• Lauren Donovan

Northwest Arkansas

How did I never know this place existed? It was a Facebook post I came across four years ago that produced this reaction and ever since, I've been craving a visit. If you do a quick Google search, you'll soon see why. Aerials capture what a street view cannot (click here to see), a Victorian city winding up a wooded hill. Sealed in a sea of leaves, there's nothing beyond its borders but wilderness. Today I am pleased to alert the media, after years spent Pinterest pinning and pining away - I finally made it!

So here's a look at my adventures in Eureka Springs and Crystal Bridges Art Museum:


First Impressions

I'm giddy, it's the golden hour - a quarter before six to be exact. We've been driving by way of Des Moines. Passing through Kansas City rush hour and skirting past sleepy Joplin, we've just crossed the Natural State's state line.

Finally, after nearly 400 miles of flat land, our car begins to tilt downward. It's a subtle grade at first, then suddenly you find yourself taking a nose dive. Signs reading: "Crooked and Steep, Drive with Caution Next 6 Miles" serve as well-placed warnings to us weary travelers. We may be in the homestretch, but this dangerous two-lane highway is no place to lose focus. Which is harder than you might think in a place like this. With each turn, a new view of never before seen beauty calls my gaze to the passenger's window. Glimpses of wild country peek through the slivers of the Chinaberry's and Maples framing the cliffside. This was everything I hoped it'd be...


Inspiration Point

If you keep your eyes on the road, you'll arrive at Inspiration Point. Framed by an antique shop and an upscale-country-boutique its the lookout you've been longing for. I was tempted to get pictures earlier on, but just hold off - this is the best it gets!


Eclectic Energy

This picture best illustrates the collision between fauna and our fellow-man. You see it all over town. Here, hungry vines slowly swallow the limestone. It's jagged edges and sandy tones serve as an unusual foundation for this teal-porched bungalow.

In Eureka Springs, unusual is much more the norm. There are plenty of shambly stores limping on their last leg built on this very same stone. Which, makes sense when you learn the entire town is built on top of an underground river that runs over limestone, thus the "springs."Allegedly the underwater currents moving over this limestone create a sort of magical magnetic energy.

Regardless of what the science supports, it is my impression that this sense of magic draws all sorts of people to Eureka Springs. First, it was the native peoples who gave it a sacred purpose. Tribal folklore told of a Great Healing Spring. It was the pursuit of such healing powers that brought the white-man to the area in 1856. All it took was a single testimonial to make it popular among the masses. Everyone in town tells you the same story: A man brought his blind son here to wash his eyes in the spring and he was cured of his blindness.

Decades later scientists would reveal it was all a sham, but for a time visitors believed these springs could cure cancer (we'll circle back to that point) and all sorts of other ailments.

Today biker gangs, modern day witches, KEEN-wearing hikers and church-goers call it their getaway. I'm not sure where I fit in that mix and to me that's wonderful! What other small town can lay claim to pilgrims such as these?



Haunted as Hell

You're looking at the self-proclaimed "America's Most Haunted Hotel". Walking inside on a Friday night I was witness to bridal parties passing around a bottle of Jack. Taking the elevator up, I found tourists on the top floor enjoying a meal. Their balcony tables facing out at the glowing city below them, creeping into the dark countryside. Today its lively, buzzing with activity and interest, but once it was a place of death. In it's heyday, The Crescent Hotel, was a beacon of hope. According to our ghost-tour guide (click to check it out) its former owner, Norman Baker was a charlatan. He pretended he found the cure to cancer. Patients making a last ditch effort to save themselves became his victims. Earlier this year a groundskeeper unearthed human remains in some 500 bottles beneath this building. Read up for yourself... LEARN MORE.

If this picture doesn't scream spooky, I'm not sure what does! I would highly recommend the Ghost Tour hyperlinked above. Our guide told the stories as if they were her own. I had the chills the entire time, but in a good way. It was not too scary by any means and I would recommend it to families with teenagers. What happens is: you walk around for about an hour and visit haunted hotels, murder sites and step into preserved catacombs.


