Shamrock Tour® - Mountain View, Arkansas

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Kathy Myers

We race toward the setting sun, darting from curve to curve along Arkansas' Route 14. A glance at the odometer verifies that the miles have really piled up since our departure from North Carolina. But the welcome climb into the foothills of the Ozark Mountains is reenergizing a couple of bottom-sides made weary by the Natural State's vertically-challenged eastern reaches.

Despite being burdened with stuffed saddlebags and two riders, the rock-steady Honda VFR800 Interceptor still responds adeptly, slicing through the winding corners with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel. Kathy, just plain tickled with the advent of any arc, prods me on with the raucous urgency of a Ginsu knife plowing through a Pepsi can. On one hand, her enthusiasm is infectious; the tabletop-flat rice fields we just spent the last three hours yawning our way across had become quite tedious. On the other, tempering one's enthusiasm far from home does prevent garnering yet another attorney for a pen pal.

It's been a long day, and the distance digits for Mountain View are ticking down. Known as the "Folk Music Capital of the World," this welcoming community of tidy, tan colored limestone buildings is the hub of our Shamrock Tour®. The town's square is the meeting place for jam sessions by talented pickers that gather nightly to play, share, and preserve the traditional gospel and country standards favored by generations of local residents. More than just fun-time tunes, these numbers mark but one aspect of the deep, folk roots that continue to nourish this close-knit enclave. Traditional community mores and handicraft talents so necessary for survival by the Ozark's early settlers are both embraced and perpetuated in Mountain View. As fans of old-time music, we'd like to stay longer and listen in, but the scores of miles already under our belts dictate otherwise. Unpacking and relaxing takes precedent as we still have many explorations ahead.

Earth's Works

Our base of operations at the Ozark Folk Center State Park and their Cabins at Dry Creek features comfortable rooms with semi-private patios, and the on-premise Skillet Restaurant is just a short walk through the woods. After a hearty, country-style breakfast, we're ready to roll. Though still carrying a slight chill, the September morning breeze refreshes as we climb westward on Route 14. The smooth pavement bores into the hardwood canopy like an asphalt Tilt-a-Whirl whipping left then right, sending a message to the brain for all hands on deck. I suppose we could opt for a gentler wake-up call - perhaps a guided journey to the center of the earth? The signs for the United States Forest Service's Blanchard Springs Caverns summon us from the road. And why not, since the opportunity to walk off the morning meal 200-feet underground doesn't come about very often.

The Dripstone National Recreation Trail tour is a four-tenths of a mile subterranean hike accessed via elevator. It includes a breathtaking cathedral room that dazzles with features ranging from delicate soda straw stalactites to enormous flowstones that look like limestone waterfalls. There's even some delicate calcite draperies referred to as cave bacon because they look just like rashers hanging from the ceiling - as if we didn't get enough of the porcine variety for breakfast. This cool 58-degree stroll only takes an hour and is a fascinating way to either begin or end a day on the road. Don't miss it.

Back under way, we quickly locate Route 341. To the local folks, it's Push Mountain Road and everyone we've talked to swears it's the best motorcycle road in Arkansas. Within the first few miles, we're believers. A near flawless ribbon of asphalt bounds across the undulating mountains seeming to exploit every natural crook and jog in the topography. Tight turns mixing with high-speed S's flow amid deep stands of greenery that occasionally relent to mountain prospects, before consuming the tarmac once again. By the time this one ends at Route 201, we're packing two big grins, a hearty appetite, and some delightfully anemic chicken strips.

In Mountain Home, we devour a couple of sloppy links while creating an impressive pile of napkins at Gil and Deb's Chicago Style Hot Dogs. We turn north toward Missouri on Route 101, and once we pass a spate of small motels and campgrounds on the bluffs above Norfork Lake, we have the road to ourselves. When we enter the Show-Me State, the going gets even lonelier, so in Bakersfield, we reverse course and head back toward Arkansas. With the exception of a farm truck or two, and a few bold strafing runs by cadres of scrambling birds, we fly nearly solo all the way to Route 5 and back to Mountain View.

Our Daily Bread

The surrounding Ozarks are still wearing their summer green, but fall's nip has taken center stage this late September morning. As we climb westward on Route 66, the mercury hovers in the mid-forties and I fudge the Interceptor's outside-air temperature reading, hoping it'll have a warming effect on Kathy. She's far too wily a traveler to fall for that lame placebo attempt. Shivers aside, it's hard not to be taken with the striking view. A crystal clear sky pocked with a few puffy clouds offers an unlimited panoramic of the distant valleys spreading from this ridge top byway.

