Photos courtesy of The Venues
[dropcap]It’s[/dropcap] July, which means it’s hot. Possibly really hot … enough to make you not even consider spending the entire day outside … unless something sufficiently tempting presents itself.
Like, say, a zipline tour through the Ozark treetops, or a trio of thrilling new waterslides. Or an up-close, meet-and-greet with lions and tigers. You may think your air-conditioned house is the place to be from now until October, but Arkansas is full of outdoor attractions that are sure to change your mind.
About those lions and tigers. One of Arkansas’s truly unique attractions is the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) outside Eureka Springs. The 459-acre refuge was founded in 1992 by Don and Hilda Jackson, who had two pet lions of their own. Today the refuge is home to about 100 animals — lions, tigers, bears, cougars and most recently, a serval, which is an African cat with almost comically long legs.
Visitors can get close to several big cats that are currently kept in cages, and then walk or take a trolley tour through the rest of the refuge, where most of the cats live in large enclosures that mimic the animals’ natural habitats. Turpentine Creek also includes several cabins, as well as tent and RV campsites, so you can bunk down within earshot of the cats.
Most of the big cats at the refuge are former pets, and part of the facility’s goal is to educate visitors about why that’s not such a good idea.
“You get a little fuzzy, cute animal and two years later it’s the size of your couch, and the owner doesn’t know what to do,” Don Lee, TCWR spokesman, said. “We want them to come here and understand, up close, how big these animals are.”
You’ll find a wider variety of animals at the Little Rock Zoo, including two maned wolf pups born in mid-May to parents Gabby and Diego. The 33-acre zoo also hosts special events throughout the summer, such as Breakfast with the Gibbons July 18 and Zoo Snoozes July 24 and Aug. 14.
There’s no thrill quite like zooming along a wire several dozen feet above the ground. Arkansas is now home to several zipline outfitters, including Horseshoe Canyon Dude Ranch in Jasper; Ozark Mountain Ziplines in Eureka Springs; Adventureworks in Hot Springs (photo at top); and the Buffalo Outdoor Center (BOC) in Ponca.
The Buffalo Outdoor Center’s zipline experience is a two-hour “canopy tour” that takes participants on a mile-long, 12-segment adventure, with a guide who shares information about the area’s plants and animals.
“Our guides are awesome — they do a great job of keeping everyone entertained,” said Austin Albers, the BOC’s general manager.
Participants are typically 40 to 50 feet off the ground, Albers said, enough to make any acrophobe sweat just thinking about it. But if you’re just a little afraid, Albers said, the zipline tour might just be the cure for what ails you.
“We have a lot of people who are kind of scared of heights doing it, because it’s kind of conquering their fear, in a way, because they’re still attached” to the zipline, Albers said.
Arkansas’s premier amusement/water park, Magic Springs and Crystal Falls in Hot Springs, has been a staple of summer fun for decades. If roller coasters are your thing, don’t miss the X-Coaster and the Gauntlet. If not, there’s no shortage of tamer rides for all ages. Once you’ve worked up a sweat on the Magic Springs side, you can check out the water rides at Crystal Falls: four large waterslides, a wave pool and massive play area called Splash Mountain, among others.
Heat is, of course, much more bearable when you’re in — or at least around — water. Two other water parks in Arkansas offer that perfect combination of thrills and relief: Wild River Country in North Little Rock, and Holiday Springs Water Park in Texarkana. Both are unveiling new waterslides this summer: Holiday Springs’ Texas Skyfall features a 65-foot sheer drop, and one of Wild River Country’s three new slides — the Aqualoop — has a near-vertical loop-the-loop in the middle.
Decades of loving labor went into creating what is now Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs. Located on a peninsula that stretches out into Lake Hamilton, the gardens combine breathtaking natural beauty with stunning architectural features. This summer, Garvan Woodland Gardens is again featuring topiary art with an exhibit called “Mystic Creatures: Topiary Art Takes Flight.” You’ll find a 40-foot-long sea serpent, a village of fairies, a family of marching mushrooms and even a Sasquatch among this year’s creations. Other permanent parts of the garden include a bonsai garden, a model train garden and a children’s adventure garden, complete with a man-made cave.
If you’re going to be hot, you might as well get dirty, too. At Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, you can dig to your heart’s delight in search of the precious gemstones that regularly surface from deep in the park’s soil. Take your own shovel and bucket, or rent equipment at the park. It’s finders-keepers at Crater of Diamonds, and each year hundreds — 585 last year, in fact — of people do just that.
All this summer fun, packed into one state. If you’re itching to cross the northern border in search of slightly cooler temperatures, check our website, aymag.com, for our look at some of the Branson area’s most popular outdoor attractions.