Happy Little Hooligans,  Oh, the Places I'll Go!

Great Wolf Lodge and Arkansas Road Trip

Dustin had been in training for the majority of the month and he finally had a week off. Before he left for training we kept saying we should do something when he got home but we didn’t start looking until he was back home. Seattle, LA, San Diego and San Fran, New York, Ontario, Orlando, Nassau… everything was so expensive. Everywhere. Guess that’s what happens when you look at flights for tomorrow. So I literally opened the map app on my phone and zoomed out as if I didn’t know the neighboring states. The entire state of Louisiana was off limits for me after our New Orlovirus experience. Harper said she wanted to go somewhere she would not get sick. That was her only criteria. Mine too kid.

Anyway, I’m looking at the map and for the first time ever I notice how semi close Arkansas is. I’ve spent a little bit of time there but always for other reasons like visiting family or with Dustin on a work trip or whatever. I’ve never been to Arkansas just to see Arkansas, but I knew that what I have seen was pretty. Dustin agreed. Or so I thought. So I spent half the day researching and planning out a list of things I thought we would like to see and do, and mapping out a route. I didn’t even shower until 2 pm. This was serious business. No time for such nonsense as cleanliness.

Dustin had taken Harper bike riding and when they came back I tried to present this fantastic road trip to my distracted husband. The response I got was, “We’ll see.” WHAT?! Clearly, a fight ensued. But seeing as how my husband prefers to avoid confrontation altogether, and I have to have confrontation, it took almost 24 hours to resolve. I still don’t know what his deal was really. Something about not liking road trips and not wanting to have the kids in the car that long. But he did for the first time mention Great Wolf Lodge. My mind was blown. I thought we had already laid out all our ideas! He’d been holding out on me. So we debated our options and looked up flights some more (I mean it may be noon, but we could still plan and pack for a whole Disney vacation before catching a flight at 7:30 tonight, right?). After checking the weather, we finally decided to go to Great Wolf Lodge Wednesday, and Arkansas Thursday and Friday. That evening we finally loaded everybody up, dumped the dog with Grandma (and raided her pantry), and hit the dusty trail.

We got to Great Wolf Lodge about midnight and they had kept the front desk open for us. It never occurred to me that that would be necessary until they called to make sure we were coming. Harper had told us she wanted it to be a surprise, but she was pretty certain we were going to the beach. When we got to Great Wolf, we got out of the car and went inside where you could see the water park from the lobby. She was sooo excited! “I’ve seen this place on YouTube Kids!!!!” Dustin had booked us the wolf den suite. Not because we needed it for size but because it has bunk beds. Poor kid is dying to have a bunk bed. It is a really cute hotel though. The “wolf den” part of our room was where the bunk beds were, and it was set up like a little log cabin with murals of wolves inside. It also had its own TV. This is sooo important for a 5-year-old! She convinced Dustin to sleep on the bottom bunk, but I saved the queen bed for him knowing he wouldn’t last. One of us had to sleep with Hudson, so I pulled out the couch bed and that’s where he and I slept. Dustin moved to the bed once Harper fell asleep. He deserved his own bed for putting up with my crazy.

I had assumed Harper would be the first one up, but it was Hudson. He started to stir, then make a few small noises so I nursed him in hopes that he would go back to sleep. No such luck. Soon Harper was awake, and Mommy and Daddy had to accept they weren’t getting any more sleep either. We got ready and went down to breakfast. This was a lot like a Disney character breakfast just, you know, different characters. Harper was excited, but Hudson thought they were the coolest thing ever! He was so fascinated! And we were entertained with just the faces he was making. This kid is so funny! Before breakfast, we had briefly considered just booking another night and forgoing Arkansas. After breakfast, Dustin still compared Great Wolf to Disney, just more of a sequel that goes straight to DVD kind of Disney. Spot on.

The water park had opened at this point, so we packed up and Dustin took the bags to the car while I rented our $19 locker. Read that again. It cost $19 for a locker. Yup! This is just like Disney. But, much like Disney, it was crazy fun!

