Not cool: Arkansas and Missouri

posted in: Travel Destinations | 2

Nothing takes the wind out of your sails more than jumping into a lake to cool off, and discovering that the water is as warm as you.

But first …
We left Oklahoma and took winding, hilly back roads through the northwest corner of Arkansas to Table Rock Lake just over the Missouri border. The drive was scenic and exhausting as we made our way into the Ozarks. The roads were narrow, mostly without a shoulder, and rarely straight for more than a quarter mile.

We would wind around, up and down hills through thick forest or open land with small farms. Driving was work to stay between the center line and the edge line, constantly shifting up and down to keep our engine speed sane and brake usage under control.

We love driving the back roads, but in an RV as big as ours, this route was too much. I was going to need to rethink how we planned our drives in the hilly eastern U.S.

We had picked a campground at Kimberling City, Missouri to park for the next few days because it gave us a Passport America deal. As a bonus, it was right on the shore of the huge reservoir.

Our site was roomy and beneath towering oak trees, and we felt like we were actually on a camping trip rather than just living in an RV park. The lake glistened and looked cool and refreshing in the July heat.

Branson, like a one-night stand

Nearby was Branson, and though we weren’t really interested in such a touristy town we thought we should at least check it out. So after work one day, we drove our Honda on a winding, hilly (go figure) road until we saw the town spread out below. A surreal collection of buildings that had a tossed together look.

We crept along W 76 Country Boulevard in a traffic jam. There were small amusement parks lining the street, each with their own coaster. Tacky miniature golf. The gaily painted Ride the Ducks building, that would launch the fatal duck boat tour on Table Rock Lake only a week later.

“So,” asked Julie, “is there anything you want to see or do here?” I just shook my head.  None of these “experiences” appealed to us. We knew they’d be like a drunken one-night stand. Meaningless and forgettable except for the reduced balance in our bank account.

But what Branson is really about are the entertainment shows, many of which seemed like Midwestern versions of the Osmonds. Again, we just weren’t interested.

We walked for a bit in the old historic downtown, chomped on some ice cream and drove back to the Toaster.

Eureka Springs, hot but memorable

Our Oklahoma friends Mike and Deb and told us about a small town in northern Arkansas called Eureka Springs. “Don’t go to Branson,” Mike had said. “Knowing you guys, you’d love this town instead.”

So after work one day, we crossed the bridge over Table Rock Lake and drove back into Arkansas, down a narrow road until we saw colorful, renovated Victorian-style homes. Eureka Springs was a cluster of 19th Century buildings and homes tucked along winding roads on steep hills and ravines. Supposedly, there’s not a single 90-degree intersection in the town.

Now this was a town that we could explore. It was touristy, but not tacky. Artsy but not exclusive.

We parked on the kind of hill that if our brakes failed, our car would become the most interesting attraction in town, then walked down Spring Street to Main Street. We marveled at the wonderful architecture, the limestone-slab sidewalks, and the soul-sucking humidity.

It was hot. Too hot to keep walking around, so I  left Julie at a wine bar, and hiked back to get the car. Eureka Springs is an island of liberalism in an extremely conservative Bible-belt state. It was Arkansas’ first city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The town also passed a non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT residents and tourists.

While I was hiking uphill in the heat to get our car, Julie enjoyed a refreshing pinot grigio and a very short conversation with the bartender about being a progressive town in a state like Arkansas. The conversation was short because the bartender said “We are not allowed to discuss politics while on the job.”

I picked up Julie (not literally, she only had one glass of wine!), we had an overpriced lunch served to us by an overwhelmed waitress, and drove back to our RV.

We immediately put on our swimsuits and took a couple of inner tubes down to the lake to cool off. And that’s when we discovered that Table Rock Lake was shockingly bathwater warm. Ugh. We paddled around for a few minutes, then walked back to camp, dejected.

The next day, a storm blew in with fits of rain and lightening, and the day after that we drove away from Table Rock Lake toward Tennessee.

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