Tag Archives: arkansas

89 – Some Cheerio!

November 2016
Arkansas is a magnificent state, broad with mountains and deciduous forests, whose trees are now loosing their leaves, or beginning to, this time of year, and the whole breadth and depth of the place glowing like a departing sun—orange, red, yellow, brown—a rich nugget of gold pulled from the loamy soil, and the highway cutting through them Ozarks like a river flashing silver and gold, sunlight and fish scales in a meadow.

It all came to an end as the sun came to a set, as the mountains and hills sloped down to the flat of the Mississippi River delta, eventually to the river itself and that gritty Tennessee city, Memphis sparkling with come-hithers, glinting with diamonds strung on a necklace beneath a face full of broken teeth.

Memphis: the home of William Eggleston.



Yesterday cycled over the Boston Mountains, the most western mountain range within the Ozark Plateau. I thought it to be pretty easy, but my expectations of difficulty were quite high after reading other persons’ online acccounts of having cycled them.

Traffic was light, as most drivers opt to take a faster route along the interstate which more or less parallels Route 71, north-south, linking the Fort Smith area to Fayetteville.

It was gorgeous.

Everywhere but for the road winding up the mountains in front of me was fluffy, white clouds obscuring a blue sky, sunlight intermittently throbbing through the occasional break in the clouds, like catching a glimpse of a beating heart through gaps in a shroud of pericardial tissue; the greenery of trees rising up on either side of me or, sometimes, only on one side of me as in places the lower slope of the mountains fell precipitously and only the tops of those trees there were capable of reaching up to me; and broad rock faces in a multitude of grey and brown hues, some cascaded over with water, some merely trickling with water, some moss and lichen covered, some dry and bare, appearing so hard, so solid that one couldn’t ever imagine them being worn away, even over the course of millennia of millennia. No noise but for my tires on the asphalt, the birds in the trees, water playing over rocks, rushing through culvert and gully, and the occasional truck or car, or gang of motorcycles.

At the highest point of the climb is a small, antiquated gift shop and museum. Nothing of interest there beyond the view overlooking Fort Smith Lake, and other ridges of the mountain range carpeted thickly in oak, hickory, pine and cedar. The “museum” itself is a bit peculiar, but worth the five or ten minutes it takes to look around. It is a small room to the right of the entrance of the building, all the walls lined with tall glass cases, the glass cases filled with everything from stone arrowheads, to antique dolls, antique condiment containers, kerosene lamps, pistols, leatherwork, farm implements, a four foot long rattlesnake preserved in a narrow, glass tube, an even longer rattlesnake skin, killed on the property, mounted on a board, the head of an old show horse that had performed on the property for twenty years before it died of what (and when), I don’t know….

In the store one could purchase tumbled stones, raw stones, geodes to crack open, hummingbird feeders, cedar blocks for smoking food, etc., jams, jellies and sauces, dolls, walking sticks. It was a quiet place, though I imagine it saw a lot more business before the interstate was built a few years back. Now that has become the main north-south artery for the region and few people travel this road. It’s great for cyclists, but not at all good for the few businesses that relied on that regular traffic. There are a good many derelict motels, inns and other buildings that I passed along the ridge. Now, I suppose it is considered the slower, scenic route, but most of the time that’s not what most people want. They want to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible, granted, I’m betting the views from the interstate aren’t too bad.

I wonder what will become of Artist’s Point in another five or ten years.


I found what I thought was a fine camping spot just inside Perryville, across the Fourche La Fave River. A lovely park complete with pavilion, picnic tables, electric, bathrooms, water, playground; in short, everything one might want or need.

