Arkansas has been experiencing an upsurge in interest from traveling Texans ever since President Bill Clinton invited Ame:ica to “come on down” and visit The Natural State during the Democratic National Convention last July. Arkansas has always been a favorite destination for travelers from the lone Star State, but interest has surged in recent months.
Arkansas tourism officials echo the President’s invitation to “come on down” and see what Arkansas’s all about (even if, for Texans, the operable quote should be “conte on up.,.”).
Here’s a look at all that Arkansas has to offer its southwestern neighbors:
A rapidly developing Clinton trail includes stops at Hope (his birthplace), Hot (Springs (his boyhood home), Fayetteville (where he aid Hillary married and where both taught at the University of Arkansas Law School) and Little Rock (the state capital where the couple have lived during his two years as Attorney General and 12 years as Governor). There are homes to visit in each city, along with schools and other sites in the first three locations, and the Old State House, State Capitol building and Governor’s Mansion in the latter.
The font cities are well-known, of course, for other reasons:
Hope for its giant watermelons and an arresting Watermelon Festival each August as well as Old Washington Historic State Park, nine miles to the north; and Hot Springs for thermal bathing in one of the nation’s oldest national parts, thoroughbred horse racing from late January through mid-April, a thriving arts community and a host of visitor attractions. Fayetteville boasts the handsome University of Arkansas campus and the smashing new multi-million dollar Walton Arts Center; and Little Rock offers such traditional visitor attractions as the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, Arkansas Arts Center, Decorative Arts Museum, Museum of Science and History and the Quapaw Quarter area of restored 19th and early 20th century homes.
A fascinating Victorian resort city in the northwest Arkansas Ozarks, this gem of historic preservation has been welcoming travelers since its founding in 1879. Its Great Passion Play is the largest religious outdoor drama in the United States, playing in a 4,400-seat amphitheater from late April through October every night except Mondays and Thursdays. Country music shows, visitor attractions that range horn museums to a dinner train, two great lakes for fishing and water sports, a cave, a brand new botanical garden and a downtown shopping district that’s listed on the National Register mean that the little town is bursting with things to see and do.
“The folk capital of America” was hidden away in a lost valley deep within the Ozarks until quite recently. Today its pioneer heritage is preserved, displayed and interpreted at the unique Ozark Folk Center State Park, an 80-acre complex of stone and western cedar buildings which occupies a mountainous setting just outside town. Here the arts, crafts, music and lore of the settlers are served up for the edification of visitors from April through November each year. Such crafts as pottery, weaving, spinning, wild foods foraging, apple head doll making and blacksmithing are demonstrated during the day, while in the evening musicians take center stage to play and sing the ballads, jig tunes and square dances handed down from generation to generation. Just 14 miles away, Blanchard Springs Caverns has been called the “cave find of the 20th century.” It is the only cavern in the U.S. which has been developed and staffed by the Forest Servies, and its vast spaces and stunning formations will take your breath away.
WORLD CLASS TROUT FISHING
The White, Little Red and Spring Rivers harbor record breaking populations of rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout in their icy depths. Johnboat safaris to land the scrappy trout are a time-honored “extra value” Arkansas vacation opportunity that guarantees a brimming stringer of trophies each and every time. A 40 lb., 4 oz. world-record brown was the prize achieved by a local angler on the Little Red last year, and there are even bigger fish where that monster came from. Try your skills; you might be a winner, too.
BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
The country’s first stream to be awarded national river status in 1972, the Buffalo is the centerpiece of a 125-mile linear park containing 95,000 acres of untrammeled scenic beaut)’. Canoeing is exciting when the river surges during springtime rains; at other periods of the year it’s a gentle giant on which families can drift and dream, taking Sequent breaks to explore box canyons, hidden waterfalls and 500 foot bluffs. An expanding network of hiking trails and park developments at Buffalo Point and Tyler Bend add to the appeal of this unfettered beauty.
Deep South in outlook and feeling, this handsome old river port boasts the mighty Mississippi at its doorstep and is backed by miles of lushly fertile cotton, rice and soybean fields. A rich collection of preserved antebellum and Victorian homes adds distinction to this town which contributed seven generals to the Confederate cause during the Civil War. The newly opened Delta Cultural Center celebrates the planter economy that flourishes along the mighty river, featuring exhibits that explore the land, early settlement, farming operations, ethnic diversity, natural disasters and the blues that sprang from this fertile soil. Also here, the Helena Reach Mississippi River Park ties the city to the river for the first time in many years, providing a docking facility for both the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen Steamboats, scheduled to begin regular visits in 1993. A short distance from the Cultural Center, the Helena Marketplace contains antiques, crafts, foods and music of the Delta. A farmer’s market spreads outside.
