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Many associate Arkansas (pronounced Ar-kan-saw) with President Bill Clinton, who hails from Hope and spent much of his childhood in Hot Springs. But its true identity lies in the riches Mother Nature has endowed on its nickname "The Natural State."
Flanked by the Ouchita and the Ozark mountain ranges in the west and the Mississippi River to the east, Arkansas also spills with its famed natural hot springs, fish-filled lakes, and 9,700 miles of rivers and streams. Forests cover about half of the state, and there are about 300 hiking trails. Across Arkansas you'll find a vast variety of trees including oaks, willows, maples, plums, elms, dogwoods, ashes, wild cherries, hickories, and magnolias. During autumn, the mountains and valleys turn a vivid palette of hues, while wildflowers bring color to the landscape in spring.
The name Arkansas means south wind, or land of the downstream people, which was a term to describe the Quapaws, an early Indian tribe that resided here. In 1686, Frenchman Henri de Tonti founded the state's first white settlement, though Arkansas wasn't acquired by the U.S. until 1803. It was admitted to the union in 1836.
Most of the first settlers came from surrounding states in search of cheap farmland. The bulk headed to the highlands, since the delta was prone to flooding and the lowlands were thought to be ridden with disease. The Civil War took a great toll on the region, as its residents split their allegiances, with some 60,000 fighting for the Confederates and 15,000 on the Union's side. A vote to secede lost in 1861, though Arkansas did eventually secede, becoming the 11th state to do so. Its location as a gateway to the South turned the region into a battlefield, with more than 750 military actions--small confrontations as well as large battles--fought there. Arkansas was officially defeated in the spring of 1864 when General Frederick Steele moved his forces out of Little Rock.
As in many areas of the country, the period after World War II brought the most change to the Ozarks. Power dams and man-made lakes were constructed as well as a host of buildings. Still, Arkansas has retained much of its natural setting. Arkansas is sectioned into five main regions: the Ozark Plateau, the Ouachita Mountains, the Arkansas Valley, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and the West Gulf Coastal Plain. The Ozark Plateau and the Ouachita Mountains make up the portion of Arkansas known as the Highlands, with the Arkansas Valley acting as the divider between the two. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain and the West Gulf Coastal Plain make up the Lowlands portion of the state.
The Ozarks are home to some of the state's most popular national and state parks, including the Ozark National Forest, which features the state's highest peak at Mt. Magazine (2,753 feet); and Devil's Den, which includes caves and bluffs. Eureka Springs in the Ozarks has nearly 65 springs. Of all the recreation areas, though, Hot Springs National Park, with its 47 thermal pools, is by and large the most renowned among travelers.
Fishing is one of the most popular sports in the region. Some fishing and boating hotspots include Bull Shoals Lake, Lake Ouachita (the largest lake in Arkansas), the Arkansas River, Buffalo National River, and White River. The U-shaped Lake Chicot, which sits in the Delta region near the Mississippi River, is the state's largest natural lake, and is ideal for bird watching.
Outside of Little Rock, which is Arkansas' financial and cultural center, a number of smaller towns such as Ft. Smith, Van Buren, Helena, Eureka Springs, Pine Bluff, Hot Springs, Mountain View, and El Dorado add a historic and folksy flavor to anyone's visit.