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Arkansas’ Ozarks: head for the hills

Hoe down in Eureka Springs, Arkansas
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Hoe down in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The essence of the Natural State is found in the soaring limestone cliffs, glorious vistas, verdant forests, colossal caverns, and cool, clear waters of northern Arkansas’ Ozarks. You might want to book a secluded cabin, rock on the porch of one of the many B&Bs, pitch a tent, spoon in a honeymoon cottage, or pamper yourself at a resort.

Go paddling or pedaling, hike amidst the beauty of unspoiled wilderness, fish, swim, go tubing, or browse the handmade crafts in quaint small town shops. Enjoy authentic old time American folk music. Your cares will fade away. You’re on mountain time—when it happens, it happens.

Grand Ol’ Opry style bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and patriotic music, with Hee Haw-style comedy entertain visitors and locals alike at the Ozark Mountain Hoe Down.
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Grand Ol’ Opry style bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and patriotic music, with Hee Haw-style comedy entertain visitors and locals alike at the Ozark Mountain Hoe Down.

Perennial favorites are Eureka Springs and Mountain View, about a three hour drive from one another. Divide your time between them, explore the areas around them, and you’ll savor the best of the area.

Eureka Springs: Grand Dame of the Ozarks

Eureka! You’ve found it—the ultimate Victorian mountain village, nestled in the Ozarks. Eureka Springs is the nation’s only city to have its entire downtown area—houses and all– named to the National Register of Historic Places. There are no stoplights and the only industry is tourism. You might want to drive Scenic Byway 7 from Hot Springs.

Founded as a 19th century resort known for the healing powers of its mineral spring waters, it was built on two mountains and the hollow between them. It soon became an artists’ colony known for tranquility and scenic beauty.

Early visitors arrived by stagecoach and by 1883 the railroad carried passengers six times a day on “The Road To Health”. Trolley cars and horse drawn carriages provided transportation along gas-lighted streets to fine hotels.

Wealthy guests who were invited to stay at luxurious hotels like the Crescent were picked up in a horse drawn “tally ho”. Their names and where they were from were announced upon arrival.

By day, visitors took “the cure”. Taking the waters meant drinking as much water as possible and walking for health between some of the 60 springs around town. Life was grand– walking the boardwalk, fine dining, sightseeing in the countryside, literary evenings, theater, and concerts in the park. John Philip Sousa performed at the opening of the Auditorium. Among more recent entertainers are Bill Cosby, Willie Nelson, and Ray Charles.

When mudslides raised the road at the bottom of the hill, the ground floor of the Grand Central Hotel became a basement. Tunnels were built as discreet conduits to places like the local brothel.

The Crescent Hotel was built 1886 of chiseled dry stacked native limestone quarried north of town. Creations of its award-winning chef are served in the Crystal Dining Room, and the hotel appeared on the Sci-Fi channel as one of the most haunted. Forty cottages will soon be built on the property and sold as vacation homes.

Victorian storefronts line the narrow winding streets of the historic downtown.Watch artists and musicians at work in places like the Art Colony on North Main, a community cooperative that opened in 2006.

Festivals include the May Festival of the Arts, Blues Festival, Bluegrass Festival, Ozark Folk festival, Chocolate Lovers’ Festival, and Dickens of a Christmas. Special events range from UFO Conferences and Corvette Rallies to the Christmas Victorian Homes Tour with cookies and cider.

It’s an eclectic blend that works – fundamentalists and preachers, artists and hippies, motorcycle rallies, and a visible gay and lesbian community. The former mayor, Richard Schoeninger, is remembered for posing nude in the Arkansas Times.

Today, Eureka Springs is one of most respected art centers in country. The many festivals and special events attract tourists and renowned artists and performers from around the world.

This is the place for soothing spas, a romantic rendezvous, or family fun. There are more B&Bs than any in other city in the nation, including New York City.

Some streets are quite steep, so for an overview of the area, take a Trolley Tour. Stop at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum for a little background information and pick up an Architectural Walking Map before taking a closer look at places like Spring Street, the wealthy Silk Stocking District, the charming cabins built when road trips became fashionable.

The “Wedding Capital of the South” is the nation’s #3 wedding destination, just after Niagara Falls and Las Vegas. More weddings are performed per year (over 4000) than its city population (nearly 2300). Signs abound for walk-in wedding chapels, photographers, and honeymoon hotels. There is no waiting period for a marriage license.