After a curvaceous plunge into Leslie, the irresistible aroma of freshly baked goods brings us to a halt next to Serenity Farm Bread. These bakers, like generations before them, handcraft loaves of organic sourdough that are leavened naturally and contain no refined ingredients or preservatives. Their enormous wood-fired brick oven not only warms our hands, but it provides us with a loaf of piping hot goodness that promises to be the building block for a stellar supper.

At the intersection of Routes 74 and 377, we stop to peer through the dusty windows of the long shuttered general store in the village of Snowball. At this lonely crossroads, local music legend and then schoolteacher, Jimmy Driftwood began writing songs based on historical events. He used these tunes as teaching aids to inspire his disinterested students. This unorthodox style of educating not only worked for his pupils, but it also garnered Driftwood much local acclaim and helped launch his musical career. Writer of over 5,000 folk tunes, he's most widely known for penning the Johnny Horton hit, The Battle Of New Orleans.

Following Route 377, we wind our way into the Ozark National Forest. Nearly devoid of traffic, our path has us gliding across a quiet countryside swathed in a state of storybook peacefulness. Glassy ponds dot meadows seemingly alive with colorful butterflies, while cows craning to witness our passing test the tenacity of their sagging and rusty barbed-wire fences.

In Sand gap, we turn north on Route 7 and again are treated to an ideal motorcycle road. Straddling another high ridgeline, this sinuous stretch of near-perfect pavement flings a ceaseless flow of sweepers seasoned with an occasional knot of twists. The allure of attacking the twisties or taking in the scenery is a choice any rider can appreciate.

We squeeze in amid a gaggle of bikes and work trucks in front of the Ozark Café in Jasper. The obvious popularity among locals and travelers alike, along with a sign indicating the establishment's 100th anniversary is more than enough reason to drop the kickstand.

With our need for speed now thoroughly sapped by two ferocious burgers, we depart town secure in the knowledge that hungry journeyers in Jasper will be well-fed for another century. Luckily, the mountainous terrain is soon supplanted with waves of gently rolling hills that precisely match our lackluster-afternoon attitude. Just south of Yellville, we plot a relaxed course south for the final leg back to Mountain View.

Short and Crafty

With a shorter and less strenuous eastern loop on tap for today, we linger over excellent java and fresh scones at Turner Coffee Tree in Mountain View. Soon, the sun's rays melting the low fog nudge both mercury and riders northward. Just a few miles out of town, we peel right on to Route 9 and head toward Melbourne, feeling considerable appreciation for Turner's jolt, as it's definitely needed on this spaghetti eastern. The road plows up and over steep hills and through craggy valleys, creating a dizzying array of directional deviations. Couple that with some remarkably well-maintained pavement, and we have one of the most entertaining bolts of blacktop this duo has ever experienced. In Melbourne, we stop to catch our breaths, and Kathy makes me vow we'll ride that one at least once more before leaving town. I think I can arrange that.

As Route 9 pushes northward, its demeanor cools drastically. The steeper hills melt into easy knolls and the civil engineer's creativity reflects the lands' less severe nature. Wide pastures override deep ravines and even the creeks and rivers take on a more melancholy note. Bearing south in Ash Flat, we venture even further off the beaten path on Route 354. Expansive farms with freshly harvested fields and herds of cattle grazing near and far stand in stark contrast to this morning's crazy curves. At a gas stop in Cave City, a pickup burdened with a dusty horse trailer trundles to a stop at the pumps. The driver leaps out with his cowboy hat in place before his spurs even clink on the cement. Like the craftspeople in the nearby mountains, the folks here in Cow Country obviously keep their ranching heritage close to the hip as well.

With just an hour or so back to town, we have time to tour the Ozark Folk Center's Crafts Village, where artisans demonstrate the handiwork and preserve the heritage typical of the area's residents in the 19th and early 20th century. Not only that, the Village's Smokehouse touts their "Ozark Bar-B-Cue" and rumor has it they also have fried pies.

Cloud Dancing

An old-timer in these parts might cite the "ol' trick-knee" as reason not to ride today, yet it doesn't take a touch of bursitis to determine what a low hanging mantle of gloomy clouds likely has in store. But since it's not raining yet and it's a little warmer, we begin the ride for our final day.

