Courtesy: Kerry Kraus, travel
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
No matter how many times superlatives are overused to the point
of being almost meaningless nowadays, there's still something
about the descriptive phrase "one-of-a-kind" that,
when used in its truest sense, grabs our attention. It's like
being let in on a secret or being able to witness history.
New developments during the past year or so, plus a centuries-old
one, have put The Natural State on the "one-of-a-kind"
map. Several others, both old in age and new in development,
have the distinction of being one of only two in the world. All
are described below, listed in alphabetical order.
Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro: The best-known
one-of-a-kind in the state - and one of the oldest - the state
park is the only diamond-producing site in the world open to
the public. The crater is old in that the plowed field is the
eroded surface of an ancient volcano and old in that it has been
a tourist attraction since 1949, when the first serious attempt
made to open the diamond deposit to the public took place. Several
companies over the years tried to commercially mine the valuable
gemstones, and there was even attempt by industrialist Henry
Ford to purchase the property for commercial mining. It also
passed through several people's hands who wanted to operate a
tourist attraction on-site before the state bought the plot of
rare dirt in 1972.
The largest diamond found at the crater since becoming a state
park is the Amarillo Starlight, which weighed in at a whopping
16.37 carats in 1975. Since then, 24 stones five carats and over
have been unearthed here. This number doesn't include the Strawn-Wagner
Diamond since it was 3.03 carats when discovered. What sets this
sparkler apart is that is was deemed "the most perfect diamond"
ever certified by the American Gem Society. Awarded the perfect
grade of O/O/O (Ideal cut/D color/ Flawless), or "Triple
Zero," it is the highest rating a diamond can achieve. The
stone is now on permanent display at the park visitor center.
For more history, hours of operation, admission prices and details
on other facilities at the park, go to www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/.
The Gann Museum, Benton: Upon first sight, the structure
doesn't look much different than others except that it has two
front doors, each of which is topped by gable, making it architecturally
pleasing to the eye. That in itself doesn't make it unusual;
it's what the building is constructed of that makes it eligible
for the list. The museum is the only known structure in the world
made completely of bauxite.
Simply defined, bauxite is another name for aluminum ore and
is most commonly formed in deeply weathered rocks. The ore was
named after the French village of Les Baux de Provence where
it was discovered in 1821 by the geologist Pierre Berthier. The
only place in the United States where it has been feasible to
commercially mine the aluminum is Saline County in central Arkansas.
The industry took hold in this area in 1899 with top output coming
during World War II, when demand increased because German subs
were sinking foreign ore ships. The mining thrived for many,
many years before the high grade, low silica bauxite ore gave
Originally the office of Dr. Dewell Gann, Sr., the structure
was built in 1893 by patients who couldn't afford to pay the
doctor for his services. At the time, they didn't know what the
ore was - they thought it was some sort of clay plentiful in
the area. All the blocks were cut with handsaws and had to air
dry for six weeks before being used. The bricks are a colorful
mix of tans, browns, rusts, yellows and oranges with a touch
After the building was completed, it was determined by engineers
that bauxite wasn't a stable enough material to be used for construction.
According to Executive Director Bernard Barber of the Gann Museum
of Saline County which is now housed in the building, in spite
of the dire warnings, the structure has held up amazingly well
and is quite strong.
To learn more about this fascinating piece of construction history,
visit the Gann Museum of Saline County at 218 Market Street in
Benton. Call (501) 778-5513 for hours of operation and more information.
Over the Jumps Carousel, Little Rock: Rare even when
it was built, this priceless antiquity is now even rarer in that
it is the only one still in existence in the world. Less than
150 carousels survive today from the approximately 8,000 that
were made during their heyday of 1887 to 1935 and even fewer
are being restored. The Over the Jumps, also called the Arkansas
Carousel, is even rarer with its undulating track. It was constructed
in 1924 as a traveling carousel by the Herschell-Spillman Engineering
Corporation of North Tonawanda, New York. Very few were constructed
to begin with and, even though they were extremely popular with
the public, the undulating track carousels had mechanical problems
and often spent as much time being repaired as operating. Officials
with the Herschell Carrousel (sic) Factory Museum in North Tonawanda,
New York, believe less than 10 of the "over-the-jumps"
rides were constructed with the Arkansas Carousel in Little Rock
the only one left.