I got there early in the day, and was able to wash up, make some phone calls to family who I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and cooked up some dinner. I began setting up my tent probably around 8 o’clock with a few people still hanging around the park as night was falling over everything. Once the tent is up I go about organizing my gear within, slide into my sleeping bag, and open up Thoreau’s Walden before turning off the light. About 11 o’clock a cop shows up. He does the typical cop thing, which means he shines his flashlight into, or onto, my tent and orders me out of it. A rather rude thing to do, if you don’t mind my saying. Anyway, I crawl out of my sleeping bag and tent in my boxers of course, and he just looks at me for a second, probably not expecting a somewhat clean-shaven, young man to be stepping out in only his boxers, before telling me the park closes after dark and that I am trespassing on city property. I simply stare at him in bafflement, like some sort of deaf and dumb idiot, clearly unable to decipher the words that have come out of his mouth. And, in a sense, I couldn’t—this bizarre idea that I might be trespassing on city property because I happened to either a) not be from the city, or b) be there after hours is baffling to me. He then asks me if I understand that and I sort of stutter an incomprehensible reply to which he responds by looking me over with an appraising eye. He then tells me that I have to pack everything up and move on, but then immediately asks me what it is I’m doing camping at the city park anyway. I launch into my story about how I’m cycling around the U.S. and that I had come from Little Rock earlier in the day, and that the park just looked so inviting that I couldn’t resist choosing it as my spot to stay for the night. I mentioned that I have a tendency to like being in plain view of the public in these smaller towns in order to invite conversation; I’m not some sort of maniac, just a traveler needing a place to sleep for the night. He likes my story and is impressed with what I’m doing  but tells me I still need to pack my things up, but also that he can give me a lift to the next town if I’d like. He also wants to check my ID, presumably to make sure he’s not letting a murderer, arsonist, or some other felon of sorts off the hook potentially.

I begin packing up my gear, at a rather glacial pace I might add, while he’s over in his vehicle doing the whole song and dance, whatever that might be, with my driver’s license. He comes back and tells me my ID checked out OK (very relieving!), and, in fact, that I can stay the night as long as I’m gone not long after daybreak. Apparently he appreciated the fact that I was “straight” with him. He even said he would come back from time to time to check on me and make sure all’s quiet. I don’t actually know if he did this because I eventually fell asleep, though not so quickly as I would have liked thanks to having been roused from my tent and confronted in the manner that I was. Needless to say, I was exultant when he told me I could stay put for the night.

It is now about 7:30 am, the following morning and I’m sitting here at a picnic table writing this after having strolled the park, said hello to the few people out for a morning walk, and taken a number of pictures of morning sun and sky through the trees and flowering bushes. I did wake up early as I promised, packed up most of my gear and, most importantly, my tent, but really couldn’t resist the temptation to wander about the dewey field, and along its wooded edge with my camera. During this entire time the police officer never showed back up, so I figured what the hell, I’m going to make a cup of coffee, cook my breakfast, and relax. If someone else shows up and tries to give me a hard time it doesn’t look as though I camped out there, and I can just say that I rolled off the street to relax for a bit and make a cup of coffee.


So far, a lovely day. Sun shining in a crisp, blue sky; the occasional cloud; mountains striding along beside me, left and right; the Arkansas River winding along beside me too. Little Rock is full of cycling and walking paths. Truly a city that wants its residents to be able to enjoy being out of doors. From the perspective of a traveling cyclist there could be little better a thing than that.

In one small area just outside of the city, where the paths peter out, I spy rows of garden plots with small cabins, similar to what one might see around Europe. I am amazed and impressed; it’s hardly a sight one expects to see in the States where so few people have any understanding, or desire to learn, how to garden and grown one’s own food.

Further along, deeper into the valley, beyond Pinnacle Mountain, life here becomes an idyll. Fields of yellow, inhabited by cattle and the occasional few horses snuffling about amongst the grass and flowers, stretch towards those emerald green mountains towering on either side of me. The only sounds are the hum of my tires on the asphalt, the warning cries of unfamiliar birds as I pass by, and the roar of the few automobiles on the road along this stretch. It is warm and, at one point, I espy a small herd of cows, twenty or thirty of them, crowded around the base of a tree, keeping cool in the shade of its canopy.

Truly a spectacular region.


