See Rock City

See Rock City

Monday, August 4, 2008

Little Rock, AR

Many artifacts have been found that suggest Native Americans inhabited Central Arkansas thousands of years before European settlers arrived. These original inhabitants may have included the Folsom people, Bluff Dwellers, Mound Builders, Caddo, Quapaw, Osage, Choctaw and Cherokee. Arkansas was first explored by Europeans in 1541 when Hernando de Soto of Spain traveled through the area.

Little Rock was actually named for a little rock. Early travelers used a stone outcropping on the bank of the Arkansas River as a landmark. "La Petite Roche" (French for "The Little Rock"), so named in 1722 by French explorer Jean-Baptiste BĂ©nard de la Harpe, marked the transition from the flat Mississippi Delta region to the Ouachita Mountain foothills. Travelers would refer to the area as "the Little Rock" and the name stuck.

The Old Mill

The Bridge at The Old Mill

The old South isn't completely gone with the wind in North Little Rock. A short drive from McCain mall will bring you to a quiet, tranquil place that looks like something from an old movie. As a matter of fact, it was featured in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind. It's believed to be the only remaining structure from that film. So, put on your hoop squirt, grab your parasol and your "twiddly dee dee" attitude and come for a visit.

The Old Mill is not actually as old as it appears. In 1933, Justin Matthews contracted for the construction of a replica of an old-water-powered grist mill. He did not set out to copy any preexisting mill, but instead chose to design something that would fit with the contour of the area. He wanted the mill to appear as if it belonged in Arkansas and had been here since the 1800s. The Mill is intended to appear neglected, just as old mills that were in service in the early 1800's had become by the 1930's.

The park is decorated with sculptures of toadstools, tree stumps, and a tree branch-entwined bridge that connects the mill to the rest of the park. Senor Dionico Rodriguez, a sculptor and artist of Mexico City, was responsible for all the details of each piece of concrete work made to represent wood, iron or stone, as well as the designing of the foot bridges and rustic seats. During the summer of 1991, Rodriguez's work at the Old Mill was renovated by the great-nephew of the original artist, Carlos Cortes.

The Old Mill was nationally recognized in 1986 by being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Central High School

Central High was a ground breaking battle for civil rights in Arkansas and the United States in 1957. Nine students defied a governor, public opinion and many of their peers to have the right to go to school. According to history books, this is Central's claim to infamy.
Today, Central High is not only a national landmark but also a functioning high school. Central produces more national merit scholars every year than any other Arkansas school and has one of the state's most respected athletic programs.

Central also hosts an International Studies magnet program. While students at Central are aware of the history, they've made the school more than its history. They've given the school a present too. Here in Arkansas, when we speak of Little Rock Central, it's normally for the more positive aspects of the school rather than the infamous event that will always hover over its halls.

The Big Dam Bridge

The Big Dam Bridge is the longest bridge in the United States that was built for pedestrian traffic. It's also the only bridge built into a dam (as opposed to on top of a dam). It's a popular spot for walkers and cyclists in the state, and a popular spot to host 5k walks and bicycle events.


The bridge starts in Murray Park and ends in Cook's Landing Park (or vice versa, depending on your perspective). Google Map to Murray Park and Cook's Landing Park.


The bridge is 4,226 long and connects about 15 miles of trails in the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

The monoliths in the plaza are actually parts of the dam that had to be cut out to make supports for the bridge.

LED Lighting:

The LED lighting display that occurs after dark gets more comments from out-of-towners than any other aspect of the bridge.

The bridge contains 160 LED light fixtures on the piers, 16 LED light fixtures on the towers and 63 light fixtures on the walkway. It is programmed with several different lighting displays and sometimes has special programs for holidays.

The lighting display won the Illumination Engineering Society of North America IIDA Award of Merit and is truly a sight to behold.

The Name:

Out-of-towners also always comment, sometimes rather smugly, on the name "Big Dam Bridge." The bridge was given that nickname by Judge Buddy Villines. It's also referred to as the "Buddy Bridge" or the "Buddy Villines bridge" because Judge Villines envisioned the bridge and got it built.
Villines says the name came about from stating the obvious fact that it was a big bridge over a dam, a play on the words "big damn bridge" and the marketability of the clever name.

