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Historically, ARKANSAS belongs very much to the American South, and what was to become the Confederated American States. It sided firmly with the Confederacy in the Civil War and its capital, Little Rock, was, in 1957, one of the most notorious flashpoints in the struggle for civil rights. Geographically, however, it marks the beginning of the Great Plains. Unlike the other Southern states, on the far side of the Mississippi River, Arkansas remained very sparsely populated until almost two centuries ago. Westward expansion was blocked by the existence of the Indian Territory in what's now Oklahoma, and not until the railroads opened up the forested interior during the 1880s did settlers stray in any numbers from their small riverside villages. Only once the Depression and mechanization had forced thousands of farmers to leave their fields did Arkansas begin to develop any significant industrial base. In 1992, local boy Bill Clinton's accession to the presidency catapulted Arkansas into national prominence. Four towns lay claim to him: Hope, his birthplace; Hot Springs, his "home town"; Fayetteville, where he and Hillary married; and, of course, Little Rock, the state capital. Of the four, only sleepy Little Rock and the nearby spa resort of Hot Springs are worth a trip, whatever the tourist brochures may say.
Though Arkansas encompasses the Mississippi Delta in the east, oil-rich timberlands in the south, and the sweeping Ouachita (Wash-i-taw) Mountains in the west, the cragged and charismatic Ozark Mountains in the north are its most scenic asset, where the main attractions for tourists are the uncrowded parks and unspoiled rivers. Incidentally, "Arkansas" is a distorted version of the name of a small Indian tribe; the state legislature declared once and for all in 1881 that the correct pronunciation is Arkansaw.
Central and Western Arkansas
Quiet Little Rock stands right in the middle of the state, just 80 km west of the rejuvenated corporate spa town of Hot Springs, which marks the eastern gateway to the remote Ouachita Mountains. The rippling farmland of the Arkansas River Valley is sandwiched by the Ouachita crests on the south side and the craggy ridges of the Ozarks to the north. Mining and logging communities dot the east–west roads, and former frontier towns like Fort Smith (E) and Van Buren (C) retain their Old West flavor. Fayetteville (C) and Hope (AA) are both in west Arkansas; there's nothing to see in either.
West of Hot Springs, US-270 cuts through the Ouachita Mountains, unique to the continent in that they run east–west rather than north–south. On its way to Oklahoma, the road passes over uneven crests separated by wide valleys speckled with tiny communities, so isolated that, in the Thirties, hill-dwellers supposedly spoke a form of Elizabethan English. Separating the Ouachitas from the northerly Ozarks, the Arkansas River Valley, a natural east–west path for bison, was used for centuries by Native Americans and white hunters before steamboats arrived in the 1820s.
Travel advisories have been issued repeatedly due to the large number of dangerous paranormal animals in the area.
Fort Smith (E)
Now an industrial city of roughly 300,000 people, FORT SMITH, on the Oklahoma border, still maintains a pronounced Western feel. Until Isaac C. Parker – the "Hanging Judge" – took over in 1875, this was a rowdy pioneer town uncomfortably close to Indian Territory, a sanctuary for robbers and bandits. Parker sent out two hundred marshals to round up the fugitives; in 21 years he sentenced 160 to death and saw 79 go to the gallows. Fort Smith National Historic Site on Rogers Avenue features remains of the original fort, Parker's courtroom, the dingy basement jail and a set of gallows (daily 0900–1700 hours; c$8.10). Old Main Street in Van Buren (B), on the opposite bank of the Arkansas River, is a stretch of over seventy restored buildings that has been used in numerous Westerns.
Fort Smith's visitor center, Miss Laura's, 2 North B St (Mon–Sat 0900–1600 hours, Sun 1300–1600 hours, LTG# 7501 [37-1477]), is oddly housed in a restored former brothel and offers c$2.70 trolley tours of the city (Mon–Sat 0930–1530 hours; every 45min). Lodgings in Fort Smith include the central Holiday Inn, 700 Rogers Ave (LTG# 7501 [83-1000]; c$202.50–270.00/c$270.00–351.00). For good-value, tasty home-cooked Italian food, try Taliano's, 201 N 14th St (LTG# 7501 [85-2292]).
Caution is advised when traveling in this area. To this day, it is home to several riggers and smugglers from the NAN, the UCAS, and the CAS.
