Change of Plans, What to Do in a Small Town

With only two National Park sites left in Arkansas to visit, and those being a battlefield and a fort, we planned to enjoy our drive back home by peppering in some nature. The hikes had been so awesome the day before, it was only fate that rain would balance out our trip and steal the opportunity to visit Devil’s Den State Park. But also because of this rain, we got incredible fog at our first stop of the day.

We got to Pea Ridge National Military Park first thing on the morning of our last day, and it was chilly, quiet, and foggy. I browsed the visitor center to refresh my civil war history, but mostly I just stared out at the big (battle)field, which with the current weather conditions made it easy to imagine how terrible a battle would be and how it must’ve felt to not have any kind of comforts of home nearby. Y’all probably know by now, I’m not much for battle sites, forts, etc., but this one was pretty cool.

It was time to head south down the edge of Arkansas, but Jenna and I both knew the weather wasn’t going to clear up. The closer we got, the more cloudy the sky got. Yet another day of rain on my trips; another day of hiking stolen. So it was time to scramble and I knew Fayetteville wasn’t too far and I also knew one of my friends who was a Razorback would have some last minute suggestions. My friend Megan came in clutch with some helpful tips that led us directly to the downtown square.

We had literally come one day past the last farmer’s market of the year, but not too far was a bookshop called Dickson Street Book Shop. I love small independent bookstores so I was pretty excited before we even parked. After arriving, I realized this was no “small” bookstore – it’s deceptively massive! Most of it was cramped aisles full of books (my favorite). Megan definitely wasn’t lying when she said, “Bring bread crumbs to find your way back out – it’s a never ending labyrinth.”

After some quality book browsing, Jenna and I had a bit of a sweet tooth, so we headed over to Hurt’s Donuts. That place was insane! Unpopular opinion: I hadn’t been that impressed with VooDoo Donuts. But Hurt’s Donuts had so many more unique flavors, amazing colorful decorations – it was hard to not want to leave with more than one! I got a blueberry cake donut (my go-to) and then decided to grab a chocolate peanut butter one for later down the road. The blueberry honestly wasn’t as good as the every day small shop ones – but the “Reese’s” inspired one was phenomenal. It was truly decadent but I needed it after hours on the road with no food stops in sight.

Kissing Fayetteville goodbye (with a promise to be back to explore not only Devil’s Den but more of the town when it’s not a Sunday), we headed on to Fort Smith. Here we were looking for our last Arkansas National Park site. We expected a typical fort, with some battle ruins or history on war, but that wasn’t the case. Fort Smith is classified as a National Historic Site, and their claim to fame is more about their criminal system – jury, judge, and imprisonment. (They still had a clearing where the old fort used to be, but the main attraction was definitely the big courthouse.)

The big visitor center had two different styles of jails to tour and a mock courtroom. It was fun to walk around a true model set up; one where you could actually lie on the prisoner cots or sit in the audience of the jury. Outside, we checked out the gallows, which wasn’t too interesting only because they’re the gallows you’ve seen in almost every Western movie. To my delight, a little theater town was set up right near this, with a saloon and a guy dressed as a cowboy. Not too far from that, a cute trolley was idling. Definitely worth the stop, but in that small town quaint way.

It was getting late in the day and all that was left was to finish out our drive through Arkansas by taking the scenic route through the Ozarks, winding our way around the Boston Mountains. It was so, so beautiful. Gloomy sure, but the trees were colorful enough that it was no bland drive. Even though I’ve checked off those National Park sites, Arkansas will definitely be seeing me again soon!

We wanted one final fun stop on the drive back home, so when we saw our route was taking us through Paris, Texas, we decided to do a quick google for anything good. Believe it or not, they have an Eiffel Tower! Well, with a cowboy stop. I sure do love weird road trip stops.

To the Edge and Back, Whitaker Point

While talking to the Buffalo National River park ranger, she let us know that if we went to hike at Lost Valley (which we did), not too far away was Whitaker Point. Even though this was outside of the Park, it was apparently the “most photographed spot of Arkansas” and worth it to check out. That recommendation was good enough for Jenna and me, so we were headed off down a looping, ascending six miles of dirt road.

We didn’t really know anything about this hike, neither the elevation nor the distance. The sun was due to set in two hours and this seemed like enough time to at least try to attempt the hike. (Also, let me be clear these are all no-nos when going hiking. The main reason we proceeded was because there were a ton of people hiking with us. People in jeans, people who looked like they’d never hiked, people to the front and back of us. My one complaint with Arkansas is how many people there are out on the trails- haha!)

