Friday, November 14, 2014

Arkansas Travelers

Folks jam in the streets of Mountain View

Although we have been in Arkansas for a while now, we discovered there was a lot more to see and do in this very interesting state. After our exploration of northeastern Arkansas, we headed into the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains to attend the semi-annual Bluegrass Festival in Mountain View. There we squeezed into the last available campsite at the Ozark RV Park, adjacent to the cultural phenomenon  known as the Ozark Folkcenter State Park. This amazing destination exposes locals and visitors alike to the music, crafts and skills that are living traditions here, and also hosts world class musicians in a 1,000 seat auditorium.

Local music icon JC Bonds even invited Liz to play
We went for the music of course and were not disappointed. Walking around the craft village we met a nine year old fiddler named Mary Parker and three other girls who were playing traditional tunes in the courtyard on the guitar, mandolin and banjo. Later at an evening concert we watched Mary and her friends in a stunning performance that included singing and clogging. These young folks  are proficient musicians, trained from an early age by the public school-based Music Roots program. Skilled musicians provide youth with classes in traditional folk instruments  (those  four plus  the autoharp and  dulcimer.) Donated instruments are provided for the students to use as long as they are in the Music Roots program, and are often gifted to them when they get older.  We were also very impressed with an adult group from Minnesota called Monroe Crossing and were delighted when Mary Parker, her little brother, and the rest of her group got on the stage to clog along with Orange Blossom Special. (See video on the Monroe Crossing FaceBook page). We spent several hours listening to these and other great bluegrass bands. If you love traditional acoustic music, you’ll love Mountain View Arkansas.

Chihuly Christmas Tree from Clinton Whitehouse
We then headed to Little Rock and stayed at a very convenient, inexpensive  and  tidy municipal RV park on the north side of the Arkansas River. We rode our bikes on the paved riverside trail and the next day took the tourist trolley across the river into Little Rock’s historic downtown. This area was revitalized when the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer International reclaimed a highly contaminated industrial site at the east end of downtown and spent many millions to restore wetlands and build state of the art facilities. The Clinton Library was overwhelming in its content (over 80 million pages and lots of stuff!), but we enjoyed seeing the faces and remembering the events of the years of the Clintons in the White House. Liz then toured the LEED-certified headquarters of Heifer International  while Janna enjoyed their gift shop and the late afternoon sunshine.

Left Wing Books
Right Wing Books
 We also made some other discoveries: The Flying Fish Restaurant: catfish, shrimp, gumbo, inexpensive, casual and delicious; and  River Market Books and Gifts, a used bookstore run by the Friends of Central Arkansas Libraries (FOCAL) in an historic  building downtown. This remarkable destination has three floors of carefully arranged fiction, literature, children’s books, biography, music, history and more. The political science section even has “left wing” and “right wing” shelves. Fortunately they were closing and we were kicked out after only an hour; it would have been so easy to buy more than we could afford or carry home.

NPS Visitors Center overlooks the historic scene
Little Rock Central High School still operates as a school
Before leaving Little Rock we also visited the National Park Service Visitors Center at Little Rock High School. It was remarkable to sit watching the videos of the courageous kids integrating the school in 1957 while we looked out the window to the still-operational high school across the street where a very different student body now populates the halls. Again, we felt the energy of being “where history happened” and appreciated the moment of reflection.

As we wrap up our reporting from the great state of Arkansas we have a confession to make: we did indeed go see the Purse Museum in Little Rock (too small and too pricey) and the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, site of the first store owned by Sam Walton and now a very poorly curated museum. But we also went to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville  a huge museum founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Sam, that houses original art from many American artists and has assets totaling more than $500 million.  The building is beautiful , the grounds around it are lovely and the art inside is spectacular. There is no entrance fee or parking fee. So it seems a little of that Walton money has gone for the benefit of the public. Just a little of that Walton money.
And now we are headed to New Orleans.

No comments:

Post a Comment