From Oklahoma City we continued our eastward trek into Arkansas and spent a couple of days (Oct 30-31) camping at Springhill Park, an Army Corps Of Engineers (COE) Campground. It was a great place to get away from urban noise and be under a canopy of trees and chirping birds. We had the park mostly to ourselves and loved the solitude of being close to nature. Continue reading
Driving into Devils Den State Park was yet another adventure on curvy narrow roads, deep into the valleys of the rugged Boston Mountains of Arkansas. Since we traveled only 25 miles south of our previous stop in Fayetteville, we didn’t bother hooking up the car and I followed Betsy and captured her low-speed journey down the winding roads.
It was another challenging drive, but once we settled in and looked around we found that our site was super-spacious (Steve’s review of the campground is here). We were ecstatic when we saw that our new backyard was a wooded area with a creek and several trails just a few steps away. In these beautiful surroundings the lack of internet and phone connectivity was not a big deal, and hitting the trails became foremost on our agenda.
The brochure given to us at registration indicated that the name Devils Den was derived from a rugged series of bluffs, caves, crevices and rock formations.This park encompasses the largest sandstone crevice area in the United States. What I find strange is why the word “Devil” is used to name a place such as Devils Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin, or the Devils Tower in Wyoming or Devils River in Texas! Why not “Angel” or something else more serene?
But I digress – we came here to enjoy what Devil’s Den State Park is best known for, its natural history and the mountains that come alive with color during fall. We arrived a little too early for the prime fall foliage, but we cherished what we saw as we hiked throughout the area.
The crevice caves (as opposed to limestone caves), ravines and crevices were partly formed by slippage in sandstone formations. Large fractures occurred, then slid and cracked apart forming interconnected crevices that are littered throughout the valley. The park named these fractures or shapes as Devils Amphitheater, Devils Icebox, Devils Cave and the whole area as Devils Den. And to see these natural wonders we followed the 1.5-mile self-guided Devils Trail, which led us through this fascinating area that gave the park its name. The hike was moderately difficult, rocky and steep in places. Geologists consider this area a unique part of the Ozark’s Boston Mountains.
Another trail we followed was the Yellow Rock Trail, a 3-mile lollipop loop that took us into oak-hickory hardwood forest – typical in the Ozarks. Although the brilliant autumn hues were not at their optimum, the leaves along the trail were changing and showed some wonderful colors.
About a quarter mile from the trailhead we came across another bluff, a massive sandstone overhanging formation. We learned that this was a result of the brittle shale eroding faster than the solid sandstone above it.
After another mile of hiking we reached the Yellow Rock high bluff, which earned its name from the yellow iron oxide stains on its face. Standing atop Yellow Rock, we had an unobstructed view of the Lee Creek valley below us and a very colorful hillside. Lots of yellow, orange, pink, purple and red hues were peeking out from the hillsides. We rested here and soaked up the views as Turkey Vultures soared above the valley.
The state park is surrounded by the Ozark National Forest and is the result of one of the many works of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It was built during the 1930’s-1940’s, as were other CCC-built state parks we’ve visited, and their hard work and craftsmanship were displayed and celebrated. We saw a centerpiece of their legacy about a quarter mile from our campsite, the lake and a unique waterfall. These projects and several other buildings were built to seamlessly complement the landscape, and they have been well preserved for everyone’s enjoyment.
We were situated in campground “E”, which was just a few steps from the meandering waters of Lee Creek. Summer may be over, but this park remains very popular as a place to view the fall foliage. But an additional bonus was our spacious site and the surrounding woods that made it a perfect setting for solitude and quite walks in the woods.
It could be my imagination, but it seemed like the leaves were changing colors daily during our one-week stay here. In addition to hearing the rushing waters, singing birds and chirping crickets, the beauty of the colorful trees made my strolls along the creek and through the woods very peaceful and relaxing.
I lamented to Steve that we arrived here too early (week of Oct 17 ) and were missing the best time for the leaves to show off their brilliant intense colors. But I was wrong, for near our campsite I found leaves from individual and small groups of trees so gorgeous that my camera couldn’t capture all the colors of their leaves. I saw scarlet, deep mahogany, purple, black, pink and gold in stunning intensity.
Even if all of the leaves hadn’t turned while we were here, the beautiful fall hues did not disappoint. Fall foliage in the Ozarks is this area’s best kept secret. We so enjoyed our stay at Devils Den State Park that if we come this way again we will definitely stay here – we can survive without connectivity to the outside world for a while!