We storm south into the hills above Mountain View and soon find an impromptu overlook of the town. Were the sky clearer, this would make an excellent photo stop. But because of a well-documented dislike for rain gear, we forego the urge to linger and press on. Outside of Clinton, along Route 95, the asphalt dodges and bobs through fields of nodding pumps and derricks that signs indicate are probing natural gas wells. Keep up the good work guys - we might need some of that warm-and-dry when we get back.

It's a quick snack stop in Hector, then we continue north into the Ozark National Forest. And just like that, civilization fades into the rearview and deep forest surrounds. For the next 25 miles the path dances across rock strewn mountains densely packed with groves of oak and hickory. Occasional pastures open the landscape to expansive panoramas that impress regardless of the gray sky. An absence of traffic and just about everything else associated with people presents a fitting opportunity to audition nature's song. The creations of the artisans at the Folk Center and the musicians on the courthouse steps pay homage to the Ozark's humanity. Out here, the barely perceptible descent of the velvety mist competes only with the infrequent whispers of wind sashaying through the leaves. Then suddenly, atonal plinks of raindrops meeting the Interceptor's windshield shatter the silence and usher reality back into play. We quickly cinch our helmets and shove off in hopes of staying one step ahead of the impending deluge.

Near Marshall, the heavy air becomes a drizzle that has us lowering our heads and pointing the black Honda toward the finish line. As the final miles wind down along Route 74 west of Mountain View, the pesky drops suddenly evaporate. What promised to be a rainout never amounted to more than a few sprinkles and a patch of drizzle or two. (Even the ol' trick knee can blow a forecast every now and again.)

Long insulated from the reaches of big city influence, the people of the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas remain solidly attached to their rural heritage. Visiting here is comfortable and open, with an inviting sense of community. No matter where you go, when you partake in the history, the hills, a gospel hymn, or just a good story, the folks here make you feel right at home.

 

Serenity Farm Bread
Main Street and Hwy 66
Leslie, AR 72645
(870) 447-2211
www.serenityfarmbread.us

The bakers at Serenity Farm Bread use time honored techniques to produce Old World Sourdough bread, focaccias, and fruit-filled loaves. The delicious aromas waft from a wood-fired brick oven, built in the old Farmer's Bank Building in 1993. The inviting scents that fill the air in Leslie are guaranteed to test your brakes, and the rewards for stopping are truly beyond compare.

 

 

Ozark Folk Center State Park
1032 Park Avenue
Mountain View, AR 72560
(870) 269-3851
www.ozarkfolkcenter.com

The history and heritage of the Ozark Mountains is absolutely fascinating, and there's no better place to get a real hands-on feel for this region than the Ozark Folk Center State Park. Located just a stone's throw from the town of Mountain View, the park is a living, breathing testament to the independence and resourcefulness of the immigrants who settled in these rugged hills. Perhaps the most unique feature is the Crafts Village, where skilled artisans preserve and celebrate the area's traditional crafts, music, and institutions. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm during the summer, the village gives guests the opportunity to get a true feel for Ozark livelihood during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Accomplished and friendly trades people are genuinely happy to share their knowledge as they animate nearly every facet of mountain living.

We watched quilt makers, potters, blacksmiths, woodworkers, printmakers, weavers, basket and broom makers, and many more. There's even a replica of a one-room schoolhouse and an old-fashioned working kitchen. We spent most of an afternoon here and didn't come close to seeing it all. Then as the sun begins to set, the fun moves over to the truly impressive Ozark Folk Center Theatre. Inside this comfortable facility, a variety of local and national entertainers take the stage. Strains of fiddles, banjos, and mandolins fill the arena with music that's accompanied by folk dancing and storytelling. A fast moving clock was our only regret about our visit to the Ozark Folk Center - it's definitely worthy of a full day and evening.

 

 

Cabins at Dry Creek
1032 Park Avenue, Mountain View, AR 72560 (870) 269-3851
www.ozarkfolkcenter.com/cabins

The Ozark Folk Center State Park has even more to offer than the Crafts Village and the Folk Center Theatre. The surprisingly affordable, on-premise Cabins at Dry Creek are clean, duplex-style accommodations that feature all the amenities to make your stay in the Arkansas mountains a memorable one. Nestled beneath a canopy of mountain hardwoods, the cabins boast numerous modern features including cable television, high-speed Internet access, mini-fridges, and microwaves. The spacious back porch is a bonus for those who like to unwind beneath the stars. And if the weather is warm, there's a pool for that post-ride splash. Plenty of paved parking is available for group travelers and there's even motorcycle-only parking. No worries about food either, as the on-site Skillet Restaurant serves up some fine home-style cooking all day long. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and have every intention of checking in again.