The Arkansas State Parks fete vibrant visitors and loping locals alike with a dizzying array of landscapes, natural and cultural resources, and myriad learning opportunities at parks scattered throughout the state. Familial units with children 18 and under can flex their pass muscles multiple times throughout the year at a wide range of museums, gleaning valuable state knowledge while conversing with park guides or well-read white-tailed deer.
For the fourth race on its 2012 tour, the American Drag Racing League returns to Gateway Motorsports Park's 1/8-mile drag strip for the first time since 2010. Piloting dragsters separated into seven all-professional racing classes, from Top Sportsman to Pro Extreme, drivers rocket down the track so quickly that they finish each race younger than when they began. The SuperCar Showdown—a new feature on the 2012 circuit—pits the latest consumer automobiles against one another in no-holds-barred drag race free from the usual handicaps, performance restrictions, and rules against fiddling with rival drivers' preset radio stations. After reopening under the helm of former Indy driver Curtis Francois, Gateway Motorsports Park has stepped up its devotion to motorsports of all kinds, looking beyond the drag strip to fill its amphitheater-style seats with fans of everything from hot rods to world-class stock cars.
A rotating menu of comfort-food favorites, including chicken-fried steak and roast beef with gravy, bolsters the hearty bar fare at The Spot Restaurant & Entertainment Complex, helping to fuel evenings of live entertainment. Attendees 21 and older gather to catch live bands, DJs spinning tunes, and comedians making wry observations or facing their fear of microphones. During DJ sets, patrons can take a break from dancing in a private VIP room with bottle service or by starting a games of darts or pool.
The interactive exhibits and programs compiled by the Pink Palace Family of Museums reinforce a mission that has stayed constant for 80 years: to "inspire people to learn how history, science, technology, and nature shape the Mid-South." Attached to Clarence Saunders' mansion built in the 1920s, the museum's permanent exhibits take an eclectic approach to chronicling the past, revealing everything from ancient fossils to contemporary southern history. Inside, visitors can chart the history of Memphis from the early Spanish explorers through the Civil War or walk through a replica of Saunders' original Piggly Wiggly—the country’s first self-service grocery store, and even see a shrunken head. Global adventures are chronicled on a four-story screen at the CTI-IMAX theater, and the Sharpe Planetarium explores the cosmos from the comfort of a 130-seat theater.
Traveling to east Memphis, one can discern the natural side of the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Lichterman Nature Center encompasses 65 acres of lush gardens filled with native wildflowers, trees, and wildlife. The center combines self-guided nature walks with plant sales and educational activities to expose visitors to the natural world.
In January 2012, Amanda Gonzales and Edgar Mendez—a former principal dancer and choreographer for the Los Rumberos dance company—founded Madison Dance Studio to share their love of rhythmic movement with all ages. The duo and their team of talented instructors lead classes, including salsa and hip-hop, atop of a wood floor illuminated by floating party lights. In addition to helming belly-dance sessions, they channel Latin-inspired dance moves and global party beats in Zumba fitness classes. Amanda encourages ladies to confidently express themselves on club dance floors during her signature Hip Hop in Heels class.
After all hips have been shimmied and snaked according to U.S. government standards, students and instructors can rest atop the cushy sectional sofa while admiring the sky-blue chevron murals, which add a modern vibe to the room's exposed brick.
Most of the modern world is mapped—GPS devices capably guide people through entire road trips and atlases describe more terrain than most people could cover in an entire lifetime. While it's difficult to reawaken humanity’s sense of surprise and discovery, The Mid-South Maze is up for the challenge. Every year, the maze’s manufacturers spend months carving up their cornfield into clever patterns that, when viewed from the sky, might appear as a famed sports logo or the face of a long-departed pharaoh. On the ground, however, that pattern vanishes, leaving wanderers to use their wits to navigate the arching corn passageways.
The Mid-South Maze entertains with more than just its winding labyrinth. On Friday and Saturday nights in October, actors clad as ghostly apparitions haunt the herbaceous hallways of a spooky tractor ride. A giant jumping pillow launches kids skyward and gently cushions their falls, and a corn cannon fires ears of corn at targets up to 100 yards away. Anyone who hits a target wins a prize from one of the maze's sponsors and the right to eat nothing but popcorn balls until Thanksgiving.