Next up: Oklahoma’s Talimena National Scenic Byway
From Eureka Springs we motored just a ways down the road to Fayetteville – time for some fun with family and friends! While I was enjoying the fall hues along Hwy 62W, Steve’s efforts were focused on keeping Betsy between the lines on the continuously curvy and narrow roads. Warnings were posted in two areas (a 2-mile and a 6-miles stretch) alerting us to the crooked and steep terrain we were entering. At the end it was all in a day’s work, and we arrived in Fayetteville unscathed and ready for a cold beer.
My nephew Jerome and his wife Liz had activities lined up for us to experience while here. They picked fun things that my adorable great niece Hattie would enjoy, too. First they took us to Fayetteville’s farmer’s market. We try to patronize as many FM’s as possible, and Steve was so impressed with this one that he declared it the best we’ve been to this year. Of course, that meant we went home with a lot of fresh veggies and other goodies – yum!
Next we visited a local small family-owned farm on the outskirts of Fayetteville, where we met up with some other families and their little ones. We had never heard of pastured pigs before coming to Mason Creek Farm. They breed and raises pastured pigs and chickens that are free to roam around and eat grass and seeds as they please.
Steve used to raise pigs when he was young, but when he saw the size of these hogs I thought we was going to take off running! Pastured pigs, which we learned first-hand taste a lot better than store-bought pork, are typically raised on small farms and often sold at farmer’s markets. So if you see a meat vendor selling pastured meats, pony up the extra cash and get ready for something special. They are rightfully proud of how they care for their animals. I only wish we had bought more while we were on the farm!
The sows, boars and litters on the farm were free to roam around the large fenced areas. Believe it or not, there was no “pigsty smell” here!
We can attest (as Hattie does below) that pastured pigs create the BEST tasting pork chops ever. That night we had a delicious BBQ dinner of pork chops we bought from the farm, and green beans from the farmer’s market. Now that we know the difference, we’ll be looking harder for the “real deal” pork in the future.
On another day I met a girlfriend from my hometown in the Philippines, Jenna, and her husband. They invited me to check out the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, AR. The museum, opened in 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, youngest daughter of the Walmart empire’s founder. I initially thought it would be just another museum to celebrate someone’s success, but boy was I surprised. Nestled in a beautiful wooded area, the architecture flowed naturally with the surroundings and there were walking trails available for those not so into admiring fine paintings. There is also a section there for kid activities.
The inside of the museum might remind one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, except that you’re in rural Arkansas. And the best part is that viewing the world-class permanent art collection is free! Since I have never acquired much of a taste for fine art, we pretty much just breezed through this pavilion.
However, Jenna and I were more fascinated with the one-of-a-kind exhibition at the State of the Art section, where more than 100 artists from every region of the U.S. display a diverse offering of American art. All the displays at this pavilion were everyday stuff made into something with “grace and grit”. This is where we spent most of our time, inspecting and admiring the work of these talented artists. The State of the Art will be on display until Jan 14, 2015.
Continuing my Walmart experience, we went to where it all began – at the Bentonville town square where Sam Walton opened his first Walton’s 5&10 in 1950. Next door was the Walmart Museum yet another free museum. Inside was a multi-room gallery showcasing Sam Walton’s life and his leadership in making Walmart into the company it is today.
My Walmart experience was enhanced by being with my friends, who took time from their busy schedule to show me around. Thanks Jenna and Dingcol!
Spending time with little Hattie and the family was a great break from our usual “routine”. It’s always nice to have such wonderful tour guides to show us their town and have a good time. I sure will miss Hattie for I won’t be seeing her for a quite a long time.
Next up: Taking in the fall colors at Devils Den State Park
Note: By the time you read this we’re already in Oklahoma. We had no internet service for several days while at Devil’s Den State Park near Fayetteville, so we had to settle for hiking and relaxing with no connectivity – but we’re not complaining!
It was a good thing we ended up at Eureka Springs when we left Buffalo Point. We discovered a real Victorian mountain village nestled in the Ozarks. We usually take the fastest way to get the scoop about a new town – by taking a guided tour. We heard that one was leaving an hour after we arrived at our campground, so we grabbed our cameras and hopped on a trolley. A long-time local native narrated the story of what made this town a destination, and why the entire downtown district is being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
We learned that the city has a colorful and unique history, beginning with over a hundred cold-water springs that the Native Americans believed had healing powers. Then there was the claim that the estimated 56 miles of stone walls throughout the city are the largest collection of Victorian architecture in the central United States. Tourism is by far the #1 industry here, and the residents were all very patient as they waited behind the trolley until they were able to pass.
