My ears ring from the blast. Acrid smoke fills my nostrils and burns my eyes. That shot was the last of my powder and the Yankees are coming fast. My mind screams “Run,” but I draw my sword. It is March 8, 1862, and I may die today at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas … or so I imagine as I stand here where it all happened more than 150 years ago. But I am no soldier and these cannons have been cold for generations. My horse, a pearl white BMW R 1200 GS, is ready to explore the backroads and bountiful history of this rich territory turned state.
Their license plates say, “The Natural State.” Arkansas is known for its beauty, and the masterful interaction of man and nature has created an array of destinations for modern explorers. My tour begins at daybreak with a stop at the farmer’s market in the college town of Fayetteville. Art, music, and fabulously displayed local produce provide colorful sustenance for the body and the soul.
A short ride up the highway brings me to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Set within 120 acres of scenic forest and laced with walking trails, Crystal Bridges houses art spanning five centuries. The landscape alone is breathtaking, not to mention the talent displayed within its walls.
A few miles east on Highway 62 is Pea Ridge National Military Park. Don’t miss the sign, since new routing of 62 has obscured the battlefield entrance from the road. A traveler could spend an hour driving the tree-canopied loop around the grounds or days exploring the artifacts surrounding this important event in our nation’s history.
A Swiss Village in Arkansas!
Soon I pass through Eureka Springs, Little Switzerland of the Ozarks. This Alpine village with its colorful Victorian architecture sprang up in the 1880s after rumors of its healing waters brought hordes of visitors. Eureka Springs survived undulations in tourist traffic through the early 20th century, with more recent rejuvenations facilitated by the sturdy original construction of its buildings. Today the hillside town bustles with visitors. Almost year-round the rumble of vintage muscle cars and motorcycles can be heard parading through the narrow streets.
Motorcycle & Gear
A small group of friends will accompany me for the next few days. In Berryville I am joined by David Bell on his Honda Pacific Coast. We amp up the pace to make it to the Ozark Folk Center State Park near Mountain View before 6 p.m. when we will meet the others for dinner. Our route crosses the infamous Highway 341, also known as Push Mountain Road, or “The Little Dragon.” It’s a mean serpent of asphalt that connects Highway 14 to Mountain Home a few miles north. At the intersection we see a group of sport bike riders and stop to visit. I can’t miss this chance to join them for a bout with the twisties before turning back toward our destination with warm tires and a fresh shot of adrenaline.
We meet Teri Conrad on her Ninja 650 in time for dinner. Park Superintendent John Morrow joins us and afterward we are treated to the nickel tour and a behind-the-scenes look at this evening’s show. Every Arkansas state park has its key attraction, but according to John, the Ozark Folk Center’s most valuable resource is the people. It is considered a “living museum,” a place where traditional pioneer skills and early American folk music are preserved. Visitors come here for three primary reasons—herbs, crafts, and music. Experts in all three areas are on staff to teach and present the fruits of their labor to guests. We are treated to an upbeat display of mountain folk music and dance before bedtime.
Our last rider, James Pratt, rolls in late on his Buell Ulysses. Road weary and chilled, James still has the energy to check out the nearby county fair and rodeo. We make the short ride and join the festivities.