Although, a few have commented about the "redneck" name for the bridge, no one will ever forget it.

Rags to Riches: Johnny Cash

There are many famous people who call Arkansas their home state. Arkansas has produced millionaires, poets, businessmen and even a president. One former Arkansas resident who has inspired many lives and touched many with his music is the legendary Johnny Cash, the original man in black.
Johnny Cash was born on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, just across the river from life-long friend Carl Perkins. He was born into a family of sharecroppers. Cash's family was very poor, as most sharecroppers were, and Cash claims that he almost died of starvation as a small child. Because the family was not wealthy, they gave their son what little free entertainment that could and Cash was raised on the hillbilly sounds native to his home town. Cash performed songs by the age of twelve on radio KLCN out of Blytheville, Arkansas.

In 1955 he signed with Sun Records and started his recording career. "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," "Guess Things Happen That Way," and other hits quickly established Cash as a major player on both the pop and country charts and by the mid-sixties he was one of the most popular artists in the country. Unfortunately his career success did not lead to happiness. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse took over life so much that in 1965, a violent outburst in Nashville got him banned from the Grande Old Opry. His addictions also caused the breakup of his marriage to Vivian Libreto.

However, this low point in his life did not last for long. In the late 1960's Cash discovered God and changed his life. He also met his future wife, June Carter, who offered him support and inspiration. In 1969 he won two Grammy awards for Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison and his albums were outselling the Beatles. Cash also his own tv variety program on ABC that ran for 3 years.

Cash is still in the hearts and minds of people today. In 1991 he was presented with a Grammy Legend Award. In 1992 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (he was already a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame). He lent his voice to U2 in 1993 on their album Zooropa. His 1994 album, American Recordings attracted the attention of the MTV generation and earned him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. He also got an offer to appear at Lollapolloza.

Even with all the success and everything that he had overcome to get to where he is, Cash's tribulations weren't over. In 1997, Cash disclosed that he is suffering from Shy-Drager Syndrome. This is a progressive nervous disorder characterized by muscular tremors, stiffness, and weakness. After the 1997 announcement, he canceled several concerts and a national publicity tour in support of his book, Cash: The Autobiography, to return home to Tennessee to stabilize his health.

In 1999, TNT premiered An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Cash. The television special was the highest rated and most watched concert premiere in the network's history.

Cash passed away on September 12, 2003 from complications of diabetes, less than four months after his wife's death. His life and relationship with his wife was chronicled in the movie Walk The Line in 2005.


Cash was of Scottish descent but he learned this only upon researching his ancestry. After a chance meeting with former Falkland laird, Major Michael Crichton-Stuart, he traced the Cash family tree to eleventh century Fife, Scotland.

He had believed in his younger days that he was mainly Irish and partially Native American (he had been told he was one-quarter Cherokee). Even after learning he had no Native American ancestry, Cash's empathy and compassion for Native Americans was unabated. These feelings were expressed in several of his songs, including "Apache Tears" and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," and on his album, Bitter Tears.

Early life

Johnny Cash was born J. R. Cash in Kingsland, Arkansas to Ray and Carrie (Rivers) Cash, and raised in Dyess, Arkansas.

Cash was reportedly given the name "J.R." because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials. When he enlisted in the United States Air Force, the military would not accept initials as his name, so he adopted John R. Cash as his legal name. In 1955, when signing with Sun Records, he took Johnny Cash as his stage name. His friends and in-laws generally called him John, while his blood relatives usually continued to call him J.R.

Cash was one of seven children: Reba Hancock, Jack, Joanne (Cash-Yates), Tommy, Roy, and Louise Cash Garrett. His younger brother, Tommy Cash, also became a successful country artist.

By age five, J.R. was working in the cotton fields, singing along with his family as they worked. The family farm was flooded on at least one occasion, which later inspired him to write the song Five Feet High And Rising. His family's economic and personal struggles during the Depression inspired many of his songs, especially those about other people facing similar difficulties.

