Page Thirty-Five: Arkansas

So, we went on vacation! Our very first vacation as a couple (d’awe) and my first as, well, a human. Anyway, we went on this vacation. From McPherson, KS to Eureka Springs, AR and we had a really great time. Here’s a photo dump to prove it.

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There was a five and a half hour drive between here and there and for the last three hours, there was rain. Rain and rain and rain and rain and I really loved it a lot. I am a rain lover, indeed. I almost never get to make it to the south east corner of our state but it’s really beautiful. Once we made it out of Wichita, we didn’t see a single Walmart until we were on our way back home. There are winding roads with tiny towns, green pastures, brick red barns and hand painted sign advertising things like “native cracked pecans”. We passed this little white church with a sign out front that read, “bring your marshmallows, our preacher is on fire!” Everything is cute. And the rain really brought out the color in everything.

I don’t have any photographic evidence (because I was too busy clutching at my pearls and trying to remind myself to breathe) but the roads in this part of Arkansas are kind of terrifying for a flat-lander girl like me. Twists and sharp turns and up hill and then very down hill and then turn to the right! Turn to the left! Go dooooown! And guard rails? We don’t need no stinkin’ guard rails! On top of that, don’t forget the rain. This is how you get into a town that was built on the side of a mountain. We definitely passed a sign for a tattoo shop, three miles down a windy, dirty road in the Ozark mountains. This place, I could tell, was going to be a treat indeed.

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So we get into this magical, town that looks like the movie set of any given Disney film and decide to find where we’re staying first and foremost. And find it we did. One astounding thing about Eureka Springs is that you don’t have to leave town, at all, to find yourself in the middle of a forest. You’re always in town and you’re always in a private place all at once.
We stayed at the Treehouse Cottages for our first night in town. When we made our reservations, over two months ago, there was only one room available for one night during the time that we would be there. We decided to take it and find a less notable hotel for the rest of our stay.

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Rather than a basic guestbook, there was a journal. It was so sweet to be able to read about everyone else’s fantastic times in the cabin and then contribute our very own. There have been a LOT of proposals in this little space.

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As you open the front door, this is the view. Appropriately, as we walked inside there was music was playing: an instrumental version of “A Whole New World”.

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One of the owners is very into pottery and she made all of the dishes that are in the kitchen, as well as the tiles in the kitchen and those surrounding the tub.
One of the owners is very into pottery and she made all of the dishes that are in the kitchen, as well as the tiles in the kitchen and those surrounding the tub.

unnamed (8)I could go on and on about the glory of this place. It is perfect in every single way. Everything you don’t know you need is provided for you. From the basket next to the front door for us to put our umbrella to the hook next to the Jacuzzi (!) to conveniently hang your robe. There’s a wrap-around porch with a little table for two, and a grill. Inside there’s a four-poster bed, a perfectly-sized, little couch in front of a television. The back wall of the cabin, featuring acres and acres of unadulterated forest, is made entirely of windows. As soon as we walked into this little slice of Heaven, I immediately started to mourn the fact that we would only be able to stay for one night.   We didn’t want to spend our limited, precious cabin time at a restaurant so on our first night on vacation, we went to the grocery store and bought some groceries and a bottle of $7.00 champagne. It was more  perfect than you would expect. Also, there are bottles of OJ and a little loaf of banana walnut bread in the fridge for your breakfasting pleasure. And boy did I make that my breakfasting pleasure.

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Before we left, my friend Jamie told me “be careful because when you go on vacation, you will want to move there!” I have to say, we genuinely considered the possibility of building and living in a place like this as a forever home. There aren’t enough trees in our part of the state. Not even close. We could not get enough of this delicious cabin and if we ever go back (we’re totally going back), we will definitely be staying here again. I can not oversell this place.

I have to tell you that I can’t remember everything that we did or even the order in which we did things. The whole three days was just a whirl wind of going from place to place with an awful lot of lounging and relaxing in between.

Ryan outside of the Crescent. Doesn't it look like it belongs in a movie set?
Ryan outside of the Crescent. Doesn’t it look like it belongs in a movie set?

