Shamrock Tour® - Hot Springs and Western Arkansas

Text: Troy Hendrick • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

In a bygone era, Hot Springs was a crooked place. This past fall we lit out for those storied hills to prove that it still is.

Men and women soothe their rheumatoid arthritis in the carbonated, pressure-heated springs seeping from the deep cavern of the mountains. They relax in a resort on Hot Spring Mountain, in the Zig Zag Mountains of the Ouachita Range, just below the Ozarks. But, regardless of the locale, it isn't all Bible-Belt recreation here. Upon a time, two dark birds, Al Capone and Baby Face Nelson, flew south to soak in the geothermal bathhouses and scheme in the steam with their hard-bitten cronies. Horses raced, money changed hands, and pretty women danced, cavorted, and turned a few tricks. Then the perfect getaway for the corrupt, Vegas before Vegas, Hot Springs was a deliciously crooked place.

Today, it's arguably the oldest National Park in the system (a Reservation was established by Congress in 1832 to protect the springs, long before Yellowstone), and flanked conveniently by a good-sized town. The bathhouses are still resort destinations - nearly two million visit each year and Lake Ouachita regularly summons summer vacationers mainly from Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis, and Memphis. The town pulses with window-shopping foot traffic along the storefronts on Central Avenue, only two blocks and a stoplight from the National Park entrance. Some of the old bathhouses are restored to their former glory, minus the mobsters of course. Comparatively safe and sedate, but even so, the Hot Springs area is still a powerfully crooked place - as in steep, winding, and sweeping - chock full of great motorcycle roads in every variety. A dazzling array in fact.

Leaf One: North By Northwest
Scenic Byway Seven is known as one of the most beautiful fall drives in the United States. It's even better on a motorcycle. From Hot Springs north, "Seven" climbs into the Ouachita National Forest like a twisted ribbon and slips up through the rocky terrain and remote woods of the Ouachita Mountains.

The sun is shining, the colors of the trees have burst forth, and the temperature is a cool but comfortable 60 degrees. Just over the Fourche Lafave River, the curves tighten, and the first scrapings of the BMW R1150RS's foot-pegs startle me. After a quick start, I remember that it's only the sound of a nice bike on a good road and a mischievous grin spreads as I begin to push the R toward her limits. Christian rides another Beemer, a K1200RS. "Seven" is one of those roads that appeal to push-the-envelope urgings because the curves are so relentless. One after another they come and my confidence builds as I concentrate on hitting the perfect line in each one.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2003 back issue.