And Arkansas in Bloom
By Corinna Lothar
has shed its undeserved Dogpatch reputation. Northwest Arkansas has
become prosperous, with a wealth of places of interest for tourists,
and offering some of America's most beautiful nature, along with cultural
events, and many craft and antique fairs. The new Northwest Arkansas
Regional Airport serves as the gateway to Ozark towns and villages,
such as Bentonville, home of Walmart, and Eureka Springs, as well as
Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.
What has really put Northwest Arkansas on the American
cultural map is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded
by Sam Walton's daughter, Alice, in Bentonville, and opened on November
Alice Walton hired internationally renowned architect
Moshe Safdie, who envisioned a building that would complement the surrounding
Ozark landscape. Nestled into a natural ravine, the Museum integrates
the element of water through the creation of two spring-fed ponds that
are spanned by two bridges and surrounded by a group of buildings housing
museum galleries and studios. Mrs. Walton named her museum Crystal Bridges
"crystal" for the name of the natural spring on the site,
and "bridges" for the bridges built over the meandering water
running through the property. It's a beautiful place, inside the buildings
and in the rolling landscape outside.
One of Crystal Bridges buildings the Eleven
Along with outstanding examples of nineteenth century
American painting, the museum has a fine collection of paintings and
sculptures representing various schools of twentieth century art. The
collection continues to grow, and there is always a temporary exhibit
on show. The current temporary exhibit is State of the Art: Discovering
American Art Now. It consists of 227 works by 102 unappreciated artists
from all over the United States. Objects in the exhibit range from 3
inches to room size.
The museum's glassed-in Eleven Restaurant, with water
on both sides, has a beautiful vaulted wooden roof in the middle of
which hangs Jeff Koons' huge, 3000 pound golden heart, ten feet wide
and dangling nine feet above the heads of diners. In the restaurant,
guests can choose from a variety of sandwiches, salads and a few hot
dishes for lunch daily, except on Tuesdays when the museum is closed,
and dinner on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The park surrounding the museum is filled with trees,
flowering plants and sculptures complementing the landscape. More than
three miles of trails, each offering different plant life and terrain,
meander through the Ozark forest and are open year round.
Robert Indiana, "Love" (Cor-Ten steel)
Admission to the museum is free, and it has brought
a sense of excitement to Bentonville and the surrounding communities.
Programs and classes for adults and children are part of the lure, as
are the temporary exhibits and concerts. Children, many of whom have
never been to a museum, are bussed in from surrounding states.
Bentonville Square with Confederate soldier
Bentonville itself is a lively small town, with a pretty
square with a statue of a Confederate soldier in its center. The brick
buildings encircling the square house shops, galleries, restaurants
and the Walmart Visitors Center, located in Sam Walton's original Five
and Dime store, established in 1950. The Visitors Center, which includes
a gift shop, is a small museum of the Walmart history and Sam Walton's
rise to fame and fortune. It includes cabinets filled with artifacts
based on Walton's autobiography as well as interactive displays
Other sites of interest are The Peel Mansion and the
Museum of Native Americans. The former is an 1875 Italianate villa built
by Colonel Samuel Peel, the first native-born Arkansan to be elected
to the United States Congress. On the site is a pre-Civil War log cabin,
and an outdoor museum of heritage roses, perennials and native plants.
The Museum of Native Americans begins its exhibition with Paleo objects
through the Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian and Historic periods, including
a large display of stone tools and arrowheads.
On the first Friday of every month, music, crafts and
food take over the central square, which is home to an extensive farmers'
market every Saturday morning. The First Fridays also include outdoor
movies and musical entertainment. The town has a lively art scene, and
there are murals to enjoy in the downtown area, many painted by Bentonville's
Bentonville's renaissance has brought about a flourishing
of dining options and an "art" hotel. The 21C Museum boutique
hotel opened in 2013. The hotel's special feature is contemporary art
work throughout the public rooms, the outdoor spaces and the hallways.
The art changes every six months. The rooms are very contemporary but
with only a single reproduction on the walls. The real art is downstairs,
as are the big green penguins that show up at odd times in odd places,
including sometimes at your table in the dining room, the Hive, which
offers diners a sophisticated meal of contemporary American dishes.
A nature trail leads from the hotel through the Crystal Bridges Museum
park to the entrance of the museum.
Armando Marino, "The Raft" (wheel-less
body of 1950 Plymouth supported by
Cuban legs "on the march")
Just down from the central square, the Tusk & Trotter
is an informal restaurant, serving a variety of pork cuts, including
fried pig ear chips, as well as traditional American dishes.
Breakfast at Bentonville's Station Cafe
For breakfast, the Station Cafe, owned like much in
town by the Walmart Company, is the place to go. It's a folksy, colorful
spot with early twentieth century decor, small booths with tables covered
in checkered oilcloth, good coffee and fresh eggs.
