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Our 2014 Family Vacation - Day Four: Natural Bridge, Buffalo River and Eureka Springs
Once more into the fray...
In other words, one more free breakfast not worth the money. Orange juice was even more watered down (I wonder if they added water to yesterday's watered down OJ?), a waffle (awful waffle!) and load up! We were on the road by 7:45 AM.
As we headed north on Highway 65 my mind moved ahead, planning the day out with locations and stops to share with my family. In particular, I had one spot in mind to spend a few minutes with the family, one they knew nothing about. Pickle's Gap.
Y'know, Pickle's Gap? Close to Toad Suck Ferry? Near Conway? Never heard of it? Oh well, you have now.
Conway, Arkansas - halfway between Toad Suck Ferry and Pickle's Gap. I had heard of it for over thirty years and never been there. I pulled into the parking lot and realized the little tourist trap was closed. It would open up later in the day but we had no time to wait. On to the next location!
Near Clinton, Arkansas lies a hidden jewel of geographic nature. A natural bridge formed of limestone and sandstone which has stood for hundreds of years. At one point this bridge was strong enough and large enough to be used as a means of transporting timber which had been cut and was on its way to the mill. Now, it is less structurally sound and slipping a bit but it is still a wonderful example of nature at its best. Stretching more than 8 feet wide at its narrowest and close to 100 feet from end to end, this structure is astounding and humbling in its grandeur. We paid a modest fee and wandered down the path to witness the bridge. Along the way there was a shack set up to look like an old time moonshine still, complete with a hillbilly watching the brew.
The gentleman who took our money was very pleasant and had a lot of stories to tell, ranging from how the bridge was used to how the rocks in front of the office were formed (naturally in the manner of stalactites). A small gift shop is in the office as well and I purchased something made out of wood shaped like a quarter. It was round and had a word on it. The word? TUIT. Get it? AROUND TO IT (A Round TUIT). Love it! I know, I know; juvenile. But still...
After we left the Natural Bridge, we headed north on Highway 65. Our next destination: Buffalo River. I have floated Buffalo on several occasions in my distant youth, but never this far upstream. I primarily floated from Maumee to Buffalo Point; Buffalo Point to Rush; and Rush to the mouth where it mingles with the White River after it leaves Bull Shoals Lake.
My family did not know my plans, as I had kept them to myself. I slowed down and turned off the highway onto a narrow road that soon became river bottom gravel. We parked the Trailblazer and wandered down to the water's edge. I took deep breaths, inhaling that intoxicating scent of the river and its various odors, not all of which would be found pleasant to most people. But to me, it was a welcome fragrance.
There were some people splashing and playing in the shallows, along a gravel bar. Elsewhere four wheel drive trucks had pulled down onto the gravel bar, dispelling whole families complete with their gear needed for the day. As we looked upstream, we saw canoes and rafts making their way down the river, filled with those fun loving river runners. I remember those days!
My first real float trip was on the Buffalo River when I was around 18 years old. We put in at Maumee and floated down to Buffalo Park. It was an easy 5 or 6 hour float which we turned into all day. The park to Rush is only some 7 miles or so, but it is paddle all the way as there is little to now fast water.
Below Rush, a creek flows into the river. The creek is known as Clabber Creek. Many years ago, a watch company named Timex actually did a commercial about Clabber Creek. As I remember, it went like this.
"We were floating down the Buffalo River and hit Clabber Creek Shoals. Our canoe tipped over and we went into the water. I lost my Timex watch in the fast water. We searched for our things downriver and I found my watch. It was still ticking." The saying went, "Timex. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
I remembered that commercial as my friend David Bockelman and I shot the rapids at Clabber Creek one fine summer day. We each straddled our canoes, alone, and moved into the current. Down the white water we flew, arriving safely in the calm water below. Then, pull the canoe back up river along the bank and do it all over again. Those were good days!
The Buffalo River is our nation's first National Wild River, designated as such in order to assure it can never be dammed and destroyed. It has several white water areas, none too difficult for an average canoe enthusiast to attack with little trepidation. Primarily, it has beauty, rough and rugged beauty that sets the soul flying far above the treetops.
