Road Tripping Around Arkansas (Part 2)
Foggy Mount Magazine Trails
Our Arkansas road trip continued…
We left Harrison and the Buffalo National River area headed to Eureka Springs. We got an early morning start so we decided to take a detour through Branson, MO. Honestly, a detailed visit to Branson will have to wait post-Covid, since the sidewalks were bustling with unmasked people. We would like to stay at the Hilton Hotel overlooking the White River. The scenic background and great location of this hotel make it very appealing to us. After our quick drive through Branson we drove to the nearby Table Rock State Park to hike the White River Valley Red Loop. (The greeting at the park ranger station and the restroom at the trailhead were severe disappointments after the great experiences in Arkansas!) The flat hike was a good break in our drive. (We did the 2.0-mile hike in 1:22.) We still had one more place that I had seen in magazines and wanted to see in person—Big Cedar Lodge—so we took a detour to drive through the impressive grounds of this huge complex. Again, post-Covid, I think this would be a great place for a family get together.
We arrived in Eureka Springs around 4:30 pm and checked into Lookout Lodge. Lookout Lodge is a small family-owned hotel located about a mile from downtown Eureka Springs. It is on a trolley stop which is convenient. (We opted not to take the trolley to maintain our social distancing.) The family was very friendly and took additional cleaning protocols that made us feel safe. We decided to go into downtown to see some sights. We parked near the local library since it was Sunday evening and parking was free. We hiked up Howell Street, which was the steepest hike we had during our entire trip. We were hoping to visit the 1886 Crescent Hotel and its Sky Bar with its view of the Christ of the Ozarks statue. Unfortunately for us but good for guests, only guests can currently enter the hotel due to Covid, so we will save that adventure for another trip. Directly behind the hotel is the historic St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church built in 1906. This church and its grounds had left such an impression on me from a trip when I was small that I had to visit again. As we entered the complex through the bell tower, we could see the beautiful grounds and the statues of the 14 Stations of the Cross. St. Francis’ statue still stands as I remembered it. (We were not able to enter the picturesque chapel because of the time, but we did visit again another day.) We walked around downtown, but we left quickly because many people in the streets were not wearing masks. (A hint: Parking was free and convenient between the hotel and the church.)
We left early the next morning for Bentonville via Arkansas’ Golden Gate Bridge...only to find the road is closed because the bridge is being worked on. (Another trip, perhaps?) We made it to the Crystal Bridges Art Museum a little late for our reserved time, but they let us in, wearing our masks and socially distanced, of course. Both the building and the surrounding gardens of Crystal Bridges Art Museum were beautiful. We wandered through the many diverse exhibits and outside past Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1956 Bachman-Wilson House. The house was not open when we were there due to Covid-19, but we would love to go back and visit it. We also did not get to see the North Forest Lights night-time exhibit. (We did not want to drive back to Eureka Springs on the scenic, but winding, roads, after dark.)
We made several stops on our return to Eureka Springs, the first of which was at Thorncrown Chapel. The chapel, with its 425 windows and 6,000 square feet of glass, is a beautiful retreat for meditation and prayer in the Ozarks. The story of the chapel, built by E. Fay Jones who was a mentee of Frank Lloyd Wright, is both interesting and moving (https://thorncrown.com/aboutus.html ). The natural materials used in the construction make the chapel melt into the beautiful scenery that surrounds it and provides a welcome respite of the busy world.
After our meaningful stop at Thorncrown Chapel, we went to Lake Leatherwood City Park for a hike of the Fuller Trail along the lakeshore. Across the lake, we were able to see some peaks of fall foliage as trees took on a yellowish cast. Our most memorable moment is captured only in our minds as a beautiful formation of geese flew over the lake, the underbellies reflected in the lake so clearly that it was difficult to decide which was the real image.
Lake Leatherwood and Christ of the Ozarks
We also stopped at the Christ of the Ozarks statue and the grounds of The Passion Play. (I had seen The Passion Play on my previous visit so, with Covid and the threat of rain, we opted not to attend.) The 67-foot statue has towered over Eureka Springs from its home on Magnetic Mountain since its completion in 1966. We enjoyed walking around the grounds and seeing the beautiful scenery in the valley below.
The next morning was our only day of rain during our 11-day trip. While the rain slowed us down, it changed to mist fairly quickly, so we were able to continue our exploration without being drenched. We returned to St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church to visit the interior and then walked downhill to see more of Eureka Springs. While everyone inside stores carefully wore masks, those outside congregating in front of the stores’ entrances were not so careful so we left quickly. (This trip we parked by St. Elizabeth’s and walked down, making certain not to walk up Howell Street when we returned.)
