June 14, 2008

Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita Area Offers Vacationers Variety of Experiences

By Elaine Warner, The Edmond Sun, Okla.

Jun. 14--EDMOND -- The pine-covered rise and fall of the hills was like green waves rolling over a vast ocean. The road kinked and curled. The sun ducked behind the hills leaving mysterious shadows under the towering trees.

Around a final curve was my spacious log cabin. Passing through the living room to the back deck, I found the hot tub. Flipping the cover back, I discovered the water was a perfect 101 degrees.

Through the trees the lights from the marina danced on the water like fireflies on steroids. I changed quickly into my swim suit. Ah, perfect! A light breeze cooled my face as the rest of me succumbed to the roiling ministrations of the tub's jets. Totally relaxed, I climbed into my comfy bed and slept.

Arkansas' Lake Ouachita area offers vacationers a variety of experiences from down and dirty to posh and plush. Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa is the perfect headquarters for exploring a lot of opportunities.

Arkansas is one of the two best sources of quality quartz crystals in the world. The other is Brazil, in case you were wondering. For an earthy experience, drive to one of the dig-for-fee quartz mines in the area. The folks at Mountain Harbor can give you directions.

Most likely you'll be scratching around in the piles of tailings dumped from commercial workings in the mine. Wear your oldest clothes, shoes you don't mind getting dirty and take sunscreen and bug spray. You'll also need three-tined garden tools, buckets, newspapers to wrap specimens and work gloves. Pros take cushions or garden kneelers. You'll end up tired and dirty but pleased at your glittering treasures.

For the other end of the elegance spectrum, wait until you see what the massage therapists at the Turtle Cove Spa at Mountain Harbor do with those crystals. I signed up for one of Turtle Cove's signature treatments -- crystal energy balance therapy. Part of the treatment consisted of a marvelous massage with polished and heated quartz crystals. Other elements of the treatment involved focus on my body's energy centers and the use of tuning forks and a vibro-acoustic sound table. Sounds far out but I figured, can't hurt, might help! And I have to say I felt absolutely great when I was finished.

Any type of activity you're looking for, you'll find here -- fishing, boating, tennis and basketball courts, swimming pools, horseback riding, hiking -- you name it. The accommodations range from lodge rooms to roomy cabins and luxurious condos. If you're adventurous, how about renting a houseboat and staying on the lake? Me, I just loved sitting on the deck of my cabin, rocking and watching the water!

Mountain Harbor Resort is great for a complete getaway but other attractions are close by. Hot Springs is about a 30-minute drive. Visit the National Park Visitor Center and tour the museum in the restored (1915) Fordyce Bath House. In Hot Springs' heyday, fashionable visitors strolled down Bath House Row -- Central Avenue -- with a lot of choices of places to "take the waters."

Of the historic bath houses, only the Buckstaff is open for business. Don't expect fancy-schmancy; you'll get a much more traditional treatment. Try a whirlpool mineral bath ($22) or a bathing package which includes the mineral bath with a loofa mitt and a 20-minute full-body massage ($50).

Central Avenue features a lot of shopping -- much of it of the souvenir variety -- but follow the street north then west to Tillman's Antiques and Collectables for a truly eye-opening array of antiques. Davis Tillman has been collecting all his life and he has items fit for a king -- or queen. Check out a portfolio from the desk of Louis XV or beauty spot boxes from the court of Marie Antoinette.

Don't leave town without dinner at Chef Paul's. Chef/owner Paul Uher built his palace of the palate a brick at a time -- ask for the story. He grew up in the restaurant business and has refined his skills with experts like James Beard, Julia Child and Jacque Pepin.

The menu includes beef, seafood and pasta specialties and the prices are more than reasonable for excellent taste and elegant presentation. Chef Paul's isn't easy to find -- head south on Central (Highway 7) and look for the Temperance Hill Shopping Center across from Kroger's. Chef Paul's is tucked in the corner of the outdoor mall.

Another favorite destination -- again, just about a half-hour drive from Mountain Harbor -- is the Garvan Woodland Gardens. Formal and informal gardens and woodland areas offer color and quietude. More than 4 and a half miles of trails, most ADA accessible, wind through the flowers and trees. Brides love the jewel-box glass, wood and stone Anthony Chapel, designed by E. Faye Jones, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa is about 300 miles from Edmond. For more information, call 800-832-2276 or log on to www.mountainharborresort.com.

ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond resident.


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