Camping, unbothered, hopefully, in Hazen, AR., another one of those small towns with little more than a single main street running straight through its heart, on one side of which is nothing, and on the other side of which is really nothing. Well, there are a series of brick buildings, inside one of which is an antique store, but everything else is vacant. I found a lovely spot for my tent—a grass plot with a few small trees situated between two old buildings, one of which being the aforementioned antique store. It is much less obvious than many a camping spot I’ve chosen, I must say.

I’m setup alongside one of the buildings, beneath a Mulberry tree which, fortunately or unfortunately, is laden with berries that are not yet ripe. I say fortunately because they won’t be dropping and making a mess all over the ground and my tent, but unfortunately because they’re not available yet to be eaten.

Earlier, upon arriving in town, after observing what there was around me, and taking a few pictures of whatever happened to catch my interest up and down the main thoroughfare, I found my way to a small grocery and picked up some fruit as well as extra veggies for my lentil & rice dinner. After leaving, and about to be on my way to find an appropriate spot to camp—where I am now writing this— I was approached by a young man who was curious about my rig—he, actually, unlike many, had some idea of what I was doing, as he himself was interested in doing something similar. This boy and I got to talking when his friend came out and joined our conversation. To make a short, uninteresting story even shorter, I may have two new blog readers, but, perhaps more importantly, they gave me something like two quarts of water when I mentioned that was next on my to-do list. Very grateful to them for their generosity and the pleasant conversation.

This morning I’ve decided to eat at the only diner in town. They like to call themselves a cafe but the coffee is the worst thing here. Mainly it tastes like it was brewed through a mildewed sock, and the packets of non-dairy creamer (one actually has to request half and half) and sugar don’t in any way improve it. It is only $.91, though. Ninety-one cents! Free refills to boot, though why anyone would want a second cup, let alone a third or fourth, is beyond my understanding. Even at that price, and with the refills it’s still overpriced. At least the food is somewhat palatable, though everything tastes a bit like it was cooked on a greasy, dirty griddle, and is obviously of low quality, probably trucked in from a warehouse somewhere.

At the table behind me sits an ancient man. He’s only just toddled in a moment ago. He is trying to say something to his waitress about an employee who offered to pay for his meal on a previous occasion, however, he doesn’t know her name, and he is having an awful problem attempting to spit out what it is he is trying to communicate to the girl. His way of talking is a combination mumble and stutter. He sounds as though he’s had a topical anesthetic applied to his tongue and lips, and so is incapable of moving them in any coordinated action, thus making it impossible to give voice to his request that would seem likely to go unheeded perhaps, anyway. His voice and way of speaking sound a bit like a tumble of rocks bounding down a slope of loose scree—each individual sound of rock hitting rock melded together to create one, single, indecipherable sound.

This is a diner full of locals, all come together at one place—this tiny, no-account town, like so many others of its kind, could only support one place like this. Many of them come and go singly, yet sit at various tables joining friends who are already seated. I like that. The men are all bearded or mustached, and relatively progressed in age—I would estimate most of them to be in their sixties, though some, perhaps, are even older than that. The youngest I see here would have to be in his fifties. All are grossly overweight and mainly farmers I would guess, as that’s the predominant industry around these parts. “These parts,” being the Arkansas Delta, which, thank God, I am nearly free of, as it’s a flat and featureless area most known for growing rice, cotton and soy.

I like the relaxed, comforting, friendly, homey feel of the place, but deplore the low quality of food. Of course this isn’t the only small town in the nation serving bad food from ingredients that may have been grown here, but were then shipped elsewhere to be processed into a food item, then shipped back in a state that is supposedly fit for eating and requiring very little further processing, i.e., cooking, in order that they may be listed on a menu and served to hungry guests.

Finally, this old man, gripping his check in his bony paw, has meandered over, and is staring into the kitchen, irately inquiring about this mysterious woman who has offered to buy him a meal, but no one on staff seems to know to whom he might be referring. Neither does anyone seem to know what to make of this man, nor what to do about the issue. There doesn’t seem to be a manager in.