May 11-12, 2012 – Karnack, Texas to Texarkana, Arkansas
I realized when I reread my last post that I gave the boat trip short shrift. I was really tired when I wrote the post which is my only excuse. Our guide was Mary Rose. She was born in Louisiana and moved to Texas when she was a teen-ager, if I got the story straight. Her father was an alligator poacher and worked both in the bayous of Louisiana and Texas. The largest alligator he ever got was close to 1,000 pounds which he got in the Caddo Lake area. When you sold the alligator it was by the foot. In the ‘50s when he was doing it, he got about $4 per foot. Now that the alligators are on the endangered list, there is a licensed hunting season. Now they go for over $100 per foot. When Mary Rose’s father moved his family from Louisiana to Texas, he was scared to death for his kids to go anywhere in cars. They had lived in the part of Louisiana where everything was done by boat – shopping, school, church, etc. They never wore life jackets and were totally at home around water and boats, but cars were a new thing for them. While he could drive, he was afraid for his kids who had no experience with cars.
Along the way, we passed the Civil War armory which I mentioned in my last post. We also passed where the steamboat pier had been and the area they had carved out of the bank so that the steamboats could back out and turn around to head back down river. It is all silted in now. We also passed “The Wash” where riverboat men washed and deloused.
I left Karnack yesterday morning ahead of the rain which was supposed to set in later in the day. It was also supposed to rain in Texarkana in the afternoon. It took about an hour and a half to get to Texarkana. I’m parked here for 2 nights and will move on Sunday.
The afternoon turned out to be sunny so I drove up to Crater of Diamonds. Along the way I saw the Railcar Apartments near Ashdown. They have taken old boxcars and turned them into apartments. They look pretty small and cramped to me. Also, there are no windows so they must be very dark inside.
Crater of Diamonds is a 37 acre field. A massive volcano brought diamonds to the surface of the earth. It is the only diamond producing area in North America open to the public, and it is the 8th largest diamond reserve in the world. Over 75,000 have been found in the “Crater” which is an eroded volcanic pipe. On average more than 700 diamonds are found each year. Some of the diamonds found include:
1924 – Uncle Sam – 40.23 carats the largest diamond found in North America
1956 – Star of Arkansas – 15.33 carats
1975 – Amarillo Starlight – 16.37 carats
And the most recent in 2009 – Arabian Knight 5.75 carats.
In 1998 the Strawn-Wagner Diamond, a cut white crater diamond weighing 1.09 carats was graded by the American Gem Society as a “D” flawless 0/0/0 flawless diamond. A “one-in-a-million diamond” stated the Laboratory Director of the AGS.
Although genuine diamonds are the chief attraction other semi-precious stones can be found such as amethyst, agate, jasper, quartz, calcite and barite. It cost $7 to dig for diamonds, and you get to keep any diamond that you found, no matter the size. You can either bring your own finishing screen, bucket, screen set and shovel, or you can rent them for $11 per day. I took a few pictures, but it looks too much like work to me. I can tell you though that there are folks who are really serious. They have their own equipment which they pull around in a kid’s wagon. They even carry their own water to wash the dirt away from the diamonds. It sounds like it is a little like panning for gold.
The first diamond was found in 1906 by John Huddleston who owned the property. The property changed hands several times over the years and many unsuccessful attempts were made at commercial mining. All such ventures are shrouded in mystery – lawsuits, lack of money and fires are only a few of the reasons for failure. The mine was operated by private interests as a tourist attraction from 1952-1972 when it was purchased by the state for development as a state park. Over 28,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since 1972, but most are not large. The average diamond is about the size of a kitchen match head. Diamonds have an oily, slick outer surface that dirt or mud will not stick to. Diamonds may be any of several colors. The most common diamonds found at the Crater are clear white, yellow and brown.
For more information here is the website for the park: http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/history/history-park.aspx
From the Crater I started back to Texarkana. Along the way, I passed through Washington, Arkansas which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was closed by the time I got there. The town has maintained its 19th century look and feel with board sidewalks and unpaved streets. While I was there, a horse drawn carriage came down the street to the Williams Tavern to pick up some tourists for a ride around town.
I passed through Hope, Arkansas where Bill Clinton was born and raised. I always thought Hope was a backwater town full of poor white trash, but it is a really nice small town. The home he was born in is a nice, fairly large, 2 story house, and the 2d house he lived in is also a nice, small house. Both are in nice neighborhoods. I don’t know where I got the idea that he was dirt poor, but the homes where he lived certainly do not reflect that. They are nice, clean working class homes which are well-maintained and in areas that are well-maintained. Before Clinton, Hope’s claim to fame was its giant watermelons. They have a 200 pounder replicated in the museum. The 268 pounder broke before it could be replicated.
I detoured to Evening Shade which has the same name as a TV show that Burt Reynolds starred in during the 1990-1994 seasons. He played a retired football player who retired to his home town of Evening Shade, Arkansas to coach a high school team – at least that’s what the web says. I never saw the show. I don’t know what was here in the 1990’s, but all I found was a church, a closed store and the Huckabee Cemetery!
Today I spent some time exploring Texarkana. I visited the Bi-State Justice Building. It is home to over 20 city, county and state judicial and law enforcement agencies of Arkansas and Texas. Because this building is located in 2 states, special legislation by both Arkansas and Texas created unique legal jurisdictions applicable only inside the building.
Also downtown is the Post Office/Federal Court House. It straddles the state line and has 2 zip codes – one for Texas and one for Arkansas. It is the 2d most photographed courthouse in the US. When you stand in front of it, you can have your picture taken with one foot in each state. State Line Boulevard is the dividing line between the 2 states. When you are headed south on State Line, you are in Texas. When you are headed north, you are in Arkansas.
Scott Joplin grew up in Texarkana where he studied the piano. He later moved to Sedalia which is where he lived when he became famous. There is a mural of Joplin on one of the buildings downtown which memorializes his life in Texarkana.
Union Station located downtown straddles the state line diagonally. There used to be 20 passenger trains that stopped in Texarkana each day. It is currently the home of Amtrak and only one small corner of the building is in use. It is a shame that they have not been able to restore the terminal much as Cincinnati and Kansas City have done. It looks like it is in a massive state of disrepair.
The largest magnolia tree in Arkansas which is estimated to be 185 years old is located in Texarkana. It is 16’ 7” in diameter, 61’ tall and has an 82’ span. It is just coming into bloom. It must be magnificent when it is in full bloom.
There was a car show going on downtown today. It was called the Bandit Run. It celebrates the Smokey and the Bandit movie which was made in 1977. It was a raw day so I didn’t get out and go into the show, but the cars I could see from the street were all of that vintage. They even had a county sheriff’s patrol car on display from that era. If you saw the movie, you will remember that “Smokey” chased the “Bandit” all across Arkansas as well as a couple of other states.
They have an annual “Gator Egg Hunt” for Easter. The hunt begins as soon as the “Easter Gator” (Greenie) arrives by fire truck. Don’t know how good gator eggs would be, and what did Greenie do to the Easter Bunny??
It was supposed to clear up this afternoon, but it remained overcast and raw all day so I didn’t do too much. That takes care of my day.