Eco Adventures

Exit off Highway 71 in northwestern Arkansas to fine lovely gardens, interesting museums, architectural gems and genuine hospitality.
By Elaine Warner

You can zip down the interstate from Bella Vista to Van Buren in less than an hour and a half. The question is, “Why would you want to?” This stretch of U.S. Highway 71 through northwest Arkansas will take you through beautiful scenery and towns with big attractions. You may want to make a detour or two for some special spots handy to the highway.

mill

Above: Picturesque War Eagle Mill near Rogers hosts a major craft show each fall, this year Oct. 15–18. The mill sells stone-ground flour and cornmeal made in small batches by the water-powered gristmill.

Below: The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista is set in the forest with a design that is in tune with nature. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo

chapel

Beautiful Bella Vista

Starting in Bella Vista, a residential community almost at the Missouri border, we wound our way up the hill to the Inn at Bella Vista, a large structure of stone and wood that looked like it grew out of the landscape, a concept cherished by designer E. Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Our hosts were Bill and Beverly Williams. They may have the only inn in town, but there are several other good reasons to stop here. The view over the valley from the large stone patio is superb, and the National Wildlife Federation has certified the grounds as a wildlife habitat. One of the best reasons to come here is to take advantage of Beverly’s golf expertise. A professional golfer, Beverly offers several options for golf instruction, and guests have access to several area courses.

Our room had its own balcony and was spacious and comfy. Breakfast consisted of amazing cream cheese and blueberry stuffed French toast croissants with Petit Jean peppered bacon, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. We left after breakfast to see the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel.

Also designed by Jones, the chapel’s 15 Gothic arches reach 50 feet, bending like the trees surrounding them. More than 4,000 square feet of plate glass allow wonderful views outside. Visitors are invited to come in for quiet meditation and contemplation.

Sam’s town

This area of Arkansas is becoming so popular that it’s hard to tell where one town ends and the next begins. Take Business Route 71 for the flavor of the old highway and access to Bentonville, now a busy city. Retail giant Wal-Mart is headquartered here. Still, the downtown square is charming and the late Sam Walton’s original Bentonville store sits modestly on Main Street. It’s now the Wal-Mart Visitor Center, where you’ll see Walton’s old red pick-up truck.

Just a short walk away, we stopped to see Crystal Bridges at the Massey. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, scheduled for completion in 2011, will comprise an architecturally stunning facility and one of the greatest collections of American art in the country. Visitors can see models of the museum and its grounds, as well as a limited number of artworks in the Massey building at 125 W. Central Ave.

We strolled through Compton Gardens, a 6.5-acre nature area that’s adjacent to the Crystal Bridges tract. On a winding walking trail, we wandered through plants and trees native to the Arkansas plateau. Compton Gardens boasts three State Champion Trees including a 70-foot-tall chestnut with a circumference of 49 inches.

Make time to eat at Fred’s Hickory Inn, a fixture on Highway 71 since 1970. Although there are those who swear by Lou’s spaghetti, we couldn’t resist the slow-smoked pork ribs that were flavorful and meaty.

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

A detour to Rogers was a pilgrimage of sorts. The movie, “A Christmas Story,” about Ralphie and his desire for a “Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle” is a classic. To see the object of Ralphie’s desire, we visited the Daisy Airgun Museum and Gift Shop. The Daisy Manufacturing Company has been headquartered in Rogers since 1960, and museum visitors will see one of the originals here, as well as a copy of the famous leg lamp from the holiday movie. Guests also learn about the history of the company that initially manufactured windmills.

East of town is the picturesque War Eagle Mill. The building is the fourth mill on the site, but the foundation dates back to 1832. If you’re there around lunch, have the beans and cornbread. Take home some stone-ground flour in a printed cotton bag. This mill site is noted for its spring and fall craft shows. The autumn show, the bigger of the two, starts the third Thursday in October and runs through Sunday.

Woo! Pig! Sooie!

Next stop on our trip was Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas and the Razorbacks. What better way to get into the spirit of the place than to stay at the Inn at Carnall Hall in the northeast corner of UA’s campus? This wonderful 1906 building started life as a girls’ dormitory. The Colonial-Revival style of the building–including Ionic columns, a long front porch and beautiful pine floors–has been retained, while comforts and amenities contemporary travelers expect have been added. The 50-room inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also is a member hotel of Historic Hotels of America.

We unpacked and headed across campus, kicking at the carpet of colored leaves like a couple of kids. Our goal was Dickson Street, a lively area with lots of eateries, bars, boutiques and antiques.

Fayetteville is the home of an American treasure, Charles Banks Wilson. His paintings grace the halls of the Oklahoma State Capitol and hang in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore and the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Heartwood Gallery on Government Street in Fayetteville offers artwork by Wilson.

Terra inconceivable

Another detour, this time from Fayetteville, brought us to Terra Studios, the home of the little glass bluebird of happiness. Sublime and fanciful works in glass and clay are here. Bring your imagination and some money.

Meanwhile, back on Highway 71, we headed for the most scenic section of our foliage tour as it started to drizzle. With a gray sky, the colors blanketing the Boston Mountains were muted, more peach, wheat and rose than brilliant orange, yellow and red. We drove slowly, partly because of the curvy road, stopping at the gift shop Artist Point in Mountainburg (479-369-2226) at the Oklahoma border. Braving the damp, we walked out on the observation deck.

The valley spread out before us. The rolling mountains and Fort Smith Lake presented a stunning panorama even in the mist. Sated with the scenery, we came to a conclusion: It’s not how fast you make the trip, but how much fun you have along the way.

Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.

Sept/Oct 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact:

• Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, (479) 273-2841, www.bbvchamber.com;

• Rogers Convention & Visitors Bureau, (479) 619-3191, www.visitrogersarkansas.com;

• Fayetteville Convention & Visitors Bureau, (800) 766-4626, www.experiencefayetteville.com.

To visit northwest Arkansas, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. List of offices

Order free information about Arkansas through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


^ to top | previous page