Finally, we are here. It was a six-hour trek through the mountains including our side trip to Mount Magazine. A mostly foodless trek I might add. So, to find fall in Texas our third season, well…. we went to Arkansas, to the Ozarks, but we were a couple weeks too early. Never believe those damn fall color maps!
We arrived in Eureka Springs late in the day and many of the shops in town were near closing time. We opted for a drive through and will walk the streets tomorrow.
Eureka Springs is one of the largest collections of preserved Victorian building and homes in America. The entire town is on the National Registry of Historical Places. The winding streets and unique architecture is a major draw for tourists to the area. Downtown shops have a varied selection of goods and food. Eureka Springs is also a magnet for the LGBTQ community in a very conservative state.
I don’t usually say much about where we stay with the previous exception of Ten Bits Ranch at Big Bend, and Seven Canyons in Vanderpool, but this motel in Eureka Springs was phenomenal.
It was a Quality Inn but was much better than the average of that brand. In fact, the manager told me that it used to be a Comfort Inn, but the requirements had changed to Comforts having to have interior hallways which this one doesn’t have. What it does have is one of the prettiest properties in town. There are two buildings with a deep hollow between them. The hollow has a nice fountain and gardens with walking paths throughout. The rooms were exceptionally clean.
This hotel also had the best breakfast I had ever seen in one of these type places. Much of the food was prepared from scratch and was delicious! After a very hearty breakfast (we wanted to try everything) we headed out. We had a scheduled train ride at 10:30 but were running well ahead of time so we went to the Christ of the Ozarks, one of the local attractions and the second largest statue of Christ in America.
Now I am in no way religious but it was a sight to see and a very comforting and quiet place for those who are the religious type.
The Christ of the Ozarks is the work of Gerald L.K. Smith and stands 65 feet tall. It was erected in 1966 as part of Smith’s religious theme park. The area also has a 4100-seat amphitheater where a summer play ‘ The Great Passion Play” is performed 4 or 5 nights a week from May through October.
But now it is time for one of the main events of our trip, a ride on the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railroad.
The Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railroad began operations in 1882 as The Eureka Springs railway. It ran from Eureka Springs to Seligman Missouri where it could pick up riders and supplies from the major railroads and transport them to Eureka Springs. It had several names and owners until it went bankrupt in 1961 and was sold at a loss. In the 1970’s the Dortch family gained control of the railroad right of way and named it the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railroad. The family purchased and moved rolling stock to Eureka Springs, restored the Eureka Springs Depot and set out to offer train rides from Eureka Springs to “Junction Arkansas” which it exactly what it sounds to be, a junction of two tracks in the woods where the trains can be turned back. The family had to re-lay tracks and rebuild several trestles over the creek.
The train ride lasted a little over an hour. The narrator told the history of the railroad as it pertained to Eureka Springs and a bit about the history of the town. At Junction, everyone got off the train and we were permitted to lay coins on the track which the train slowly ran over as a souvenir of the visit. It was a really cool experience.
Why did the town develop here?
The Indians of the region talked of the healing waters of the area. After the Indians were removed no one knew where this spring was. In 1856 Dr Alvah Jackson was said to have rediscovered the spring and said it had cured his eye ailments. Dr Jackson marketed the water as Dr Jackson’s eye water. In 1879 A friend of Jackson’s claimed the waters had cured him of a crippling ailment and everyone began to come to Eureka Springs. By 1889 Eureka Springs was the second largest city in Arkansas.
But it got even better for the town, Powell Clayton who was the Reconstruction Governor of Arkansas moved to Eureka Springs. He was very wealthy and began construction on the Crescent Hotel in 1886.
A few years before that, in 1882, The Grand Central Hotel was constructed in the downtown area and is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Eureka Springs. The large Basin Park Hotel was built in 1905 adjacent to Basin Spring, and the New Orleans Hotel was built in the 1890’s. With the establishment of the Eureka Springs Railroad in the 1880’s; the town is now a full-fledged booming vacation and spa city.
All four major historic hotels are still in business.
We walked the streets and visited some shops. Everything was pretty expensive.
Later in the day we took a guided tour of the town on the tram. Our narrator was the seventh generation of his family to live in the area so he really knew his stuff. He knew which person originally built each of the best houses.
Eureka Springs is built up a mountainside. The streets are hilly and winding and there are no ninety degree intersections. The town has no stoplights. This one and a half hour tour was very interesting. We learned that at one time the Crescent Hotel became a hospital ran by a Dr Baker who claimed to have the cure for cancer. Of course he didn’t and he just made the folks comfortable as they died. A construction accident sent a young man to his death in the building. Today the Crescent Hotel is thought to be one of the most haunted buildings in America if you are into that sort of thing. They still give nightly ghost tours of the building.
Since many of the homes and buildings are built on the hillsides they may have entrances on several different floors. Some downtown buildings have two or three different addresses on different streets for different floors!
The tour ended our day here. But an interesting fact. Although now bottled near Houston Texas, Ozarka bottled water was born from the springs in Eureka Springs.
In the morning we went back to the motel dining area to get some more of the delicious food. I tried the spice waffle which was exceptional!
We decided to go home through Eastern Oklahoma, well actually Google Maps headed us that way but there were three different routes. We decided on U.S. 59/259 which took us back over the Ouachitas in Oklahoma. Who knew that the eastern section of Oklahoma was so scenic. Yep the whole state isn’t flat and ugly. The route took us through the Choctaw Nation. Here we learned something else. Indian tribes being independent governments in the U.S. issue their own license plates with their tribal seal and name on them. We saw plates from the Choctaw Nation and the Cherokee Nation. Quite interesting. Here’s some pictures of the beauty of eastern Oklahoma.
we left for Arkansas with a vague game plan but this turned out to be one of our better vacations.