Let Arkansas surprise you with these 10 incredible attractions

Discover the origins of Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Handout photo)

Forget what you think you know about Arkansas. The state’s natural beauty, diverse landscapes and
mild climate have made it a popular destination for travellers and tourists for generations. Here are 10 unique and fascinating experiences you can’t miss when you visit this rather surprising destination.

Spend a night in America’s most haunted hotel

Like a lot of historic hotels, the stately Crescent Hotel & Spa in Eureka Springs, Arkansas has plenty of ghost stories associated with it, but the one thing it has that the others don’t is its own mortuary which might explain how this landmark earned the title of America’s most haunted hotel. This creepy repository for the dead is tucked away in a damp, dark corner of the sprawling building’s sub-basement that you can visit if you take one of the hotel’s popular ghost tours. Fortunately, it isn’t in actual use today. It dates back to a time when this 19th-century edifice served as a cancer hospital. Today, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa has been fully restored to provide guests with a unique blend of classic charm and modern amenities.

Visit the Arkansas town where Walmart was born

The retail behemoth known as Walmart began as a humble five-and-dime store in the small Arkansas town of Bentonville. The building that housed that shop sits on the town’s pleasant and leafy central square and has been preserved as a museum. Unfortunately, it is undergoing a major renovation that may or may not be finished by the time you visit. If it is not, you can get a taste of what to expect in the updated museum by visiting the Walmart Museum Heritage Lab which is experimenting with new, interactive technologies to tell the Walmart story. One of the most interesting is an interactive hologram of founder Sam Walton which can respond to questions from visitors. Don’t forget to ask him to sing the Walmart Cheer.

Discover why a Little Rock high school is a national historic site

There’s only one active high school in the United States that is a national historic site and while the building itself is fairly unremarkable, the human story that it represents is not. That school is Little Rock Central High School and it became famous on September 4, 1957 when the world’s news media came to witness what would become a flashpoint in America’s Civil Rights struggle. It’s where nine Black teenagers, the Little Rock Nine, tried to become the first to study at the all-White school. Visitors can learn about this vital event in American history through the skillful telling of the park rangers who guide visitors along the Little Rock Nine’s footsteps.

Appreciate fine art where you would never expect it

You don’t have to travel to a big city like New York City or Los Angeles to see great art. In the unassuming Arkansas town of Bentonville, Walmart heiress Alice Walton is building one of America’s most significant art collections with the goal of making it accessible to as many people as possible. The bridge-like buildings that span the Crystal River and for which the Cyrstal Bridges Museum derives its name were designed by celebrated architect Moshe Safdie and are practically works of art themselves. Notable paintings in this sprawling collection include Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of George Washington and Norman Rockwell’s ‘Rosie the Riveter.’ There’s even a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home that was moved from New Jersey and rebuilt on the museum grounds. 

Relive the life of America’s last ‘analog’ president

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum, located on the banks of the Arkansas
River in Little Rock, Arkansas is dedicated to the life and legacy of former President Bill Clinton. The museum features exhibits on Clinton’s presidency, as well as a unique perspective of the work – past, present, and future – of the 42nd President of the United States William Jefferson Clinton, the last president to have operated in a mostly analog world. It also provides year-round educational and cultural opportunities to visitors of all ages that reflect President Clinton’s lifetime commitment to advancing opportunity for all people. Don’t miss the recreation of the cabinet room where he met with his advisors and a perfect reproduction of the Oval Office, complete with a copy Resolute Desk where you can pose for photos.

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Discover what life was like at the edge of the American frontier

At one time, Arkansas sat at the edge of the American frontier. To the west, lay Indian Territory. Explore that history through the stories of soldiers, the Trail of Tears, scandals, outlaws and the U.S. Marshals who pursued them at Fort Smith National Historic Site. From the establishment of the first Fort Smith on December 25, 1817, to the final days of Judge Isaac C. Parker’s jurisdiction over Indian Territory in 1896, who was infamous as ‘the hanging judge,’ Fort Smith National Historic Site preserves almost 80 years of that colourful history.

Make a wish at the Ozark Ball Museum

America has its share of eccentric museums and Arkansas is no exception. If you end up in Fayetteville, check out the Ozark Ball Museum, a small house museum created by two folk musicians, Kelly and Donna Mulhollan, who provide a delightful story and song experience along with their quirky ball collection. They also host the Ozark Instrument Museum and Exotic Instrument Museum, including dozens of handmade instruments, each with a story more delightful than the last. This museum is by reservation only and they invite groups of up to eight people to join them inside their own home for an exploration of every ball you could ever imagine. Don’t forget to leave your wish in the front yard’s Wishing Ball before you go.

Visit a new national museum dedicated to the US Marshals

A new state-of-the-art national museum has just opened its doors in Fort Smith, Arkansas to tell the story of the sometimes underappreciated law enforcement agency known as the US Marshals. This location is fitting as it’s from this town where more marshals died in the line of duty than any other. Across the Arkansas River where this stunning museum was built lies Oklahoma, but in the 19th century it was the edge of America’s frontier and was known as Indian Territory. The museum not only covers that period of marshals’ history, but uses interactive displays and cutting-edge technology to recount their history up until the present day. 

Gaze up at the Christ of the Ozarks

Reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, Arkansas’ Christ of the Ozarks monument is one of the tallest statues in the United States. Perched atop Magnetic Mountain near Eureka Springs, the 20-metre tall (65.5 feet) statue is the brainchild of a man who was a white supremacist, anti-semitic holocaust denier who erected it in 1966 as the centrepiece of a religious theme park that never got built.  He did ultimately complete a 4,100-seat outdoor amphitheatre where performances of The Great Passion Play are staged every year three nights a week from the end of May through to October.

Fall asleep to the sounds of a lion’s roar

If you were watching TV during pandemic lockdown, chances are you were enthralled by the outrageous adventures of the Tiger King, Joe Exotic. The titular protagonist of the Netflix documentary series is now serving time in jail, but what many people don’t realize is that accredited animal sanctuaries across the United States are still dealing with the fallout of his actions. One of them is Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains, where visitors can learn about the abandoned and abused big cats living there. Many of these animals are products of the cub petting industry fueled by breeders like Joe Exotic and others like him. For those that really want to spend more time with the animals, the non-profit Turpentine Creek even offers a range of comfortable accommodation options.

Mark Stachiew

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