Western Arkansas: Up and Down in the Natural State

Western Arkansas: Up and Down in the Natural State
Millions of years ago a supercontinent drifted inexorably into ancestral North America. The resulting collision compressed and uplifted sedimentary rock, forming what is now called the Ouachita Mountains. Farther north, the same geologic forces uplifted the Ozark Plateau. Add another million or so years and travelers see streams and rivers carving out deep valleys, forming precipitous mountain ridges and pinnacles in today’s western Arkansas. This stunningly scenic terrain is host to some of the best motorcycling roads in America. And we’re raring to go ride them!

Glorious Destination

Glistening in the early morning light, beads of moisture have formed on the sensuously shaped fuel tanks of our two 2016 Indian motorcycles. Few souls are stirring and sounds are muffled in the humid fall weather. Tranquility pervades this charming village of resplendent Victorian-style architecture. In an instant the serenity is shattered when electrical circuits connect and ignite the two Thunder Stroke 111 engines.

Talimena National Scenic Byway provides riders with breathtaking vistas of the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Christa is astride the Indian Chief Vintage, and I’m piloting the Indian Roadmaster. Having never ridden in Arkansas previously, she’s anxious to experience its motoring delights. Our engines quickly settle into a syncopated rhythm. We ease out clutches and rumble down Spring Street and then north out of Eureka Springs. Although our day’s final destination is south, Christa doesn’t question my navigational skills when we cross Arkansas’s northern border into Missouri. (Well at least not yet.)

We cruise at a composed pace along sinuous two-lane pavement, dipping handlebars right and then left in an almost continuous progression of writhing tarmac. Heading south, back into Arkansas, we arrive at Lost Valley, a level, bucolic landscape of verdant farmland imprisoned in a high box canyon. Following tight switchbacks up the canyon wall, we pop out onto SR 7, one of the most scenic routes in Arkansas.

The manicured interior courtyard of the Subiaco Abbey Academy is a place for soothing contemplation.

The day’s highlight, though, is a hidden rock formation known as Glory Hole Falls. Over millennia, Dismal Creek eroded a round hole through sedimentary rock overhanging a cave carved out below. After a heavy rain, water pours through the hole crashing down some 30 feet onto rocks. When this phenomenon is coupled with just the right angle of sunlight, illuminating the waterfall, the sight is a glorious one to behold.

Finding Glory Hole Falls proves to be a little challenging. The sign, marking the beginning of the mile-long trail to the falls, is not clearly visible from the road. Several vehicles parked at the bottom of an embankment suggest that this might be the spot. The walking path to the falls steepens as we descend into a rocky ravine. Despite dry conditions and cloud cover, which prevent us from seeing the hole in its full glory, we find it a fascinating work of nature. And the exercise whets our appetites for a bountiful dinner at our day’s destination in Clarksville, AR.

Motorcycles & Gear

2016 Indian Roadmaster
2016 Indian Chief Vintage

Helmets: Schuberth C3 Pro Modular, Shoei GT-Air
Jacket: Indian Motorcycle Tour, Speed and Strength Society Leather
Pants: Draggin’ Jeans, Draggin’ Jeans Retro Fit
Boots: Oxtar, BMW AirFlow 3
Gloves: KLIM Element Short, REV’IT! Sand Pro

Island in the Sky

Our morning departure arrives with temperatures in the low 60s, but cobalt blue skies and bright sunshine promise a dry, rapid warm up. The Arkansas River, and the wide valley it runs through, forms the geological border between the dissected high plateau called the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains further south.

I’m feeling ebullient and call a route audible (never a good idea), electing to avoid two miles of interstate by taking uncharted backroads. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I search my GPS for that cut through road that has to be here to get us back on our planned route. But it dead ends in a campground perched on the banks of the Arkansas River. After making the obligatory U-turn, I flip up my helmet and lamely offer, “I wanted to check out this … uh … campground while we … uh … are so close by.” (Uh oh, I’m getting the blank stare.) “But we’ll just circle back and keep going.”

Near Beaver, Christa crosses over the White River on Arkansas's "Little Golden Gate Bridge."

Back on route, cruising east along SRs 22/309, we spot a European-style abbey on a hill to our north. Curious, we turn in to investigate. The Subiaco Abbey and Academy is a Roman Catholic college preparatory day and boarding school for young men in grades seven through 12. It was founded in 1928 and is part of the order of Benedictine Monks, approximately 40 of whom live on-site. We learn from Brother Edward and Brother Francis that the Abbey and Academy are located on approximately 1,800 acres of farmland. To supplement other sources of funding, the Abbey engages in several farming and ranching activities.

Just five miles farther west is the village of Paris, AR. It was founded on the old military road between Little Rock and Fort Smith in the late 19th century. The town square tips its hat to that other Paris, the one in France, with a scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. A more dubious distinction for this Paris, though, is that it presided over the last public hanging in Arkansas, before “Sparky” was up and running in Little Rock. On that shocking note we zoom south out of town on the Mount Magazine Scenic Byway (aka SR 309).

The back-in-time War Eagle Mill is a favorite rest stop for those riding in the vicinity of Beaver Lake.

We’re riding this coiled snake to higher and higher elevations. The temperature drops about 10 degrees from bottom to top. Mount Magazine peaks at an altitude of 2,753 feet, the highest point in Arkansas. The mountain gained its name from French explorers traveling through the area in the 1600s. Explosive noise made by a landslide was so great that one of them likened it to the sound of an ammunition magazine exploding. The name stuck and to this day it’s called Mount Magazine.