The way to the point was a lot of downhill terrain, so Jenna and I were both preparing for pain coming back up and out. Passing people headed out who were red in the face and stopping for breaks had us both a little weary. But what are we going to not do it? No. We wanted to reach “the most photographed area of Arkansas” even if it meant a serious workout. After enjoying our time in nature, taking a few preliminary pictures along the trail, we reached Whitaker Point.

It was a big cliff edge that opened up to big rolling hills of Arkansas where you could see only trees for forever. It was really impressively beautiful. But also crowded. About forty feet ahead of this point on the trail is a little opening in the treeline where you can get a pretty cool shot of the ledge, so Jenna and I took turns taking each other’s pictures. But also kind of battling back the crowd of people hanging around in the trees.

I want people to go out and hike. I want people to enjoy nature and see what this beautiful world has to offer. But these Arkansasians are out of control. They’re out in hoards. And I’ve learned from my time in the state that I’m not a fan of sharing a trail with more than a few people. If I’m constantly in eyesight of someone (other than a hiking buddy), I’m one unhappy hiker. I don’t know if it was because the sun was out after a cold front, because it was a Saturday, or this was the typical, but I was ready to go back to having the trail all to myself.

On our way back, Jenna and I decided we would try and just plow through it. We’d take breaks if needed, but we didn’t want to drag out our misery. This speed hiking back uphill business has kind of become a strong point. We just focus, grit down, and go. It had taken us about an hour and half to get to the point, and we estimated it would take us just as long to get back out, trading picture time for ascent time. But with our sheer force of will, we made it out in half that time, legs and lungs burning.

We had a nice middle-of-nowhere drive (with gas station snacks) back to civilization. Or as close as Bentonville gets to that moniker. After showers and meeting up with our hosts, my friend Margaret and her husband, Matt, it was time for dinner. We went for Mexican at one of their favorite local spots. Afterward, I was bugging them for ice cream even though the temperature was dropping to the forties, so they took me to Sweet Dream Creamery. This cute little shop was a food truck located in the downtown square area, right across from the newly opened ice skating rink. We enjoyed the lights and then decided it was time for us old ladies (and man) to head home. I can’t wait to head back and focus more attention on Bentonville because it seemed like a neat little town!

Chasing Fall(s) in Arkansas

I wanted to strategically plan my trip to finish up the Arkansas National Park sites in fall so I could enjoy all the beautiful colors. I’d been to the area earlier this year for a wedding, and my drive to the northwest corner of the state was so beautiful, I was excited to head back with some yellows and reds added. One of my best friends, Margaret, lives in Bentonville, so after work on Friday me and my friend Jenna headed that way. Side note: I will never head out of town between 4PM and 7PM again. Dallas traffic is pretty dang awful.

After arriving late enough that there wasn’t much to do, we woke up early the next day to enjoy the sunshine in the cooler weather. We started with a two hour drive further east into Arkansas, which I wasn’t at all upset about. The state is truly beautiful, with its rolling hills and plentiful trees. Arriving at the Buffalo National River visitor center, we chatted with the ranger for a good half hour trying to figure out where to head for the day. We’d done minimal research and I was excited to get the insider perspective on the hot spots.

In fact, I had only looked up one major lookout to see the river (which the site was named after obviously), but the ranger recommended a closer river lookout that would save us almost two hours of driving round trip. As a planner, I’m really trying to figure out how to plan future National Park trips. There’s always so much to do that we never have enough time, but the rangers aren’t always available for me to ask an hour’s worth of questions over the phone long distance. I’ve learned the best approach is to research using a full map of every trail (and driving distance between!), look up any pictures you can find (which gets hard), and then start your convo with, “What do you recommend?”

So we headed to the nearby River Overlook Trail to checkout “America’s First National River” and see the land. It was an easy twenty minute hike through a field with some surrounding woods. We passed the Sod Collier homestead on the way, a few buildings that were preserved by the Park. The crunching of leaves under my feet was so nice – I was glad to be hiking in a new season! Getting to the overlook, I was impressed by the view of the river, but also glad I hadn’t driven somewhere else when this view was great. Plus, we saw the river – worth it! I hope to head back in summer to enjoy some kayaking or other river sports.