Everyone enjoyed picking among the rocks for samples to bring home, and even wading into the shallow water, cooling our tootsies in the summer heat. It was with great sadness I maneuvered my family back to the truck, as we needed to head on down the highway towards our next interim stop on this final leg home. I gave one more look at the bluffs lining the river, intent on fixing this moment in my mind, sighed, and drove off.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Our final stop on this journey is to be that jewel of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs. Often called Little Switzerland, Eureka Springs is a magnificent town (village?) nestled in the heart of the Boston Mountains of northwestern Arkansas. A haven for shoppers, motorcycle riders, and vacationers, Eureka is near Beaver Lake and boasts some of the most beautiful homes one may ever see. A true Victorian Town, Eureka has seemingly countless Victorian Homes that are homes, Bed and Breakfasts, or shops filled with knick knacks that are just needed enough to separate one from their money.
We took a different route through the town on this visit, one we had never driven before. Oh my! Road upon road upon road, twisting and turning back on themselves, each filled with magnificent homes and shops. And the views! Around every turn another breathtaking view awaited our wondering eyes.
I have to say that Eureka Springs has to be one of, if not the most tolerant city I have ever been to. What do I mean by tolerant? I mean that bikers, same sex couples, regular families, single parent families, hippies, and just about every type of person you can imagine resides here, works here, shops here, vacations here, or just tourists here. In a few hours you will see someone from literally every segment of humanity in evidence....
And they all get along.
No harsh words, no anger, no looks just smiles, handshakes, pleasantness around every corner. I am amazed that so many different varieties of mankind can cohabitate with one another in such a calm manner. Maybe I am being naïve (which is Evian spelled backwards) but this looks like a perfect little village.
Eureka has a parking problem (which is to be expected with all of the visitors is gathers throughout the year) but they have a wonderful trolley system one can ride. There are also parking areas strewn throughout the main drag with pay parking that ranges from $3 to $5 dollars for anywhere from 3 hours to all day, so depending on what one is interested in and where one desires to visit, one can find a location nearby.
To me, the most wonderful location in Eureka Springs is the Great Passion Play. Beginning in 1968, the Passion Play has played several nights each week throughout the warm weather months to sold out shows. The play details the final days on Earth of Jesus Christ and is moving in ways I cannot begin to explain.
Beginning with the resurrection of Lazarus, through Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday right on to His ascent into Heaven after His return from the grave, The Greatest Story Ever Told is spectacular. Seating in excess of 4,000 people the play moves you about the city of Jerusalem via strategic lighting, focusing on specific locations within the city, which is built into the hillside above Eureka Springs.
If you ever visit Branson, Missouri, please, PLEASE do not leave the area without watching this play. But be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time; they are almost always sold out in advance.
Well, there you have it. After Eureka Springs the only thing to do was drive home. Roughly 3 hours later, we pulled into our driveway and piled out of the car. While it was good to be home, it felt good to take that Great American Vacation I had dreamed about for years. Finally, I had taken my family on a trip; we had seen beauty; we had experienced fun; and we had enjoyed ourselves immensely as we made memories for those along. I hope and pray to be able to take another trip similar to this one day; if not so be it. I have memories to think on, to remember for the rest of my life.
But if we do travel again, and it is through Arkansas, I can't wait to introduce my family to other exotic locations in the Natural State. Towns like Fifty Six; Forty Four; Big Flat; Bruno, and Pyatt. Maybe visit Ralph and Harriet (these are little towns, not people) or see my college buddies Boyce Burdine in Burdine View or Donnie and Joey Cowell in Cowell. Both families have the towns named after their ancestors. To walk along the town square of Yellville during Turkey Trot; or visit the only multi millionaire I know personally, Forest L. Wood, he of Ranger Boats fame in Flippin; or to venture farther east to Piggot, or south to Holla Bend. To play a round of golf below Bull Shoals Dam along the White River and watch as the fog rolls over the banks of the river in the evening, hiding your ball from your sight. To fish in the White River for mammoth Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout, perhaps even catching one of those 20 pound trout which reside there. Maybe to go see a basketball game in Deer, and watch the Deer Antlers play (yes, that is their name!). Whatever it may be, we will enjoy ourselves and each other, and make more memories. Thank you for traveling along with my family and I and may God continue to Bless and Keep you safe from harm.