FORT SMITH/VAN BUREN
History lives in Fort Smith and Van Buren, twin cities on the state’s western border with Oklahoma. The Fort Smith National Historic Site features the authentically furnished courtroom, recreated gallows, and “Hell a 1 the Border” jail of Hanging Judge, Isaac Parker, who brought law and order to the unruly frontier in the waning days of the 19th century. The Old Fort Museum recounts the decades of development which have taken place since the fort’s 1817 founding, and a 1930s trolley gives visitors a bref nostalgic ride just outside. The 22-block Belle Grove historic district includes the city’s visitors center housed at Miss Laura’s (the only former bordello listed on the National Register) along with the city’s art center, a patent model museum, a brew pub, and several museum houses. Across the Arkansas River, Van Buren boasts a historic distria which includes a restored opera house, crafts and antiques shops, and an excursion train which makes site seeing runs through the Boston Mountain Range of the Ozarks on weekends. The Frontier Belle Excursion Boat is also docked here.
Few states in mid-America offer the range of driving adventures .Arkansas provides. Tops on any Texan’s list of great motoring experiences is the Talimena Scenic Byway which winds for 55 miles across the crests of Winding Stair and Rich mountains from Talihina, Ok. to Mena, Ark. And Highway 7 Scenic Byway is often named one of the 10 most beautiful drives in the country. It runs south to north, border to border, passing through El Dorado, Camden, Arkadelphia, Hot Springs, Russelhille and Harrison. Along the way both the Ouachita and Ozark National Forests provide a leafy backdrop at roadside, and the Buffalo, Arkansas and Ouachita Rivers are chief among the numerous rivers and streams it crosses. In eastern Arkansas, the Great River Road is a series of marked highways paralleling the Mississippi which leads to numerous attractions in the state’s most historic region. Other great drives include U.S. 71 and 62 and State Highways 59, 23, 21, 14, 9 and 5 in the Ozarks; U.S. 70 and 270 and State Highways 8, 9, 10 and 27 in the Ouachitas. U.S. 165 leads through the Grand Prairie rice and duck hunting habitat, and U.S. 82 links Arkansas’ southern tier of counties. And the Great River Road is a marked route which parallels the Mississippi in eastern Arkansas.
ARKANSAS STATE PARKS
Celebrating its 60th anniversary in 1993, the Arkansas State Parks system includes 47 state parks and museums which preserve and interpret the natural, scenic, historic and cultural heritage of this proud state. Twenty-six parks offer campgrounds, and 36 have hiking trails. In addition to the Ozark Folk Center and Old Washington, you’ll enjoy Petit Jean, near Morrilton, the flagship state park in the system; DeGray Lake Resort, complete with 96-room lodge and conference center with its own 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and marina; Devil’s Den and Prairie Grove Battlefield, both west of Fayetteville; Village Creek, the state’s largest at just under 7,000 acres north of Forrest City; and Toltec Mounds, an archeological site east of North Little Rock. Parkin Mound Archeological State Park is Arkansas’ newest, located near Wynne.
OTHER GREAT ARKANSAS ADVENTURES
You can learn how the West was won at Fort Smith and Van Buren on the state’s western border…ride the rails through the beauty of the Ozarks on an excursion train that runs from Springdale to Van Buren on weekends…backpack the 225-mile-long Ouachita Hiking trad from Little Rock into Oklahoma or the 168-mile-long Ozark Highlands Trail from Lake Fort Smith State Park to the Buffalo National River…test your mettle against the state’s wildest canoe stream, the Cossatot (only experts need apply)…have your picture made while standing in two states in Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.; relive the excitement of black gold fever at El Dorado and Smackover; and fish, water-ski, houseboat or bird watch on the state’s 13 great lakes.
Begin your “come on up” vacation in The Natural State by contacting the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, One Capitol Mall, little Rock, Ark. 72201. Phone: 1-800-NATURAL for one of America’s complete vacation planning kits.