We headed to the west area of the park where the most popular hikes were found. First, it was time to take on the Lost Valley section. This turned out to be such a busy trail! I don’t mind seeing people every now and then on a trail, but I guess I’m a bit of a selfish hiker. Having to pass people, or not feel rushed when trying to get a good picture, or wait on switchbacks so everyone could proceed safely – it was kind of terrible. We did our best to be on our own, but people were out in hoards. I guess Arkansasians love their outdoors!

On this trail, we first ran into an off shot of the Eden Falls which had a little cave you could hike through. After a couple of pictures, I slid and slid and slid. Even with my hiking boots on, the moss on the side of the rock was so slippery, once I started – I didn’t stop until I was in a puddle of water at the bottom. It was cold, but mostly I was just embarrassed and glad nothing hurt. People saw me (because of how busy the trail was) so I hurriedly ushered Jenna and me along through the cave to escape their concern. Then just as we were able to laugh about it, going down a hill of roots and steps – I fell again.

Seriously, I have never fallen on a hike – and here I’d fallen twice! In the span of fifteen minutes, on the busiest trail I’ve hiked to date, I embarrassed myself by falling probably about six feet each time. An older gentleman helped me up from my second tumble and this one had hurt a bit more (my legs are still bruised up) but I awkwardly laughed and rushed forward to the falls.

The falls weren’t too impressive, though they were nice minus the loud surrounding chatter from so many people on the trail. The trail looped back through the trees and it seemed most people decided to go back the way they’d come, so finally we got the trail to ourselves. And we found fall. The trees were so beautiful with the golden hues. Ah, peace and quiet – and flat ground.

Lead to Hot Water Hills by a Reiki

It was time to venture into Arkansas! Even though the temperatures were easing up only slightly in Dallas, I’d been dreaming of taking a bath in some natural springs. I thought the Hot Springs National Park was the obvious venture, but I’d soon find out all you’d find there were some cool bath houses with fancy spa packages – not exactly the hidden adventure I’d expected. Fortunately, there was still plenty of adventure to be made!

After an early start to get on the road, we headed to the Arkansas Post National Memorial. While mostly another battle site, it also offered some great views of the Arkansas River, which had once been a famous trading post. I’d not explored much nature in Arkansas, but this was a great introduction.

Next stop was one of America’s most iconic stops, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. While the high school is pretty much an average high school, the history behind it was amazing to revisit. As the building most known for our country’s desegregation, it was really touching to get a closer look at the Little Rock Nine – the students who went through the hardship of this necessary education equal rights.

This National Park site was honestly the one we scoured the most. I wanted every detail and enjoyed the personal stories so much. Even if you’ve heard of the (in)famous nine in passing, following their journeys in detail through the years was much more eye-opening. In class you think of this education desegregation as one day, when in reality just this event took years.

It was time to head to the Hot Springs and we were pretty excited. Even though we wouldn’t get to bathe in healing waters in the wild, after arriving we found ourselves in a run-in with a karmic Reiki healer who lead us to a “pure natural source that hadn’t been tarnished by the rusting underground pipes” where I quickly filled up my whole water bottle. He kept talking about the energy he felt and how he swore his body felt stronger, and I couldn’t help but think we were just as enchanted as they’d been years ago when the Springs had claimed to heal all sorts of terminal diseases.

We took a quick tour of the old bath houses, but after our authentic healer-taught experience by an actual spring, the commercialized spas and large bath houses just weren’t as impressive. Luckily for us, that night was the annual Hot Water Hills Festival, which was sure to offer us more of the strange and mystic.

They’d set up the festival in the middle of the town square, putting up lots of local craft and artisans, delightful food trucks, and a score of live bands. It was a lot of fun to look at everything and y’all with the locals. I certainly looked at close to a thousand crystals and enjoyed sipping my blueberry-infused draft beer. The music was pretty great too, and you could tell people were enjoying letting their “weird” out more than usual.

After an eventful night with a hard rest, we got on the road and headed to our last stop before home – President Clinton’s birth home. It was kind of weird to us that this little house was a National Park site, but we checked out Clinton’s family photos and headed on our way.

No matter what I go in expecting, I’m never let down by these adventures! I may not always get what I picture, but I always find something new and unique to experience. At this point I’ve hit a lot of National Parks site and I can’t wait to see where I’m going next!