Cash was very close to his brother Jack, who was two years older. In 1944, Jack was pulled into a whirling table saw in the mill where he worked, and cut almost in two. He suffered for over a week before he died. Cash often spoke of the horrible guilt he felt over this incident. According to Cash: The Autobiography, his father was away that morning, but he and his mother, and Jack himself, all had premonitions or a sense of foreboding about that day, causing his mother to urge Jack to skip work and go fishing with his brother. Jack insisted on working, as the family needed the money. On his deathbed, Jack said he had visions of heaven and angels. Decades later, Cash spoke of looking forward to meeting his brother in heaven. He wrote that he had seen his brother many times in his dreams, and that Jack always looked two years older than whatever age Cash himself was at that moment.

Cash's early memories were dominated by gospel music and radio. Taught by his mother and a childhood friend, Johnny began playing guitar and writing songs as a young boy. In high school he sang on a local radio station; decades later he released an album of traditional gospel songs, called My Mother's Hymn Book. He was also significantly influenced by traditional Irish music that he heard performed weekly by Dennis Day on the Jack Benny radio program.

Cash enlisted in the United States Air Force. After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and technical training at Brooks Air Force Base, both in San Antonio, Texas, Cash was assigned to a U.S. Air Force Security Service unit, assigned as a morse code decoder on Russian Army transmissions, at Landsberg, Germany. On July 3, 1954, he was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant. Then, he returned to Texas.

First marriage

While in Air Force training in 1950, Cash met Vivian Liberto. A month after his discharge, on August 7, 1954, they were married. They had four daughters: Rosanne (1955), Kathleen (1956), Cindy (1959), and Tara (1961). His constant touring and drug use put intense strain on his marriage, and they divorced in 1967.

Early career

In 1954, the couple moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances while studying to be a radio announcer. At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. Perkins and Grant were known as the Tennessee Two. Cash worked up the courage to visit the Sun Records studio, hoping to get a recording contract. After auditioning for Sam Phillips, singing mostly gospel songs, Phillips told him to "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell." Cash eventually won over Phillips with new songs delivered in his early frenetic style. His first recordings at Sun, "Hey Porter" and "Cry Cry Cry," were released in 1955 and met with reasonable success on the country hit parade.

Cash's next record, Folsom Prison Blues, made the country Top 5, and "I Walk the Line" became No. 1 on the country charts and entered the pop charts Top 20. Following "I Walk the Line" was "Home of the Blues," recorded in July 1957. That same year Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album. Although he was Sun's most consistently best-selling and prolific artist at that time, Cash felt constrained by his contract with the small label. Elvis Presley had already left Sun, and Phillips was focusing most of his attention and promotion on Jerry Lee Lewis. The following year Cash left the label to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" became one of his biggest hits.

In the early 60's, Cash toured with the Carter Family, which by this time regularly included Mother Maybelle's daughters, Anita, June and Helen. June later recalled admiring Johnny from afar during these tours.

Paul (Bear) Bryant

Paul Bryant was the 11th of 12 children who were born to William Monroe and Ida Kilgore Bryant in Moro Bottom, Arkansas.

His nickname stemmed from his having agreed to wrestle a captive bear during a theater promotion when he was 13-years-old.

He attended Fordyce High School in Fordyce, Arkansas, where 6-foot-1 Bryant began playing on the school's football team as an eighth grader. During his senior season, the team, with Bryant playing offensive end and defensive line, won the 1930 Arkansas state football championship.

Bryant accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Alabama in 1931. Since he elected to leave high school before completing his diploma, Bryant had to enroll in a Tuscaloosa high school to finish his education during the fall semester while he practiced with the college team. Bryant played end for the Crimson Tide and was a participant on the school's 1934 national championship team. Bryant was known as the other end, and played opposite Don Hutson. Bryant was so tough as a player he played in the Tennessee game with a broken leg. Socially, Bryant pledged Sigma Nu and, as a senior, married Mary Harmon, and the two had a daughter nine months later.

In 1936, in the first NFL draft, Bryant was selected in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears, but he did not play for the team.

Bill Clinton

Everyone knows that Clinton was born in Hope, but he spent most of his Arkansas time in Little Rock. Besides the obvious Capitol and Governor's Mansion, here are some other great places that he used to visit when he lived here.

The Clinton's Old Houses

The Clinton's lived in a few houses in downtown Little Rock throughout the years. The first was at 5419 L Street, which they lived in from 1977-1979. They then moved to 816 Midland Street.

