Have you ever rolled the spring break dice? Just gotten in a car, cranked some tunes and driven south until you reach warm? Well this year, it happened. After consulting a map and drawing a line straight down from Minnesota, the answer was…Arkansas. The “Natural State!”
I left my makeup at home, packed up the hounds and headed to the Ozarks.
The Ozarks is a region spreading over parts of Missouri and Arkansas (mostly) and Kansas and Oklahoma (a bit.) It’s 47,000 square miles of mountains, rivers, hollers and woods. In late March, a cheerful green 5 o’clock shadow was already sprouting. As the blossoms grew more numerous, so did the Pentecostal churches dotting the twisty roads. The Bible Belt was tightening.
Entering the Ozarks from the northwest corner of Arkansas, this loop begins in Eureka Springs. Route 23 is a shoulder-less luge run and it spits you out at the northeast end of town. With only about 2,000 residents, Eureka Springs preserves its hippie vibe with one hand and its Victorian architecture with the other. In fact, the entire city is on the National Register of Historic Places. Homes and bathhouses were built around the city’s natural hot springs, many clinging to the steep, rocky hillsides. Yep, you’ll find it to be a “Stairstep Town” although locals don’t toss that nickname around much.
Eureka Springs Music Park greets you with a welcome blast of color and sound. Make no mistake, yarn bombing is alive and well here. Find the park at 288 North Main St. and use #eureakayarnbombs to tag your photos. Interactive sound sculptures invite you to poke around. A ball of yarn’s toss across Main St. from the park, a grove of candy-colored cabins called “All Seasons Urban Treehouse Village” backs into the hillside. Urban in front, rural in the back. When the trees are leafed out, the units must surely feel like treehouses.
At Local Flavor Cafe, at 71 S. Main St., I took server River’s recommendation for the locally-raised pork medallions in a bourbon cream sauce. Friends, we are in hog, not to mention Razorback country, and I was not disappointed. There are many restaurants in this tiny town, and this one really focuses on the best of local ingredients.
Keeping it local on the beer front, my smooth red dachshund Franz gave Core Brewing Company‘s “Arkansas Red” brew four paws up. What can we say, we are breed loyal.
You can dress local at Regalia Handmade Clothing where Mark Hughes’ commitment to the slow clothing movement produces beautiful results. I met the designer at a pop-up shop at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock; we’ll visit that spot in a later post. In Eureka Springs, find Mark’s store stocked with easy-to-wear pieces in natural and vintage (!!) fabrics at 16 White St.
Outside downtown on Highway 62 West, the dog-friendly Best Western Inn of the Ozarks had beautiful mountain views. Thinking of dessert, as always, I checked the menu of the restaurant next door, Myrtie Mae’s Cafe. According to legend and their website, Myrtie started a fried chicken joint on this spot in the 1920’s and continues frying up tasty bird today. I’ll try that next time, but what exactly is “POSSUM PIE???”
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know about this Arkansas delicacy. We are talking layers of cream cheese, chocolate cream, local pecans, whipped cream and a slight abandonment of self respect. This is probably a good time to mention we are in pecan country and if you like pecan pie, you could make a tour of that. Anyhoo, check out one recipe for Possum Pie here. And remember, this is why we travel. There are undiscovered pies around every turn.
Continuing a few more miles on Highway 62 West, Thorncrown Chapel is a marvel of wood and glass. This treehouse of worship was designed by Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones and sits on a lovely private parcel of woodland. Built in 1980, Thorncrown Chapel was an instant classic. The American Institute of Architects put it on its list of top buildings of the twentieth century.
If you’ve ever felt a spiritual connection to nature, this structure just might amplify it with its soaring roof and more than 425 windows.
Well road trippers, that’s just stop #1 on our Ozarks odyssey. Next blog post, on to Hot Springs, AR whose historic downtown is a national park. Plus, we’ll visit a historic bathhouse with some curiously named olde tyme therapies. Just trust me on that one.