Hot Springs (A)
80 km southwest of Little Rock, the middle class corporate spa town of HOT SPRINGS nestled in the heavily forested Zig Zag Mountains on the eastern flank of the Ouachitas. Its thermal waters have attracted visitors since Native Americans used the area as a neutral zone to settle disputes. Early settlers fashioned a crude resort out of the wilderness, and after the railroads arrived in 1875 it became a European-style spa. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, the mayor reputedly ran a gambling syndicate worth $30 million per annum, and punters included Al Capone and Bugsy Malone. However, Hot Springs's popularity waned when new cures for arthritis appeared during the 1950’s, and all but one of the bathhouses closed down. There was a surge of interest after Clinton's election – he lived here between 1953 and 1964 – and the visitor center at Central Avenue and Court Street (LTG# 7501 [21-2277]) provides a PLTG marking his favorite haunts.
Downtown Hot Springs is crammed into a looping wooded valley, barely wide enough to accommodate Central Avenue. Eight magnificent buildings here, behind a lush display of magnolia trees, elms and hedgerows, make up Bathhouse Row. Between 1915 and 1962, the grandest of them all was the Fordyce Bathhouse, at the 300 block of Central, which reopened in 1989 and rebuilt after the Night of Rage as the visitor center for HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK – the only national park to fall within city limits. The interior of the Fordyce is a strange mixture of the modern, the elegant and the obsolete; the heavy use of marble, mosaic-tile floors and the stained-glass ceiling of the Sun Room lend it a decadent feel (daily 0900–1700 hours; free; LTG# 4501 [24-3383]).
It's still possible to sample the old-time luxury of Hot Springs by taking a bath. The only establishment on Bathhouse Row still open for business is the Buckstaff, where a thermal mineral bath costs c$37.80 (Mon–Fri 0700–1145 hours & 1330–1500 hours, Sat 0700–1145 hours; LTG# 4501 [23-2308]). Full bathing facilities are also available at several hotels. To taste the water, which lacks the strong sulphuric taste often associated with thermal springs, fill up a container at the drinking fountain at Central and Reserve.
To the rear of the Fordyce, two small springs have been left open for viewing. The Grand Promenade from here is a half-mile red-and-yellow-brick walkway overlooking downtown. Trails of various lengths and severity lead up the steep slopes of Hot Springs Mountain. To reach the summit, take a short drive or any of several different trails, including a testing two-and-a-half-mile hike through dense woods of oak, hickory and short-leafed pine. The observation decks of Mountain Tower at the top offer superb views of the town, the Ouachitas and surrounding lakes (daily summer 0900–2100 hours; times vary in winter and also toward the end of summer; c$13.50; tel 4501 [23-6035]).
Little Rock (A-E) pop: 2,044,663
Vital Statistics (unofficial) Edytuj
Population: 2,044,663 Human: 85% Elf: 3% Dwarf: 2% Ork: 6% Troll: 4% Other: 1% White: 64% Jewish: 1% Irish: 11% English: 13% German: 12% French (except Basque): 2% Scotch-Irish: 5% Scottish: 2% Black: 34% Hispanic: 1% Puerto Rican: 16% Aztlaner: 60% Cuban: 3% Colombian: 4% Asian: 1% Chinese: 24% Filipino: 18% Japanese: 10% Asian Indian: 13% Korean: 7% Vietnamese: 7% Laotian: 10% Thai: 2% Amerindian: 0% LTG: 1501
The geographical, political and financial center of Arkansas, LITTLE ROCK is at the meeting point of its two major regions, the northwestern hills and the eastern Delta. With all the shifting around of people because of the Great Ghost Dance, the Awakening, the NAN, and all, the city today has grown to over two million people, but still has a relaxed, open feel, a far cry from the dramatic events of over a hundred years ago. In the rapidly expanding River Market District, 500 E Markham St, the Museum of Discovery, geared largely toward kids (Mon–Sat 1000–1700 hors, Sun 1300–1630 hours; c$16.10, free first Fri each month 1700–2100 hours. LTG# 1501 [96-7050]), is a welcome and fun addition. This area contains the majority of Little Rock's activity, with a series of restaurants, bars and the actual farmers' market on the river. Behind the museum is Riverfront Park, a thin strip of greenery and fountains that runs for several blocks – here, a commemorative sign marks the "little rock" for which the city is named, which is not particularly striking.