One night we went to the famous, historical Crescent hotel to partake in their ghost tour! When I tell people about this, they all shudder and say “I would not want to do that!” But I was really excited about it. I mean, at no point was I like “I’m gonna go find some ghosts!” No, I certainly did not expect to experience anything even remotely supernatural and I’m pretty confident that we did not (though when I was in the bathroom, the paper towel dispenser went off while I was nowhere near it at which point I screamed like an actual baby, fought to unlock the door and ran like hell to get back to Ryan).
Before the tour, though, we went to the restaurant at the very top of the hotel. I have to say that I did not expect to find a cheesy sports bar at the top of such an authentic and historical hotel but that’s what we found. Regardless of the pizza and fries, there was this view to behold:

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Afterwards we went on the tour. What I loved most about the tour of this place was that it provided us with a really unique experience to hear stories that you don’t normally hear when you visit any other kind of historical place. We learned about the history of Eureka Springs as well as the history of the hotel. We learned that it was initially built to be a luxurious hotel for the elite. Then it transitioned into a girls’ school. Later it was turned into a faux cancer hospital and run by a con artist who did not believe in pain management but did do his best to squeeze every last bit of money out of his “patients” and their families. It sat vacant for a lot of years but thankfully it’s been restored to a beautiful hotel. With that much history and change and hurt comes an awful lot of  stories and I’m glad that we got to hear all about it. I will say this, though. By the time we got to the basement or “the morgue”, where there was supposed to be this “vortex of supernatural activity”. While other (highly excitable) people were jumping around and screaming about the ghosts that they saw, I didn’t feel anything except kind of sad. I felt really sad for the people who were mistreated by someone that they trusted to cure them. At the most dramatic point of the tour, they take you into this room where this fake doctor supposedly kept the people who had died and they turn the lights off and it’s all very theatrical and all I could think was, “I don’t know if you’re here or not, ghost people, but if you are I am so, so sorry about what happened to you.”  I was glad that the ghost tour was the last stop for our night because by the time it was over, I just didn’t feel much like going out and partying. I still really enjoyed the tour and all of the things that we learned. I also learned something that I really liked about myself. I liked that I was able to take these stories and apply them to the real people that they belonged to.

We heard from several different people that we just had to visit the Thorncrown Chapel. So at one point, we told Siri where we wanted to go and she directed us through those winding roads, through a forest clearing and to a parking lot which directed us to a walking trail which spat us out in front of this gorgeousness.

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Carved out into the side of the mountain it’s windows on all sides. The interior is simply pews and beams. They do regular Sunday services here and I do wish we could have made it to one of those. As I was explaining to a friend, later, it’s almost impossible not to worship here.

Trains! Ryan really wanted to go on a train ride. We had read somewhere that you can ride in an old-timey dining car and eat your lunch whilst you go on a tour. That sounded fun but nearly $50 for lunch did not sound so fun. But we later learned that while some people are on the dining car, there’s also an “excursion car”. So for a lower price, you can just ride the train in an old commuter car. We wanted to go that route and so on Friday, we went to the train station only to learn that excursion-car season had not yet begun. But guess what, it’s starts tomorrow. We were super pumped and came back the next day.

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You can smoke in public in Arkansas. I didn’t realize how foreign it seemed to me until I saw our tour guide drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette in uniform.
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They let us get out and put coins or nails out on the track so that the train could flatten them.
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Ryan flattened a peso. It came undone.

unnamed (30)Our train conductor was a super fun old man who could talk to anyone about anything at all. As he was giving us a rundown about the town and what it’s like on a train, he said something about how people from central Kansas are terrible drivers in the Ozarks, not knowing where we were from (and he wasn’t wrong). I guess I was cheesing pretty hard because he looks at me and says, “Oh man, are you from Kansas?” And I laughed and nodded my head. Then he gave us a little quiz, asking what letters are in the corner of our license plate. I said, “MP” and he goes, “Ahhhh McPherson! You’re alright. I was born two blocks west of the Kansas State Fairgrounds which is where?” “HUTCHINSON!” I shouted like I was a little kid who got called on in class. I was so proud of myself for knowing fundamental facts about our home. He even came around and punched our tickets just to give us the full experience. I really liked him.

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There are a lot of caves in the Ozarks. We wanted–no, no, Ryan wanted to go tour a cave. I wanted to breathe easy and no get buried alive. But I went with him because I am a team player. So we went to the Onyx Cave, which turned out to be (super terrifying and anxiety inducing) a lot of fun! First of all, the little old man who runs the place is super excited and thrilled about everything. He called us “Kansas” and gave us these headphones from, I assume, the 60’s and told us how to go about the self-guided tour. So we go into what appears to be the basement of this little gift shop but it turns out to be a vast cave with a little walkway carved into it. They were radio headphones and every time that you get to a station, you hit a button and then the headphones tell you all about this particular spot of the cave. It was a pretty sweet setup if you don’t focus on stuff like dampness and still air and how close the ceiling is to the floor in certain spots. I felt bad for being more anxious than fascinated but even still, it was still a ton of fun. And I’d go back again just to see that little old man.

Between all these little stops, we just walked around town and went into little shops. We went to an antique store and a candy shop where I bought a bunch of taffy for the girls who covered for me at work while I took the day off. We sat on a park bench and listened to a dude with one leg play the banjo while I ate a frozen banana and Ryan drank a (despite the serious over-hype that was bestowed upon it by the lady who made it) perfectly average milkshake.

