After spending an entire afternoon driving across the rural farmland and wetlands of northern Louisiana, then crossing over into Arkansas, El Dorado felt like a miniature metropolis.
Downtown El Dorado centers around a huge, imposing courthouse.
The streets that surround the courthouse have some nice old storefronts, and the downtown still feels quite alive — even though I was visiting late in the afternoon.
You’ll probably notice the Pegasus sign on top of one of those buildings. Pegasus was, of course, a symbol for Mobil Oil — but that isn’t the brand of oil that put El Dorado on the map.
El Dorado is Arkansas’ original oil town, and the equipment on display here is dates back to 1921. Nowadays, El Dorado is home to the Murphy Oil Company, one of America’s 100 biggest companies.
[tmt_info =””]Murphy Oil owns gas stations at many Walmart stores across the country. It also operates the “Spur” gas station chain.[/tmt_info]
[tmt_info =””]Since 2007, Murphy Oil Company has provided money for college to every student at the local high school. Students must live in the district, and have been enrolled in the local school system from 9th grade through their graduation.[/tmt_info]
No doubt, El Dorado’s oil connections inspired the town’s public art project, where some creative folks have turned oil barrels into, well, something else. Take, for instance, the larger-than-life lipstick in front of the Merle Normal store…
… or a huge golf club bag.
[tmt_info =””]El Dorado is pronounced in a way that rhymes with “tornado”.[/tmt_info]
Camden was the next city that caused me to pause for a moment, as I headed on up the southern end of Arkansas Route 7. There wasn’t nearly as much going on here, as there was in downtown El Dorado, but I still found a giant wall mural…
… and some old ghost signs on the side streets off Adams Avenue.
There’s also a courthouse here — Camden is the county seat of Ouachita County.
[tmt_info =””]Camden boomed before the Civil War as a port for Cotton shipping. In the early 20th century, a paper mill and ammunition depot brought jobs to town, but those days have been gone for a while now.[/tmt_info]
Route 7 crosses the Ouachita River on the northeast side of town, and immediately plunges into rural Arkansas…
… where old barns seem to outnumber people.
[tmt_info =””]If you’re a big fan of the Man from Hope, President Bill Clinton, you’ll probably want to visit the town of his birth. Hope, Arkansas is east of Camden on Route 4. You could easily choose to detour over to Hope, then take Interstate 30 north to Arkadelphia to rejoin this trip.[/tmt_info]
If Dalark, Arkansas is a one-horse town, that horse is well hidden. Dalark is barely a mark on the map, most noticeable because northbound Route 7 makes a couple of dramatic turns here — and actually heads south for a few moments on the way out of town.
I’m using the term “town” rather liberally. Dalark has a few homes…
… a barn by the side of the road (perhaps that’s where the one horse was hanging out)…
… and, on the corner at one of those big curves, a gas pump that hasn’t pumped gas in quite a while. There is certainly no reason to stop in Dalark, unless you’re like me, and tend to take pictures of barns, gas pumps…
… and graceful, curvy roads that could have easily been straightened, but weren’t.
Arkansas Route 7 passes through Arkadelphia (a combination of Arkansas and Philadelphia, although that’s probably obvious). The Clark County Courthouse is a centerpiece for the town.
[tmt_info =””]There are a couple of items worth noticing on the courthouse’s front and side lawns: there’s a huge boulder that was removed during the construction of the nearby DeGray Dam (Route 7 skirts the side of DeGray Lake, north of town). You can see the boulder in the picture above. There’s also a salt kettle on display, which was used to make salt from the waters of Saline Bayou, also near town.[/tmt_info]
Arkadelphia’s downtown is tidy, and pretty much what you would expect for a small Arkansas town.
On the way out of downtown Arkadelphia, I noticed this old church on Caddo Street, that’s apparently been abandoned for years. I don’t know anything about it, but it’s certainly a shame to see a historic structure like this one slowly crumble.
[tmt_info =””]Keep heading north on Arkansas Route 7. You’ll cross Interstate 30 at Caddo Valley — a good place to grab dinner or stop for the night, if you don’t want to push on to Hot Springs.[/tmt_info]