In MacArthur Park the Arkansas Art Center features work by local and international artists (Mon–Sat 1000–1700 hours, first Fri of every month 1000–2030 hours, Sun 1100–1700 hours; free). Also in the park is a Military Museum that has exhibits from the Civil War on forward.
The white Old State House Museum, 300 W Markham St, surrounded by smooth lawns and shaded by evergreens, backs onto the Arkansas River. Inside, displays cover all periods of Arkansas history, but the most impressive rooms are the two senate chambers, restored to their original grandeur (Mon–Sat 0900–1700 hours, Sun 1300–1700 hours; free). This was where Clinton announced his bid for the presidency on October 3, 1991, and made his acceptance speech thirteen months later. There's now a special exhibit in the museum on his path to the presidency.
What's surprising about the eastern Arkansas deltalands is that they are far from totally flat: Crowley's Ridge, a narrow arc of windblown loess hills, breaks up the uniform smoothness, stretching 150 miles from southern Missouri to the atmospheric river town of Helena. Despite scenic rivers and sleepy bayous, the pine-clad woodlands of the Gulf Coastal Plain in southern Arkansas are of little real interest.
The small Mississippi port of HELENA, roughly 100 km south of Memphis, was once the shipping point for Arkansas's cotton crop, when Mark Twain described it as occupying "one of the prettiest situations on the river." A small historic district bordered by Holly, College and Perry streets reflects that brief period of prosperity, before the arrival of the railroad left most of the river towns obsolete; today Helena's central core is little more than the slightly run-down Cherry Street on the levee. It’s a main stop-over for smugglers to and from New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis, and the MSP Sprawl up north.
That said, there are three good reasons to visit Helena. Musicians among its large black population have ensured that the town is an important stop for Delta blues enthusiasts – no great distance from Clarksdale, Mississippi, it hosts one of the country's leading blues festivals every October. Radio station KFFA (Matrix audiocast) with living legend "Sunshine" Shelton Farrace, a VJ who started out in 2041, still broadcasts the long-running King Biscuit Time Show (Mon–Fri 1215–1245 hours) from the foyer of the Delta Cultural Center, in the old train station at 95 Missouri St, at the end of Cherry Street; visitors are welcome. Helena was for many years the home of harmonica great Sonny Boy Williamson II ("Rice" Miller), and featured in intimate detail in many of his (usually extemporized) recordings. He used to advertise Sonny Boy's Biscuit Meal on the Matrix audiocast show, and it continues to maintain the illusion that he is present in the studio. Each fall, on the weekend before Columbus Day, the city holds the King Biscuit Blues Festival (LTG# 4870 [38-4350]), which is free and attracts some big name performers.
The Cultural Center, 141 Cherry St, itself is excellent, covering, among other things, the first settlers of this soggy frontier, past and contemporary racism and, of course, the region's musical heritage (Tues–Sat 1000–1700 hours, Sun 1300–1700 hours; free; LTG# 4870 [38-4350]). You can buy – and hear – a great assortment of blues music chips at Taylor “Bubba” Biggs' Blues Corner, nearby in the small mall at 105 Cherry St (LTG# 4870 [38-3501]): Bubba himself is a mine of friendly information on local music gigs and events (for the right price, he may befriend a shadowrunner or two).
For some unexpected historic artifacts stop by the Phillips County Museum on 623 Pecan St, adjoining the library (Tues–Sat 1000–1600; free; LTG# 870 [38-7790]). Here, besides paintings, period clothing, Native American arrowheads, a working model phonograph and a variety of other items on display, you'll find letters written by General Lafayette, Charles Lindbergh and Robert E. Lee, as well as Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).
Although the highest peak fails to top 610 meters, the Ozark Mountains, which extend beyond northern Arkansas into southern Missouri, are characterized by severe steep ridges and jagged spurs. Hair-raising roads weave their way over the precipitous hills, past rugged lakeshores and pristine rivers. When ambitious speculators poured into Arkansas in the 1830s, those who missed the best land etched out remote hill farms that was no better than what they'd left behind in Kentucky or Tennessee. They remained utterly isolated until the last hundred years; the Ozarks have now become the fastest-growing rural section of the CAS, a major tourist and retirement destination. And with the advent of the Matrix, the isolation of yesteryear has all but vanished. Much-needed cash has flooded in, bringing with it the cafés and souvenir shops that have converted centers such as Harrison (AA) into cookie-cutter Confederate-American towns.