There are half a dozen cafes on the square and on First
Fridays, Bentonville celebrates with food trucks parked around the central
square offering ethnic and American foods. At the end of the Walmart
Center tour is an old fashioned soda fountain where a visitor can still
get a heaping scoop of delicious ice cream for 99 cents.
A few miles east of Bentonville is Rogers,
where the first Walmart store opened in 1962. Rogers is home of the
Daisy Airgun Museum, which displays guns dating from 1888 to the present,
including a World War II exhibit. Its gift shop sells limited edition
guns. Rogers has a major indoor arts and crafts festival in the spring
and in the fall in the Frisco Station Mall.
Between Rogers and Eureka Springs, just
off Highway 12, is the War Eagle gristmill, built originally in 1832.
Thrice destroyed, first by flood and then by fire, the mill was finally
rebuilt in 1973 and is the only working mill in Arkansas. The mill is
powered by an 18 foot cypress waterwheel.
The site is home to the War Eagle Craft
and Culinary fair and the Sharp's Shaw fair that take place at the same
time in early May and mid-October. Both feature crafts of all kinds,
food and music, as well as antiques.
A little music at the War Eagle Craft Fair
Eureka Springs is a mountain town of some 2,000 inhabitants,
many of them artists. The town's streets meander up and down the hills,
never intersecting. They are lined with beautiful Victorian houses and
cottages, many of which are bed and breakfast inns. Since its founding
in 1879, the town has attracted tourists, initially for its healing
spring water, and now for its shops and galleries offering the work
of local artists and craftsmen and women. The healing spring waters
were known to the American Indians long before the town's official founding.
Since Eureka Springs became a major tourist attraction
in the Ozarks, the dining scene has become upscale and sophisticated.
Perhaps the best restaurant in town is the Grand Taverne, located in
the Grand Central Hotel. The restaurant has the atmosphere of an old
Victorian establishment, but the cooking is sophisticated, contemporary
American cuisine. The restaurant serves dinner only, and on weekends,
dinner is accompanied by a pianist playing show tunes and popular songs
of decades past.
Another excellent restaurant serving contemporary American
cuisine at slightly lower prices for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch,
is Local Flavor. While Local Flavor doesn't have the charm of the Grand
Taverne dining room, it serves food that's first rate. The restaurant
is popular with locals and visitors alike and tends to have long waiting
lists on weekends and for Sunday brunch.
Dancers with flaming hoops in the Artrageous
A delightful spot for breakfast, a 'burger or an afternoon
drink is the balcony on the second floor of the 1905 Basin Park Hotel.
On Fridays, a fish fry is served all day long. On one side of the balcony,
guests have a perfect view of the shops on Spring Street, and the comings
and goings on the street. On the side of the hotel facing Basin Spring
Park, guests have a clear view of the little park and the spring that
gives the town its name. Many events take place in the park.
A highlight of events is the early May, Eureka Springs'
Artrageous parade when artists dance down Spring Street to everyone's
delight. Locals and tourists line the streets to watch the costumed
members of the artists' colony entertain the populace.
Another major attraction is the summer long Great Passion
Play with its cast of 170 actors and dozens of live animals, but the
town also offers music festivals, craft and antique fairs and even a
summer Opera of the Ozarks, which produced Mozart, Puccini and Sondheim
operas this past summer in the Fine Arts Center. Eureka Springs is also
a good place to buy hand-made quilts; the Quilt Shop in the center of
town has a large selection of beautiful (and expensive) hand sewn quilts.
The Crescent Hotel & Spa is Eureka Springs' grand
old hotel, built in 1886. The renovated hotel has retained its 19th
century character, including the 14 foot ceilings in the Crystal Ballroom,
the elegant lobby and the verandas on which guests can enjoy the fresh
Ozark air. The hotel is known as America's most haunted hotel and offers
nightly ghost tours.
Roxy Paine, "Yield"
(stainless steel) at the entrance to the Crystal Bridges Museum
About three miles outside Eureka Springs en route back
to the airport along Highway 62 is the Thorncrown Chapel, a magnificent
wooden structure rising 48 feet up into the Ozark forest. The chapel
contains 425 windows and over 6,000 feet of glass. It sits atop 100
tons of native stone and colored flagstone. The chapel, designed by
Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright, was
the dream of Jim Reed, who purchased the site with the intention of
building his retirement home. Instead, he decided to give wayfarers
a place to relax and enjoy the beautiful Ozark scenery. Don't miss it.
As for Dogpatch, it may still be on the map of Northwest
Arkansas, but it never was a real place. Dogpatch was a themed amusement
park, based on characters created by Al Capp in his "L'il Abner"
comic strip. It opened in 1968, and closed in 1993. All that is left
today are ruins with grasses growing and leaves blowing through the
remnants. It never was the real Arkansas to begin with.
If You Go:
Orleans, Louisiana; New
Orleans: Where Anything Goes; Lexington,
Louisiana Mardi Gras; Soulful
South Texas; St.
Louis & Kansas City; Kansas