Now fully restored, the colorful piece of Americana will center
the new welcoming complex at the Little Rock Zoo, currently under
construction. Tentatively scheduled to open later this spring
or early summer, the facility will also house a gift shop, an
old-fashioned ice cream parlor, visitor services, formal gardens,
and a replica of "Laughing Sally," a coin-operated
fortune teller long associated with the carousel when it was
at Little Rock's War Memorial Park. For more information contact
the Friends of the Carousel organization via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Parachute Inn Restaurant, Walnut Ridge: Those who
travel by plane have noticed the decline of meals being offered
to passengers over the years. Those who would like to experience
dining aboard a plane now have that chance in the northeast Arkansas
community of Walnut Ridge. Owner Donna Robertson has taken her
eatery one step further by expanding her seating to include a
retired Southwest Airlines Boeing 727. Robertson painstakingly
restored the interior to the original "Southwest" look
and the plane's seats have been reconfigured to fit tables. Diners
can stash their coats in the overhead bins. It is one thing to
have an unusual setting but if a restaurant doesn't have good
food the novelty wears off rather quickly. The reviews from pilots
across the country who land their aircraft at the door of the
restaurant when coming for meal have been raves. A full menu
of Southern-style dishes and a loaded buffet await diners. "Catfish
Friday" and "Seafood Saturday" with frog legs
highlight the buffet on weekends. Breakfast and lunch are served
Tuesday through Friday with a 5 p.m. dinner on Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant is located at 10 Skywatch on the Walnut Ridge
Airport grounds. Call (870) 886-5918 for more information.
Crowley's Ridge, Eastern Arkansas: This unique geological
formation is believed to have been created by water, ice, and
wind action over a 50-million-year period. It is unique on this
half of the world; the only known land form similar to it is
found in Siberia. The ridge extends for 200 miles from southern
Missouri south through eastern Arkansas to Helena-West Helena.
The only uplifting in the otherwise flat Arkansas Delta, the
anomaly rises 200 feet and is just 12 miles across at its widest
point. The landmark is composed of deposits of an ultra-fine
silt called "loess" and distinguished by forests of
predominately hardwoods and rolling hills.
A national scenic byway runs across the top for 198 miles and
features numerous natural attractions along the way: Crowley's
Ridge, Lake Frierson, Lake Poinsett and Village Creek state parks
and the St. Francis National Forest. Other attractions include
the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center and the
Karl and Matilda Pfeiffer Museum, both at Piggott; Chalk Bluff
historic site, Arkansas State University Museum at Jonesboro,
Parkin Archeological State Park, the antebellum and Blues history
at Helena-West Helena, not to mention numerous community and
county museums. More information can be found on www.deltabyways.com.
EpiSphere Digital Dome Theatre: Located at the Arkansas
Aerospace Education Center and IMAX Theatre in Little Rock, this
150-seat facility was the first single-projector full dome video
system installed in the world when it opened in 2005. According
to Director Ken Quimby, a second one has since opened in London.
Described by Quimby as "the world's largest erector set,"
the dome was put together by the center's staff and consists
of 225 individual sheets of aluminum. Once constructed, employees
then had to paint the 18,000 rivets holding the panels together
so the dome surface appears to be solid white.
Through various programs shown on a regular basis, visitors
can study systems within the human body, tour the universe, or
whirl into the center of a tornado from their seats. The facility,
where cutting-edge technology and impressive immersive virtual
reality are combined to offer this one-of-a-kind experience in
a multi-use theater, includes the latest full-motion, 360-full
dome video with unparalleled digital Dolby sound.
"What sets the digital dome apart from other planetariums
is that they could only show the night sky from Earth. The advanced
technology of the dome allows the dark heavens to be viewed from
anywhere in the universe," Quimby said. He describes the
new facility and all its advances as "a planetarium on steroids."
Another feature which sets it apart from others is that the chairs
are actual race car seats which especially appeals to children.
Call (501) 376-4232 for more information or visit www.aerospaced.org.
X-Coaster, Hot Springs: "This ride is definitely
not for the faint of heart," is how Horst Ruhe, managing
director of Maurer Rides, the German manufacturer, describes
it. A new addition in 2006 to Magic Springs & Crystal Falls
Theme Park in Hot Springs, the X-Coaster is the first of its
kind in the U.S. and only the second in the world. Built at a
cost of four million dollars, the coaster is the highest upside
down inversion in the world at 150 feet. Riders leave the loading
platform taking a vertical ascent of 150 feet, at which point
the car performs a slow quarter-loop backwards, that leaves the
riders hanging upside-down. Then the riders go on a 360-degree
corkscrew roll, followed by a plummeting vertical drop at more
than 65 miles an hour. At this point it appears the riders will
return to the starting station, but instead they rocket past
the station, stop on the lift hill, drop backwards through the
station at high speed, stop upside down and rocket forward through
the station again. Then, just when it seems the ride is to return
to the station, it heads up the lift hill and is taken over the
top for a second time. More information on the theme park can
be obtained by phoning (501) 624-0100 or checking www.magicsprings.com/.