Award-winning Thorncrown Chapel by E. Fay Jones, a modern landmark, is a favorite wedding site. The chapel has 425 windows and 6000 square feet of glass.

The Belle of Ozarks offers narrated cruises along the scenic shoreline of Beaver Lake.

Christ of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs
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Christ of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs

The standout feature of the area is the seven story concrete Christ of the Ozarks. Overlooking the city, and built in the 1960s by controversial minister Gerald L.K. Smith, it is the second largest statue of Jesus in the world.

The Smith Foundation maintains a Bible Museum, Sacred Arts Center, Museum of Earth History, and a 2 ½ hour interactive living history Great Holy Land Tour. Summer brings America’s most highly attended outdoor drama, The Great Passion Play, now in its 40th season.

Eureka Springs' Great Passion Play is America’s most highly attended outdoor drama.
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Eureka Springs’ Great Passion Play is America’s most highly attended outdoor drama.

The cast of 250 and animals—camels, donkeys, horses, doves, sheep and mules- performs for two hours under the stars in a 4100 seat amphitheater. Roman soldiers ride chariots through the noisy marketplace of Jerusalem’s streets. Emotions peak with the depiction of the resurrection and ascension, and the halleluiah chorus finale. Open end of April thru October except the church days of Wednesday and Sunday.

Ozark Mountain Hoe Down, Eureka Springs
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Ozark Mountain Hoe Down, Eureka Springs

A top choice for evening entertainment of country music and fun? The Ozark Mountain Hoe Down, in its 26th season. Voted #1 Country and Comedy in the Ozarks, locals and tourists alike gave a standing ovation to the Grand Ol’ Opry style bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and patriotic music, with Hee Haw-style comedy.

performers during intermission at the Ozark Mountain Hoe Down, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
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performers during intermission at the Ozark Mountain Hoe Down, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Chat with the performers during intermission, You’ll be tappin’ your toes and clappin’ your hands, feeling Proud to be an American, and wishing you could come back for more.

Mountain View: The Folk Music Capital of the World

“In 1814 I Took a Little Trip…” song by Jimmy Driftwood, born in Mountain View

Not long ago, the Mountain View’s Stone County in the Ozark foothills was among the poorest in the state. During President Johnson’s War on Poverty Congressman Wilbur Mills steered over $3 million to the area. A diamond in the rough began to shine.

The Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas
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The Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas

The Ozark Folk Center State Park opened in 1973, a mile north of Mountain View on HWY 382. This 400 acre living museum of Arkansas folk culture is the only place in America created to preserve and perpetuate traditional mountain music, pioneer arts and crafts, and lore of the Ozarks for future generations. Living history characters from the area, some master craftsmen, demonstrate pioneer life.

“It’s not just an herb garden. It’s a repository of past knowledge.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of Arkansas, June 12, 1986

Learn about Ozark remedies and recipes from herbalist Tina Wilcox.
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Learn about Ozark remedies and recipes from herbalist Tina Wilcox.

You can learn about Ozark remedies and recipes from herbalist Tina Wilcox and hear tall tales handed down on cabin porches. Master the dulcimer or chat with a widder woman about the hardships of pioneer times. Tap your toes to the sounds of banjos and fiddles and follow the aroma for a freshly baked cookie or fried pie.

Bill Cross runs the picnic swing pulled by Rosie the donkey at Ozark Folk Center State Park.
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Bill Cross runs the picnic swing pulled by Rosie the donkey at Ozark Folk Center State Park.

Take a ride on the picnic swing pulled by Rosie the donkey. Discover how folks raised corn by the gallon.

The Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas
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The Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas

At the Ozark Folk School, adult and children can spend a few days or a week and learn a craft, old time dances, or how to play instruments like the dulcimer or “the devil’s box”.

By night, the 1060 seat Ozark Folk Center Theater offers music of the Ozarks—ballads, fiddle tunes and dance steps going back to European origins and passed down through generations. Reminiscent of old parlor parties, where folks would roll up the rug and dance, you can join the others onstage for a waltz or a mountain jig. Performers might be Grammy winners or part of the Grand Ole Opry.

Pickin’, Mountain View, Arkansas
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Pickin’, Mountain View, Arkansas

In Mountain View, folks get together nightly around Courthouse Square for informal jam sessions known as Pickin’ in the Park. Mountain music, folk, and bluegrass draw people from miles around. Bluegrass, folk music, country, fiddle tunes–bring an instrument and join in. Sit under one of the gazebos in the Pickin’ Park, or on Aunt Minnie’s Pickin’ Porch.

