There are certain parts of America that are rather unfairly termed “the flyover states” by people on the East and West coasts. Arkansas is very much on of those states, but that wasn’t about to put us off making a couple of stops in the state that gave the world Johnny Cash and Bill Clinton – two of our favourite ever Americans!
We left Memphis, crossed the Mississippi and we’re straight into Arkansas. After stopping for some brunch at Cracker Barrell we headed straight for the state capital Little Rock just a two hour drive away. Little Rock occasionally makes an appearance on lists of America’s most dangerous cities and it was only really in our consciousness as a result of Clinton’s terms as Governor, but a little research revealed a couple of cool stops we could make.
Our first appointment was at the William J Clinton Presidential Library which sits in beautifully reclaimed parkland on the banks of the Arkansas River. As with most Presidential libraries you have the replica Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, but given that Clinton was such a big personality for much of our formative years it was the archives of his major achievements and campaign paraphernalia that excited us the most. Predictably the Lewinsky affair does not feature too heavily…
After we’d gorged on Clinton history we took the short walk along the river road to the Flying Fish restaurant. Once we’d made it to the front of the lengthy queue we sat in our booth and chowed down on some tasty fried catfish followed by a massive piece of key lime pie. Batteries recharged we got back in the car destined for one of the key Civil Rights battlegrounds – Little Rock Central High School.
In 1957 this unassuming high school became the centre of the Civil Rights world as nine black students stood up to the racist Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus (who was himself defying the decision of the Supreme Court to allow desegregation) and enrolled in what was previously an exclusively white school. It required the mobilisation of the National Guard to protect the students who had to endure terrible abuse and violence, but they would ultimately go on to become icons of the Civil Rights movement and all would later be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Clinton himself.
We decided against making Little Rock our stop over in Arkansas and instead we set off for the Ozark Mountains, three hours to the north and west of the state capital. Eureka Springs is sometimes referred to as an oasis of Democrat blue in the sea of Republican red in Arkansas – the accuracy of that description will depend on your political leanings but we certainly didn’t regret making this tiny town in the mountains our next stop.
Before we arrived in Eureka Springs we had one quick stop to make. Christ of the Ozarks, or Milk Carton Jesus as he’s also known, is a 22 metre tall statue overlooking the Ozark Mountains. The setting is beautiful. The execution is…slightly odd. In the grounds of the statue during the summer there is also the Great Passion Play, in which the story of Jesus is acted out by a cast of hundreds in a 4,000 seat amphiteatre. We didn’t have tickets…
We stayed at the Rock Cottage Gardens just outside of town where you rent tiny cottages by the night. Ours – the Crystal Cottage – came complete with a hot tub and chocolate covered strawberries, it was awesome. After a walk around the pretty downtown where you can buy all manner of tourist tat we headed back up the hill to Bubba’s BBQ. This unassuming restaurant is an absolute must should you ever find yourself in this corner of Middle America. The brisket sandwich we ate there rivaled the very best of the vast amounts of BBQ we’ve eaten on our travels. It was cheap and welcoming to boot. We loved it.
We wolfed down our enormous breakfast at the Rock Cottages and got back on the road westwards. Well actually it was north because we had one final stop – the Little Golden Gate Bridge. This tiny one-track bridge crosses the White River just a few miles from the border with Missouri. Nestled in rolling forested hills this little yellow bridge makes for a nice photo stop!
A few years ago if you’d told us our 24 hours in Arkansas would be as packed with culture, fun and beautiful countryside we probably wouldn’t have believed you. It might be one of those flyover states, but if you always flew over Arkansas you’d be missing out on a lot of cool things.
Rate the State
Good for: Fans of Bill Clinton and beautiful countryside.
Bad for: Big city-dwellers. Little Rock, with a population under 200,000, is by far the biggest city in the state.