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We love the staycation idea, Carol and I. It allows us to get away for a while in the midst of our crazy schedules and many commitments. This time, we decided to take Bea the Blessed Harley & Fat Boy on a 3 day ride across the state and into Oklahoma. We were fortunate because as the day arrived, the weather was unseasonably mild for July (at least at the outset). We started out early in the morning, since we were going to take the interstate through Fort Smith, Arkansas, and we wanted to dodge the “rush hour’ traffic.

I met Carol in West Fork, and from there we rolled onto I-49 South (newly renamed after years of being Highway 71). We made it to Fort Smith, seemingly in no time. It’s interesting the reaction we get from drivers on the interstate (for which we are most grateful, don’t get me wrong). Once they see two women on bikes, they slow down, signal left, get in the fast lane, and pass us. We tend to ride in our own little traffic-less pocket, for the most part, until we exit.

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In Fort Smith, we exited at Highway 71 South (still), and stopped at a new (to us anyway) restaurant named “The Egg and I.” We recommend it for breakfast. It is bright and clean, with plenty of plugs, free wi-fi, and a menu that offers something for everyone. It also turned out that the manager, and two of the wait staff who were both women, were riders! As you might imagine, we very much enjoyed our breakfast stop. Our food was hot and tasty, and the servers were  attentive and friendly. We rolled out of there at about 9:00 a.m., with full tummies, having made great time thus far on our journey.

Heading south down highway 71, our pace was nice and easy enjoying the beautiful scenery and agreeable weather. Anytime some doofus began to tailgate us, we found a spot to safely pull over and let him go by. It was a lovely ride, and we felt grateful that we had the time to get out to see and appreciate the beauty of our Natural State.  Stretches of the road abut the National Forest, which provides intermittent, welcome shade. About halfway to Mena, Arkansas, we made a quick stop for gas. The attendant was quite friendly until she saw me, but since all we needed was to get gas, hydrate and make a pit stop, it really didn’t matter (though she did go out of her way to make it obvious).

Our next stop was Mena. We pulled into a gas station and realized we’d finished off our water. After refueling, we went in to fill our thermoses (they didn’t charge) and to purchase snacks for the next leg of our journey. We weren’t really hungry yet, as we’d both had hardy breakfasts, but we knew at some point we’d be ready to munch. While we were there, we met a group of BMW riders from Ontario, Canada, who said they’d ridden 4 days just to ride the Ozarks. The day before they’d been to Hot Springs, Arkansas. As an aside, you may not be aware of it, Hot Springs was the place that the Chicago gangsters vacationed back in the day. Here’s a bit more about Hot Springs from the City’s webpage:

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Hot Springs Bath House

Hot Springs, Arkansas, gets its name from the naturally thermal spring waters found here.  Flowing out of the ground at an average temperature of 143°F, the hot springs produce almost one million gallons of water each day.

It’s hard to tell exactly how long people have been visiting the springs. Native Americans called this area “the Valley of the Vapors,” and it was said to have been a neutral territory where all tribes could enjoy its healing waters in peace.  Spanish and French settlers claimed the area in the mid-1500s. In fact, famous explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to visit Hot Springs in 1541.

The hot springs were such a coveted natural wonder that in 1832, President Andrew Jackson designated Hot Springs as the first federal reservation.  Hot Springs Reservation was essentially America’s first national park, predating Yellowstone National Park by 40 years.

Here I feel the need to digress again for a moment. For those of you who ride, or who are interested in riding, Butler Motorcycle Maps are a must. [I am not a paid endorser, for Butler or any of the products or place I mention in my blog.] Their maps are invaluable. They provide detailed information on routes and roads. The roads are coded according to the type of ride and each map sets out recommended routes that have been ridden and rated by an owner of Butler Maps. For example, there are G1-G3 rides. The maps describe a G1 ride as, “Steep climbs, tight switchbacks, deep canyons and million dollar views. These roads have an undeniable appeal that set them apart from everything else.” The roads to Hot Springs, depending upon the routes taken, are examples of those highlighted by the Butler Ozarks map. The maps also list all the bike shops in the state, and have QR guides that link to useful information by using a smart phone. The maps themselves are durable and beautifully made. You can read more about the Ozarks map here. End of digression.

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The BMW riders were headed to ride the Talimena National Scenic Byway, which is also where we were headed. Knowing our tendency to be poky riders, we let them roll out first, then geared up and pulled out. We rode through Mena, past the courthouse, and the Skyline Cafe, which came highly recommended, but we didn’t stop to try since we weren’t hungry. Being there reminded me that it wasn’t long ago that Mena was hit by a terrible tornado. It was nice to see that the city appears to have fully recovered from that awful event. Before long,  we were on the Talimena Scenic Byway, “54 miles along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest.”

