Hometown, Arkansas: Northwest

Altus

There are no sour grapes in this storied small town

I’ve taken Exit 55 off I-40 many times, mostly on my way to see my dad when he taught and coached at Subiaco Academy, living out on Lake Dardanelle in the town of New Blaine (population 174). But I’ve not once taken it to get to the wine capital of Arkansas: Altus.

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Berryville

Exploring this north Arkansas town? It’s a fruitful endeavor

The town is one of Carroll County’s two county seats. The other is Berryville’s quirky little sister, Eureka Springs. Yet where Eureka Springs is outwardly facing, beckoning tourists, Berryville feels much more like its own community.

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Clarksville

From pets to pots du chocolat, there’s plenty to warm the heart in Clarksville

I have anxiously looked forward to my Saturday escape to Clarksville; my husband, Dave, has been getting on my last nerve all week. After 22 years of marriage, sometimes all I can see are the dirty clothes on the floor and unwashed dishes in the sink and those stupid water spots dotting the bathroom mirror after he shaves. … So I do what any sound-minded woman in my position would do: I invite my husband, Dave, to come with me.

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Cotter

Fish out of … Well, you know

As I approach Cotter (population 953), the haze thickens to the point I can barely see 2 feet in front of the car. A sign flashes by, and I find myself on a bridge. What lies beneath would be a mystery to me if I didn’t know I was crossing the White River, the source of Cotter’s claim to fame: Trout Capital USA.

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Eureka Springs

Exploring the place where the misfits fit

I’m beginning to think I might want to spend more than one night here when I pull into the driveway of the Grand Treehouse Resort. And then I notice the welcome sign, which is flanked by plaster statues of meerkats.

Now I know I want to spend more than one night.

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Main

Fayetteville

Setting the scene in Northwest Arkansas

It feels like I’m in a movie—one of those coming-of-age flicks where the fair heroine must return to the stomping grounds of her youth in order to understand her place in this world. And as I travel up Interstate 49, I think about how things used to be when I was young. I knew this road as Interstate 540 but never really traveled it because I was a senior at the University of Arkansas before this motorway was even partially built.

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Fort Smith

Heading west for a walk through history

I’m practically giddy as I wind my way down Interstate 49 toward Fort Smith. Having lived in Arkansas for only eight months, I’m eager to add another Natural State city to my growing collection. And Fort Smith is quite the score—not only is it the second-largest city in my new home state; it has a past. (I suppose, of course, when a town is known for having served as a gateway to the Wild West, that’s hard to avoid.) A shameless history geek, I’m already sold on the place, sight unseen.

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Jasper

Blink and you’ll … Mystic?

It’s long been said that Jasper, a town of 453 near the banks of the upper Buffalo River, is not just a special place, but a magical one. My mother remembers touring Diamond Cave, spelunking its forests of stalagmites and stalactites and marveling at the fairylike formations of sparkling calcite crystals. Rumors swirl of Newton County’s longitudinal alignment with Tibet. And more than once, I’ve heard tell that this area is a vortex—whatever that means. But could there really be something to all of this transcendental talk? Is there something truly supernatural about Jasper?

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Leslie

The greatest thing since sliced bread

When you tell most Arkansans you’re heading to Leslie, they unilaterally have heard of Serenity Farm Bread. And if you know about making bread from scratch, you know you’re looking at a half-day-long process with repeated series of handling and covering and rising and waiting. But for sourdough bread (which is what Serenity Farm Bread makes exclusively), you’re looking at five days to even create the starter for your dough. Just what kind of people—and what kind of town—has the time and patience and dedication for what can seem like such a prosaic and endless process?

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Morrilton

Taking in a place with vision

“There were two prominent citizens at the time: Mr. Moose and Mr. Morrill. They flipped a coin to see what the town would be named, and Morrill won. To honor Mr. Moose, they named this street after him. It’s the only Moose Street in Arkansas.”

It’s no surprise that Sarah is so knowledgeable about Morrilton—she’s actually starting her second year as director of the Morrilton Main Street Program, a tidbit she didn’t brag about (even once) on Facebook.

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Mountain Home

Seeking serenity in the Ozark Hills

I drive into the Mountain Home area—best known, I believe, for being a former island surrounded by the waters of Bull Shoals Lake, Lake Norfork, the White River and the North Fork River—as the sun begins to set. I don’t think I’ve ever visited this corner of the Ozark Mountains before (is that a crime to admit?), and I’m not sure what to expect.

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Paris

Coming home for an earful and an Eiffel

I’ve been back in Arkansas for just over three years, and I’ve done more traveling in my home state these past thousand days than the first 33 years I lived here. And while I grew up in Fort Smith and now live in Conway, there is one Arkansas town that always pulls me back: Paris.

“Come home,” Paris says. And I do.

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Rogers

All aboard for trails and ales

There is so much roadwork on the way to Rogers it’s almost like I’m on some kind of test track. Orange barrels narrow the lanes until I feel like I’m in a giant bumper-car arena. I guess turning Highway 71 into Interstate 49 takes a whole lot of effort and a little bit of inconvenience. But there’s a meme on the Internet that echoes in my head this morning: Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. And for now, that’s enough for me to keep my eye on the prize, my hands on the wheel and my mind open to whatever is in store for my trek today.

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Russellville

Exploring Main Street, where nostalgia meets new opportunities

The store is bigger than I remember. Bigger. That surprises me, because the places that loom large in our memories are most often diminished in the light of adulthood. So why does C&D Drug Store in Russellville seem so big and bright? It can’t be the same 1950s-era pharmacy I visited during my childhood. Then I smell chicken and french fries.

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Siloam Springs

Listening to the talk of the town

I like to take my time and do my due diligence before I make a judgement call—one way or the other—about a place, but it takes Siloam Springs a mere 15 minutes to turn my head. Two minutes after parking in a public lot downtown, I wave down a fire department SUV to ask for directions to Pour Jons Coffee Shop on East Main Street. Next thing I know, I’m getting a lift to said coffee shop by a handsome, cheerful fireman who seems lifted straight from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel (his name is “Daniel Fox,” for pity’s sake), and swooning over a darling goldendoodle by the name of Sophie who’s snuggled under her mom’s table.

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Winslow

“You know how they say something tugs at your heartstrings? Winslow tugs at my soul strings”

I hadn’t taken my mom on a Hometown trip yet—I’ve been doing them now for, gosh, three years and counting—and she is about to come right out of her seat, she’s so excited. Her great-grandmother lived in Winslow, and my mom spent many Sundays and summers exploring the mountaintop town. I dare say she left her heart there.

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Van Buren

When one door closes, “enter at the third door on the porch” and try again

I have to admit, usually by this time in a Hometown mission, I’ve hit a grand slam. I eat well and visit often and dance like a football player in the end zone (uh-oh, I’ve mixed metaphors). So I’m starting to worry, just a little. I have to admit that I’ve come in the middle of the day on a Wednesday in a hot Arkansas summer, but I was just hoping for … more. And then, in downtown Van Buren, I get it.

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