borders the site. The local turtles (known as “yum, dinner” to the earlier inhabitants) know to start swimming over when people walk out on the observation deck. People see turtles and start pulling out quarters to buy turtle pellets from the conveniently placed pellet machine. Maybe 20 turtles collected below the boardwalk, but you could see the heads of many others further out. And they were big. Some had shells maybe 12 inches long.

I headed back toward Little Rock before 5PM. Figured I would get off the interstate right downtown and hoped it wouldn’t be too hard to find the street that turned into the street where my target motel was located on the east side of town. Worked like a charm because it was Saturday. Wouldn’t have tried it at 5PM on a week day.

So, I was on the right street headed for the motel when all of a sudden I saw traffic in front of me. The backup looked like bad traffic on a Friday after work. Was it an accident up ahead? As I inched along I noticed cars parked everywhere along the easement and people were walking along with the traffic – and crossing in front of the slowly moving cars. Then I noticed that most of the people were wearing red shirts, some said “One Nation Under Hog.” Sinking feeling: It was the night of a big game. Apparently the local college team is the Razorbacks. Soon I’d make it through the log jam, but would there be a room at my target motel? At any motel within a 30-minute drive?

Miracle of miracles, I got the room and at a decent rate. Anticlimactic is good. I ran out and got dinner around the corner and now I’m in for the night. Tomorrow: the zoo.

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