As we have done many times before, we once again packed two states in one trip, and, upon finishing our business with Oklahoma, zipped right across the border to continue the expedition in Arkansas. Our humble findings I present below.
Our stopover at Fayetteville included a number of destinations, of which the Wison Park was first. Generally unimpressive, the park features a replica of some real castle, but given that it is a part of a playground set, one should not judge too strictly the level of “replicativeness.”
Along the way to our next destination we spotted the West Mountain Brewing Co, which, sadly, did not offer tours that day. We compensated that loss with a tour of a distillery later in the trip, though, as I am not much of a liquor drinker, I would have much rather preferred the brewery.
Next, we headed to the World Peace Fountain; our route was marked by a few nice-looking buildings.
The fountain was not operating, which allowed us to better study the intricate design and skillful realization of the globe.
Next, we proceeded to the Dickson Street Inn, which is located in the heart of the downtown. The Inn building’s lovely looks attract local newlyweds along with their camera crews.
The Inn faces an ever more frequented building of the Dickson Street Pub across the street.
We proceeded to the Clinton House Museum, the house where the future president and his wife were married at the dawn of his political career. Whether the pig monument in the front yard bears any dedication to a pet formerly or presently owned by the Clinton family remains a mystery. (What is pigs’ life span, anyway?)
Next, we passed by a high school building of somewhat angular, austere, yet aesthetically calibrated design.
As the final destination in Fayetteville we visited the Old Main building of the University of Arkansas campus.
En route to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville we were amused by a few funny peasant figures made of hay and metal parts.
They were followed by a peculiar chrome-plated tree installation on the museum grounds.
And by a few nice touches in the decoration of the museum’s lobby and cafeteria.
At that point we were anything but doubtful about the quality of the exhibition, and our expectations were fully met. Dozens of rooms showcased sculptures on the whole spectrum between originality and conventionality.
Paintings also covered a variety of genres, from seascapes to laborism to abstractionism to modernism to who-knows-what-i-am-not-an-art-major.
To sum up, the Crystal Bridges Museum is arguably the most significant feature in Bentonville.
Alongside our next destination, the 21c Hotel—whose exterior turned out to be
ugly unattractive enough that we did not bother entering its premises—we found a basketball tree, the only concoction I know that allows you to score more than three points in one shot.
Not too far away is the site of the Confederate monument, which, one one hand, is not in any way special, but on the other, quickly becoming a rarity, now that the vogue has set against everything confederate.
Equally dull was the Walmart Museum, which we advanced to next. Both the Walmart Museum and the Crystal Bridges Museum are sponsored by the Walmart retail corporation, but in terms of their content, the two are miles apart. The Walmart Museum is nothing other than a display of the company’s executives’ success stories, cloyed with avarice and pride but invariably served as the good ole team spirit.
We drove into Eureka Springs at nightfall, and instinctively changed our mind about visiting the Beaver Dam on account of dark. Although intended for the following day, we also crossed the Blue Spring Heritage Center off our itinerary because it was still early spring, too soon for the plants to bloom.
We did, however, see a number of the prospected places of interest on the evening of our arrival. Those included the Quilt Shop building, the Zarks Fine Design Gallery, and two or three hotels, all snugly set along the hilly streets of the Historic District area.
Although the streets remained fairly empty at night, lots of people were buzzing inside bars, and loud music could be heard at every corner. In certain ways it reminded us of Jim Thorpe. As much as we wanted to spend the rest of the night roaming around this nice place, we had lots of sightseeing awaiting us the following day, and needed to rest our bodies for it.
St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church was our first destination the next morning. In Ripley’s Believe It or Not series it appears as the only church that you enter via the bell tower. I personally failed to not only appreciate the significance of that fact, but to find clear proof of it. Anyhow, the interiors turned out far less imposing than the exterior to capture us inside for too long.
Right up the hill we found ourselves at the site of the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, built in a lovely (pseudo-)Victorian style.
Traveling about Eureka Springs one gets to see lots of nice property, occasionally grouped in small-size communities. The not-so-nice characteristic is incredibly steep roads that, locals confess, become unnavigable in the winter.
The Christ of the Ozarks Statue must be the most monumental structure in Eureka Springs. While I understand its divine purpose, I suggest Eurekeans(?) hire better sculptors next time.
The country teems with all sorts of road-side memorabilia and has a few antique shops.
There are even private collectors in the area, but, frankly, many items they have amassed cry out to be at a junk yard more than in any collection.
To our chagrin, one of the local architectural wonders, the Thorncrown Chapel, was closed during our visit. The mishap occurred because of incorrect hours information displayed online. While we waited, vainly, for the chapel to open, more misinformed people arrived at the site. Our patience eventually gave out, and we left empty-handed. Eventually we found out that the chapel opened only two hours later that morning.
Our next stop, Castle Rogue’s Manor, was one of the most anticipated destinations of the whole trip. I hope the following photographs make it clear why, despite the gloomy weather.
Of course, our fascination does not stop with the castle’s exteriors. The interiors are even more breath-taking.
Buildings not being contemporary to the ages they represent, no element—floors to ceilings—seems out of place as far as the impression of historical authenticity goes.
The other large building on the manor’s premises, besides the castle itself, is the master hall building, which is effectively a large dining room, furnished with fancy single-piece oak tables, leather and wooden chairs, and featuring a colossal medieval fireplace with bronze hot-air-breathing dragon heads and an enormous stone mantle.
The manor towers over the banks of the White River and Table Rock Lake and boasts one of the best overlooks in the area. From the balconies and terraces of the property one can easily see the entire span of the Beaver Bridge, another local landmark.
The bridge is known for its bright yellow color, original design, and humpbacked shape, which was less prominent due to the warmer temperature that had caused the metal frame to expand.
We were leaving Eureka Springs impressed with the vibrant yet immensely calm atmosphere of a beautiful mountain village that, despite its size, has no shortage of natural and man-made attractions.
Next stop in our five-hundred-plus-mile passage through Arkansas was at a little town called Fifty-Six. Never before had I encountered a town name consisting of (or probably even including) numbers. The place is surrounded by miles of scenic fields and forests.
Our main business in Fifty-Six, however, was the Blanchard Springs Caverns, an amazing underground phenomenon, known for its majestic charm.
After arriving to the caverns’ site and waiting a bit for the next tour to begin, we were gathered along with dozens of other tourists in a small chamber and given a short lecture on the uniqueness of the caverns and the precautions we should observe to preserve its fragile ecosystem. I was specially warned about the hazards that my tripod would pose to other people; I shamelessly chose to ignore the admonition as I knew that photography without a tripod in a place like that would surely be useless. (Even with the tripod half of the shots I took came out blurry.) Yet to avoid constant scolding from our tour guide, I would mostly tag behind the crowd, taking all my long-exposure shots alone, and then chase the rest of the group.
I must admit that in person these intricate reliefs look much more alive than on the photographs that are greatly dulled up by the obtrusive yellow and red hues brought about by the artificial lighting.
Regardless, I believe that the photos we took do the Blanchard Caverns at least some justice.
A keen observer may discern stalagmite and stalactite formations of most fanciful profiles and arrangements.
Towards the end of the tour one can sight a mysterious blue glow coming from the clearing in a cave.
Thus far in our journey, all the Arkansas attractions had shown the state to good advantage; still, we felt that the visit to the Blanchard Springs Caverns made our experience all the more meaningful.
Before heading in the direction of Little Rock, we halted a minute in a park just up the hill, to have a glance at the bow-shaped cascade in the basin of the otherwise unremarkable Mirror Lake.
(to be continued)