I love small towns and personally believe that to truly see this great country of ours a person has to see where real people live. Because of that I intentionally wanted to spend some time in the rural western part of Arkansas and after some research Lee chose the town of Ozark. And yes Lee and I love the TV show Ozark, but to be clear that wasn’t actually filmed in this town. We did learn though that the first year of Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life was shot here and the town’s claim to fame is that they both worked at the local Sonic…but I am jumping ahead.
First we had to get settled in and Lee had put a reservation in at a cool COE (Core of Engineers) park called Aux Arc Park. Weird name right, but it makes more sense when you realize it is on the property of a dam that generates electricity for the area. Lee got a beautiful spot right on the water, but unfortunately when we arrived the site was taken. The gentlemen in the RV on our spot thought he had rented for two nights but unfortunately it was only one and the situation got more complicated when we realized the campground was 100% reservation only, and bookable online only and the local camp hosts had limited ability to help us solve the problem.
Thankfully a local person jumped in and said due to a family medical emergency he was leaving his site early and graciously allowed the other camper to move into it. That sort of small town kindness is always appreciated and within 30 minutes (the other camper was a C class) both he and we were in our correct sites. Jack was thrilled with all the new smells and I loved seeing all the birds in the area. There were pelicans, geese, cormorants and even an eagle I saw on two separate occasions. It was a really beautiful park and very well maintained. My only complaint was there was a train track across the water and the sound did carry, but other than that it was perfect.
Once we get set up, we usually jump in the truck and get our bearings. In this case with a tiny town (population 3684) that doesn’t take too long. Grocery store options are always at the top of our list, but I am always on the lookout for local thrift stores (they don’t always show up in google searches) and I like seeing where people work. In this case the local grocery store was Family CV’s although there was an old school Walmart with an extremely limited grocery section.
The two main employers appeared to be a Butterball plant and the local Ozark bank corporate office. Obviously some money from these businesses had gone back into the community because there was a beautiful state of the art community center with an indoor pool. I also found a local thrift store that was only open Weds- Fri 10-2. If you ever see one with these sorts of limited hours I highly recommend checking it out, because they are volunteer staffed and the prices are always super good. For example I got a polo shirt and a pair of jeans for $1 each!
There wasn’t much in the way of restaurants though although we had an awesome (and inexpensive meal) at a Mexican restaurant. They also had an extremely busy Hillbilly Hideout restaurant in the local truck stop that was doing a brisk business the day we went to get gas. We didn’t eat there but I did get some General’s hot sauce in a really cool glass grenade container. The company is Veteran owned and operated and the $12 price was more than worth it.
All that being said it was a really short tour, so much so that when Lee saw a cow sitting in a field he doubled back so I could take a picture. Then we had to research why cows sit (usually stomach issues) and spent about 20 minutes talking about that. Ah the joys of small town life.
There wasn’t much else to see in town but another day we drove up the pig trail scenic byway to see Pig Trail Falls. Unfortunately this was one of those scenarios where the pictures online do not really reflect reality and despite lots of rain the falls were more of a trickle. Plus there was no where for poor Jack to run around so we just jumped out and took a couple of pictures while he had to stay in the car. Lee did like the crazy switchback road we had to take to get there though, and although I am sure the drive is beautiful in the fall not so much in the spring.
Speaking of rain its tornado season in Arkansas and unfortunately we were not immune. We’ve had really good luck over the years but there were two separate tornado touchdowns near us two days apart in one week here. The first was near Little Rock an hour to the east and was 3 miles wide when it touched down. The second was northwest of Fort Smith two days later and both nights were filled with general unease and multiple tornado warnings.
When you live in a camper tornados are no joke, especially because that weather comes with other nasty surprises. A microburst or high winds can fell trees that can take out a camper, large hail can also do extensive damage, and lots of rain can cause flooding if you are near water. Thankfully we were safe and just experienced lots of rain but it was a little tense. It made us realize why we largely avoid this part of the country in spring and for a variety of factors if you are planning on visiting the area I would recommend seeing it in the fall.
Thankfully we did have a couple of beautiful days and on Sunday we took a day trip to Fort Smith. Instead of going on route 40 though I asked Lee to drive Route 64 which took us through lots of small towns. The most interesting one was Alma which is the self proclaimed spinach capital of the world. It is one of the towns that is in transition, with parts of the downtown being beautified (with an awesome Popeye statue) and others falling apart…literally. The high school was huge though and they had a large theater center, but there is definitely still work to be done. Still we like seeing towns like this making an effort.
We arrived in Fort Smith and realized that this was a city, albeit a smaller one. The population is 80,000 plus and it has all the stores you would expect. I also learned that it had a very rich history because at one time it was the gateway to the territorial west. It was the home of the US Marshalls and even has a beautiful new museum dedicated to them. Unfortunately it isn’t open to the public yet, but we drove by to see the outside of the building. Throughout town there are numerous statues for notable citizens including “Hanging” Judge Parker and Bass Reeves a famous Black US Marshall. You don’t have to look far to see hints of the wild west town it once was and despite its growth has managed to maintain some of its original character. We always appreciate that.
The main thing we saw in Fort Smith was the National Monument, but that was so good I am going to cover that in its own post. After visiting though we were hungry and despite it being Sunday we were able to get a table at the local Calico County Restaurant. I love eating at local places and this one was terrific. First we got cinnamon rolls as our “bread” before the meal and for the first time had deep fried corn on the cob. The meal was really great, but I’ll be honest and say I gained a full pound from that one meal. Still the splurge was worth it and Lee even bought some no bake cookies to take home. They are his favorite. If you are wondering why I have more pictures of the restaurant than anything else that is how good it was.
Next up I’ll talk about the Fort Smith National Historic Site which was much more interesting than I though it would be.
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