The Bill Clinton Library

What can I find in Clinton's Library?

Clinton's library contains many artifacts from his Presidency. The library has three levels and a basement. The main exhibits are on levels 2 and 3.

Level 2 (also known as the main level) has a timeline of Clinton's career. Visitors can walk through and read about his presidency and see some artifacts from it. This level also has "policy alcoves" with artifacts and information about various aspects of his Presidency like education, environment, economy and more. There are a total of 16 alcoves. Another interesting exhibit on this level is the collection of letters to the President and First Lady from celebrities and world leaders. Among letters are letters from Mr. Rogers, Elton John and JFK Jr. Arsenio Hall also sent a letter to the President. If you remember, an appearance on Arsenio made a big difference in Clinton's first campaign. You can also see some of the gifts the Clinton's received while in office.

The second level has a "changing exhibit" which will feature a new exhibit every year. Currently, through December of 2005, it features Clinton's musical inspiration ranging from Elvis to the Beatles. On display is his personal CD collection and memorabilia from his major influences.

The second level contains a model of the oval office that the guides are eager to point out was partly arranged by Clinton himself for authenticity. According to the tour guide, the photographs on the desk and the books on the back shelf are authentic but the rest of the office is a reproduction.

The second level has an interesting look at Clinton's past. Some of the most interesting pieces on display are artifacts from the courtship of a young Bill and Hillary and materials from a high school campaign for student council president. There are other artifacts from his high school days and campaign materials from his campaigns.

In total there are 512 artifacts in display with a total of 79,000 in the collection. There are 206 documents on display with a total of 80 million in the collection. There are 1400 photographs with over 2 million in the collection.

Crater of Diamond

Arkansas has the world's only diamond mine where the general public can mine for diamonds and actually keep what they find. It's a one of a kind experience for you and your family. Take a trip to Arkansas and "get that ice."

More information: Crater of Diamonds is a 37-acre field in Murfreesburo, AR. It's the eighth largest diamond reserve in Bill Clintonthe world. Diamonds were first discovered on this eroded volcanic pipe in 1906 by, then owner, John Huddleston. Since that time, over 75,000 diamonds have been found there.

Since 1906 the mine has changed hands many times. In 1952, it was opened by private interests as a tourist attraction. In 1972, it was purchased by the State for development as a state park.

Come on, does anyone actually find anything? You might get really lucky! The largest diamond found in the United States (over 40 carats) was found in this very field. According to The Parks Service, over 22,000 people have actually found gems (including diamonds, amethyst, agate, jasper, quartz and many others) on a visit to the park. An average of more than 600 diamonds are found each year in the Crater of Diamonds. So yes people do find many gems.

What kind of tools do I need? You can bring your own tools but very few of us have a stockpile of diamond mining tools in our basement. You can rent tools on the site for a small fee. The fee goes to The Park Service to help keep the place up. Allowed tools are shovels, garden rakes, buckets, etc. No motorized equipment is allowed. Two covered washing pavilions make the search for diamonds much easier. Each pavilion contains tubs of water, benches and tables where hunters can process the ore they unearth.

The Parks Service says that there are three main methods to find diamonds. Those include dry sifting, wet sifting and surface hunting. Instructional brochures can be obtained at the Visitor's Center.

Does the park have facilities? There are 50 campsites at the park. You can also picnic, have lunch at the cafe or stop at the gift shop. The interesting Visitor's Center has several programs and interpretive exhibits.

What should I look for in a rough diamond? What I do if I think I found one? Rough diamonds don't look like those you'll find in a jewelry store so don't toss that stone. A diamond weighing several carats may be no larger than a marble so keep your eyes open for small well rounded crystals. Diamonds have an oily, slick outer surface that dirt will not adhere to so look for clean crystals. Most diamonds found at the crater are yellow, clear white or brown. Just because it doesn't sparkle like a cut diamond doesn't mean it isn't a diamond. Even the "cloudy" diamonds can be worth a great deal.

If you even have an inkling that what you found is a diamond, hold onto it. Bring it with you to Visitor's Center and have them check it out. They will weigh and certify your stone for free. Don't feel too stupid to ask. You never know. They get lots of people every day who think they have diamonds. Don't feel self-conscious about it. They won't laugh if you're wrong and if you're right, wow!