Surprisingly, Harper wanted to go do slides with Mommy first! Sometimes she surprises me and just maybe our mother-daughter relationship isn’t as doomed as I often suspect. Dustin took Hudson to play in the water while Harper and I played for a bit. After a little while, we found them already out of the water. Apparently, Hudson got cold and was even more tired than before. We played with them for a bit until Harper got in trouble for running off and swimming way out into the wave pool by herself. I saw her go, but she was in trouble nonetheless. So after time out, Hudson was tired and grumpy, and Dustin wanted to do some slides with Harper. I took Hudson to go hide in a corner to nurse and nap while they had Daddy-Harper fun time. After a while, Dustin and I decided we’d had enough and even Harper didn’t put up a fight when we told her we were leaving. She was more upset about leaving her wolf den bunk bed and started trying to plan her birthday party here.

We had to hit up In-N-Out burger before we left town. It’s my favorite!! Harper wanted a grilled cheese which they serve on a hamburger bun. We didn’t think she would eat it, but she did. Down to the crust… that doesn’t exist on a hamburger bun. Whatever kid.

We got on the highway and immediately hit Dallas rush hour. Looking forward to another late night! Said no tired parent, ever.

Because we were going to be headed through that way and because Harper always asks to go to Paris, we decided to make a tourist trap stop at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas. It was freezing so we took a couple of pictures and got out of there. Made it a little anticlimactic. Hudson didn’t even get a picture. Hopefully he’ll get over that one day.

We stopped for gas and I went into Walmart to get baby food and snacks. While I was in there Dustin texted me to get him some packs of tuna. My first thought was, “How is he going to eat tuna without a fork?” I hate buying him tuna because one, tuna stinks, and two, I always get him the wrong kind anyway. But I got him a bag of plastic forks and texted him to ask what kind of tuna he wants. He says, “Just plain tuna.” I cannot even. Does he want chunk lite, solid white or yellowfin?! And does he want packed in water or oil?! He thinks this is so simple, but he always lets me know I got the wrong kind and then still eats it like such a martyr. He tells me what he wants and because I’m such a sweet wife I got him two 4 packs of canned tuna. I get out to the car to accept my prize for wife of the year and he asks me how he is going to eat it without a can opener… He told me packets! I got packs! This is not my fault! I hate buying tuna! I am not to blame.

On the other hand, they did have Neccos! Surely I’m not the only one with an affinity for chalk candy. Right?!

From here we decided to take the route that didn’t require tolls. I had a feeling we would regret that but it’s one of those things that I would feel bad about if it turned out to be really expensive or too long or whatever. Once it was too late, we found out this meant taking a lot of 2 lane back roads through what appeared to be mountains, but it was so dark we couldn’t see much of anything. At one point we were going 40mph behind an 18-wheeler on steep grades through some fairly thick fog. I kept falling asleep without even realizing I had closed my eyes. I tried so hard to stay awake for Dustin who I knew was just as exhausted. He stopped and got some coffee, but I don’t know if that helped. Then I remembered my giant bag of Cheerios that lives in my car and keeps me awake on my early morning drives to work. So we both started shoveling Cheerios into our pie holes and somehow, sometime after 1 am, we made it to the hotel in Fayetteville. I don’t remember much after that.