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We stopped at the Visitor’s Center which was right at the entrance to the highway. I walked back to get a picture of the sign, and it took so long that Carol thought something had happened to me. It was a walk folks, I hope you appreciate the photo. There was a nice, older-than-us guy, in the center and he seemed happy to have company. He gave up maps, brochures, tips on the road, and seemed genuinely concerned for us. He finally bid us farewell, with a “Be careful out there you two.” We promised we would, and with that we geared up again with a sense of excitement and adventure to explore the highway. IMG_0003IMG_0006IMG_0005

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There are 26 vistas along the byway. They are each colorfully named: the Choctaw Vista, Potato Hills Vista, Castle Rock Vista and many more. Each has a detailed explanation for the name of the view. The road itself has turns, but really few serious twisties (tight curves) and the views are spectacular. Remember the Butler Ozarks map mentioned above? It highlights the Talimena Byway, and classifies the roads as great rides.

Talimena Road

Perhaps because we went on a week day, the traffic was light so we felt free to ride at our usual meandering pace. We stopped at many of the scenic overlooks, each of which is named, and took photos. We were astonished at how amazingly, achingly beautiful the views were. Neither of us had been before, and we wondered how we could have lived in Arkansas for so long and not have visited this breathtaking treasure. The day began to get warmer, so we peeled off a few layers and took a break to hydrate and snack at one of the shadier vistas.

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By that time, it was getting to be late afternoon, so we started to think about getting to our resting place for the evening. All in all, I’d say we spent about 3 hours up there marveling over the breathtaking views, enjoying each other’s company, and trying to capture what we saw. I’m not certain that our photos do it justice. [One note for riders, some of the vistas are gravel and there is no indication which is which. In addition there was a lot of loose gravel at the entrance to, and in some of the paved vistas/overlooks.]  The Byway runs through Queen Wilhelmina State Park, which has a lodge that is closed for renovation. It has a restaurant, and what are supposed to be vastly improved rooms, once the work is completed.

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We headed west and a bit south on another scenic road, Oklahoma 271 (also highlighted on the Butler Map). It took us into Talihina, Oklahoma, where we were staying at the Hootie Creek House Bed & Breakfast. It dawned on me as we rolled into town, I had no idea where B & B was from the highway. We decided to pull into a drugstore parking lot to ask. A guy in a very large pickup truck, seemingly bemused by us, laughed and said, “You’re almost there. It’s right around the corner!” We rode the block and a half to the Hootie Creek and parked across the street (next to the police station). By then, we were hot, tired and ready to “stretch out” as my Aunt Ethel used to say. Essex and Carolyn were waiting for us and had ice-cold water ready. Wonderful! We got checked in, and they helped us carry our things upstairs and showed us around.

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This is a terrific bed & breakfast run by lovely people. I cannot say enough about how much we enjoyed our stay there. The rooms are charming, immaculate and perfect for the typical traveler—very convenient. There is wi-fi access, DirecTV and two inside, common area sitting rooms with comfy seating and a homey feeling. Each room (there are 5) has its own bathroom, with a face bowl in the main room. There is plenty of seating, storage and outlets. Both our rooms had a little desk or table and on the sink there were amenities. If something we needed wasn’t there, they told us to ask. In addition, the Hootie Creek’s website contains a list and map of great local rides.

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After we cooled down a bit, a beer sounded like a good bet, but one of us had to ride to the convenience store. I opted to go. It was hot y’all—really hot, but the store was only a 5 minute ride up the street. When I got there, it was chaos. There are no designated curb cuts, so cars pull in from every which-a-way. To add to that, there was a chat (at least that’s what we call the small pebbles spread on the road in winter for traction) everywhere –WTH?!?, and a large group of not so friendly bikers and their even less friendly girlfriends hanging out in front of the store. This was the first time I’d even thought about carrying a six-pack in my saddle bags, and I had a fantastic time getting situated in front of an audience. I told Carol when I got back, “This had better be the best tasting beer ever!”

