Arkansas: The Untamed Side of the Natural State

Text: Bill Dragoo • Photography: Bill Dragoo

A tawny, striped face stares at me, unblinking. The Bengal tiger must weigh almost 400 pounds, and she is only a few steps away. I didn’t know there were tigers in Arkansas. Her name is Crysta and she is a permanent resident at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, seven miles south of Eureka Springs. Thankfully, two stout fences stand between us. This is the best home she has ever known.

Our first night’s accommodations were even better than Crysta’s, as we had holed up at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs. The Southern hospitality and homestyle cooking of their Myrtie Mae’s Cafe was a hearty beginning to what would be a dusty and dirty ride. We were chomping at the bit to experience the wilder parts of the Natural State.

I am accompanied by four serious adventure riders, Josh, Todd, and Zeke, who help coach at my adventure riding school in Oklahoma, and our guide, Jim Devereux, a native of central Arkansas and a retired riverboat captain. “Devro,” as he is nicknamed, has long appreciated the history and geography of the area and is a friend of Turpentine Creek’s owners, Scott and Tanya Smith, who have arranged a behind-the-scenes tour for us. Ike Wever, their education and promotions coordinator, shows us around. We are thankful to be on the safe side of sturdy barricades as we encounter these beautiful creatures eye to eye. Lions, tigers, and, yes, even bears find food and comfort here. As we prepare to leave the sanctuary, Ike gives us each a polished African Tiger’s Eye stone as a token of good luck for our journey.

On his KLR 650, Devro leads our group of four BMW R 1200 GSs south on Highway 23 to Forum where we stop at Withrow Springs State Park to fill our water bottles. The spring flows clear and clean from a bluff near the road. 

Country Folk

We leave the pavement northeast of Huntsville before turning south toward White Rock Mountain, where we plan to camp. A few miles later we begin to descend a narrow, tree-canopied dirt road when a white-bearded old man dressed in overalls leaning into a faded red push mower catches my eye. Across the yard is a Ford Model A coupe. The scene is irresistible and I stop. The man squints at us, seemingly unperturbed by our presence, so I approach him with a smile. “Does that old car still run?” 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2017 back issue.