When can I go? Where is it? Do I have to pay to get in? The diamond search area is open daily year-round except for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and noon Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. The hours the search area is open vary throughout the year. The 2002 hours are:

January thru February--8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
March 1 thru May 24--8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
May 25 - September 2--8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
September 3 - November 30--8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
December--8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

The park is two miles southeast of Murfreesboro on Ark. 301. It costs about $5 to get in. Children under 6 get in free and they have discounted group rates. Call (870) 285-3113 for more info.

Current Status: open every day

CRATER OF DIAMONDS State Park is one of the few parks in the country that caters to rockhounds! And the only site where you can pay a small fee and keep any diamond and other lapidary materials you collect in the world.


Around 100 million years ago, the lazy southern coastline in what is now central Pike County, AR, suddenly exploded, creating a crater some 80 acres in size. After this eruption, small pyroclastic cones developed in the crater and spewed out ash and lapilli (small molten rock fragments), in the photo.

Some of the ash mixed with sediments from the adjacent Trinity Formation, forming lake sediments on the east margin of the crater and at scattered sites across the depression. Then came a magma from deep in the earth, filling part of the depression with a lava lake. This sequence of events took awhile, but only a wink of an eye in geologic time.

A diamond storehouse

The lamproite breccia tuff that formed in the explosion carried diamonds from deep in the earth (in the upper mantle) and rapidly brought these crystals to the surface. Although the lamproite magma originated from the same depth, it moved slowly enough for the magma to resorb the diamonds. Hence, it is not considered a source of diamonds at the site, either in the rock or the soil developed from it. Recent exploration demonstrated that there are some 78.5 million tons of diamond-bearing rock to sort through, so it will be awhile before the tourists and rockhounds deplete this diamond storehouse!

Since the diamond-bearing pipe and the adjoining area became a state park in 1972, over 21,000 diamonds have been recovered. The Park Museum has a series of educational displays and a slide presentation for first-time visitors. They also rent screens and a variety of small digging and scratching tools to assist the visitor in finding a diamond. You may also bring in your own equipment, on the condition you carry it out that night. No wheeled equipment is allowed.

If you only have a short time to visit, an afternoon or so, your best chance to find a diamond is by either surface searching or, if it is dry, then by surface screening. Dry dirt does not stick to a diamond, so it will be loose in the soil. Once you know what a diamond crystal looks like, you can sort out the various bits of calcite, barite, quartz crystals, and fragments of broken glass that you will find on your screen. Don't be fooled by the many tiny flakes of sparkly mica (phlogopite) that seem to be everywhere. The site is collected by local professional collectors, who spend a lot of time washing and screening gravels to recover diamonds. Although tourists only find a diamond for every 100 hours of searching, it is encouraging that the tourists typically find the larger stones. You can help your odds if you can visit immediately after a heavy rain. Rain exposes diamonds in the soil.

From "Ask Mikey" Q. A few years ago I visited the Diamond mine "state park". I was told that there are some geological hints to the presence of diamonds in a particular part of the mine. The person told me to look for a few other minerals that are usually present with diamonds as a way to help me decide where to dig. I dont remember what they were. Do you know of any way to decide the best place to dig based on the minerals or things present... or was this just a way for the park people to give me "hope"? Thanks, Karen

A. If you are screening and get a lot of spinel (opaque black shiny grains) or pink garnet, then you would be in an area that had an unusually large concentration of heavy minerals. Since diamond is a heavy mineral, then your odds of finding one would be much better. How do you find such a spot? Look carefully at the general slope of the ground to find a place where the slope changes from a relatively steeper gradient to more gentle. At that break, small alluvial fans of heavy minerals will be deposited. Dig your material for screening from the upper end of the alluvial fan.

This classic collecting site is written up by both the Arkansas Geological Commission in a free pamphlet (Finding diamonds in Arkansas!) and in an article by Dr. Al Kidwell in the Mineralogical Record (1990, May-June). Contact the AGC for a free brochure or check your local library to see if they take the Mineralogical Record. If you ever visit Washington, D.C., you will find a display of several uncut Arkansas diamonds in the Hall of Gems in the Natural History Museum of the National Museum (Smithsonian). These stones were part of the Roebling collection.