Quigley Castle, an intriguing home outside of Eureka Springs, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was designed and built by Mrs. Elise Quigley with rocks that she started collecting as a child. The house, “castle” seems to be an exaggeration, has four feet of bare ground between the walls and the flooring. This space contains vegetation that Mrs. Quigley planted 70+ years ago. Concrete holds millions of fossils, rocks, gems, and arrowheads that cover the exterior of the house and adorn the many benches, birdbaths, and other garden decorations. The current owner, the granddaughter of Mrs. Quigley, welcomed us to the house.
We made a quick stop at the Funnel Cake Factory (Thank goodness for a 15-minute loading zone in front of it.) before adventuring to Pivot Rock and Natural Bridge. This attraction is privately owned so an admission fee is charged. Finding the Gift Shop where the hike starts was challenging for us, even with a huge sign that said it was 1 mile ahead. (If you attempt to go to Pivot Rock, believe the sign. It is 1 mile from the sign at the end of the road.) The hike was an easy break. The pivot rock is a short pedestal rock, but we still had fun. We also discovered many “fairy houses,” at least that’s what I called them. People had stacked flat rocks to make Asian-looking structures perfect for fairies to live in.
We decided to take the Fuller Trail around Lake Leatherwood one more time because we needed more walking before picking up Thai food at the Thai House Restaurant which was excellent. (We picked up from the Horseshoe Grill one night for another good meal.)
Although there were some things left to do in Eureka Springs—Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, the highest zipline in Arkansas, a drink at the Crescent Hotel—we still felt that three nights was probably too long. Next visit, post-Covid, we would stay in the downtown area so we would not have to take the trolley or try to park.)
The sun was shining brightly the next morning as we left Eureka Springs and headed for Devil’s Den State Park. Our first trail once we arrived was the Devil’s Yellow Rock Trail, another trail listed on Joe Jacobs’ “Seven Favorite Day Hiking Trails in Arkansas.” (https://www.arkansasoutside.com/7-favorite-day-hiking-trails-in-arkansas/ ) The scenery on this 3-mile hike, completed in 2 hours, was very pretty with great visibility. We hiked around giant rock formations, some with sharp drop-offs over sheer rock faces. The trail has 2 trailheads with one being an overlook of Lee Creek Valley. The overlook, like the lodge and water tower in Petit Jean State Park, was built by the CCC. After Devil’s Yellow Rock Trail, we took the 1.3 Mile Devil’s Den Trail. One of our favorite discoveries along this hike was the hundreds of stone fairy houses. It felt as though we climbed more than 157 feet, but we finished the hike in just 50 minutes and left for Paris…Arkansas that is. (If you drive from Devil’s Den State Park to Paris, AR, make certain you have a map downloaded before you leave. We had no cell service at many points along our way.)
Devil's Den State Park
We stopped for a photo op at Paris, Arkansas in front of its picturesque Eiffel Tower. This 25-foot tower (18 feet plus the 7-foot base containing a fountain) is painted with the same colors and brand as the original Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. We did not take time to visit the Logan County Courthouse and Museum or walk the charming square but, instead, headed on to Mount Magazine. (We stopped in Paris, Texas after our Arkansas road trip so we could compare the two cities.)
As we started up the mountain on the yellow flower-lined road, we ascended into fog that was so dense the lines on the sides of the road were often obscured. We arrived, white-knuckled, at Mount Magazine Lodge and decided not to try a hike since our line of sight was severely limited. The lodge was the only place during our trip that we stayed in with internal hallways; however, the hallways were spacious, and everyone was very careful to wear masks whenever they were not in their rooms. We ordered from the restaurant’s very limited menu and were called when it was ready to pick up. Our room had a balcony, allegedly overlooking the scenic valley below, but the fog was so dense that we could not see beyond the railing. We did enjoy eating in the large room and imagining what the view would be the next day.
Morning broke…we think. The fog was still so thick that we could not see past our balcony, but by 10:00 enough fog had burned off that we felt safe leaving for the last hike on our list as recommended by Arkansas Outside. (We missed the Big Bluff/Goat Trail in the Buffalo Wilderness Area. We just ran out of time.) The North Rim Trail was easily accessible from the lodge. It was somewhat slippery because of the fog, but not dangerously so. Unfortunately, the trail was overgrown in some places, but it was doable. We did hear and see more birds than we had on any other trails we hiked this trip, maybe because it was less trafficked. We were able to identify a hooded warbler based on the pictures at the Visitors Center that provided a great break in our hike and a mid-point as we headed back down the trail. (2.2 miles in 1 hour)
Mount Magazine State Park
In the afternoon we took the Signal Hill Trail to reach the highest place in Arkansas (1.5 miles) for the last hike of our trip. We also had time to enjoy the non-foggy views of the lodge and the valley below.
All too soon time was up, and we were headed home. We far surpassed our goal of hiking/walking 50 miles in 10 days; indeed, we succeeded in clocking 80 miles and lots of socially-distanced fun on our trip. I have to admit that I miss visiting cities and towns and eating in restaurants, but health is always most important. (But when the pandemic is over….)