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Travel | I grow up in Little Rock, Arkansas

By Debi Lander
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I wasn’t sure what to expect from a visit to Arkansas, but I now love Little Rock. The vibrant and clean capital offered visitors many activities and interesting sights.

First of all, I was curious how the city got its name. It appears to have come from a rock formation along the river, named le petit rocher (little rock) by the French explorer Bénard de la Harpe in 1722 to distinguish it from a larger cliff across the river. Well, so much for that story.

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My hotel overlooked the Arkansas River, which is crossed by six bridges and has an eleven-block winding riverwalk along the coast (a total 16-mile loop). I soon came across the fantastic Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, which is home to more than 80 whimsical and thoughtful sculptures. -provocative metal works.

A tour of the National Park Historic Central High Site included an impassioned slideshow from a National Park ranger that left some participants in tears. The compelling story of the Little Rock Nine’s struggle for integration captured our hearts. In September 1957, nine 15-year-old black students met the strict requirements to attend Central High but were not allowed in. It took presidential intervention by federal troops and the National Guard to silence the mob and the rebellion. While not Little Rock’s proudest memory, the event remains an important step in American civil rights history. The group also walked around the high school grounds, while the students still attend Central High. The tour ended at the nearby Arkansas Capitol Building. Here, life-size statues of the nine students decorate the lawn and are a reminder of the past. If time permits, the capital buildings are always excellent.

On a lighter note, I visited the Esse Purse Museum, one of only two purse museums in the world. The handbags and their typical contents were shown in chronological order and by category, such as animal skin bags, evening bags and totes. The small museum offered a fascinating insight into women’s fashion over the years.

A quick breeze through the newly redesigned and renovated Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts revealed its use as a public gathering space and museum. The entire structure, an architectural gem, makes clever use of space and admission is free. The glass-walled living room has become a favorite place where locals come to work or read. The art on display is chosen from the collection of 14,000 objects of the AMFA Foundation.
No visit to Little Rock is complete without seeing the William J. Clinton Presidential Library Museum. The facility houses an annual record of the events of Clinton’s time in office, supported by 80 million documents stored in the adjacent archives. Visitors can browse presidential memorabilia and family photos, learn about state dinner protocol, see examples of clothing worn and what gifts are given and received. My favorite part of the library museum is the replica of the Cabinet Room and Oval Office, as they were during Clinton’s presidency. Sometimes people can even sit behind the presidential desk for a photo.

You can’t travel to a city without tasting the local dishes. I was especially happy with the cheese dip at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro. It seems cheese dip is very popular in Little Rock and the creamy concoction at Dizzy’s has won the World Cheese Dip Championship more than once. I loved that it didn’t harden or clump and yet wasn’t stringy.

If you get the chance to visit Little Rock, it may not rock your world, but I believe you will find something interesting.

Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more stories and travel tips from local travel writer Debi Lander.

Photo courtesy of Debi Lander
The Arkansas River in Little Rock.