Arkansas: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Part I, The Good

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Downtown Little Rock. Home to many amazing sunsets throughout the year.

I lived for three years and eight months in Little Rock. I’m in Virginia now. My time in Arkansas was eventful and interesting. My leaving was always likely, but never inevitable. Some things I will miss about it. Others I certainly will not.

Arkansas is a big state, size-wise. Not so much for population. But the place has a fascinating history, and it is woefully understudied in comparison to a place like Virginia. Here are some cool things to see while you’re there. Note that these are only places that I visited. I didn’t hit every site that I should have, such as Fort Smith, Crystal Bridges, and Eureka Springs.

Fayetteville (northwest Arkansas). “Fayettechill” is the home of the Razorbacks, who reside at Arkansas’s biggest college and flagship of the University of Arkansas system. Fayetteville has all the cool things you would associate with a college town: used book stores, bars, vinyl record shops, greasy spoons, and strip clubs.

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Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern (northwest Arkansas). This Civil War battlefield isn’t far from Fayetteville. It was one of the most important battles fought in Arkansas. The Rebels lost. The National Park Service runs the battlefield, which is large and pristine by Civil War battlefield park standards. You’d be hard-pressed to walk the whole field in an afternoon. And there’s so many trees that you might run into a deer as you stroll through.

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Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern battlefield.

Natural Bridge (northwest Arkansas). This place is worth a stop. Admission was $5 when I was there. Virginia also has a Natural Bridge. But, not surprisingly, Virginia is more obnoxious about it.


Little Rock/North Little Rock River Trail (central Arkansas). What I will miss most about Little Rock was the amazing bicycling/pedestrian trail that winds along the Arkansas River. Most weeks, I rode 25 miles on my bike. I started in Hillcrest, rode to Cantrell Road, got on the trail by the Verizon building, crossed the Big Dam Bridge (which has the longest pedestrian bridge in the United States), went up Big Rock, turned around, and headed to downtown Little Rock. At the Clinton Library, I rode west heading back to Hillcrest. The ride took at least 2 hours, with stops for lunch and water along the way.

Because of Little Rock’s mild winters, you can cycle the trail almost every week of the year, weather permitting. Winter days range from the teens to the 70s. Most of the time, though, it hovers between 45-60 degrees, which is doable for cycling enthusiasts.

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Arkansas River, as seen from Big Rock in North Little Rock. Part of LR/NLR’s magnificent River Trail system.

Hot Springs (central/southwest Arkansas). This old gambling town isn’t what it used to be. The race track is still there, but the city is a shadow of its former glory. Still, it’s worth visiting, especially the gardens not far from the downtown.

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Hot Springs on St. Patrick’s Day is the closest Arkansas gets to Bourbon Street.

Historic Washington (southwest Arkansas). Washington was where the Confederate government moved after the fall of Little Rock in September 1863. The old, and modest, capitol is there, along with many other historic buildings.

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Courthouse in Historic Washington.

Hope (southwest Arkansas). Not far from Washington is Hope. As is true of many small towns in Arkansas, Hope has seen better days. But it is the home of Bill Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Patsy Montana. The Clinton childhood home, run by the National Park Service, is worth visiting.

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Hot Springs. Home of one president, and one guy who should never be allowed to even run for president.

Kingsland (south-central Arkansas). Tiny Kingsland, which is about 75 miles south of Little Rock, is the birthplace of Johnny Cash. The town numbers only about 450 people. But its’ worth seeing if you’re a Cash fanatic.

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Cothams (Scott, in central Arkansas). About ten miles east of Little Rock is Cothams (pronounced “Cottums”) in Scott, Arkansas. It’s home of the hubcap burger, so called because it’s as big as one (and yeah, it pretty much is). Yet, as huge as this place’s hamburgers are, the burgers are surprisingly not as filling as you might think. And good thing, because you’ll need to save room for the Mississippi Mud Pie.

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Scott (central Arkansas). Scott isn’t a walkable community. But it is very pretty in spots, especially in the spring, and it has an interesting history (i.e., Marlsgate plantation house). The place is good for cyclists, too, who could ride easily from downtown Little Rock to the center of Scott in about an hour.

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A pecan plantation on Col. Baucum Road in Scott. The kind of spot that Bonnie and Clyde might have rested in.

Dyess (Mississippi County, northeast Arkansas). Dyess was created in the 1930s. It was a New Deal experiment intended to help small farmers by giving them a house and 20 acres of land. Nothing in Dyess was free, but it gave a fresh start to many, including Ray Cash, the father of Johnny Cash. Johnny lived there until he was 18, when he enlisted in the Air Force and spent four years in Germany.

The bed that Johnny Cash shared with his older brother Jack.

Lakeport Plantation (southeast Arkansas). Not far from the Louisiana border is Lakeport, is the only surviving antebellum plantation in Arkansas along the Mississippi River. The place was lovingly restored by Arkansas State University. The plantation still grows cotton.

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Lakeport plantation. The only surviving Arkansas antebellum plantation along the Mississippi.

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