Arkansas. It’s Not What You Think.
I recall the day my husband said that he had an opportunity that would require we move to Arkansas. We were living in North Carolina at the time and we absolutely loved it. Beach, mountains, quaint college towns… it was perfection.
If you had asked me at the time to pick one state I would never want to live in, Arkansas would have been it.
I was basically like a lot of people. I just didn’t know anything about the state I would soon come to love. I was a skeptic.
I wasn’t guilty of believing the stereotypes. You know the ones… no shoes, no teeth, no shopping (all of equal importance). I’m originally from Mississippi which is also a victim of the same misconceptions so I knew that every state has a few towns that fit the description but those places are not indicative of the state as a whole.
Still I was wary.
And then we moved.
Arkansas is beautiful. I mean it. Northwest Arkansas in particular is an area rich with culture, professional opportunities, talent, and kind good-hearted people.
It’s home to Walmart, Sam’s Club, and many reputable companies that do business with both. Their presence here has recently brought with it talent in other industries and the area is transforming into a hotspot for good food and the arts.
So why all the hoopla about this corner of a state often considered backwoods by those who’ve never experienced it?
In 2011 Alice Walton, daughter of the late Sam Walton, opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The museum is nestled on 120 acres of stunning land which includes over 3 miles of walking and bike trails. Admission is free and visitors are provided with an ipod that takes them on a guided tour of the over 50,000 square feet of art. The museum features a permanent collection which includes works by artists like Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andy Warhol to name a few. In addition you can always find rotating temporary exhibits.
Just a short drive from Crystal Bridges is the 21C Museum Hotel. This hotel wears many hats as it’s also a contemporary art museum and includes a restaurant that boasts (and deservedly so) refined country cooking. The atmosphere strikes a balance between elegant and funky while displaying their popular green penguins (sounds strange, I know). Diners can enjoy the most amazing pimento cheese and bacon jam toast with their cocktails. That alone is plenty of reason for me to go there. Don’t believe me? 21C was highlighted in Food & Wine’s Editor’s Top 10 Objects of our Obsession article.
If you’re the outdoorsy type you can backpack your way through Devil’s Den State Park and explore its caves while you’re there. Or take a boat out on Beaver Lake for some water skiing.
Want to step back in time? Visit the Prairie Grove Battlefield. The terrain there is so untouched you can just picture the Union and Confederate soldiers colliding near the apple orchard. Visitors are welcome to peek in the windows of a home built in the 1830’s which my son found particularly fascinating.
Your money gets put to good use when you stop by the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs. They rescue lions, tigers, and other exotic cats from deplorable living conditions (when dumb people decide keeping a tiger in their backyard is a good idea and then realize their mistake). They provide these powerful beasts with homes for life, giving them food, medical attention, and the room to run and live as they should. Visitors are welcome to see the animals in an effort to generate awareness (don’t be the idiot who thinks it’s okay to have your own pet lion) and the income required to keep the lights on.
You can’t live here five days without getting sucked into the excitement that is the University of Arkansas. You’ll be wearing Razorback red before you know it. Trust me. Everybody in the state roots for the hogs and it’s contagious. My son learned how to “call the hogs” (the Razorback cheer) when he was two and belts it out with as much gusto as any college student.
I can go on and on about the things to see and do. I could tell you about the Walton Arts Center, Pedal Pops, James at the Mill, and the amazing lady who plays guitar at the library’s weekly story time but I won’t. Because while these are all a big part of why Northwest Arkansas is unique and lovely, it really comes down to heart for me. I’m a mom. Being a mom is the most important job I’ll ever have. When I think about what I want for my son I place a lot of weight on having him grow up in a place that reinforces the values I hope to instill in him: Faith. Love. Education. If you go outside in the evening you’ll see driveway after driveway full of kids playing and parents looking lovingly on. You can expect to see families you know all gathered at Saturday’s Farmer’s Market and each month’s First Thursday enjoying live music, street food, and art. And you know what else? People say hi. That counts for big points for me.It’s been six and a half years since we made the move. This place just feels like home. It is home. It was unexpected but boy am I thankful to have settled here. And it doesn’t hurt that the shopping’s not bad either.