Arkansas

image


5/25/2007  Friday 

We headed across the Mississippi Delta region of Arkansas.  It was very hot out.  The roads were better because they were harder packed, but the landscape was field after field of grains, rice and corn.  There were many old houses with beat up, rusted out cars in the back yard followed by a field of crops – like so many photos and paintings I have seen.  We stopped in the town of Clarendon for gas and afterwards, my bike would not start again.  After a few failed attempts to push start the bike, we rolled it away from the pumps and took a break for lunch.  This town was horrible!  Everyone that passed through the gas station looked like they had lived a short, hard life.  After lunch, a local in a pickup truck helped Das push start the bike – eventually using his pickup to do the pushing.  Das rode up the highway for a while trying to get a charge back in the battery.  When he came back to the gas station, he turned off the ignition.  I geared up and it wouldn’t start again.  I was able to start the bike with Das and another local pushing.  We kept it going – riding as quickly as possible to get away from that horrible town.  We rode a lot of dirt – about 70% of 180 miles.  I was exhausted and ready for the day to end.  After a bit of exploration, we found free camping at the US Corp of Engineers overflow camping area on Greers Ferry Dam.  It was very busy with lots of other campers. 

5/26/2007  Saturday

Our plan was to make a short day.  We rode out intending to do about 70-80 miles and find camping.  The roads were really nice – hard packed gravel, dirt, and stones through picturesque hills, farms and ranches.  We stopped over a river crossing for a snack and decided to press on before having lunch.  We stopped in Scotland at the Post Office – a very small building with a large shade tree on the corner of the road.  We pulled the chairs from my bike and picnicked by the road.  We looked around the maps and discussed the road ahead.  Arkansas has so much to offer – it is truly a ‘misunderstood’ state that not many people frequent for tourism.  We decided to push a little further before finding a camp spot. 

The road became more challenging with steeper grades and more rock outcrops.  I stalled and dropped the bike on a steep left uphill curve. I was feeling pretty lousy and frustrated.  He wanted me to back up and try the hill/turn again.  Now I had the pressure of him watching me as I tried to conquer this stupid hill…I put it into 1st gear and gunned it up the hill.  

We moved on and the rest of the roads were easier to negotiate.  The area we were riding though had lots of small tracks leading off of it into the forest.  They appeared to be mainly 4x4 or 4 wheeler tracks.  We found campground called Bayou Bluff near the Illinois Bayou River.  It did not have showers, but it did have fresh water.  What was meant to be a shorter day had turned into 7 hours of riding. 

Darren was wondering if there was a store nearby.  I approached a family camping near us and asked if they knew where the closest store was.  They offered some of their beer to us and offered for us to join them later around their camp.  There names were Earl and April and they had 4 boys with them ranging between 11 and 16 years old.  Darren drank a few of their beers and we all chatted for a little while.  They were nice people.

5/27/2007 Sunday

Neither Darren nor I felt up to packing up and moving on, so we agreed to just hang out for the day and camp there another night.  We accepted a ride to the grocery store from Earl and April.  We got some ice and splurged on some eggs, OJ and bacon.  We all went down to the river with our camp chairs and hung out with our feet in the water.  Earl showed Darren how to use his fishing pole and he rather enjoyed it.  

Casey, April and Earl hanging out on the Illinois Bayou River

We had fried rice for dinner and it was the best meal we have had since leaving Atlanta.

5/28/2007  Memorial Day

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the morning and packed up the camp.  We covered a few gravel roads before joining Hwy 7 – a scenic highway leading north through the Ozarks.  At a scenic overlook, I read about how the Ozarks are not actually mountains at all, but are actually a very large plateau that had risen from the earth’s surface - which is why all the ‘peaks’ are about the same height.  Over many years, valleys had been cut into the plateau forming the mountain-like quality of the area.  It began to rain as we passed through the hills, but we could see clear skies ahead, so we just rode through it.  This road had a few nice curves, but didn’t offer the constant sweeping turns and great views of the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee.  I realized that riding that road in Tennessee spoiled me with its scenic views. 

In one of the visitor’s guides I saw a listing for a motorcycle exclusive campground 5 miles outside of Eureka Springs, so we decided to check it out.  Iron Horse Stables caters mostly to cruiser riders and when we pulled up, we got a few strange looks.  We set up camp and it began to rain again.  We hung out at the bar and Darren enjoyed the $1.50 Budweiser. 