I cant write about vacation without devoting a specific portion to the food. Shall I tell you about all the places where we had fantastic experiences?
We ate breakfast at Pancake’s Family Restaurant. Every place had grits on the breakfast menu and it cracked me up. I don’t know why–it just did. Also this was the first place that the waitress called me “baby”. I thought it was just this one person’s habit. But apparently, no, it’s Arkansas’ habit. And, I have to say. I kind of liked it. Pancake’s Family Restaurant reminded me a lot of my mom and my Aunt Tracey. It’s an old, 50’s kind of diner feel and there are old photos of classic cars and newspaper clippings all over the walls.  I had some kind of omelette and it was friggin delicious. And pretty inexpensive.
Oh my gosh, my most favorite place that we ate was this little place called Fresh. And fresh it was! Ryan ordered this Italian sandwich that had him singing its praises the whole time he was eating it. Which is saying a lot because he really hates it when I make a big deal about how good my food is. A loud “mmmmm!” Is very embarrassing to him. I get it but that fact does speak to the deliciousness before us.  As I understood, everything at Fresh is local and organic. Even the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Inside was so bright and cheerful, too. And the people who ran the place were so delightful!

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Homemade potato chips (so good), homemade slaw (soo good) and this wrap stuffed with spinach, pesto, tomatoes and mozzerella (soooo good!).

unnamed (17) unnamed (18)Our last night in town we went to Ermilios which we heard about from so many different people (from Yelp to the guestbook at the cottage to the people at the front desk of our hotel). And Ermilios did not disappoint. Backstory: when I was 18 my mom turned our old Victorian style house into a restaurant and we put tables and chairs into what used to be our living and dining rooms and started serving people sandwiches. This place did the exact same thing. Only they started serving pasta. And it was so good! I had ravioli with pesto and I was not disappointed at all. Also our waiter was adorable. When he asked Ryan if he wanted to add shrimp or chicken to his meal, he apologetically added that it’s just an up-selling technique and he doesn’t have to have either one. We loved his honesty.

In closing, here are a few sundry thoughts and facts about Eureka Springs:
-The population sign outside of town says that the population is just barely over 2,000. But there are 86 resuraunts. And God only knows how many hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, cabbins, and cottages. It is absolutely a tourist town. It has been a tourist town since its inception! Please educate yourself on the history of this town. It’s so cool.
-Since there are so many restaurants and hotels vying for the attention of tourists, it seemed like every place had to be on their A Game. Which, as a tourist, I appreciated. But every place had to be better than the last place. I saw more advertisements for in-room Jacuzzi-tubs. I would venture a guess that there are more Jacuzzis in Eureka Springs than there are in all of  Western Kansas.
-Since we came at the very beginning of tourist season, everyone couldn’t be more thrilled to see us. Tour guides, hotel managers, waiters, everyone was super pumped to see us and treat us so well! I hope that doesn’t sound selfish or anything but it felt very refreshing to have so many people so eager to help you have the time of your life.
-I’m not going to say that the people there are sexist but I will say that there are clearly assumed male and female roles. Just because of the way that it worked out, I was in posession of most of our fun-money that we’d jointly saved for our vacation. So, for example, when we went to the cave, the cute old man made a big deal about how I was treating my boyfriend. I wasn’t really treating him–we both worked hard for this money, it just came from my hand. At another diner, while Ryan was in the bathroom, our waitress brought the check and set it in front of his seat while she told me, “I’m gonna just leave this for him, Sugar.” I found this terribly humorous and old fashioned.
-One morning we were driving downtown and we passed the courthouse. There were tons of people wearing rainbow clothes and kissing and shouting and celebrating. Truthfully, we just thought this was Eureka Springs being Eureka Springs until we saw video cameras and reporters. Later that night as we were browsing Buzzfeed in our hotel room, we realized that what we’d just witnessed was the first, legal gay wedding to take place in Arkansas! We saw a lot of the same images in the articles, only we saw them happen live! It made me feel super excited to get to witness some real history. I just wish we’d known what was going on when it happened.

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We broke up the drive home by stopping at Big Brutus in West Mineral, Kansas. My dad loved this thing and took us here once when we were little kids but I was excited to be there as an adult. Ryan was brave and climbed all over and inside of it but I was a wuss and kept myself on the ground. I walked through a cave, after all!

So, that was our trip. I apologize for the length on this post! But I had a lot of fun remembering our trip.
Any questions? I feel like I talked for ages but I didn’t cover even half of the thoughts and feelings I gathered on this voyage.

xoxo, lib.

 

 

 

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