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Fall on the Arkansas River

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The next night, we chose a sandy shore for an early stop, about 10 miles from Little Rock. We’d planned on revisiting a free city dock that was there 10 years ago. It was right downtown and close to everything. But in case it was no longer there, we wanted to arrive with more daylight in front of us than behind us. The sand was a great place to tie off, and Newfie liked it so much he escaped and returned covered in burrs and thistles. It took three days of picking and brushing before his coat was clean again.

The next day, Little Rock hove into view with the sight of three railroad bridges and three highway bridges. All six bridges are within sight of each other in the distance of less than a mile. And, best of all, our dock of old was still there! We tied off and immediately started acting like tourists. The old State House Museum was on the river’s edge, and we lost no time in touring it. The newer, modern capital building is an easy walk. It’s built on a small hilltop to put it out of reach of floodwaters.

If you wish to minimize the amount of walking, trolleys operate all day and will take you all over the downtown area and across the bridge to North Little Rock. The fee is only $.50 a trip for seniors. Bobbie, the first mate, hopped on one to go over to North Little Rock and back to get groceries. It couldn’t have been more convenient — a fun sight-seeing ride with the driver commenting about the sights.

The area we were in was the middle of a riverwalk park, with a sculpture garden and a farmers’ market adjacent to the historic district. The railroad bridges had been converted to pedestrian use by locking the lift spans in the “up” position and laying walkways and installing elevators. We walked over to North Little Rock to see the U.S.S. Razorback submarine, the last remaining fully operational World War II sub. When the war ended, it was sold to the Turkish Navy, which kept it in active service until about six years ago. A veteran’s association saved it from the scrap yard and found its current home.

No narrative of Little Rock would be complete without recounting the story of the Peabody marching ducks. It began in the 1930s, when the general manager of the Peabody Hotel at Memphis and a friend returned from a hunting trip in Arkansas. They decided it would be a hoot to plant some of their live decoys in the indoor hotel fountain. From there, it evolved into a ritual march from the fountain, along a carpeted walkway and to the elevator, where they ducks are whisked away to their night quarters, all the while accompanied by marching music. In the morning, it’s repeated in reverse. All the Peabody Hotels have their own ducks. We were tied up under the shadow of the building, so it was a “must” to see this charming display.

A reality check might be in order here: As entertaining as the riverwalk is, and as convenient as our tie-up was to the heart of Little Rock, there’s the fact that this is a gathering place for the homeless. While we were never bothered, other boaters may feel more comfortable in a marina. We’ve made it a practice to never let this deter us. (We’ve tied up to public docks where the locals have warned: “You’ll need a dog and a gun to stay there.”) But each person must decide his or her own.

After three great days, we cast off our lines and headed downriver. Island Harbor Marina (mile 71 RDB) is the last marina on the Arkansas before the river meets the Mississippi. Check your fuel tanks. The next marina heading downriver is not until Greenville, and as of this writing, it was still recovering from last year’s flood. Water and electricity are available dockside. It operates on a cash-only basis.

After doing laundry and restocking the larder, we headed down the last miles of the Arkansas. At about mile 47, we found a sandy area where Newfie had a close encounter with the local wildlife. The reed banks were alive with little toads. Newfie, responding to his canine instincts, pounced and grabbed one in his mouth. He immediately spit it out and proceeded to approximate a weird dance trying to clear his mouth. This was a species of toad that secretes a vile chemical on its back as protection against predators. The toad hopped away unharmed, and in a few minutes, Newfie was back to his old self — but he no longer had an interest in toads. With a tip of the hat to Toad Suck, we christened the place Toad Spit Landing.

The grand finale was loading the boat in Greenville. A slight wind prevented Joe from being able to line up the boat onto the trailer. After an hour of doing doughnuts and many attempts, Bobbie, tired of waiting, waded into the water to the end of the trailer, grabbed a dock line, and was able to help guide the boat onto the trailer — all within a matter of minutes!

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