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We put the beer in the fridge and headed to the Hateful Hussy (yes, you read it right) diner, a block away from the Hootie Creek House. Carolyn and Essex recommended it, and we weren’t disappointed. After we got past that moment where the door closes, and everyone looks the “not from ‘round here folks” up and down, it was all good. The food is home cooking, in Flintstone sized (remember the ribs?) portions. Neither of us could finish our dinners, Carol her chicken tenders, nor me, my chicken liver supper. Sated and hearing the siren song of a cold beer we sauntered (can you do that for a block?) back to the Hootie Creek House to sit on the balcony and wind down from a great day. To our surprise and delight, there were fresh-baked cookies waiting for us when we returned and more ice-cold bottles of water. We stretched out on the balcony under the umbrella, with our feet up, and toasted to a perfect day.

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The next day was forecasted to be much warmer, so we decided to get an early start. We got up early, packed our things into our saddle bags, and sat down to breakfast at 6:30. Now, here I need to tell you again how thoughtful Carolyn and Essex are. When we got downstairs, there was a big box of clean rags by the door. They’d anticipated the wetness on our bike due to the morning dew, and had the cloths there for us to use. Breakfast was beautifully prepared and presented. We had French toast with fresh berries and whip cream, an egg, and bacon. The coffee and tea were piping hot. There was not a thing more we could have asked for. After visiting a bit over breakfast, we were reminded that we needed to get going, so we reluctantly said our goodbyes, saddled up and hit the road.

We started out on 271 north headed towards Poteau, Oklahoma. The coolness of the morning and beauty of the scenery combined to give us a fantastic start on the second day of our staycation. There were a couple of dogs that ran out on the road after us, but we were able to dodge them fairly easily–thank goodness. We stopped in Poteau to gas up and picked up Highway 112 north, which from the map, looked as though it would take us into Fort Smith right about where we could pick up Arkansas Highway 10.  We stopped in Pocola, Oklahoma, and according to the map, we were to ride through Cameron & Rock Island (at least that’s how we read it). Instead the next thing we knew, there was a sign announcing that we had arrived in Fort Smith. We had absolutely no idea where we were, except to say it was definitely an industrial area. We pulled over at a Volvo truck dealership and a couple of kind employees gave us directions (three times before we got it), and we headed out again. “Ooooooohh,” I said to the inside of my helmet as we navigated the instructions we were given. We had come out on the south side of the city, but north of highway 10. We rode south once again, passing The Egg and I, and before too long came to our turnoff on 10.

By that time, we thought it best to top off again, and take time to drink some water, because the day was heating up quickly. We met a biker (nice looking, great blue eyes and mischievous smile) at the gas station in Greenland. He told us about his vacation in Colorado, and encouraged us to ride out there if we ever got the chance.  He took off and so did we. The ride east across 10 was so relaxing a pretty that it had an almost lulling effect. We pulled over in Magazine, Arkansas to take a break, grab a cool drink and top off again. I forgot to mention that given the anxiety some of our friends and family had about our trip, we would check in on Facebook at every significant stop to let them know where we were and that we were ok. We continued on 10 west when we rolled out of Magazine. By the way, Mount Magazine is the highest point in the state, and is a lovely state park with a very nice lodge.

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The view was scenic and pastoral, with the Ozarks and Ouchitas at times framing the road from a distance. It was an easy, but hot ride. We stopped in Danville because from there we were to head north on Highway 27 for a short distance and then west again to Petit Jean State Park, which was where we would stay for the night. In Danville, having learned from the night before, we thought we would pick up some beer for later. It was going to be a real treat after a much hotter ride than the day before.  Crap! Major Bummer! Dry county. Yep, that’s right no beer to be had. None. “How far, we asked?” “Oh, not too bad. Go up the road to Dardenelle, hang a left on Highway 22 and you can’t miss the store. It will be on your left about 20 miles down the road.”

We caucused and decided, “What the heck? We’re on staycation and we’ve not seen this area, so let’s go for it,” and off we went. I bet you know what’s coming. Yeah, that was no “short ride.” Two counties later—we were in it to win it at that point—we arrived at our destination. The parking lot was challenging, rutted, sloped and filled with fine gravel. Yikes! We had to get an assist to keep Carol’s bike upright, but eventually we both managed to get situated. “Thanks Fellas!” Beer purchased, we headed back east on Highway 22 which was quite pretty I must say, with a lake on either side of the road in several spots.

We made a short stop in Dardenelle, so I could pick up a pair of shoes. I’d forgotten to pack mine and was tired of wearing my boots around. It was really getting hot, not warm, hot. But we figured, hey, we’re almost there, no sweat. We had seen the turn off for Petit Jean on our beer run. Yeah, uh huh, well, it was longer than we thought. Or maybe it just felt that way because of the heat. Regardless, we got to Highway 154, hung a left and headed east again. We rode and rode and rode. The ride was easy but looooong. About the time I thought I’d miscalculated, we saw another sign saying, “Petit Jean State Park 15 miles.”

