Monday, April 27, 2009

Arkansas Weekend: Overview

Well, that was pretty fun! We just got back from spending three nights in northern Arkansas. Friday night was Eureka Springs. Saturday night was Hot Springs. Sunday night was in Mountain View. I’ll write about the more fun aspects later, but first, and to get it “out of the way,” here’s the overview. Sorry it’s such dry reading.

Friday morning, from Jefferson City, we took Route 54 south through Lake Ozark and Camdenton, then Routes 7 then 5 to Lebanon, where we picked up I-44 to Springfield. After a picnic lunch (windy!) at a local park north of Lake Springfield, we continued southward on I-65, through the outskirts of Branson. Before reaching the state line, we turned west on Highway 86 and crossed over a southern arm of Table Rock Lake. We skirted the state line for quite a while, then went south on Missouri Highway P, which became Arkansas 23 when we crossed over the boundary. And Arkansas 23 leads right into Eureka Springs, where we spent the first evening.

We drove around the town’s historic loop, stopping often to look at the various springs, take photos, and partake of the healing waters when fountains were available. The hotel where we stayed was the Bavarian Inn, on the west side of town, which, considering it was a “biker weekend” in all of northern Arkansas, was incredibly quiet and clean and lovely. Easily the best lodging of the trip.

Dinner that night, if you can believe it in Arkansas, was German food, there at the hotel’s restaurant. Very good. After dark, Sue and I drove back to town and walked in some of the neighborhoods, ending up at the St. Elizabeth Catholic church, next to the historic Crescent Hotel.

Saturday, we took Highway 62 east through Berryville and Green Forest to Harrison, where we picked up Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 and drove south clear to Hot Springs, having a pit stop at Jasper and a lunch at the Cliff House restaurant, which famously overlooks the so-called Arkansas Grand Canyon. We picked at a couple of rock and crystal outlets outside of Russellville. You know I couldn’t resist it.

At Hot Springs, we had reservations at the historic Arlington Hotel, which is part of the National Park. Dinner at the Arlington’s Venetian Dining Room. Afterward, we took a walk down Central Avenue to look at tourist-trap shops (on the west side of the street) and to view the historic bathhouses (on the east side). The bathhouses are owned by the park service and are being renovated and then leased out. One, for instance, is a local art gallery.

Sunday morning, we looked at the visitor center and bathhouse/spa museum at the historic Fordyce Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. After that, we drove to the top of Hot Springs Mountain (still part of the National Park) and went up in the viewing tower there.

Back on the road, we took Grand Avenue to Highway 70 to Interstate 30, heading to Little Rock. We stopped at Benton for lunch; the restaurant, called Catfish Barn, was worth driving in circles for. If you’re driving through there, skip “Crack Yer Barrel” and go to the Catfish Barn.

In Little Rock, we took 430 north, then 630 east to the city center, where the state capitol is located. Dad wanted to see the Arkansas state capitol, and so did we. We also saw the statutes of the Little Rock Nine, and later, as we were driving out of Little Rock, we saw the William J. Clinton Presidential Center (i.e., the presidential library) from the highway. Not enough time to stop there.

Heading north from Little Rock, we took Highway 40 to Conway, then took a route identified variously as 287, 65, and 25 through such burgs as Springhill, Greenbrier, Damascus, Bee Branch, and Choctow. Then 9/95/330 north to Clinton, and then 16 or 9 through Shirley and Rushing to Mountain View. We stayed at the Best Western Fiddler’s Inn.

Dinner was at a place called Wing Shack and Cheeseburger Grill, which I have nice things to say about. After dark, Sue and I went downtown to the square, where we enjoyed live bluegrass music outdoors in two places right across the street from each other: the “Pickin’ Porch” at Aunt Minnie’s Yellow House, and Mountain View Music.

Monday morning: a cold front was moving through, and it was windy and rainy. We had breakfast in our rooms from the Best Western’s lobby offerings. The Ozark Folk Center, an Arkansas State Park, apparently is closed on Mondays, so that was a bust. We did have fun walking the square and poking around in shops, especially a general mercantile, which happened to have a fun selection of used books at low prices, and the Mountain View Music Shop: music stores are always fun.

North on Highway 5 through Optimus to Calico Rock, which is a cool little historic town on the White River. We had lunch at a café there. Then it was all crazy backroads (5, 177, Norfork, Salesville, 5, Briarcliff) to Mountain Home; then 101 to Gamaliel, and then across the state line back into Missouri. At Caulfield, we got on 160 and took it to West Plains. A pit stop there, and then we got onto Highway 63, which leads directly to Jeff City . . . via the Vienna Drive-In for sundaes, of course.

So that’s the overview. I did most of the driving today (hence my fuzziness about today’s route, which I did not pick out myself—I just drove where my dad, the geographer and lover of blue highways, told me to). It rained or sprinkled most of today, and the roads were fairly challenging, so I’m going to leave you here with this rather dry post.

More colorful specifics, with pictures, to come. But now it’s time for me to start focusing again on work and work and work. More soon.

No comments: