Southern Traveler
h Home h Features h Departments h Web Bonus h Media Info h Reader Resources h Archives h space
Travel Treasures departments

May/June 2016 Issue

Louisiana’s “Garden in the Forest” earns distinction for its rich heritage

A 900-acre oasis nestled in the middle of a forest carved out of an abandoned quarry, Hodges Gardens State Park in west-central Louisiana recently was recognized for its rich history in addition to its remarkable beauty.

With 60 acres of natural and formal gardens, three waterfalls, a 225-acre lake, islands, pavilions, and trails, the park has long been a gem of Sabine Parish. And now it’s attracting even more attention with its addition to the National Register of Historic Places, making it one of about 1,400 sites in the state to earn the highest national award of distinction for historical properties.

Located about 20 miles north of Leesville, the gardens were originally designed by oil and gas businessman A.J. Hodges Sr., who had purchased 107,000 acres of clear-cut land with the intention of reforesting the devastated property. However, he and his wife, Nona Trigg Hodges, saw the potential of the land and began building the gardens.

The “Garden in the Forest,” as it is known, became part of the Louisiana state park system in 2007. Today, visitors can explore nature trails, boat on the lake, and fish from the shore. The 5.3-mile loop road, with its hills and curves, is a challenge for bikers and walkers, and those who make the loop are considered “super loopers.” The park also has rustic cabins and tent sites.

Located at 1000 Hodges Loop in Florien, the park is open daily from 8 a.m.–9 p.m., with the closing extended until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The main gardens close at sunset. Admission is $5 per person, $4 for seniors, and free for children under 3.

For additional information, call (318) 586-3523 or click on or


The park features waterfalls, a lake, cabins, trails, and more. Hodges Gardens State Park



Arkansas National Parks launch 100-mile challenge

In medieval times, a challenge was issued when a knight threw an armored glove, a gauntlet, at the feet of an opponent who was expected to take up the gauntlet and answer with personal combat.

The National Parks in Arkansas have issued their own gauntlet of sorts this year, but they are using the Internet instead of a metal glove, and they’re looking for fitness, not a fight. In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the National Parks in Arkansas have launched the Iron Ranger Challenge, a yearlong program to encourage visitors to improve their health and explore the parks by completing 100 miles of physical activity.

Participants can hike, bike, paddle, walk, run, or roll 100 miles in any of the National Park sites in Arkansas. Those who complete 100 miles will receive a certificate and a commemorative patch.

Participating sites include: Arkansas Post National Memorial, Buffalo National River, Fort Smith National Historic Site, Hot Springs National Park, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Pea Ridge National Military Park, and President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site.

While the focus is on national parks, Iron Ranger participants may count their miles logged on any public lands in Arkansas, including state parks, national forests, and more.

To enroll or for details, click on


A hiker enjoying the view along the Buffalo National River. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism



Celebrate the Bard at the Arkansas Shakespeare fest

With the convergence of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the 10th anniversary of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the Bard and live theater in Arkansas.

Located on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre aims to entertain and enrich the community. Held from June 10–July 9, the season will kick off with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will be performed outdoors. Also, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story will be presented in the state-of-the-art Reynolds Performance Hall.

The company will take a one-hour family adaptation of Twelfth Night on the road to several venues around the state, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, the Argenta Arts District in North Little Rock, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain in Morrilton.

Making this season even more compelling will be an exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio in the Baum Gallery on the UCA campus from June 7–July 12. Assembled seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the First Folio includes 36 of his plays–18 of which had never before been published.

For a show schedule and details, call (501) 852-0702 or visit



Mississippi Symphony to perform under the stars

The roar of cannon fire that once filled the air during the 47-day siege of Vicksburg, Miss., in 1863 has long been silent, but this summer, it will be replaced by the sounds of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart at the annual Symphony at Sunset.

Held during Memorial Day weekend at the Vicksburg National Military Park, the free outdoor concert by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 28, and guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets. The concert is a collaborative effort between the Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign and Four Seasons of the Arts.

The Symphony at Sunset caps off a day of programs and activities that will honor soldiers, including the placing of miniature U.S. flags at each of the 18,000 gravesites in the 116-acre Vicksburg National Cemetery.

For details, visit or call (601) 636-0583.


Fans enjoying patriotic music. Vicksburg National Military Park


Elephant habitat part of big changes at Audubon Zoo

A whole new world awaits visitors to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, as massive renovation projects near completion, enhancing the habitats for the zoo’s largest residents.

In April, the zoo’s elephants will be relocated to a new, more expansive area featuring a modern barn, shade trees, two pools, and more. The new barn – which features heated, padded floors – is designed to house four elephants. The zoo plans to acquire at least one more elephant sometime in the future to join Panya and Jean (below), who have both been at Audubon for more than 35 years.

As the elephants await completion of their new enclosure, their old home was overhauled

for its new residents – the orangutans. Unveiled last fall, the renovated space features a moat and waterfall, palm trees, and climbing structures that soar up to 45 feet. Observation windows give visitors a chance to interact with the zoo’s three Sumatran orangutans.

Relocating the elephant exhibit was the final piece in the larger redesign of the Asian Domain that began last year with the addition of the “Gator Run” lazy river to the Cool Zoo splash park.

Located at 6500 Magazine St., the zoo opens at 10 a.m., and closing time varies; visit the zoo online for details. Admission is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for seniors and children 2–12. Admission to Cool Zoo, which is open weekends only until May 15 and daily from May 16–Aug. 15, is an additional $10 for Audubon members and $12 for non-members.

For more details, click on or call (800) 774-7394.


^ to top | previous page