And just as we normally do, after the tour we ventured out on our own to walk around and experience for ourselves what makes this a unique and charming city. I realize I’ve described other cities we visited that had this same small-town charm, but Eureka is truly unique as you will soon see.
So let’s start with the springs.
The springs at Eureka were said to be miraculous, and their “healing waters” brought thousands of visitors to the city. To discover what made this place famous for its healing waters, we located several of the flowing springs and pocket parks throughout the city. Most of them are landscaped, and some offered a drinking fountain to quench our thirst and hopefully cure any of our current ailments. Unfortunately, Steve’s vision didn’t improve at all after he took a long drink. The latest count of springs remaining within city limits is 63.
The stone walls – 56 miles of them!
Eureka Springs is a small city built on hills and valleys. The 56 miles of stone walls were constructed between 1885 and 1910, and they are holding up well after over 100 years. The limestone used was sometimes quarried onsite. The walls allowed the hills to hold up houses where floors went up or down the slopes as geography demanded. Even more walls have been constructed during restoration and preservation efforts as tourism has increased.
The city was even featured on “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, as they illustrated the oddities of the city and described its “230 winding, twisting streets and rock walls . . . miles and miles of them”.
On another day we found that our stroll around the city was a good workout, as we clocked 7 miles going up and down the winding, hilly, twisty narrow streets. All streets wind around town, and none of them intersect at a 90 degree angle. This means there are no square blocks in the city, and to top it all there are no traffic lights! The city was called “Stairstep Town” in 1954, due to its numerous stairways of wood and stone connecting the street levels. We found several stairways to use as shortcuts to go from one street to another instead of walking up to the next bend.
The Little Switzerland of America
The other moniker that Eureka Springs has enjoyed is “The Little Switzerland of America.” While wandering around the streets we noted that they are filled with Victorian-style cottages and manors painstakingly restored and renovated to preserve their elegant past. Some are now converted to B&B’s, but many are still privately owned. And some have more more than one mailing address due to the geography that dictates a main entrance on more than one street.
The restoration efforts were obvious, and we learned that most of the work is done by the individual owners, making their homes a labor of love. Each turn in the road led us to colorful and distinctively lovely “cottages”, as they like to call them here.
Historic Downtown shopping district
And as usual the historic downtown shopping district was lined with art galleries, shops, restaurants and more. But you have to be careful walking along the uneven sidewalks or you might have an unpleasant “trip”.
If you watched “Ghost Tours” on the Sci Fi Channel, you may have seen that the historic 1886 Crescent Hotel was featured there. Although we didn’t see the show, the Crescent Hotel was apparently one of those places where they caught a full-bodied apparition on video. For those who believe in that stuff, stay at this hotel and perhaps you’ll meet their famous ghost “Michael”. He was a stonemason who fell to his death during the hotel’s construction. The room he fell into is sometimes booked up several years in advance.
Wildlife on the streets!
Well, we didn’t expect to encounter critters as we wandered along the hilly streets. As I walked down one of them, I felt something strange under my foot, and was horrified to discover I had stepped on a snake! You can see the injury on him in the picture below. I felt bad for him, and I hope the poor guy survived. I almost had a heart attack but came out of it OK.
A molting squirrel was even playing with the deer, who patiently watched us go by.
Other points of interest we explored
Outside of the city are some attractions worth driving to, and each had its own story to tell.
The wood and glass Thorncrown Chapel is 48 feet tall and has 425 windows covering 6000 square feet in glass. It sits atop over 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone.
Our next stop was at Christ of the Ozark, which is located next to where the “Great Passion Play,” is featured in an outdoor auditorium. The nearby statue stands seven stories high and spans sixty five feet across, and it can be seen from miles away. My current header shows the Christ of the Ozark statue as viewed from the balcony of the Crescent Hotel.
Hitting the Trails
After all that sightseeing in the city it was time to hit some trails. At Beaver Dam Lake we followed the steep terrain on a short 2-mile loop at Dogwood Trail. Since it is fall, the flowering dogwood trees that abound throughout the area were dormant and I could just imagine the blooms in the spring. On this trail we came across overlooks, beautiful geographic features and one of the largest bluff shelters found on Beaver Lake.
