The last thing I expected on this trip was to max out a digital card in two days.
And then I arrived in the really picturesque area. . .
Arriving too late in St. Louis to do any sightseeing, though there really wasn’t anything I haven’t already seen, I awoke the next morning fresh as a book-pressed daisy for the drive down to Arkansas. Since I don’t drive, someone else was at the wheel, allowing me to take in the scenery and choose where to stop; if at all possible, you should do the same. You can always find someone with control issues who’d rather be driving.
It didn’t take us long to reach the Ozarks, of which there seemed to be a lot of them this side of the Missouri/Arkansas border. I hadn’t talked to many locals yet, so I didn’t know if the clichés were true, but it was hard not to wonder when you were in a place as famous–for all the wrong reasons–as the Ozarks. Arkansas itself had a reputation, but I felt that as long as we didn’t take any backroads that might lead to stills, with farmers protecting both their stash and their daughters with shotguns, I’d be okay. As always I enjoyed seeing new places, and even though I was here on a job I was determined to savor every moment of the scenery, in case something happened that made me never want to return.
Though it took all day, we finally arrived at what was called “The Best of the Best of the Ozarks,” which didn’t seem all that hard to believe. From the road I took in the gorge seemingly surrounding the charming mountain town with the moniker of “Little Switzerland.” In my diligent pre-arrival studies I’d found Eureka Springs had been a refuge for artists, writers, and other eccentrics, thanks to its old Victorian homes, gingerbread houses, medicinal springs, and zigzag streets that wound around old brick buildings on sloped mountain sides, but right now I only muttered, “Reminds me of Ojai,” as we drove into town, quickly finding my B&B.
The next morning I walked downtown, thinking parts looked like an Old West re-creation, and one view of a bridge with what looked to be a river underneath seemed vaguely European. Quickly I found the tourist office, which was actually the local history museum. Since I liked learning about the old stuff, and could often get a sense as to the traditions and mores of the locals by what they included in the displays, I went through that first, finding out the building itself was historic, well over a hundred years old. It wasn’t long before I came across the first reference of the “town that water built,” which annoyed me a bit, as many grand cities in the world could say that, not the least something like St. Louis or Amsterdam or even a port city like San Diego, but once I saw they meant water from the hot springs I let them have it, albeit grudgingly. The art gallery at the end cheered me up a little more.
Finally I reached the tourism office, all the more anxious to do so when the gift shop lady gave me a dirty look for passing her wares. The more-of-a-lady behind the counter quickly passed over some brochures just to get me started, though she was far too cheery for my tastes, even for a Suthin’ Belle. From there I walked over to a park I’d seen on the way to soak up the atmosphere as I read through my new literature.
Right away I enjoyed the fact that, rather than calling this a canyon or a really big ravine, instead the town was situated in a “Hollow.” (No idea how sleepy it is.) Known as the most eccentric town in the state–don’t know how much that says–and the largest open-air asylum in the country–that’s better–this was a place where misfits fit, where they actually voted to decriminalize marijuana. From what I remembered on the internet, the
population was a mix of conservative Christians and aging hippies who, as they tell it, wandered into the area around 1973 and never left. This was a town that had a seven-story statue of Jesus overlooking the “quaint Victorian village,” where senior citizens on bus tours shopped while gays and lesbians celebrated one of the many “diversity weekends.”
With a smile I figured I could spend years here just doing a psychological profile of the town. . .
As might be expected, the town had sprung up from the discovery of a spring of “healing waters” during the last two decades of the nineteenth century; no word if snake oil was found too, but it’s still considered a healing place, with people coming from all around the world to get away from it all and just relax. Again I saw that damned “City that Water Built” thing and let out a groan; I was more forgiving of “The Little Switzerland of the Ozarks,” but “a unique community holding fast to its heritage” was pushing their luck. One of the brochures talked about how the town was kept the same as it had been last century, by which I think they mean two centuries ago, and shows how long ago this thing was written.
Another brochure encouraged me to see the Berlin Wall piece, but since there’s a big chunk in El Lay, plus I’m old enough to have seen the original, I passed. Instead I got to work, shooting what was probably the most photographed building in town, as well as the strangest, reminiscent of the Flatiron in Noo Yawk as well as several others. I would later find out it actually was a Flatiron, but by then my interest in architecture had waned.
