Deep in the gorgeous green and pristine foliage of the Ozarks, a summer in the city girl finds a new groove. Now that fall in my hometown of Ohio has arrived, I have even more fond memories of the intense heat and quirky vibe experienced this past summer on my weekend jaunt to Arkansas. Thankfully, my local guide knew the best sites for a wide-eyed traveler like me who enjoys the immersion into local flavor.
Blanchard Springs Caverns – Mountain View, Arkansas
Arkansas has the only US diamond mine, but Mountain View’s quiet disposition belies the additional stunning treasures it holds. Mountain View has a population of approximately 2,876 and is not shy at indicating a juvenile curfew. I may have never located the area without the assistance of the local guide – or worse, I may have bypassed the town completely. Luckily, for those without the local guide, detailed maps are available online and at the Visitor’s Center of another Ozarks jewel Blanchard Springs Caverns. Approximately 15 miles northwest of Mountain View and administered by the USDA Forest Service Ozark-St. Francis National Forests stretches Blanchard Springs Caverns. Adventure seekers, experienced hikers, and curious, nimble cavers will find something to appreciate within the caverns. Three tours are available: Dripstone Trail (shortest trail at 1/2 mile one-way), Discovery Trail (a more strenuous walk, following the path of the original cave explorers, and approximately 1.2 miles), and the Wild Cave Tour (highly physical walk through the middle section of the cave and reservations are required).
Leslie, Arkansas, – Simple Driving Yields Fabulous Local Flavor
Staying with friends in Leslie, Arkansas, my local guide also drove me down Arkansas Highway 66, to which I was told was not the famous Route 66, but it was nonetheless a riveting scenic joyride. The greens of Arkansas nature are not just green – they appear deep emerald. The blues of Arkansas skies aren’t just blue, but they bring to mind crayons with names like cerulean and azure. And the twigs are sometimes not just twigs – they move. They’re called walking sticks – and this city girl had no idea until one rested upon her leg. Perhaps taking in the scenery alongside me, the walking stick was unobtrusive and serene – until my abrupt scream disturbed its reverie. I felt guilty later – both for the disturbance and for screaming like a tourist. Luckily, I was amongst friends – who both assured me the walking stick was harmless and were present to make sure I did not live down the embarrassment of the moment for many years to come. Driving through towns with cute names like Timbo, I was able to forget the walking stick and focus on the more easily observable aspects of nature: recognizable insects (like butterflies), towering trees, flowers, plants, mountain views, and animals (the melancholy irony of seeing a sleek, gorgeous buck fearlessly strut and stroll through the front yard of a hunting lodge will stay with me for awhile). Additionally, roadside attractions, such as the Rainbow Antique Mall, piqued my interest and we had to stop and explore like the mighty tourist I am. I came to see and conquer, after all.
Appetites Sated: Good Friends and Conversation at Wing Shack and El Acapulco
It was a long, productive day of hiking, driving, and sightseeing which led to one mighty appetite. The next day would see a quiet drive back to the Little Rock airport, but before that, we smartly stopped for an early lunch at the Wing Shack, a tasty and comfortable burger joint – large crowds were avoided. The food was hot, well-priced, and of above-average portions. A late dinner at El Acapulco in nearby Conway, offered us again the opportunity to avoid large crowds and chat amiably and leisurely about the day’s events, while enjoying yummy Mexican food at reasonable prices. Additional recommendations while visiting the Ozarks: Yoder’s Country Cupboard Mellon’s Country Store China Town Restaurant Pool Military Surplus & Flea Market