After a quiet night at our airbnb in Rogers, we dropped in at the hip happening coffee shop in downtown Bentonville, Onyx, which was buzzing, on a Sunday morning no less. After a few jolts of caffeine, we drove north through Missouri, passing what seemed like many road signs advertising Jesus, guns, churches and anti-abortion.
Stopped for gas in Lamar and toured a local outlet of the “Beef Jerky Warehouse,” which had more varieties of jerky than imaginable and some interesting T-shirts. We were taken aback, while reading a little wall sign about Lamar’s history, to see a casual mention of the KKK meetings (once) held in town.
In Kansas City, where the fall colors were most spectacular, we had lunch with a favorite relative, Uncle Kenneth, on the Plaza at the Parkway Social Kitchen. Not bad. Particularly appreciated the servers, who were gentle and kind to our elderly relative, which was much appreciated. The drive home to Iowa – where the trees also have turned fiery reds, yellows and oranges during our one week away – was also uneventful.
Another “hit” (vs miss) as expected in this perfect little north Arkansas town brought to you by Walmart. This is our second trip to Crystal Bridges and the museum continues to vow. The setting, deep in the woods; the architecture, a dramatic series of curvy buildings in and around a small lake; the art work, a fantastic collection of American art, especially the last 50 years or so; a classy restaurant dining room with terrific food; what’s not to like?
The drive north from Hot Springs, especially the initial stretch on two lane highway 7, was spectacular. Curvy winding roads up and around and down woods-carpeted mountains, really gorgeous.
After the museum, we visited the 21c museum hotel downtown, ultra modern with a museum on its walls of very interesting art and a stylish restaurant called Hive where we had a drink, sitting under a big piece of plastic orange honeycomb with a big toy bee hanging out in it. Tonight we had an excellent dinner at Oven and Tap downtown– edamame, meatballs, fried chicken. Can’t complain.
Tonight we are at airbnb # 6, all good. It’s a nondescript little house in a suburban subdivision in nearby Rogers, with a comfy bed and bath and the owner is away camping so again, just us.
Shack up inn
Hot Springs bath house
This trip has been very hit or miss, with places I am glad we went and others I could do without. Sadly Hot Springs is a miss. Haven’t been here in 28 years and it seems down at the heels and sort of spooky. We are staying at a spiffed up motor court and although the owners have done a very good job of tarting it up, the neighborhood is shabby, with a very unspiffed up motor court (Dame Fortune, which we found via airbnb) a stone’s throw away and some shuttered old hotels. It’s also at a busy intersection so lots of loud cars and motorcycles. (I’m getting fussier in my old age…) The famous old baths downtown look faded and the crowd is a bit rough. Dinner was at Deluca’s Pizza, which was good except for the service and the weird glamour shot photos on the walls.
We did have an interesting day, driving backroads through the cotton fields of the Delta and the still-dying towns. Helena, Arkansas, which I have visited twice before, is still desperately poor, although there are valiant efforts at redevelopment.
In a food shop downtown, a nice chef whipped us up some sauteed shrimp atop a baked potato seasons with rosemary and garlic. We ate it outside, sitting on park benches atop the levee, looking out at a loading dock on/near the Mississippi River. We drove back roads to Hot Springs…another America, Trump’s America, faded towns and worn-out places.
The day began with a visit to the Shack Up Inn, a collection of old shotgun shacks and cotton bins converted into lodging in a field south of town. Noah and I stayed in one of the shacks almost 10 years ago. The place has grown — there’s now a suburb (“Shackville”) adjacent to the original cluster and a new funky office/store/restaurant/ music venue. A very small wedding was taking place during our visit. We also stopped in at Cat Head, a blues music and folk art store run by a passionate and very knowledge blues fan originally from Ohio. The town still looks pretty bombed out and the black neighborhood in particular is very poor but it still seems to draw lots of blues fans, especially foreigners. I was sad to hear that Rat, the kind man who owned the famous Riverside Hotel died. He gave us a very memorable tour of the hotel 10 years ago. (He was an older man then.)
We also drove through to Friars Point and Lula, two desperate towns just north of Clarksdale en route to Helena. No change there that I could see.
Fortunately my husband is the type who closely reads our credit card bill because he happened upon a $100 charge for a hotel we didn’t stay at in Eureka Springs over Memorial Day Weekend. And fortunately I held onto an email from the hotel with my email cancellation, which was made about a week before our visit. That said, it still took more effort than it should have to resolve the issue – I had to call the hotel three times before I finally reached the right person who gave me a rather feeble excuse and no noticeable apology but did agree to refund my credit card – and you can bet I’ll be looking at my next credit card bill to make sure that refund was duly made.