Once again, Hudson woke up 3 minutes before 6 am. I nursed him in a vain attempt to get him back to sleep, but to no avail. He was awake and so was Harper soon after, so nobody was sleeping. I staged a silent protest but eventually I gave up and got out of bed myself. We ate breakfast, packed up and evaluated our to-do list. We tried first to go see this really pretty old church in Fayetteville, but the gate was locked. Luckily that was only 10 minutes wasted. Then we gave Harper the option of going to Bentonville to see the Walmart museum. At one point she had been excited about it but changed her mind. I’m kinda glad because though we would all like to say we’ve been to the first Walmart, it was out of the way. We’re Target people anyway. If we ever find ourselves passing through Bentonville in the future, then maybe. After looking at our list of potential things to do we decided to cut out Eureka Springs too. It looks like a cute little town, but we decided caverns and hiking would be more interesting to Harper and small towns like that all kinda start to be the same after a while. A general store, antique stores, a candy shop, maybe a train station or some other cute old something that isn’t used anymore but you have to go see… Plus we didn’t have room in the car to buy anything even if we wanted to. If we went it would have been just to take a picture on the rainbow stairs. Yep, apparently they have some awesome rainbow-painted stairs that my 5-year-old would love. But we decided it wasn’t worth it to go out of our way. So about halfway to Mystic Caverns, Dustin asked why it was we had to make it up to Fayetteville last night. Touché.

Along the way, we stopped to get Dustin some packets of tuna (rolling my eyes over here) and to get me a selfie stick. As much as I make fun of them I decided it was absolutely necessary to have a selfie stick in order to get a few family pictures because my arms are not long enough. Now that I have used one, I have a new respect for selfie stick owners. Those suckers are harder to use than they look.

Soooo many of our pictures look like this:

And it only took 500 tries to get this:

We made it to Mystic Caverns, but knew it wasn’t going to go well if we woke the sleeping dragons and didn’t have food. The thought of another hamburger kinda made me want to puke, and grilled cheese for every single meal can’t be good for Harper, so we found a Subway in town. After lunch we headed back to the caverns.

Before the tour even started the guide was showing us the path made of rocks from the area and how they had fossils of shells. Harper was interested to see them but when the guide said, “and just think, we’ll be fossils one day,” Harper’s response was “Uhh… I’m only 5.” The rest of the tour was pretty much the same. The guide would make cheesy jokes, and Harper would shut them down. They have 2 caves there, but we only saw Crystal Dome. This one was really just a walk down the stairs and back up, so it was pretty small, but this was really cool for her. If it were just Dustin and me and that was all we saw, we might have been a little disappointed because we’ve been to other, larger caverns, but if the kids are having fun, we’re having fun. Even though it is small, it was still really neat for us to see because a lot of it hasn’t been touched like in other caves we’ve seen, and it’s still growing. The dome and the formations at the bottom were really pretty impressive. The whole time we were in the cavern Hudson kept yelling out and listening to the echo, and Harper just kept talking away to the guide and the older couple on the tour with us. We bring our own entertainment on these things!

Apparently the top of the dome is only something like 40ft under the surface. Does that not make them nervous to walk around up there?!

I have no explanation for my daughter. She just makes me laugh.

When we left there, it was already about 4 pm. I was looking through my list trying to figure out which trail we could get to in time to still do a little hiking, but also make sure it was one Harper would be able to do, and wasn’t straight dumb to try to do with an infant carrier. We decided to try to make it to Whitaker’s Point. If we left out the others, that one was probably the most iconic Arkansas hike based on the pictures. It was about an hour away including a crazy steep gravel road. When we got to the trailhead there was a couple just coming off the trail, and I asked them if we were crazy trying to do this with kids. Had we not talked to them I don’t know if I would have gone through with it given the time of day and the uncertainty of the trail itself. But based on the opinion of some random strangers (without kids) we decided to take it on. Most of the trail Harper was having a blast. She got to cross several little streams and Dustin found her a good walking stick. She got to see a couple of small waterfalls too, which I didn’t realize were on this trail. Bonus! I’m so glad too because we had been telling her for a couple days we were going to do some hiking to see waterfalls and then we picked this one that was headed to a big rock, not a waterfall. At one point, Harper said, and I quote: “This is the best vacation ever. Even though I was a little grumpy in the car you can’t stop me from having fun!” Then a few minutes later, “You guys are the best parents ever!” That’s right kid. And don’t you forget it.

Apparently hiking makes veins stick out of my forehead.

