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It should be a joyous occasion when out-of-town family or friends arrive during this year-end holiday season. And it usually is. But if the familiarity starts to pall after a day or two, a quick road trip can be a refreshing antidote.

With that in mind, what follows is a menu of family-friendly sights and activities an hour's drive or less from the Little Rock metropolitan area. Some have admission charges. Most are closed for Christmas on Monday and Tuesday.

Mid-America Science Museum, 500 Mid-America Blvd, Hot Springs. There's a lot of hands-on fun inside this lively museum. But new headliners (scary carnivores among them) are poised along an outdoor trail. Installed earlier this year, they are 18 lifelike models of dinosaurs, some rigged to roar. Friday from 5-7 p.m. is the final chance to visit after dark and admire the prehistoric creatures festooned with holiday lights. Call (501) 767-3461.

Garvan Woodland Gardens, 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs. Open since summer at this 210-acre attraction is the Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House, suspended in a grove of pines and oaks. The four-level house is a magnet for active and curious boys and girls. Through Dec. 31 (except Christmas Day), an evening highlight at the gardens is a lavish display of holiday lights, drawing huge crowds. Call (501) 262-9300.

Plantation Agriculture Museum, U.S. 165 and Arkansas 161, Scott. A miniature cotton gin gives youngsters the chance to try their hand at the process, while another exhibit explains the vital role that mules played in Delta farming before mechanization arrived in the mid-20th century. Across from the museum, the Dortch Gin Building and Seed Warehouse No. 5 are impressively industrial. Call (501) 961-1409.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park. If the year-end weather is decent and your energy level is high, a triumphal feeling can be gained by hiking to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain, Little Rock's backyard peak. The vigorous climb of about 750 feet will make you feel like a mountaineer. You can also putter around mostly level trails at Pinnacle's base or brush up on local fauna and flora at the visitor center. Call (501) 868-5806.

Heifer Ranch, off Arkansas 9/10 south of Perryville. In a traditionally agricultural state turning ever more urban, many Arkansas children have never seen a farm animal up close -- except as a pork chop or chicken strip. At Heifer Ranch, part of a venerable nonprofit enterprise that provides animals to farmers around the world, the attractions include pigs and chickens as well as sheep and cattle. Not to mention a camel or two. Call (501) 372-4435.

Museum of Automobiles, atop Petit Jean Mountain along Arkansas 154. Most of the 50-plus vehicles at this motoring mecca were built before 1950, the oldest being a 1904 Oldsmobile French Front. One of the rarest is an Arkansas-made 1923 Climber Touring car. The museum was founded in 1964 by former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, whose 1914 Cretor's popcorn wagon adds a touch of whimsy to the displays. Call (501) 727-5427.

Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, 4 miles southeast of Scott. Time travel takes place at Toltec Mounds, where prehistoric Americans lived long before the arrival of the first white explorers and settlers. Exhibits at the visitor center portray the so-called "Plum Bayou" residents who occupied the site from about A.D. 650 to 1050. The mounds at first were thought to have been built by Toltecs from Mexico, thus the erroneous name. Call (501) 961-9442.

B-17 Flying Fortress Memorial, 1836 Grant 51 Road, 6 miles north of Sheridan. The centerpiece of Veterans Memorial Park is a model of a World War II B-17 bomber like the one that crashed nearby in 1943, killing all nine crew members. There's also a wall dedicated to those from Grant County who've died in combat since World War I, plus monuments honoring troops who fell at the nearby Civil War Battle of Jenkins Ferry. Call (501) 425-1827.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER
At Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, dinosaur models include the triceratops, which weighed as much as 12 tons.

Weekend on 12/20/2018

Print Headline: Take out-of-towners out for a refreshing road trip

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