Story and photos by Sharon King Hoge

c21 art filled lobby

Northwest Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas certainly wasn't on my bucket list.  I did want to see the  acclaimed new Crystal Bridges Museum established by Walmart heiress  Alice Walton in the company's hometown Bentonville.  But I postponed a  visit, kind of dreading the trip to wherever-it-was. Imagine my pleasure when instead of "nowhere" I found a region wealthy in entertainment and fun.

Major carriers fly to Bentonville Airport, but I opted for a more economical flight to Kansas  City where I rented a car and drove three hours south.  Everyone had  advised me to stay at the 21c Museum Hotel and I no sooner walked in than I realized it is an experience in itself.  The lobby -- and for  that matter the hallways, rooms, landings, all the public spaces -- are  fitted out with exhibits of contemporary art.  A lunging Wonder  Womanesque statue saluted as I entered the reception area liberally  decorated with artworks.  Also greeting me were a batch of four-foot  tall green plastic penguin statues which are hotel mascots.  Scattered  around the premises, they point out doorways, stare at the artworks, and amuse the guests who are allowed to move them around at will. The  receptionist chuckled that one day he came upon four of the penguins  lying on the ground surrounded by empty wine bottles.

penguin sentry at the c21 entrance

Another penguin welcomed me to my very comfortable room with a sectional couch  curled around a handy marble table, facing a full screen TV, a handy  console for storage, a plush king size bed. A violet night-light  illuminated the bathroom equipped with a spacious marble shower, Malin + Goetz bath products, a terrycloth robe. A night-stand drawer concealed the room safe and an iron and sturdy umbrella were available in the  closet.

penguin welcome in my guest room

I was a half hour too late for 21c's free guided tour of the "Pop Stars"  collection on display, but since it was near dusk, I headed out to the  James Turrell Skyscape installation in the park surrounding Crystal  Bridges.  Seated within its sloping walls with the ceiling's round hole  open to the heavens, I watched the sky evolve through a series of colors generated by the contrast lights inside.

Back at the 21c friendly groups were gathered in the storefront Hive  Restaurant and Bar. I sipped a Warm and Classy bourbon with mulled wine, Benedictine, and honey as I watched the open flame grill cooking up  pimento cheese Hive Burgers and confit chicken legs.

Penguin in the Hive Restaurant

The next morning I walked two blocks over to Bentonville's charming town  square which is fronted on one side by the Walmart Museum and soda  fountain.  After passing through a store selling classic candies and  souvenirs, I studied the exhibits which illustrate the evolution of the  world's largest retailer.  There was Helen Walton's wedding dress, Sam  Walton's beloved red pickup truck, photos of the couple's original  5&10 which stood on this very spot.  One comical exhibit displays  items returned to the store by dissatisfied customers:  a thermometer  that didn't tell time, a fishing rod that failed to catch fish!!!  Exiting through the soda fountain, visitors can watch I Love Lucy,  Leave It to Beaver and other vintage shows on a wall mounted TV and  order treats at 1950's prices: a one dollar one-scoop ice cream cone, a four dollar MoonPie Palooza. 

Walmart Museum's Spark Cafe Soda Fountain

By the time I finished my three-dollar milk shake it was 11 am, time for  Crystal Bridges to open.  A woodsy quarter-mile walk from town the eight sprawling Moshe Saftie designed pavilions display a collection of  iconic American art.  "Rosie the Riveter" is there, along with a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, a bust of handsome Alexander  Hamilton, Asher Durand's revered "Kindred Spirits."  Eight trails  winding through the 120 acre site pass outdoor works of art.   Compliments of Walmart, visits are free.

Crystal Bridges Museum in a woodsy setting

From Crystal Bridges I drove along winding wooded Route 62 for an hour to  the charming resort town of Eureka Springs. Lined with adorable  Victorian cottages painted vivid colors, the town's streets twist uphill to the classic Crescent Hotel.  Created of limestone in 1886, its rooms with balconies overlook spectacular views out over the Ozarks.   Restored 20 years ago by wealthy benefactors who rescued it from prior  incarnations as a girls school and a cancer hospital, it has become a  Historic Hotel of America with spa facilities and nightly ghost tours  leading guests past rooms said to be inhabited by apparitions and  spirits. Only a dozen of the city's original 62 therapeutic springs  have been restored, mainly for viewing, but down the hill the Palace  Hotel Bath House Spa rents out suites with a spa providing massages,  herbal baths, and sessions in vintage individual wooden steam cabinets.  With 600 artists and artisans in residence, Eureka offers a plethora of shops selling art work and artifacts in appealing boutiques.

Crescent Hotel guest room

These are just a few of the area's attractions. Also worthy stops are the  soaring wood and glass Thorncrown Chapel, the 100 rescued lions and  tigers at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, Zoo, the Pea Ridge  Battlefield which sealed Missouri's status in the Union, the nostalgic  Daisy Airgun Museum, and charming history museums in Rogers and  Springdale.  Within an hour's drive is Fayetteville with the University  Arkansas wrapped another charming town square, the Walton Arts Center,  and the Tudor style home which Hillary Rodham once admired in passing,  inspiring her teaching colleague Bill Clinton to purchase it as a  surprise back up to his marriage proposal.  Their wedding was held in  its bay window.

Clinton House Museum

Incidentally,  poultry happens to be the leading agriculture industry of Northwest  Arkansas  What better time to visit than the Year of the Rooster.




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