We were about 10 minutes shy of the time we said we would have to turn back when we made it to the end. I am soooo glad we did this hike. It’s one of those places I do not have words for. Phenomenal, beautiful, amazing, meh. Not enough. It is one of those places that you stand there, and you can’t help but recognize how big God is. I mean, this spot is less than a pinpoint on this earth. And as amazing as it is there are still so many other places that are even more beautiful and more impressive. This is nothing for God. But in that moment, standing firmly on a rock that juts out off a cliff in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, you can’t help but feel God’s power. He can do all this, and yet He still knows me and loves me. It is so surreal. But He quickly had the opportunity to prove His love and His protection because the sun was setting, and we had to hurry back. Dustin led the way, Harper tried to keep up, and Hudson and I brought up the rear. We kept stressing the importance of being careful and staying with us because a lot of the trail is literally right along the edge of a cliff, but Harper is 5 and was trying so hard to keep pace with Dustin. So of course, she leaped over a rock, slipped, and fell. Thankfully she landed on the trail, not in heaven. My heart stopped, but I got to keep my baby another day. She scratched her arm pretty good with her walking stick, but I think the sheer terror of the fall was the worst of it. We couldn’t stay and hug and cry because the sun was just barely over the mountain at that point. She didn’t die, so we had to keep moving. That’s where we lost her. This was no longer fun. She informed us repeatedly that she does not like hiking, does not want to take a bath, and no longer has use of her right arm.

This is one of those save-for-her-high-school-graduation pictures. It needs to be a meme…

Poor Dustin carried her for a bit and somehow we made it back to the car before dark (another God thing because I am for real out of shape). I carried an extra (wiggly) 20lbs for 3(ish?) miles uphill both ways! I was exhausted but feeling like a hoss! An hour later we were at a hotel in Russellville. By the time we were all bathed and in bed it was just before 11 pm. Waaay too late, but still better than the last few nights!

As usual, Hudson was the first one up but Harper wasn’t awake until 7. We packed up and went to breakfast where I got apple juice spilled all over me because I was far to clean. Then we hit the road headed for Petit Jean State Park.

Dear people of whatever town this is, I am sorry. You have been duped.

On the other hand, if the real Whataburger spelled it this way maybe my husband and daughter would stop calling it “water burger.”

Petit Jean State Park has a bunch of trails. Some are easy hikes I thought we could do with the stroller, but for the sake of time I figured we would just go see the big kahuna and call it quits. The Cedar Falls trail said “moderate” in some places online, and “strenuous” in a couple others. The youngest hiker I saw mentioned on Trip Advisor was 4 years old. After yesterday, my confidence in us was high and most people made it sound like the strenuous part of it was the decline, and then the incline on the way back, because it was all stairs made of rock. They were partially right. The first half of the trail was a decline on slick rock. A few rocks were intentionally placed to form stairs, but a lot of it was natural which meant stumbling over wet boulders and exposed roots most of the way. We started off with Dustin taking Hudson in the carrier and when he slipped a little on the wet rocks about 0.00005 miles in, I just knew they were done for. Harper apparently regained use of her right arm and got amnesia overnight because her near-death experience yesterday didn’t prevent her from running and hopping all over the place. Not wanting to ruin her fun, I restrained myself a little and only yelled at her every 0.003 seconds. I was 100% certain we were coming out of there with at least one, if not all of us, severely injured. Along the way we stopped a lot to take pictures, and just enjoy the water running through the downhill streams alongside the trail.

I feel the need to preface these pictures with the acknowledgment that yes, these pictures are very very green. I don’t do photoshop and my other photo editing skills are limited. It was just THAT green!

When we got to the river about half a mile from the falls, Harper announced she had to go potty. It is a law of nature. Take a child into the woods, just far enough away it is too far to turn back, and they will have to poop. It is inevitable. (Side note: if you, like me, have a child who suffers from constipation despite all your best efforts, take them into the woods. Problem solved. You’re welcome.) I, being the good wife and mother I am, volunteered to take the baby while Daddy figured out this conundrum. He was thrilled, let me assure you. But I did for some strange reason decide that wipes were essential hiking gear and had thrown them into to backpack. What hiker doesn’t keep baby wipes in their bag? (Another side note: Do not worry friends. We took nothing but pictures, left nothing but footprints and poop).