A couple from south Alabama came up to the bar.  They were in town for a wedding and was also camping.  They were both very nice.  The fellow shared 2 small bottles of liquor with Darren while we all hung out and chatted before stumbling off to bed.  

5/29/2007 Tuesday 

Staying up late and drinking resulted in the usual sleeping in late and feeling lazy.  We slugged around most of the day doing laundry and watching the rain pass.  We both wanted to leave, but the rain and gloom kept us from the motivation it took to pack up and move on.

In the afternoon, we finally geared up and rode the bikes into Eureka Springs to check out the town.  There was a light drizzle of rain in the air, but not too bad.  Parking in town cost about $5 anywhere we went.  Perhaps we could have gotten away with not paying or street parking with the bikes, but we didn’t risk it.  It was Tuesday afternoon after the big Memorial Day Weekend and lots of shops were already closed for the day.  We walked the winding rock streets checking out the interesting architecture and amazing construction of the buildings.  There were rock outcrops everywhere and so many of the buildings were built right into or on top of the natural rock.  It produced a very impressive natural look to the place.  It wasn’t hard to see why artists are drawn to the town.  We stopped at a café and ordered a couple of sodas.  Darren was tempted to have a meal there, but with the prices close to $20 per meal, I became the sensible one and brought him back to reality.  We walked into some of the few galleries and shops that were still opened.  I really enjoy visiting art galleries. 

One of the owners at the campground told us to watch out for a sign outside one of the many Eureka Springs ‘bathhouses’.  The bathhouse is a now a reputable spa business using the natural spring water in the area to draw in wealthy tourists.  This particular bathhouse was once a brothel and the sign outside has remained in the same distinctive shape – We couldn’t help but take a photo…

We stopped at the grocery store for dinner a friendly woman spoke to us and mentioned that he husband worked for CycleGadgets.  Darren had purchased some items from them in preparation for the trip and was surprised to hear that they had recently moved the business to Eureka Springs.  Her name was Mama Jean and she recommended for us to stop by there and check out their warehouse and showroom.   

There were no other patrons at the motel/campground that night and the owner and staff all left about 8:30.  We helped ourselves to the lounge room and used the big screen television to watch one of the movies we had brought with us.  It was good to sit around and just watch TV for a change. 

5/30/2007 Wednesday 

Darren had seen Roscoe’s Espresso & Internet Café (155 W. Van Buren) the day before and we headed there.  It was nearly noon when we arrived and the sign outside indicated that they were open from 8am to noon daily.  We cheekily waltzed in and Darren asked the cost of the Internet access – which was free with the acceptance of ‘donations’.  The owner – Roscoe himself – was also a motorcycle enthusiast.  He was very interested in our bikes and our trip.  While I uploaded the website, Darren and Roscoe chatted about bikes, other adventure riders and recommendations.  He also recommended for us to drop by CycleGadgets. 

Once we arrived at CycleGadgets (14920 Highway 187), Darren was very impressed with the business.  There was a large warehouse, a showroom and multiple offices.  According to the brochure, Sean and a friend, both avid motorcyclists, started the business as a part-time venture and it had grown into a full time operation with 9 staff members.  Sean was happy to help us investigate the concerns with the bike2bike communication, as well as show us around the warehouse.

By the time we finally rode out of Eureka Springs, it was already late into the afternoon.  We headed south to Withrow Springs State Park.  There was a very obnoxious couple camping with a cruiser with a pull-along trailer.  The woman was extremely drunk and loud.  We were grateful that they did not try to speak with us.  We had electricity at the site, so we plugged up the laptop and watched another movie we had brought with us. 

5/31/2007 Thursday 

In the morning, we decided to take a hike.  Withrow State Park was a small park, but it had a few walking trails.  The trail we took had a lot of variety and was less than 2 miles.  It started near our campsite through the woods, crossed the hwy and entered a field with very high grasses – over waist high.  We saw a deer running from us through the grass as we started through the trail.  The trail went along a ridge overlooking a river with nice views of the farmhouses and rolling hills in the distance.  As we continued, the trail became dangerously close to the ridge and actually had metal guide rails to assist hikers across the potentially slippery rocks.  Eventually we came to a cave.  We realized that we had forgotten our flashlights, but we did have the camera.  So Darren used the light from the camera to flash some light into the cave as we entered.  It was a very large, wide opening.  I am sure we could have ventured further with lights, but I was grateful that we did not.  I don’t particularly like closed–in spaces.  The trail opens up with a path through plants that attract various butterflies and dragonflies, which we tried to photograph.  The trail ends down by the riverside under a bridge at the highway.  We walked the highway back to the park rather than returning on the trial.  

