Ozark (Arkansas and Missouri): Not Just A Great Netflix Show

Arkansas has long been one of our favorite states, not least because it’s the home of Philip’s look-alike, Bill Clinton.  This trip included time spent in the Ozark Mountains, a multi-state region that includes Arkansas and Missouri.  (Ozark also the name of a GREAT show on Netflix, but I digress.) 

Hawksbill Crag, just outside Ponca, is the most photographed point in Arkansas.  A moderate 3-mile hike that culminates in steep cliffs and jaw dropping views leads to this natural crag.  It’s usually crowded, but we had it all to ourselves!  Score!

A good time/place to get in some physical fitness!  #planksinprettyplaces

We had some wild weather in this part of the country.  

The day we arrived, the Lucky Charm looked like this …

…. and 24 hours later, like this!

One day, one wild all-night lightning storm, and 3+ inches of rain later, we were back on the trail and enjoying this neck of the woods, including the Buffalo National River, the nation’s
first federally protected recreational river.  It’s dry at the moment, but during spring and summer, people come from around the world to kayak its 153 miles of water.

There is a herd of Rocky Mountain
Elk that were introduced to the area in the 80s and have developed into a thriving
herd of about 800, but we never found them.  Instead, we found a chainsaw street sign, and I’m pretty sure that’s an equal trade.

Leaving Ponca, an easy 50 mile commute led us to Eureka Springs.  In a nutshell, if Bisbee, AZ and Jerome, AZ had a baby …. it would be Eureka Springs.  Where else could you find a 500-pound Humpty Dumpty?

With historic appeal, restored Victorian buildings, a disproportionate number of excellent restaurants, and lots of small-town charm, Eureka Springs is our kind of place! 

Quirky/weird/interesting, full of art and also “art,” and with exactly zero traffic lights, it is a dream come true for people who like unusual little places.  

We were here during “Bikes Blues and BBQ’s,” a motorcyclists’ gathering that involves 550,000 bikes coming to the area over 4 days, not surprising given the hundreds of miles of winding, relatively traffic-light roads through the gorgeous mountainside. 

Also in Eureka Springs is the world’s largest uncrucified (and possibly uncircumcized, but who knows) statue of Christ. This is at the site of the “Passion Play,” a large-scale, wildly-popular drama of Jesus’ last week on Earth, performed in an outdoor ampitheater.

The statue is 67 feet tall, with a 65 foot arm span, and the whole shebang weights over 2,000,000 pounds.  

  Just the face is 15 feet tall, with eyes that feel like they are watching you always.  And maybe they are!   

#hmmmm  #behave

Not surprisingly, given the artsy nature of Eureka Springs, a local park had been “yarn-bombed,” which is when trees are covered in decorative knitting or crocheting, as a form of street art.  

The Lucky Charm had its most interesting sleepover experience yet.  Outside town, the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has RV camping spots right there on their property!  See the chain link fence next to us on the right?  That is one of the tiger enclosures!

It was really something to open our bedroom blinds in the morning and see a wild cat strutting around not 30 feet from our door.  Of course, Sprinkles was not pleased at sharing her space, but she eventually calmed down when we threatened to throw her over the fence as a snack.  Hearing the cats “rahhhhring” all night long was a memory we will not soon forget!

 When staying on their property (in an RV, or one of their fun “safari suites”), you are allowed to wander around the big, beautiful facility on your own, whenever you like.  We got a private guided tour and then spent many hours gazing in amazement at some of the 93 animals here.

The 459-acre property is set in the Arkansas countryside with plenty of room for the critters to roam.  Most of them have been rescued from places of neglect or abuse, or from people keeping them in their backyards, who suddenly “saw the light” that a wild animal does not make a good pet (generally when it attacked a family member, or required 80 pounds of meat a day to live), or from the entertainment industry or “tiger cub petting” roadside attractions.

Most of the animals are big cats (tigers, lions, servals, coatimundis, etc.) but they also have a monkey, 5 black bears, and a few other types of rescued animals.

I loved that they were so relaxed and happy!  So unlike the circumstances from which they were rescued. 

 I expected to feel sad here, but instead was filled with gratitude that places like this (and caring people) exist in our world.  To learn more, go to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Rescue.

We moved on another 40 miles to Bentonville, perhaps best known as the “birth of Walmart.”  In the 1950’s Sam Walton opened Walton’s 5&10 in their historic downtown square.

 – That was the start of the empire, and the Walmart Museum in that same location gives you free admission to learn all the reasons you should supposedly love Walmart, including a peek inside Sam Walton’s original office ….

… and his beloved 1979 Ford pickup truck of yore, displayed along with Sam’s original registration, keys and sunglasses, found in the truck just the way he left it.  This is perhaps the most oft-repeated parable of his humble nature.  Very rich, very humble.  Both. 

 Did you know that little symbol in the Walmart logo (and shown here) is called “The Spark?”  Well, now you know.

 Also located at the Museum, the Spark Café Soda Fountain is an old-timey ice cream parlor, just like back in the day, but with modern-day prices.  

You can even order “Spark Ice Cream,” in the traditional blue and yellow colors of Walmart.

Not that you probably would, if you are over the age of 7, but you could. 

