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.

“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.

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.”