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Not too far down the road, we pulled over, got off the bikes, hydrated and did a little stretching. It had been a long day and we were ready to get there, but we were pooped. It was good to stop, take a breather and perk up. Little did we know what a good idea that was, but we shortly found out. As we headed up the mountain to Petit Jean State Park, there was a surprise waiting for us–a tight, u-turn like curve and another that was deceptively tight. “Crap!,” I thought entering it but managed to navigate it. Needless to say, we were a bit frazzled when we pulled into Mather Lodge parking lot.

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We checked into our room and immediately worked on cooling off and settling down. It didn’t take long, and we were out walking the grounds taking pictures.  Here’s a description of Petit Jean State Park from the park service brochure:

One of Arkansas’ finest state parks, Petit Jean lies in a unique area between the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountain ranges in west-central Arkansas. This, Arkansas’s first state park, includes 2,658 acres of natural beauty on Petit Jean Mountain. In this lovely mountain setting are an abundance of unmarred woods, ravines, streams, springs, waterfalls, spectacular views, and surprising geological formations preserved as French explorers found them 300 years ago.

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Given that the day had been a long, hot one, we decided to eat early, come back to the room, shower, enjoy a beer and relax. And that’s exactly what we did. I’ll tell you what, that was the best shower (and beer).

Once again, we decided to roll out early the next morning as the day was to be another hot one. We ate breakfast in the lodge and headed down the hill. Knowing what was waiting for us, we took our time and carefully navigated the trick spots in our descent. When we reached Highway 7, we headed north. Highway 7 is also known for its scenic beauty and neither of us had ridden it on our bikes. We stopped to gas up in Russellville, Arkansas and headed on up 7. It really was a great ride with gentle curves, a leafy canopy and tremendous views. There was very little traffic, just the Sunday morning church goers and other bikers. We pulled in at a scenic overlook where we met a group of riders going to either Greer’s or Peel’s Ferry, I can’t remember which. They told us about the ferry that takes you from Arkansas into southern Missouri. They invited us, but we told them we were at the end of a long ride and were headed to Fayetteville.

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We continued on 7 north until we reached Highway 16 where we hung a left and headed westward towards home. One important note here. There was no gas station from the time we left 7 all the way across 16. We didn’t see anything open other than churches. When we needed to stop for water and a stretch, we pulled onto the side of the road. Only one truck passed us. He slowed to see if we were ok, and when we waved him on, that was it.  As we got closer to home, we headed north on Arkansas 23, into Huntsville for lunch. It’s a good thing we made it there because my gas light was on as we rolled into the gas station. I’m sad to say I was focused on the road and my gas situation and missed a chance to greet a group of riders of color who passed us. I saw them, but didn’t realize who they were.

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A lot of bikers ride through Huntsville, and that day was no exception. It is a central  stopping point for many great rides, especially folks headed south down the Pig Trail, or up north to Eureka Springs. The gas station was busy, and as we were about to pull out, a guy in a church van pulled in front of me. I couldn’t get around him, and the other islands were busy. I waited as he went to pay, but he didn’t come out. Eventually, I backed Bea up and threaded my way through the cars so that we could get going.

Ironically, this same fella turned up at the Crossbow Restaurant, where we were going for lunch. He muttered something under his breath about us to his wife in the parking lot, came in and glared at us. Sigh. Well this joker was a real butthead it turned out, because he made a show of speaking abusively to the waitress and left a penny tip. We told her what happened earlier and she said, “Yeah, he’s always like that.” It reminded me of my grandmother saying, “That Sucka needs prayer!”

There was a really nice family seated in the booth behind us, and the little grand baby, who was about 3, was fascinated by my helmet. He was a real cutie pie, and he was super friendly and really sweet. I let him see it and when we left he came over to the bikes. As they pulled out, we beeped our horns at him to his great delight.
Well, this was the home stretch. We took Highway 74 west out of Huntsville, which dumped back into Highway 16. It’s a route we’d ridden many times, and it felt good to be on familiar turf and so close to home. It wasn’t long before we saw the signs for Fayetteville. As is our custom, I rode with Carol to south Fayetteville before heading back towards home.  It had been a terrific staycation, and after arriving safely in West Fork, Carol texted me saying that we had traveled 601 miles. Not much on a per hour basis, but it was One Heckuva Staycation!

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