We drove some backroads home from Eureka Spring, Arkansas yesterday – starting about 10 miles east in the town of Berryville, which turned out to be more down-on-its-luck than my guidebook suggested. Couldn’t help notice the huge and bustling Wal-Mart on the edge of town – a distinct contrast to the struggling town square business district. And couldn’t help but remember that Bentonville, which we visited Saturday, is the unusual small town that has clearly benefited economically from Wal-Mart – and that’s because it’s not a typical small town but a company town, Wal-Mart’s company town no less. I can’t fault Wal-Mart for wanting to make its company town look like the perfect American small town, squeaky clean with landscaped gardens and well-kept businesses, but it’s a tad ironic considering the company’s reported disastrous effect on so many other small rural communities, where it has been accused of helping to shutter local businesses and suck the life out of many a downtown. (For details on the “Wal-Mart Effect” see: advocate.nyc.gov/news/2011-01-11/new-study-wal-mart-means-fewer-jobs-less-small-businesses-more-burden-taxpayers)
I don’t recall seeing this issue addressed at the Wal-Mart Visitor Center in Bentonville – although the center’s displays were more interesting than I expected. (I was impressed and moved by the display recalling Wal-Mart’s aid to the Gulf Coast post-Hurricane Katrina.) One more question came to mind in downtown Bentonville – why so many law offices? Granted the town square is dominated by the county courthouse but still…Are they all fighting the good fight for Wal-Mart?
As for the Crystal Bridges Museum, while there, I couldn’t help but feel grateful to the Wal-Mart heiress who opened it for sharing her stunning American art collection and vision, free of charge, with us little people. But again, later, I did start to think a bit about the irony of this high-brow, high-culture palace being funded by the profits of a company whose stores are anything but high-brow, high culture; a company that has not always treated or paid its employees well, and whose overall contribution to our economy, culture, and society is debatable. High-culture largesse is nothing new for corporate titans but sometimes its hard to decide whether what they give outweighs what they take, or have taken.
I hardly recognized Eureka Springs. It was so packed with tourists on this holiday weekend that it was hard to detect its charm. The last time I was here, about 24 years ago, it was in december and the place was deserted. Fortunately we were reminded why we like this place after we left downtown with it’s touristy shops and loud motorcycles . Walking along upper spring street past the lovely Victorian cottages with their long porches and gardens full of hydrangea, hollyhocks,roses and lilies; past stone grottos, steep curving lanes, dense woods; past the strange old 1886 crescent hotel, where we relaxed in white rocking chairs on the balcony overlooking the wooded mountains, I remembered the strange charm of this old town in northwest Arkansas. We are staying in an old motor court in a residential neighborhood. We have our very own one room cottage covered with small jagged rocks. Hence the name — rock garden cabins. Our neighbors are 90 year old newlyweds. No joke. We had a good lunch at the mud street cafe and excellent BBQ ribs at bubba’s and also enjoyed a visit to thorn crown chapel. A stunning glass-walled chapel deep in the woods that was part of the inspiration for the architecture at crystal bridges.
We were not disappointed by crystal springs museum here. We were bowled over. It is not like any museum I have been to. The museum is a series of dramatic copper,stone, wood and glass buildings built over a ravine deep in the woods.Everything about it is impressive. The architecture, modernAmerican art collection, the stunning landscaped trails adorned with sculpture and gardens, the gorgeous museum restaurant with sophisticated but affordable food, the innovative children’s area (which we adults learned from too). Did I mention it’s all free, including the shuttle that took us from a nearby park to the museum’s dramatic entrance –a tower with a wide view of the museum’s spread out grounds. The collection is varied, impressive and beautifully displayed in well laid out spaces. I saw both familiar and unfamiliar artists work.
We also poked around the very spiffy town square, including the Walmart visitors center, disguised as an old five and dime. It’s where Sam Walton’s first store was and we were surprised to find the displays interesting. Dinner was at aq chicken in Springdale, full of photos of bill Clinton from his chicken eating days. We are staying at a refreshingly nice microtel, a major step up from the awful days inn we stayed at last night in butler,mo. Also had good frozen custard at Andy’s down the road in Rogers,Ark. Oddly, there is another one in Evanston,Illinois where our son goes to college. Anyway, this is my first post via iPad. Cool. And we had a really nice 22nd anniversary today.