After getting back and taking a shower, it was nearly 2 pm. We agreed to just stay in the park another night rather than break camp to ride only a couple of hours and have to set up again. 

We went on another trail through the forest.  It was nowhere as nice as the first trail and was full of ticks.  They were all over our clothing and we spent a considerable amount of time stopping to pick them off. 

After an early dinner, we took another walk – hoping to see some wildlife.  We took the same trail we had taken in the morning with a bit more speed.  Although we saw little wildlife, it was good to get some exercise.  

6/1/2007 Friday

Once again the weekend was upon us.  We rode back towards the area we had left the TAT nearly a week prior.  It was a relaxed ride across the River Valley Region of Arkansas heading East on Highway 16.  The road was a collection of gentle curves through the hills and valleys of the Ozarks.  We called it a short day and ended up at Long Pool Recreation Area with a fabulous campsite overlooking the blue-green tinted river.  The area is very popular with what locals call ‘floaters’ – those canoeing, rafting or kayaking.  We would call them ‘paddlers’ back in Georgia.  We headed into town (Dover) for groceries – it was actually the same grocery store we had visited nearly a week earlier with April and Earl. Darren wanted a nicer dinner, so we got some steaks, baking potatoes, broccoli and onion.  Darren also got some eggs and a potato for breakfast.  We baked the potatoes and grilled the broccoli over the coals in tin foil that I bummed from other campers.  It was the best meal yet on the road – and hardly any dishes!  We went to bed fairly early, but Darren was awakened by the sound of something outside the tent.  Although I had been careful to put all of our groceries into my top box, Raccoons had smelled the leftover food in our small cooler and were determined to figure out how to get to it.  The little rascals were dragging he entire cooler off.  It was about 10 foot from the picnic table when Darren recovered it! 

6/2/2007 Saturday 

Today we are back on the TAT.  It was a great riding day!  The tracks were slightly more challenging – rocky and steeper, but the scenery was fantastic!  We crossed over an area called White Mountain that was particularly picturesque.  Many of the roads ran along the mountain ridges with great views.  I had a wild turkey run across my path and then fly along beside the trail through the woods.  Both Darren and I saw deer along the path, as well as rabbits and turtles.  We rode for about 5 hours and decided to head to Devil’s Den State Park along paved roads.  I wanted to see it before we left Arkansas.  As we entered there was a huge red sign stating ‘CAMPSITE FULL’.  We decided to enter anyway and see if there was any alternative.  Highway 74 is a winding road with multiple switchbacks leading into the park.  The ranger at the visitor’s center told us there was only one campsite left.  It was a ‘walk-in’ only site located about ¼ mile into the forest across a river.  We accepted it and rode it.  Darren was upset by the amount of people at the park and had not realized that the ranger was literal when she said we would have to ‘cross a river’ – there was no bridge.  The water was only shin high, but it was a bit of a pain to carry all of our gear over and up through the woods.  Of course our designated campsite was the furthest from the river.  We passed a group of about 12 young people sitting around a group fire pit.  It was obvious to me that they were a church youth group on an outing.  Darren found them quite entertaining…

Searching for groceries and a bottle shop, we ended up riding all the way to Fayetteville, the college town of the University of Arkansas. We ate at a Backyard Burger that had inside seating.  It was nice to have a meal prepared by someone else!  As we were finishing our meal, a fellow on an old BMW rode slowly into the parking lot.  He was seriously checking out our bikes.  He made a u-turn in the parking lot to take another look.  He had a streak of long white hair coming from his rather worn Shuberth helmet.  Darren went outside to chat with him.  His name was Paul and he was intrigued by our motorcycles and took multiple photos of both bikes and of us with a camera he carried in the pannier of his late 70’s R90.  We all stood around and chatted for a while about the bikes and what we were doing.  As he was checking out our bikes, he realized that he had heard of us.  He was friends with Roscoe in Eureka Springs and had already heard of our bikes and our trip.  It was good to meet another passionate motorcyclist – it brightened the end of our day.

We rode back to the camp in the dark.  Crossed the river and hike through the woods to our campsite where we sat around listening to the radio. 