My tour guide corralled me for the drive to Beaver Lake, where we climbed aboard the Belle of the Ozarks just before it set sail, if one could call it that. I will admit they got the
“crystal-clear water” part right, and even though I can get seasick in a bathtub, I had no problems during this 12-mile cruise. Though the brochures claimed it was great for groups, I kinda doubted it, since the boat didn’t look big enough, requiring only a two-person crew, the captain and the first mate/wife, who gave the running commentary on what we were seeing. I apparently impressed them by being able to hold a conversation while taking photos at the same time
In due time we passed Beaver Dam, leading me to exclaim, “So many beavers here!” at least when it came to names, then on to the Ozark Bluff Dwellers burial ground. As an archaeologist I’d heard of that ancient civilization, but knew they hadn’t had those big cities I’d read about in this particular area, and I wasn’t the type who enjoyed digging through burial grounds, ghosts notwithstanding. So we moved on, soon reaching–supposedly–a submerged homestead which of course we couldn’t see, followed by views of Whitehouse Bluffs and Whitney Mountain scenic enough for my camera, ending with–of course–Beaver Dam.
Back in town, it occurred to me that this Spring Street is far different from the one in El Lay. Eventually my wanderings left me, to my shock, outside an Irish pub, and since they usually had sodas and likely burgers or something else I could eat, even if there was no country-fried steak, I went in, really letting out a hoot when I saw it was called the Blarney Stone.
The main thing to do after dark in this burg is hunt for ghosts. According to legend Eureka Springs is a ghost vertex, where sightings from all over the country seem to happen again here; one person said ghosts came here for reenactments. The only thing I’m gonna say about the ghost tour is that it bored me to tears and standing around hurt my back. And I obviously didn’t see any ghosts. . .
The next morning, after enjoying the second B in my lodging’s name–mmmm, bacon!–I was directed to what’s called the Ozarks’ strangest dwelling: Quigley’s Castle. The building itself is weird to look at but no big deal; I found the gardens more fun. But the best part was the name: I do so love saying Quigley!
Wanting a place to rest indoors without having to eat or drink anything, I found the library, which is an Andrew Carnegie original; read up on that. At that point my Day-Timer’s reminded me I had some bank business to take care of, and was directed to the Cornerstone Bank, formerly the Bank of Eureka Springs. In keeping with its Victorian heritage, it had a potbellied stove, brass teller cages, and other working antiques. Fun for a few minutes and a few photos, but when I remembered another nickname for the town was “America’s Victorian Village”. . . I woulda hated living in those times, and I never really liked banks.
Someone asked me if I wanted to see the Bible Museum, and I told them not to be silly. Thankfully that scratched the Christ of the Ozarks–that giant statue–off the list as well.
I never minded saying I liked train rides, although the last person I want to be compared to is Sheldon from Big Bang. Either way, I went ahead and boarded the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway, wondering if it was going to be like the one in Durango, or more likely like the one that no longer ran through the wine country outside Seattle. Considering the dinner menu was just under 40 bucks, I figured it would be, though I did make the waitress laugh when I said I’d brought my own “victuals.” She added I was too far east for that sort of talk, but other than that I simply enjoyed the views with my cameras.
Once back on the road we stopped off at the local inspiration point, which is actually called Inspiration Point. Too late for morning mists and spring blooms, too early for winter frosts, there was nevertheless a lovely view of mountains and “hollows” from what I was told was 500 feet above the White River; I did not look down to check, nor did I look around for someone to make out with, though I think in these cases you’re supposed to bring your own.
That night I ate at the Rowdy Beaver; nuff said.
The next morning was just a touch foggy, or I guess they would call it misty here, which was perfect for shooting this beautiful church that seemed to be made entirely out of glass. They even let me inside to photo, though as usual I wondered if I would melt or be struck by lightning entering such a place.
Since there was so much nature all around, and seemed to be well taken care of, I decided my knees would be able to handle a small hike. Fortunately there was a popular one right above town, almost more of a promenade than a trail, leading to one of the many springs.
Luckily that didn’t take that much out of me, for there was a downtown and, more important, underground tour coming up. Unlike what the girl in the train had told me, there had been a Wild West period, heavy on the colorful characters, brought to us via the magic of “interactive storytelling.” More fun was the underground part, which while not being anything as grand as Seattle’s was still a ton of fun.
The last night I was taken to a steak house, and since I wasn’t paying I of course ordered the filet mignon, while wrinkling my nose at the fact you could order seafood all the way up here in Arkansas. . . though I guess it’s not that far from the Gulf of Mexico. Had even more fun with the appetizers menu, where I noted they had escargot AND calamari–I asked them why they didn’t just call it country fried squid–as well as mac and cheese! The homemade whipped cream was really good, though. . .
From there it was roadtrippin’ back to St Louie, with only a stop to see a replica of Stonehenge at a university along the route. . . but that’s another story. . .