Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma: Chasing Dragons

Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma: Chasing Dragons
It’s a long ride from my home in Oklahoma to Deals Gap, the twisty, 11-mile section of Highway 129 bordering Tennessee and North Carolina also known as the “Tail of the Dragon.” But rumor has it that eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri are infested with elusive serpents just waiting to do battle with any daring “Don Quixote” willing to chase them down.

Gray clouds drape the Sooner State in a wet, woolen blanket as we bridge the 130-mile gap between Oklahoma City and Tulsa where our hunt begins. A nasty weather breeder threatens not only wicked spring thunderstorms, but Oklahoma’s favorite pastime—tornadoes! The narrow asphalt ribbon strikes a crooked line through the forest like a discarded silk scarf. I prod my R 1200 GS Adventure through the chicane and smile as the front wheel goes weightless at the exit. Who can resist the thrill of laying a spirited machine into a well engineered turn? James’ GSA flicks across my mirrors, tilting against the gnashing teeth of our first infant dragon. Our exit from Scenic Highway 412, east of Tulsa, onto Highway 20/82 nets immediate gratification as we begin our run up this serpentine, 14-mile stretch along the shore of Lake Hudson toward Spavinaw. The last miles into Spavinaw reward us with a road like an undulating racetrack, but good judgment enforces due caution as we keep our speed in check. We leave Highway 82 at Spavinaw and continue east on 20 to the Arkansas border. Our quest is to conquer as many dragonesque two-laners as possible over the next four days. The route will be a loop through northeastern Oklahoma, southern Missouri, and north central Arkansas. Our mission is not only the slaying of scaly green beasts, but also sampling the local fare and checking out the best in knightly accommodations.

Laundry drying in the sun and spring blossoms; icons of a slower pace in the Ozarks.

“Show Me” Missouri

Turning north at the Arkansas border, we continue up AR 43 to Southwest City, MO, where we pick up SH 90 east. A few pre-teen pterodactyls try to intimidate us on 90, allowing us to sharpen the edges of our tires before tackling the ornery adult beasts lurking in the darker regions of the Ozarks. At Washburn, we bear northwest on SH 37 toward Cassville. We then swing south on 112 toward Roaring River State Park and the Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center. Roaring River, a trout fishing Mecca, is also a motorcycle-friendly resort. Our only regret is that we don’t have more time to relax on the plush leather furniture—or maybe wet a hook. The gracious hotel staff bends over backwards to ensure that we are comfortable and well fed before sending us on our way.

Dragon chasing is tough duty, every mile a battle. The GSs balk at our decision to take the easy route, but we calm them by promising to wander off the beaten path later. Highway 76 sends us meandering across southern Missouri, over Table Rock Lake, through Cape Fair, and past fields of tender, green grass. Bright magenta redbud blossoms, stunning yellow forsythia, and pure white plum trees are out in force. The occasional dogwood hints of another brief and wonderful alabaster display, but we are too early for the full mountain splendor due in another week or two.

Motorcycle & Gear

2011 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure

Jacket and Pants: Klim Latitude
Helmet: Shoei Hornet DS
Boots: Sidi Adventure

We stay north of Branson, MO, opting for a bit of solitude instead of tackling the hordes of folks flocking to this retirement village for famous entertainers and their loyal fans. Nearby Silver Dollar City preserves the old ways of life, from basket weaving to steam- and even human-powered wood working. Period costumes and the smells of hand-pulled toffee and home cooking make it hard to deny the wisdom of Grandma and Grandpa when they talk about “the good old days.”

If These Walls Could Talk

Junk stores and “collectibles” are taking over where antique stores were once the norm, but the occasional treasure can still be found in these old buildings. We stop at a store in Taneyville as much to admire the structure and learn something of its history as to peruse the rusty relics inside.

Each relic of a bygone era has a story to tell. Take them in while they're still here.

The Best Roads are the Least Roads

We turn on FF at Taneyville, keeping our promise to take the lesser paths, and continue eastbound on DD before rejoining Highway 76 at Bradleyville. An inkling of blue skies makes this a pleasant detour, highlighting verdant fields and farms along the way. After a quick lunch, I am reminded of my rural roots when the waitress at the Hucklebuck Smoke & Grill in Ava bids us goodbye. “You’uns be safe out there.” Sorta takes me back. We feel the time crunch as we leave Ava on 14 east, knowing it will be close if we are to make the night’s destination before dark. At West Plains, we turn west on 160 for a few miles, then head south on E when we get to Southfork before picking up 223 at Moody. This takes us across the border into Arkansas.

William Tell Had to Sleep Somewhere

Deer force us to curb our urgency as they stand poised to play kamikaze on the darkening highways within the forest. We roll into Longbow Resort at dusk. Ben Pearson, son of the famous archer and bowyer, greets us and leads us down to our cabin. The resort is unique in that its cabins are melded into the surrounding bluffs, encompassing stone, lichen, and even indoor waterfalls.

There is no "wrong motorcycle" for exploring this region's backroads, but the flexibility of the mighty GS expands one's options.

We dally the next morning, photographing the extraordinary structures and landscape, and delaying the inevitable meeting with a massive cold front. A mid-morning departure would soon put us on the most twisty part of our route yet.

We can’t resist playing slip and slide through the lush grass on the old airstrip as we leave Longbow and then turn north on 263. This road just gets better as we jink and jive over Highways 66, 65, and 377, but we are shut down on Highway 16 just past Witts Springs.