Next we followed the Beacham Trail at Lake Leatherwood, which is also a bike trail. A few short hills led us to the Leatherwood dam – this was an easy-peasy hike on a nice warm day.
Finally, I climbed a 100 ft tall tower that was originally used by the Arkansas Forestry Service. For only a dollar I got a million-dollar view of Eureka Springs and the surrounding area. Had we stayed two weeks longer, the trees behind me would have transformed into the beautiful autumn foliage that Eureka Springs is also known for. I was bummed we had to leave, but we will catch the beauty somewhere down the road 😦
We ended up becoming real fans of Eureka Springs during our stay. It’s not just a pretty place – there are plenty of things to do here, especially during the fall months. Be sure to add it to your itinerary if you’re in the area!
Next Up: Fun times with family and friends in Fayetteville, AR
The plans for our first stop in Arkansas (the “Natural State”) were cut short due to two major storms that threatened as we entered the state. We set up camp at Buffalo National River, staying at Buffalo Point on the lower river. It is one of three designated wilderness areas within the park’s boundaries.
Located in the heart of the Ozarks, Buffalo National River became America’s first national river in 1972. It encompasses 135 miles of the 150-mile long river. Although termed a national river, the 94,293-acre park includes lands surrounding it, as well as the river itself.
Because of its natural wilderness and towering limestone bluffs, this is a very popular place not only for the locals, but also for those who love rivers and water-related activities. Steve had designs on floating down the beautiful river while we were here – but it was not to be 😦
The free-flowing Buffalo National River is one of the few remaining unpolluted rivers in Arkansas that has not been dammed, and it is a state treasure. It begins as a trickle in the Boston Mountains, 15 miles above the park boundary. Following what is likely an ancient riverbed, the Buffalo cuts its way through massive limestone bluffs as it travels eastward through the Ozarks and into the White River.
With only one day of sunshine to enjoy before all weather hell broke loose, we immediately embarked on the only hike we would do while here. I took off on a nice long adventure, while Steve followed a shorter path in another direction before doing some needed work on Betsy.
My 7.5-mile trek started from our campsite, as I followed a network of moderately strenuous trails that took me to the Indian Rockhouse. Traversing through pines, hardwood and eastern cedar within the campground, I followed another trail that wound around hillsides and along a beautiful stream to the spectacular Indian Rockhouse. The rockhouse was once used as a shelter for prehistoric bluff-dwelling Native Americans. It was huge inside, and a beautiful clear spring ran through it.
Some critters caught my attention as I trudged along. I would never have detected this guy if he hadn’t moved:
If not for the torrential rains, fog and overcast skies, hiking at the Upper River would have been very desirable – especially at Lost Valley. But at least we were able to drive there to observe the bull elk with their large antlers, as they monitored their harem of cow elk. We learned this is rut season, and when we arrived the bull elk were bugling loudly as they kept an eye on their favorite cows, while trying to attract still more of them. Too bad we didn’t see some bulls fighting while we were there, that would have been exciting!
The ancestors of the elk currently in Arkansas were actually Rocky Mountain elk, which were introduced here in 1980. The Eastern elk that called Buffalo River home became extinct just as Arkansas gained statehood in 1836. So for a very long time Arkansas did not have wild elk. In 1980, 112 Rocky Mountain elk were introduced. The original 112 thrived and have multiplied to where it is estimated that there are now 500 of them roaming around Boxley Valley.
Boxley Valley is not only home to those state-released elk, but also to traditional farming communities. Surrounded by many hills, open valleys and wildlife, it’s an amazing area to drive through. With a good rain and low-lying fog in the valley that morning, it had a mystical and haunting feel. Arkansas has a gem right here!
The fall colors had not yet peaked here, but we were glad that some of the leaves were changing colors. In two weeks the mountains would be in full fall splendor, but for now we were happy to get a look at these early starters.
The forecast called for another severe storm coming our way. With no connectivity to the outside world due to our remote location, we decided to pack up and move further north and closer to civilization. That shortened our stay, but there wasn’t much else to do here anyway, except sit inside and stare out the window at the horrible weather. Steve’s review of the campground is here.
So we followed the twisty road into Eureka Springs and hunkered down at a nice campground in town. But hey, when the storm ended we found out what a cool place this little town is – stay tuned!
Next Up: Fun times in historic Eureka Springs