Well, it’s time to wrap up our sojourn in and around Bentonville, Ark., with visits at a few more popular sites and attractions.
Adventures in the “natural state”
They couldn’t have given Arkansas a better moniker, as it is truly one of the most beautiful states in the country. And one of the best ways to explore and learn more about the natural diversity, beauty and history of the state is at its many state parks.
One of those is Hobbs State Park Conservation Area, the state’s largest state park and conservation area, encompassing some 12,045 acres, with a diverse amalgamation of Ozark caves, valleys, streams, upland forest plateaus and ridges. At the visitor center, which is only about a 30-minute drive from downtown Bentonville along Highway 12, you’ll find numerous interactive kiosks and state-of-the-art galleries and exhibits that delve into the history, animal and plant life, ecological composition and more of the area.
It is also the place to garner a wealth of information about the area’s trails, each possessing their own unique features to suit walkers, hikers, cyclists, equestrians, bird walkers and naturalists alike. While at the visitor center, we strolled along one of the short paved trails, which gave us a taste of the outdoor adventures to be found just beyond, as notated on our trail map.
Hopping in the car, we took a short drive to the trailhead of two popular trails. The first we embarked upon was the Sinking Stream Trail, a short, half-mile, looping, foot-traffic-only trail featuring beautiful streams, bridges and native trees and plants.
The second is the Historic Van Winkle Trail, home to a significant piece of Black history in this part of the state. Another a short, easy trail to navigate, it also features a great deal of the area’s ecological diversity.
But the main highlights here are the remnants of the historic home, mill sites, spring and raised Antebellum garden that once belonged to a pioneering African-American family–the trail’s namesake Peter Van Winkle family–who lived here during and after the Civil War. Because of the historical significance, the trail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The interpretive signage along the trail detail a bit about their history, and free guided tours of the trail are available by checking in at the visitor center.
Exploration below the earth
Our next adventure was just another couple of miles away at War Eagle Cavern. What makes the cavern so special is that since it opened to the public for tours in the late 1970s, every effort has been to leave it in its natural, unspoiled state, just as it was when inhabited by the Native Americans centuries ago.
On the property there are plenty of picnic tables set amidst beautiful sky-high trees with views of Beaver Lake, a snack shop (open in season), an area where you can pan for treasure, a fort challenge maze suitable for all ages and a gift shop. From the welcome area, you can walk amongst the trails to enjoy the natural waterfalls, limestone bluffs and other Ozark attributes, as well as the numerous animals that make this area their home, such as groundhogs, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer, just to name a few.
A pivotal civil war battlefield
Last but certainly not least was our visit to Pea Ridge National Military Park Visitor Center. Coincidentally, our visit was in this, the year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The Battle of Pea Ridge is referred to by some as “The Most Decisive Battle in the Trans-Mississippi,” as it played an integral role in that momentous time in history, standing proudly today as the most intact Civil War battlefield in the country.
The visitor center here is intriguing, chock-full of newly renovated exhibits and displays detailing not only the more tangible aspects of the battle–the who, where and when–but also a great deal of the why and how, which had everything to do with the social, political and military climate of the country at the time, pre- and post-Civil War.
The center’s orientation film provides a good overview of this historic era, and those who want to delve deeper will no doubt find numerous subject matters of interest inside of the center’s Eastern National Bookstore–which reportedly possesses one of the finest Civil War-related book selections in the National Park system.
Approximately 100 yards from the visitor center is the entrance to the 4,300-acre battlefield, a tribute to the 26,000 soldiers who fought here to determine the destiny of Missouri and the West in the spring of 1862. With nothing but open land as far as the eye can see, the area possesses a seven-mile self-guided tour road, seven miles of hiking trails and nine miles of horse trails. Dotted along the way for visitors are over two dozen interpretive signs that detail different aspects of the battle. A significant piece of U.S. history, a stop at Pea Ridge is well worth it.
Walmart, the Crystal Bridges Museum, historic sites and attractions and more
Suffice to say, Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas offered a great deal more than I expected–as the saying goes, “More than meets the eye.” The awe-inspiring Ozark beauty, historically significant town, warm hospitality, world-class museum, outstanding epicurean adventures, fun and historic sites and attractions and noteworthy day trips made it a really wonderful vacation.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.