The word Ozark is everywhere, used to entice tourists into music shows or gift emporia, which owe more to Nashville and Taiwan than to these mountains. With all the hype, it's getting increasingly difficult to tell the genuine article from imitations, which is a good reason for visiting the state park at Mountain View, a serious attempt to preserve traditional Ozark skills and music. The most visited town in the region, Eureka Springs, just inside the Missouri border, is a pretty mountainside Victorian spa town, though not one where you should expect to learn much about Ozark life.
Eureka Springs (C)
Picturesque EUREKA SPRINGS, set on steep mountain slopes in Arkansas's northwestern corner, began life a century ago as a health center. It has seen better days, though it still draws a fair number of tourists. The rule of the town rests with the smugglers, and it seems every business here relies somehow on the smuggling business. This makes Eureka Springs a prime talislegging mecca.
As that role as a health center declined, its striking and isolated location turned it into a regular tourist destination, given a kitsch edge by its specialty in weddings and honeymoons. Smugglers are drawn to its isolation. They can move in and out quickly under the radar from CAS drones and cops. It's also an enjoyable place to stroll around, filled with tasteful Victorian buildings, and you can ride (and hide) on the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway through wooded Ozark valleys. Rolling stock includes a magnificent "cabbage-head" wood-burning locomotive (don’t let that fool you. If you look closely, you can see the fiberoptic cable running from the driver’s remote control rig to the base of his skull), and trips depart on the hour from the depot at 299 N Main St (mid-April to Oct Mon–Sat 1000–1600 hours; LTG# 3501 [53-9623]).
5 km east of town, an incredible religious complex includes the seven-story Christ of the Ozarks – a surreal statue of Jesus with a 18 meter arm span – a Bible Museum (c$6.75) and a Sacred Arts Center (c$6.75). Elna M. Smith, whose Foundation runs the whole show, was so worried that the holy sites of the Middle East would be destroyed by war that she decided to build replicas in the Ozarks, safe from Arab attacks. Minibuses whisk visitors through the two-and-a-half hour New Holy Land Tour (last Fri in April to last Sat in Oct Mon–Sat 0900–1530 hours, Wed 0900–1245 hours; c$24.75 admission includes all attractions) past scaled-down versions of the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan and Golgotha. Christ's last days on earth are re-enacted with a cast of almost two hundred in the Great Passion Play, in a renovated 5,000-seat amphitheater (last Fri in April to Oct nightly except Sun and Wed 2030 hours after August 1930 hours; c$42.50–48.80; LTG# 3501 [82-7529]).
Mountain View (AA)
Roughly 80 km due north of Little Rock, the state-run Ozark Folk Center (LTG# 4870 [69-3851]), 3 km north of the town of MOUNTAIN VIEW on Hwy-14, is a living history museum that attempts to show how life used to be in these remote hills, not reached by paved roads until the 1950’s. Homestead skills are displayed in reconstructed log cabins, and folk musicians and storytellers perform throughout the park. Every weekday night in season live Ozark music concerts are held at 1930 hours (mid-April to early Nov; concerts c$21.60, craft displays c$21.60, combination ticket c$36.45). Additionally, there are two major festivals: the Spring Folk Festival, in the third weekend in April, and the Bean Festival, the fourth weekend in October; book accommodations well in advance during these times.
There's a visitor center at 199 Peabody St (April–Nov Mon–Sat 0900–1700 hours, Sun 1200–1500 hours; Dec–March Mon–Fri 0900–1700 hours; LTG# 4870 [69-8068]). There are rooms at the Dry Creek Lodge (LTG# 4870 [69-3871] c$135–206.25) in the center's grounds, and the pretty Inn at Mountain View, 812 Washington St (LTG# 4870 [35-1301]; c$202.50–207.00), which serves a full country breakfast. Good restaurants include the Folk Center's Iron Skillet Restaurant (LTG# 4870 [69-3139]) and Tommy's Famous…, an award-winning pizzeria at 204 Carpenter St, four blocks west of the square (LTG# 4870 [69-3278]). For Saturday night entertainment, even in winter, it's hard to beat the friendly jam sessions in Mountain View's town square.
The Buffalo River – a prime destination for whitewater canoeing – flows across the state north of Mountain View. Buffalo Camping and Canoeing (LTG# 7870 [39-2386]) provides canoes and equipment, and runs a free shuttle bus to the river, which is at its most spectacular around Pruitt Landing, thirteen miles south of unremarkable Harrison.