Oklahoma City to Little Rock, Arkansas


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North America » United States » Arkansas » Little Rock
April 3rd 2016
Published: April 3rd 2016
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THE BASICS

From OKC on to Tulsa, which has many beautiful homes but a wacky network of highways. The Woody Guthrie museum was a major highlight for me, touching many associated memories. We left a day before tornadoes struck there. Then, at last, we arrived in Arkansas, my last state to visit and John's 49th (he hasn't been to Hawaii). We spent three nights in Eureka Springs, in the northwest corner of the state, in the Ozarks. That town has the most amazing network of short steep streets I have ever seen. And now we are in Little Rock, which we can gaze at from our RV park in North Little Rock, on a bank a few feet from the wide Arkansas River.

THE FLUFF

Between OKC and Tulsa, we went through a small town which had dozens, maybe hundreds, of oil derricks lying in a lot like fallen soldiers. The oil boom is not booming right now. And we visited another of those ubiquitous western small-town museums which is chockful of memorabilia of the town's entire, though very short to an easterner, history.

We arrived in Tulsa on a Sunday, Easter Sunday in fact, and drove into town to get oriented. The city is ringed, boxed, by a system of many highways which head north, south, east, west, or anywhere. It was a challenge to figure out which highway to take and where to exit, and later that day we missed our park by several miles. We walked a bit in downtown Tulsa, which was quite empty that day - us, and homeless folks. Then we drove around a bit and came to the Guthrie Museum. Luckily, because it was open and would be closed the next day, Monday, so we were able to visit.

It's a special museum, in that it has extensive archives where people from all over the country (world?) come to do research. Because my father, and later Tom Kline, were very interested in folk music, I early developed familiarity with Woody's work. So browsing the exhibits was a major memory lane experience. Also, though, I lived in Morris Plains, NJ, and our property bordered the grounds of Greystone Park State Hospital (the hospital buildings were a mile or so away, up a hill). I had heard that Woody spent time at Greystone, but wasn't sure. They verified the fact that indeed, when Huntingdon's disease was ravaging him, he spent some years there. And a couple of years ago, a photographer put together a coffee table size book with archival photos of Greystone as well as current photos of the crumbling buildings, interspersed with memories and photos of Woody, his family, and even records of his stay there. Greystone has recently been levelled, but what memories that book shook in me. My third association was with Woody's son Arlo. By a strange series of circumstances, I traveled from NYC to Philadelphia one day in 1965, and in a small folk club near Rittenhouse Square heard one of the first performances of "Alice's Restaurant." It was extremely memorable because it lasted at least 45 minutes, and the wry humor and ironies were amazing. The later recording of the song paled in comparison.

Since museums are usually closed on Mondays, John planned a nice outdoor day for us next day, enjoying the pleasant weather with a stroll in the botanic gardens, admiring the handsome homes of the tycoons and entrepreneurs who made Tulsa beautiful and prosperous.

We had planned to drive through Bentonville, AR, en route to Eureka Springs, to visit the art museum there but, wouldn't you know, that museum is closed on Tuesdays. So we drove directly to Eureka Springs. Well, directly is not a good word for the roads in northwest Arkansas. We kept encountering signs that promised crooked and steep roads ahead, and they weren't kidding. When we first arrived in Arkansas, we were given a handsome photo book of the state. In it an Ozark folk saying is quoted: "It's not that the mountains are so high, it's that the valleys are so deep." True, true. Yes, there are some lovely rolling hills, but there are also some very deep, steep valleys/gulches. Eureka Springs is truly a unique town. Other hill towns we had enjoyed, like Bisbee AZ and Jerome AZ, are mild in comparison. ES prides itself on having no roads in the downtown area which meet at a perpendicular angle. John and I were stunned when we set off to orient ourselves by driving the historic loop through town. Talk about curves, switchbacks, and plummeting roads!

On Tuesday, we drove back west to Bentonville over a road where we thanked our lucky stars we weren't in the motor home. Lots of curves and switchbacks, but the roads themselves weren't especially steep - just the dropoffs at the sides of the roads. Bentonville is the home of Walmart. There is a charming old town square, and the Walmart Museum is there, housed in the first of the stores, Walton's 5 and 10. The museum is nicely done, and of course presents Sam Walton as a kind employer as well as a smart businessman. I had to wonder, if the empire had stayed in just Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, would it have been able to serve needs of rural people without being accused of underpaying the employees? But it did grow, hugely, and so did that town. We knew there were many employees from India running the computers, so we chose to have lunch at an Indian buffet. Very good.

The wonderful thing in Bentonville is the Crystal Springs Art Museum. Built recently, dedicated to American art. It is worth a visit just to enjoy the architecture of the building, which is enough to make you glad that there are steep hills and gulleys to build a multilevel structure into. The art collection is also outstanding, making it one of the top museums in the country.

When I glanced at a map of Bentonville, I was struck by the name "Slaughterhouse Run" for a large city park. I should be keeping a record of the unusual names we are encountering; e.g. the road through Eureka Springs is the "Pig Trail." Anyway, I was told that Bentonville is a major site for mountain bike races, and that park is part of the route.

We took a "calmer" route back to Eureka Springs, and the next day went into that town for a walk and a coffee treat. The town is full of shops, both touristy and artsy, bars, hotels, small museums. We can't even imagine what the traffic is like on weekends, when there are many more cars negotiating the narrow streets. And lots of motorcycles as well - is Arkansas, the razorback state, where motorcycles started being called "hogs"?

And now we are in Little Rock. We arrived and parked at the Riverside RV Park in North Little Rock. The park is indeed directly beside the Arkansas River, which is way, way wider here than in Salida CO at its headwaters. At one end of the park is a pedestrian/bicycle bridge across the river to the Clinton Presidential Museum! We walked across and also visited the headquarters of Heifer International which is right there as well.

Next day, a Saturday, we drove through the Riverwalk area of the city, which was full of families enjoying a sunny warm day and a Springfest. And watching a 78-year old man rappell down the side of a tall building. We then drove out along the river to visit a dam a few miles above the city. Wonderful walking, running, and bicycle paths all along that parkway. And near that dam is the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge in the country!

Back into town and of course we had to at least drive past Central High School, where nine black youngsters bravely enrolled back in the 60's. The building is stunning. It is immense, the largest high school building I ever remember seeing. And when it was built in 1927, it was called the most beautiful high school in the country. It has sculpted figures, columns, graceful curves - such a pretty contrast to the Clinton Presidential Museum which struck me as very utilitarian architecture (sorry, Bill).

We enjoyed an afternoon of sitting by the river lazily, watching the Saturday-busy activity across the way. And in the evening, after the sun sets, there are colored lights on the bridges, changing in wave patterns. Charming feature.

I must wrap up this blather because today we head to Hot Springs. It's warm and sunny here - and it just stopped snowing at home...

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