Nov 20, 2011

Garvan Woodland Gardens is beautiful all year

Just outside of Hot Springs John and I went to the top of the 216-foot Mountain Tower for a panoramic view of the Ouachita Mountains and the Diamond Lakes Region. It was early in the morning and the mist was still rising out of the mountains. Hot Springs, nestled between the ridges, was barely visible. We were impressed with all the trees, rolling mountains, and lakes.

Located just a few miles from Hot Springs, Arkansas, on a peninsula that juts out into beautiful Lake Hamilton, Garvan Woodland Gardens is a 210-acre world-class botanical garden. Verna Garvan, a long-time resident of southern Arkansas, donated the land to the University of Arkansas in 1985. It was a beautiful day. John and I enjoyed wandering the trails. The picturesque Full Moon Bridge in the Garden of the Pine Wind reminded us of our trip to Japan, as did the Bonsai Garden. We had been told not to miss the Anthony Chapel. As we approached the 57-foot tall copper-clad Carillon it chimed the hour creating the perfect mood for our first view of the chapel that seemed to grow out of the forest. The chapel, designed by E. Fay Jones, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, has soaring glass walls and vertical columns that blend beautifully with the tall yellow pines.

Later we stopped at Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, also on Lake Hamilton where we took a pontoon boat ride on the lake. It must be very busy during the summer months but on our tour it was serene with only a few fishermen and another tour boat. Lookout Point Inn is a beautiful new B&B perched on the hillside with beautiful gardens, a bubbling stream and a unique labyrinth trail.

Another day we visited Mountain Harbor Resort on Ouachita Lake, Arkansas’s largest man-made lake. It was named one of the cleanest lakes in America by the EPA. It is part of the Lake Ouachita National Forest and popular for hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and boating. John went out on a houseboat for a couple hours. We like houseboating but this was a luxury DreamChaser houseboat with six queen bedrooms, two full baths, a hot tub, and a water slide. It sleeps 14! Amazing. Of course, there are smaller ones. I loved their on-shore accommodations that were upscale with a rustic ambiance that suited the forest setting. Everything is within convenient walking distance – the shore, pool, restaurant, Laundromat, marina, and spa. I confess, while John was being wowed by the houseboat I was relaxing at the spa. The area struck me as a great location for “snowbirds.” The entire area including Hot Springs and the lake region has beautiful forested mountains with everything in close proximity. Also, they have four seasons but their winter – well, what they call winter – is usually a few inches of snow for a day or so and then it goes away. I was told that there are several retirement villages in the area but they also mentioned that the summers can be very hot. On those hot day it would be a good time to enjoy the lake area – or to head back to NY where the weather is beautiful spring, summer and fall.