Brief side trip to Little Rock: April 5-8, 2010

We started out planning to head for the nearest campground to dump our tanks and then go directly to our next destination — Memphis. But we were very close to Little Rock, and we decided to make a brief stop there to take in the city and the Clinton Presidential Center. Dot quickly checked our campground guide and found that there was a city-owned facility right on the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, as close to downtown as one could get.

The river itself is fascinating. Beginning in Colorado, it’s the longest tributary of the Mississippi/Missouri system. It was along the Arkansas that thousands of Cherokee traveled on the southernmost route of the infamous Trail of Tears. There was lots of barge traffic. One tug headed downriver with a total of 35 barges – rigged five across and seven long! Two barges were driven into the bank a hundred yards from us, just below an abandoned railroad bridge. To our amazement, a tug came along the next day, lashed them up, pulled them off, and after several attempts, made a three-point turn against the current and headed off with them.

The Clinton Center was directly across the river.  When the lights came on in the city at night, the skyscraper right across from us bore the name ACXIOM — one of my most aggressive business competitors!

The Clinton Museum was well designed and very lovely inside as well. The two story atrium held the entry counter and one of the presidential limousines in use during Bill’s tenure. Offices, research facilities and other utilities occupied the balance of this level. An open flight of stairs led to the next floor. At the head of the stairs was a full sized replica of the Oval Office, filled with the artifacts present during the Clinton years. Across the vestibule was a replica, again actual size, of the Cabinet Room, where the chairs of Clinton and his immediate counsel were all earmarked by name. You viewed the office through multiple open walls, but you could wander through the Cabinet Room. The balance of the floor contained a long series of panels featuring the events of each presidential year. (The impeachment is not ignored!) Against one wall were a series of large “policy alcoves,” each featuring extensive details of critical issues during the Clinton administration, while the other side featured sets, such as a state dinner table. Other exhibits include the spectacular glass Christmas tree created for the White House by Dale Chihuly. There were two periodic exhibits, one displaying President Clinton’s inter-relationship with the Oklahoma City bombing, and the other featuring hundreds of Secretary Madeline Albright’s famous pins.

The support columns on this level were unique. Covered in clear panels, they contained hundreds of file boxes that included the actual papers of the presidency. A guard/docent told me that every scrap is saved and filed, and here’s where those not referenced frequently are kept. The complex includes several other units, one of which is a teaching facility in a century old building. The gift shop is off-site (thankfully!).

We also surveyed downtown Little Rock. It’s a tired city, affected by the recession. But the State House is a treasure; we drove up into the representatives’ parking area and wound up traveling through a tunnel that our wide truck could barely traverse. North Little Rock seems more opulent; the main thoroughfare is alive and touristy. A riverboat gives water tours regularly.

Now, rested up, we continued our journey.

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