Lodging

I found this log cabin on Air BnB and it comfortable sleeps four. Equipped with a campfire pit, front and back porches and pot-belly stove I would HIGHLY recommend it. Click here to book it.

Heads up! If you're not used to hanging out in the woods be forewarned you will hear all sorts of critters out there at night.



Local Libations

Check out Booze Brothers when you pull into town. They've got a great selection of local beers to taste if you're in the mood. We also found the clerk extremely kind and helpful, so much so that went back twice! At night you can grab a beer at Brews and in the morning a solid Americano.



Scratching that Topography Itch

Whitaker's Point

Drive South about an hour toward the Buffalo River and you'll hit the Ozarks National Forest. Within it is Whitaker's Point. This is a relatively easy hike with only a couple miles to this vista point (pictured above) and back. It's a very doable trek without much of an incline. If you can only pick one hike, this would be my suggestion.


Big Bluff & Goat Trail

Nearby, Big Bluff and Goat Trail is about six miles roundtrip. We left the Air BnB at around 9 a.m. and were able to complete both before 2 p.m. The two trailheads aren't too far apart. TIP: Do NOT confuse it with the Ponca wilderness area. It's beautiful....

But, you won't be hiking from here. We talked to a park ranger who says she deals with confused visitors all the time because Google and Apple maps direct you here. Instead input "Centerpoint Trail" in your search bar.

It took crawling through a hole in this 550 foot tall bluff to fully appreciate the hike. In contrast, Whitaker's Point has streams and waterfalls along the way and more switchbacks. In my opinion it offers much more to look at. Here you'll have to bop down jagged rocks and weak clay. I do think once you reach it the view is spectacular and well worth it!

The name is so well-suited to the setting, up there you really do feel like a billy goat! The Buffalo Outdoor center says its the "tallest sheer bluff face found between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains."

Sounds from floaters on the Buffalo River below, echo up to the overlook. The blue-green waters beneath made me desperately want to throw on my bathing suit. If I ever go back, I am definitely scheduling time for an inner tube ride. If you're interested in floating you can drop in at that Ponca spot I mentioned earlier.


An Architectural Feat


Religious? Religulous? Regardless of your denomination the Thorncrown Chapel is a sight to behold. "Designed by renowned architect E. Fay Jones, Thorncrown has won numerous architectural awards such as the American Institute of Architects’ Design of the Year Award for 1981 and AIA’s prestigious 25 Year Award." (Read more).

We visited the chapel on our way out of town. Strolling in during the middle of a Sunday service I was surprised by how open they were to newcomers. Newcomers who were late, nonetheless. There are signs encouraging pictures so we could have popped in and out quick. Instead, we decided to take a seat surrounded by six thousand square feet of glass.


Crystal Bridges Art Museum

Then it was on to the main attraction, Crystal Bridges Art Museum. It's about an hour away in Bentonville and is just as architecturally exciting as the chapel.

Internationally recognized architect, Moshe Safdie meant for his design to meld into nature. According to the museum its "nestled into a natural ravine". Like the Eureka Springs, it too feels out in the woods. However, once you visit you'll realize its not as isolated as pictures would lead you to believe. Bike trails and walking paths connect the museum and sculpture garden to Bentonville.

Don't worry about bringing your wallet unless you plan on stopping by the museum shop. Admission is free. The Walton family (Walmart) made that so.

Here I am beaming beside a massive Sol LeWitt. Like LeWitt, every artist you'll find here is American. I most enjoyed myself in the contemporary wing, but there are many century old masterpieces as well for those with a different taste. It's fun to stroll through and witness the progression of art in the United States.


Walk outside and you'll find the Fly's Eye Dome. I think its wacky wonderfulness speaks for itself.


And with that, I will say great success. Its affordable and unforgettable, I recommend giving Northwest Arkansas a chance.


Happy Travels, A girl who admittedly spilled on her white dress a few two many times.


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