RV’ers have a love/hate relationship with Walmart.  True, they do put a lot of little independent store owners (like we always try to visit in every town) out of business.  But the reality is that there is often a Walmart everywhere along our travels, and they always have whatever crazy thing we need that we have trouble finding anywhere else.  Around Bentonville, however, you’d best LOVE Walmart because the family has funded pretty much all the infrastructure and amazing amenities throughout this area, from music pavilions to theaters to bike trails to their most generous (billion-$$) contribution, Crystal Bridges Art Museum.

Built to look like it is “floating,” Crystal Bridges is a renowned American art musuem set on 120 lush Ozark acres, with walking trails, art gardens, and even a Frank Lloyd Wright house.

Because of the Walton Family, admission here is also always free, and it was truly a spectacular place!  And, the MegaSpider was perfect for the first day of October.

The museum was opened on 11/11/11, and so for lack of imagination, their highly-regarded restaurant is called Eleven.  It is known as one of the best Museum cafes in the world, with certainly some of the best scenery.

The current outdoor exhibition, “Color Field,” displayed a number of colorful works in the North Forest.  You know you’re a big musuem when you have a North Forest.

We are not art connoisseurs by any means, so we struggled to understand and appreciate some of the works in this exhibit.  This is called “Back to Kansas” and each color in the grid corresponds to a color noted by the artist during repeated viewings of The Wizard of Oz.  Okey dokey then.  Sounds like somebody was getting the most out of their Netflix subscription.

You know how art museums list the artist’s medium, like “charcoal pencil on vellum” or whatever?  The one above literally, self-importantly listed “exterior household paint on canvas.”  Like, what you buy at Home Depot.  Got it!  And, the artist below used the signature Walmart blue and yellow colors, thereby guaranteeing selection for this exhibit.  Am I right?

This one has a green neon frame to represent smartphone facial recognition software, and therefore the artist “predicts a viewer’s recording of their subjectivity,” which kind of thinking is way beyond my pay grade.

Inside, however, in air-conditioned comfort, their permanent collection has hundreds of truly interesting works by American masters from colonial times to present.  My favorite was this sweeping coat/robe/body armor made entirely from thousands of Army dog tags.

You could literally spend an entire, wonderful day at Crystal Bridges.  And you should!  Back in the real, un-cultured world, we took a long spin on the Razorback Greenway, sponsored in part by … you got it, you got it … Walmart!

This off-road, 36-mile multi-use path leads from Bentonville to Fayetteville, and is extremely popular.  A digital thingamyjigger even counts the number of users!  It’s hard to see the number, but so far this year, more than 39,000 bicyclists have ridden past this sign!

If your bike needs air, or a repair, or a tune-up, just look for the tall pile of painted bicycles and you’ll find a bike station with everything you could need, except probably a cold beer.

Bentonville remided us a lot of a smaller, quieter Austin, TX — very cool, lots of art and public amenities, breweries and food trucks everywhere.  Paper airplane, anyone?

At the other end of the Razorback Greenway is Fayetteville, a large college town and the location of University of Arkansas, and their Razorback mascot.  People in Arkansas are crazy-rabid Razorback fans.  

We admired their beautiful sprawling campus on our way to the Clinton House Museum.  Bill and Hillary Clinton lived in this house while they were both Associate Professors of Law at University of Arkansas at Fayetteville around 1975.

In fact, they were married in the living room of this house!  Hillary purchased the “Gunne Sax”-brand dress the day before for $53, and only because her mom made her.

This was also during the period when Bill ran his campaign for Arkansas attorney general, and we know what happened from there.  I’ve always thought Bill Clinton was handsome, I wonder why?

This was a super-trendy kitchen in the 1970’s.  Bill tried hanging wallpaper in the house, but did such a terrible job, that he pulled it all down a few days later!

The Clinton House was hosting a special Johnny Cash photo exhibit, 1968: A Folsom Redemption.  The connection between the two, unclear.  I guess because one had empty walls, and the other needed someplace to be hung.  But as we are currently devouring the Ken Burns’ documentary series about country music playing on PBS, it was a welcome surprise!

And, being located on campus, the Clinton House Museum even had its own style Razorback.

On our way to Arkansas, we had made a quick swing through Branson, Missouri, known as the Live Music Show Capital of the

There are more than 50 live performance theaters in their entertainment district, so there is literally something for
everyone, most (but not all) musically-based.  We chose “Raiding the Country Vault,” a kind of time-capsule history of country music, which was excellent.

Branson is hard to describe, but is basically Las Vegas’ twirpy little cousin.  Like Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, it’s trying hard to play with the big boys, but the glitz and glamour and wow of Vegas is replaced by a slightly corny, slightly down-home, slightly bedraggled charm of the various building fronts and attractions, each vying for your attention and your dollars.

Missouri was the final sticker of the 17 new ones we garnered over this 5-month Grand Loop journey.  The lower 48 are nearly complete, and the large swath of the South that is still missing is a-gonna be taken care of during a 3-month trip planned for Spring 2020.  Who wants to join us?!

We’re now on the fast track back to Arizona, since it has finally cooled down enough to claim that we pretty much missed an entire horrific Phoenix summer …. yahoo!!!  We’ll be back home in a week!

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