More Surprises in Arkansas

After leaving the friendly, well-heeled, art patrons of Bentonville, we drove east through the glorious Ozarks. The Ozarks aren’t mountains by California standards, more like large hills, and spread out over 47,000 square miles, mostly in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Spring is a great time in the Ozarks. The red bud trees are blooming in the understory, and the white oaks and sycamores are starting to get tiny leaves. On our hikes, we saw a lot of wildflowers and evidence that lots more are on the way in the coming weeks.

Our destination was Mountain View, but we stopped on the way for a night in Harrison. Except for being a small town in Arkansas, Harrison is nothing like Bentonville. Its economy is floundering. Many of the businesses in the town square are closed, and the rest are mainly corporate franchises on the highway. Not a walking town, no art, no flowers. Harrison is mainly known for its racist history and is the headquarters of a large unit of the Ku Klux Klan. We maybe saw a little evidence of that, but got out of town before I could plan any mischief. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/banished/harrison.html

Mountain View, on the other hand, is a treasure. Nestled among rolling hills full of rivers, forests and modest family farms, Mountain View considers itself the home of American folk music, and has a thriving arts and crafts community.

Part of Mountain View’s Main Street

We visited several galleries where artisans were eager to tell us about their work, including a married couple, originally from California, who have developed some inventive ceramics techniques. The town also has a large folk arts center that doubles as a park where you can spend the day with your kids, (although everything but the picnic tables is closed now).

Potter in Mountain View

The town hosts a music festival in April, which kicks off six months of nightly performances in the “Pickin’ Park” in front of the court house. We were a little early for both, but were able to attend a performance of local players at Jimmy Driftwood Barn. Some were obviously professional. Others were not so polished, including one young man who probably didn’t hit a single right note. The audience didn’t seem to make any distinctions between the talents of their neighbors, enjoying all of it with equal enthusiasm — except for the shepherd on the floor next to us who slept through the whole thing.

The region is also known for its handmade dulcimers. In the past 60 years, the Dulcimer Shop in Mountain View has made almost 80,000 instruments, which are shipped all over the world. Dulcimers have been featured on not-Ozark music by many pop artists, including Joni Mitchell, the Rolling Stones and Harry Styles. We got a demonstration of playing techniques on one of the dulcimers at the Dulcimer Shop.

Our host played “Ashokan Farewell” on the dulcimer, which was so beautiful.

I originally decided to travel through Arkansas to avoid Texas. I didn’t expect to find so many cool things in Arkansas and I know I’ve only scratched the surface. And that makes me think I should visit Texas.

14 comments

  1. Sounds like you’re enjoying all your new adventures. The diversity you’re experiencing as you make your way across the US is wonderful and should make us all question our prejudices. My uncle used to make dulcimers and my sisters still have 2 in the house here in NC, but I never learned to play. Maybe now I will. Enjoy!

    1. The south does have its issues and we have seen some of the evidence. But since I’ve been traveling as a standard variety tourist, I’m mostly just seeing the surface. Small world — all of a sudden, I am hearing a lot about dulcimers!

  2. There is much to admire about Arkansas in terms of its natural beauty and folk music traditions. Just don’t dig too deep. The Dulcimer Shoppe (sic) in Mountain View is world famous for their instruments. The dulcimer per Wikipedia (the source of all world knowledge) is a musical string instrument considered to be a variety of zither. They are easy to play and hard to master. Wonderful videos abound on YouTube showing everything from teaching beginners how to learn to play all the way to experts strutting their stuff. I’m a beginner. Fun!

  3. Hi Kim,

    Have not “tuned in” for awhile due to other demands on my life, but I always love reading your blog, and especially about your travel adventures. Gary and I hope to travel across country and back in August through September, so we’re happy to get some suggestions from you. Our goal will be New England in the Fall, but then will swoop down south a bit to NC, SC, maybe Georgia which we’ve never been, too, due to the “issues” you mention. We’ve always avoided KKK territory but really can’t say that honestly, living in Oregon, which, in the past, has been one of the most racist states of the west—ugly and sad history. Remnants still exist.

    Keep having your adventures. Ours will be made easier by the 16 tf. new travel trailer we bought. Took our first road trip down to California for a friends 80th birthday last month and had a wonderful time while remaining safe from the virus—we both made sure to be vaccinated before!

    Sher

    1. Hi Sher, So glad you have plans to fly the coop. The travel trailer sounds good — the hotels are expensive. The large corporate hotels have pretty much taken over and they clearly have their pricing logarithms! You will also have more opportunities to meet people staying in camping and RV parks.

  4. You need to go to the hill country in Texas. Fredericksburg is great. The bluebonnets are probably just starting to bloom. There are a lot of great little places. Shiner, Gruene, Fort Worth….

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