About half a mile past the river you finally make it to the waterfall. Again, and even more so than yesterday, incredible doesn’t begin to describe it. “My God is so big and so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do” is one of those songs Harper sings on repeat, and today I did too. This is by far the biggest, most impressive waterfall I’ve seen in person. Okay, so maybe it pales in comparison to others in this world, but this is big for me okay? Looking back now at our pictures they either a, look like we have a printed backdrop, or b, don’t do the falls justice unless there is a teeny tiny person for comparison. The way the water has cut out this giant crater, and then the crevasse where the water runs into the crater was just so incredible! With the rain recently, the water was raging.

Even Harper wanted to stop and watch the waterfall while we rested for a drink and a snack. Why is it I would only think to bring gummy bears and not real food? I mean, I even brought wipes. This was the first time in 10 months that I nursed in public without a cover. I don’t think I ever did that with Harper. It felt a little funny, but we already got looks from about half the people on the trail for having a baby out here (the other half gave us the obligatory, “he’s got it made” comments). Since we were already the crazy people with the baby and the kid, why not whip out some boob?

The hike back I was dreading, but I knew I could pass the baby to Dustin if I needed. It wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated though. We were definitely feeling the burn, but the footing was much easier heading up. Toward the end we passed a couple that had passed us way back at the falls. I gave them a smug little smile as I squeezed myself and my 20lb sack of baby past them. Take that! The tortoise wins again!

Back at the trailhead we knew we all needed food but had zero cell signal, so we didn’t know where the next restaurant would be. We decided to eat there at Mather Lodge. I’m not sure if we were all just starving, or if the food was just that amazing, but it was! That was probably the best chicken wrap I’ve ever had, and if I ever learn to make potato chips like them I will probably never eat another thing the rest of my life.

After lunch, we headed toward Hot Springs. I had a big list of things to do there, but I had to cross off most of it knowing we wouldn’t have time since we didn’t get there until about 5 pm. So we went to Garvan Woodland Gardens because it was actually one of the things that got the best reviews and I really wanted to see the chapel there. We walked around until about 6:30 just enjoying the flowers, feeding the Koi and checking out the bridges. We had planned to stop by the chapel so I could see it before we left, but when we got back to the car, ours was the only one left in the lot. Just after I started nursing Hudson, a security guard pulled up in a golf cart and said he needed to close the gate behind us. So no chapel for me. Guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with the Pinterest pictures. Dear unmarried friends, someone please get married here. I need an excuse to come back! It looks so awesome!!

Making Miss Stacey proud!

Are Koi not the scariest fish ever?

Knowing they were all closed, I still just wanted to see the bathhouses. Dustin has been to Hot Springs before for work, and said they weren’t all that interesting for him, so they wouldn’t have been good for Harper anyway. But we walked down Bathhouse Row just so I could see them. I really wanted to buy a souvenir jug so I could fill it with spring water. There are several places in town where they have free water taps and even the locals come to fill their jugs. We walked by one and I pushed the button because I had to at least touch the water. It’s pretty hot! Not scorching by any means, but definitely warmer than I had expected.

By this point we all needed food and the kids needed a bed. We had good cell signal for the first time in a couple days so we whipped out Yelp. Superior Bath House Brewery came up and I remembered reading about it being a repurposed old bath house. And that they make all their beer with local spring water because I guess it matters?! I’m a sucker for that sort of thing and it was really close so that’s where we went. Neither of us are beer drinkers, me even less than him but when in Rome, you do a beer tasting. Dustin picked a couple and then I told the waitress to surprise us with the others. I still have not been converted to a beer drinker but if I were, I would drink their pineapple and/or blueberry beer. Does it still count as beer if it is pineapple or blueberry flavored you ask? It still tasted like beer to me. Harper got a root beer float and I am ashamed to say she didn’t like it. I mean that is my kind of beer! We had forgotten to get any baby food out of the car, but they had black-eyed pea hummus on the appetizer menu, so we ordered that to feed Hudson. He loved it! The rest of the food was probably amazing, but I think it just wasn’t what we had imagined. We were all crazy exhausted (meaning the kids were both wild), so we wanted to move things along a little faster than a brewery tends to. In the end, I got to go inside a bathhouse, everyone was fed, and, you know, beer.