Aunt Minnie’s Pickin’ Porch, Mountain View, Arkansas
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Aunt Minnie’s Pickin’ Porch, Mountain View, Arkansas

Naturally, there are plenty of music stores. At the Dulcimer Shop on Highway 9 North you can watch as mountain dulcimers are made, hear them played, or try one yourself.

Watch as dulcimers are hand crafted in Mountain View, Arkansas.
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Watch as dulcimers are hand crafted in Mountain View, Arkansas.

Mountain View’s Folk Festival draws over 40,000 visitors and some of the best pickers in the Ozarks to this town of around 3,000.

On the last Saturday in October, 2000 pounds of beans and 350 pounds of white corn meal are fired up for BeanFest, with free pinto beans and cornbread for all at noon. Winners for the best recipes receive a hanging bean pot award. Then, at 1pm, the Great Championship Outhouse Race begins. The driver and pushers of outhouses built on wheels compete for coveted gold, silver and bronze toilet seat trophies.

Just outside Mountain View is Blanchard Springs Caverns—named one of ten most beautiful in North America, and designated by Life Magazine “one of the most extraordinary finds of the century”. See the film “The Amazing World Below” and walk along water-carved passageways amidst illuminated crystalline formations.

The massive active limestone cave stays at a constant 58 degrees. Knowledgeable Forest Service interpreters lead three different tours, from handicapped accessible to the New Wild Cave tour, where you can crawl on your hands and knees through undeveloped areas. Hardhats, kneepads, gloves, lights, and belts are provided.

Kin Folks Bar-B-Q, Mountain View, Arkansas
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Kin Folks Bar-B-Q, Mountain View, Arkansas

Where do the locals go for good eatin’? For Memphis-style hickory smoked baby back ribs and slaw it’s Tommy’s Famous, also known for “The Fatboy”, a 5 pound loaded pizza. For a country-style breakfast or mouth-watering pies, it’s Country Time Dining & More.

Country Oaks Bed and Breakfast, Mountain View
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Country Oaks Bed and Breakfast, Mountain View

We discovered our Arkansas gem– Country Oaks Bed and Breakfast, just a mile from historic Courthouse Square. There are eight impeccably maintained luxurious themed guestrooms in two Victorian style buildings. There are plenty of porches, antique-filled parlors, two miles of trails, and fishing on a private lake or nearby White River. It’s a great area for horseback riding, canoeing, mountain biking. There are even loaner chairs to take to Courthouse Square, just a mile away.

Arkansas is one of the most affordable vacation areas in the USA, with Ozark hospitality and authentic Americana. It’s not, as they say here, “all vines and no taters”.
People take the time to “shake ‘n howdy”. As we left, we heard, “Y’all take your time leavin’ but hurry back.” We did and we will.

One Comment

  1. KNOW THAT IF YOU CHOOSE TO GO TO STAY AT THE CRESCENT IN EUREKA SPRINGS IT IS INDEED HAUNTED. -FROM AN ARKANSAN THAT’S BEEN GOING SINCE 1994

    (DO NOT LIKE THE FACT THAT OWNERS FROM CA PURCHASED THIS HOTEL AND TOOK OUT EVERY ORIGINAL ANTIQUE LIGHT ETC., TO ‘RE-DO’ THE HOTEL AND CHARGE MORE. IT USED TO BE AFFORDABLE-BUT NOW IT IS NOT WORTH STAYING. YOU CAN, I BELIEVE, GO TO THE CRESCENT TO SEE IT AND TO TAKE THE ‘GUIDED GHOST TOURS.’ BUT BE AWARE: IT’S TOO HIGH FOR A ROOM AND IT IS TOO HIGH TO EAT IN THE DINING ROOM. BEST TIME TO EAT IN DINING ROOM IS NOT TO STAY THE NIGHT HERE, BUT TO COME BACK FOR THE LITERALLY PACKED SUNDAY BUFFET THAT THEY HAVE.- GET A LITTLE TABLE BY ONE OF THE SMALL WINDOWS OVERLOOKING THE POOL/LATTICE WORK-AND ENJOY GREAT FOOD-IT’S JUST AS HOLY TO EAT THIS FOOD AS IT IS TO GO TO CHURCH ON A SUNDAY & CERTAINLY GIVES YOU SOMETHING TO THANK GOD FOR).

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