6/3/2007  Sunday

Today we would explore the park.  We went to the café for lunch.  The meal was good, but also expensive for our budget and we honestly could have split one meal and been satisfied with the amount of food.   Outside the café and store there were bats living in the rafters of the pavilion outside.  We took the obligatory photos. 

We walked the Yellow Rock trail, a 3-mile hike to an overlook, which was nice, but actually not as impressive as the ‘Yellow Rock’ located in the center of the trail.  It was a rocky ridge that provides scenic views of the river valley below.  I can imagine that the view is really spectacular in autumn colors. 

We had decided that we wanted a better campsite.  We both had gotten a poor night’s sleep because the tent had to be erected on a slope.  Since it was Sunday, a lot of the weekend campers were leaving.  We decided to move closer to the river, but we still had to wade across it go from the motorcycles to the campsite. 

After moving, we walked the Devil’s Den trail, which has lots of highlights – including caves, caverns, waterfalls, springs and the river running nearby.  As we were walking, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted a deer and fawn on the bank of the river.  There were tourists all around, including in the river and further along the trail.  The deer seemed a little distressed at being surrounded by people, but was obviously more comfortable with human behavior than the average deer.  The fawn was so dainty, with white spots on it’s body just like illustrations of Bambi.  It went running across the river and it’s mother darted away as well.  We watched them emerge on our side of the river a nit upstream.  Darren was able to get a few photos of them.  Later in the walk, we entered Devil’s Den cave, the park’s namesake.  We didn’t go terribly far, but enough to appreciate that it was an extensive series of caves and caverns. 

We were exhausted after the day of walking.  Darren made a fire and we listened to the radio and the sounds of the Christian Youth Group singing praises to God from their camp further up the trail… 

6/4/2007 Monday

We decided to hang out at Devil’s Den one more day to take care of some logistics because neither of us could be bothered with breaking camp.  So we took care of the laundry and took long showers before taking in one more trail.  It was the Lee Creek trail.  It was only a mile loop, but half of it is walking through the river.  Our water shoes came in very handy for this.  Although the rocky bottom of the river was generally very easy to navigate, I was lucky enough to find the slippery bit and fall into the river!  Luckily my REI pants dry very quickly! 

The visitor’s center at the park had a free book exchange and had picked up a few novels to read.  I spent the evening writing and reading while Darren listened to the radio and seemed rather bored.  He went to bed early and I stayed up reading for a while.  Eventually the sounds of the forest creatures at night made me nervous and I headed for the shelter of the tent and Darren.  I know that the sound is likely to only be more raccoons, but there aren’t too many people who enjoy sitting by themselves in a heavily wooded area while multiple unseen animals move through the woods around you. 

6/5/2007 Tuesday

We packed up slowly – having to cart all of our gear across the river before reloading the motorbikes.  Highway 220 leading from the park back to the TAT was actually a dirt road.  We took the TAT Northwestwardly towards the Oklahoma border.  We had eaten most of our groceries and needed other supplies, so broke away from the trail to head to Siloam Springs, a town with a population of about 10,000.  As usual, Super Wal-Mart has everything we need!  It was after 3 pm when we emerged from our shopping spree and we were both a bit hungry.  Darren had noticed a local BBQ place across the street from Wal-Mart and we agreed to check it out. 

Tower BBQ in Siloam Springs was the best BBQ that either of us had ever eaten.  The hickory-smoked pork was flavorful and moist even without the sauce – and the modest amount of sauce that was on the sandwich did not overpower the meat.  It was great!  We really enjoyed the splurge on lunch and felt it was definitely worth the money we spent!

We crossed into Oklahoma on Hwy 412 and headed for the visitor’s center.  We picked up information about OK’s state parks, campgrounds and maps. 

Then we backtracked a few miles to stay at Natural Falls State Park just across the Arkansas/Oklahoma border (OK side).  The park was small and simple.  It was only $8 for tent camping and Darren was glad to be in a place were the motorbikes, bath facilities and our campsite was all within a close walk (no rivers to cross!).  There was a couple of walking trails, but besides the small waterfall, the scenery around the park was rather boring.  There was a swampy creek that led from the falls that quickly smelled from the moss and life growing on the waters stagnant surface. 

Returning to the camp, I spent some time correlating the TAT maps with the highway map we had picked up from the visitor’s center so we could identify point of interest and state parks with camping along the way.  Darren called his parents for a quick update and was glad to hear that they had been enjoying reading the travelogues and following our journey. 


image

Click here to view other travelogues

image