We left Hot Springs kinda wishing we had more time because there were several things we had to miss. Guess that just means we’ll have to come back! We got on the road and drove as far as we could toward home. I had to call it at Texarkana. Dustin wasn’t thrilled because he wanted to make it to Marshall. One, I needed a picture of us at the state line. Because we just do. Isn’t that what road trip people do? But I was also bobble-heading and Dustin hadn’t had any more sleep than me. My fear was I would fall asleep and not be able to even try to help him stay awake, and then we would all die. This was a fun trip but we had already had a lot better opportunities to go out in style, so falling asleep at the wheel would be such a shame. Hudson started waking up every few minutes and fussing a little just before Texarkana, but we didn’t think much of it. When we got to the hotel and woke him up to get out of the car, he screamed and screamed until we got him out of the bath and into bed. He kept burping up the smell of the hummus. So maybe that was a bad idea. Luckily, he slept well after that.

The next morning, Hudson woke up early but actually went back to sleep until after Harper and Dustin went down to breakfast. After we loaded back up, I asked Dustin if we could go take a picture at the state line 10 minutes away. Thinking this was a reasonable request I was not happy when his response was, “Well, is it in the wrong direction?” Ten minutes. Seriously. And it was in the wrong direction, but I guess I won that one because we went anyway. We got a couple pictures, Harper (thought she) made a YouTube kids video of running down the hill, and we were back on the road.

Maybe I’m doing this whole blog wrong. Maybe it needs to be a kids fashion blog. Ha!

The rest of the drive I gave up trying to stay awake for Dustin. We made it to my parents’ house to pick up the dog around 4 pm, then went home and crashed.

I have to say that my husband is a saint. He puts up with my crazy plans and does everything he can so we can fully experience every place we go. But he has not always appreciated traveling with me. As a matter of fact, we used to always have this conversation at least once in every trip:

Me: “Could you at least pretend like you’re having fun?!?!”

Dustin: “I am having fun.” Grumpy cat face.

Me: “Well you sure aren’t acting like it.”

Dustin: “I don’t know what else you want me to do.” An exact clone of Eeyore.

I storm off, he follows at a snail’s pace.

We would get home, and when I heard the retelling of our adventures, it always went something like, “Jessica found this awesome place where we got to ____” or “Since Jessica did ____ we got to ____.” He made it sound like he had so much fun! Now, after 12 years of marriage, he has finally caught on. He no longer fights it. At least not as much as he used to. He suffers through and sometimes he even enjoys it. My vacations are not for relaxing. Nor are they cheap. Vacations are for seeing, doing, experiencing. They are adventures. This trip may have been short and very last-minute, but it was no exception.

And just look how happy he is to have tons of tuna once we got home!


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    • Jessica

      Thanks! I’m THAT mom that takes a million pictures of every single second. Sometimes they pose without me asking, sometimes they fight it.

  • Gina Smith

    It sounds like you had a fun and eventful trip. I’ve always wanted to take my kids to Great Wolf Lodge in Cincinnati and reading about your experiences wants to me take them that much more, and hopefully before they are too old to enjoy those experiences. Great post

    • Jessica

      Yes, you should! My daughter’s friend has a teenage brother and when he heard we were going to Great Wolf he said, “That place is awesome!” It’s not on the same scale as Disney, size wise, but I kinda feel like it is still one of those places where you can go at any age and still have a lot of fun.

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