Bill Clinton Museum, Little Rock, AR
Countless Images of Bill
Mark finds the Beatles in the Peter Max Collection
Clinton's Presidential Car
White House Table Setting, Selected by Hillary
Socks plays sax
Lance Armstrong gave
Clinton a Trek bike
Mountain View, Arkansas
Storefronts in Mountain View
Mark tries out a chair
Whittling soup spoons (note the pile of shavings)
The "Pickin' Porch" comes alive during the Folk Music
Unique music store
THe Dulcimer Shoppe where beautiful Mountain
Dulcimers are made
Feelin' Groovy with a Dulcimer
Putting the finishing touches on a dulcimer
Sam Walton's first store in Bentonville, AR
Walton's wasn't the biggest game in town at first
City park with a Confederate statue
opposite Sam's store
Storefronts in Bentonville, AR
Bike shop with a mountain bike frame
for a door handle
Little Rock, Mountain View & Bentonville
March 22-27, 2009 - We left the serenity of the Natchez Trace in
Missippi and continued north to Arkansas. For a week we were treated
to some of the highlights of this state by a dear friend who took us on
day trips to places we might not have otherwise visited.
The Bill Clinton Museum in Little Rock is housed in a unique building
affectionately referred to as a motorhome on stilts. It juts out over the
banks of the Arkansas River and is elevated to allow the floodwaters
plenty of room to rage underneath. Perhaps this choice of setting and
architecture is symbolic of elements of Clinton's eight year term.
Whether you are a Clinton fan or not, the museum offers a look at his
presidency in the context of history, presented in the most positive light
The museum was hosting an exhibit of paintings by Peter Max when we
were there. As we entered, there was a beautiful image of the White
House and portraits of many recent presidents as well, including, of
course, a series of images of Mr. Clinton.
Mark is a die-hard Beatles fan, and he loves Max's artwork, as it
has close ties with the Beatles. He quickly found a Beatles
The museum opens with an exhibit of Clinton's presidential car. It was
built with all the latest high-tech gear, but as we read the list of
antiquated communications equipment, we suddenly realized just how
long ago Clinton was president. 1992-2000 is quickly slipping into
We had not realized that Hillary ordered a complete new table setting
for entertaining guests at the White House. The plates featured a
bold image of the White House in the center, encircled by an ornate
design, giving visiting heads of state no doubts about just where they
were and who was entertaining them.
Seeing this table setting and one of Hillary's
gowns along with many photos of them both
dressed for elegant White House events
impressed upon us just how much these
grand, formal social events are a part of the
There were glass cases filled with stunning
gifts the Clintons had received from leaders
all over the world, many from remote, small
countries. Our favorites were an image of
Socks the cat playing the saxaphone and a
Trek bike and yellow jersey given by Lance
Armstrong (however, we were amused that
the bike's drive-train was Shimano Ultegra,
not the high end components a president
might expect or deserve).
Music is abundant in Arkansas,
and on another day we stopped
into a guitar shop in Searcy and
admired a wall full of banjos. Two
men sat in the middle of the shop,
happily strumming away. The
younger guitar player was
accompanying his 85-year-old
friend on the mandolin.
The Ozark town of Mountain View
hosts a huge Folk Music Festival every
year, and when we visited, the town was
gearing up for the festivities.
All the buildings in this town have stone
walls that are a pretty yellow-orange hue.
Mountain View is
a wonderful Main
town, great for
Mark found a perfect seat for himself outside a furniture
shop that features oversized furniture made of rough hewn
Inside, I spotted a sign whose words ring true for us. On
days like this, when we discover a new town or place that
lifts our spirits, we feel the fleeting nature of time and
preciousness of every moment more intensely than we ever did in our old lives.
We turned a corner and saw two old men
happily whiling away the hours whittling large
wooden cooking spoons. They were creating
a large pile of cedar shavings as they
whittled, and we watched them for a long
time. They expertly rotated the wood in their
hands and shaved off paper thin strips of
wood, working together in contented silence.
Not far from where they sat, Mark discovered the "Pickin' Porch"
where musicians gather to harmonize. What a cool town. We want
to return some year when the music festival is in full swing.
Across the street is an old Victorian building that houses a large
music store, and Mark tried a variety of guitars. Many were very
ornate with elaborate headstocks and inlaid wood on the guitar body.
A few miles outside of town we found the Dulcimer Shoppe where
beautiful mountain dulcimers are hand crafted and sold. Long ago we
had visited a tiny dulcimer store in Sedona, Arizona, where the shop
owner was playing "Feelin' Groovy" by Simon and Garfunkle. This
memory had remained with us over the years, so whenever we
thought of dulcimers we thought of that Sedona shop owner playing
As soon as we walked into the Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View,
Arkansas, Mark asked Judy, who was showing us dulcimers, if she could
play "Feelin' Groovy." I laughed -- how could she just come up with that
out of thin air? She asked Mark to hum a few lines, and within minutes
she was playing it expertly on her dulcimer!
She called out to
her boss, Jim
Woods, owner of the store: "Get a base and accompany me!" He obliged,
and all of a sudden we were being treated to a spirited rendition of the
Simon and Garfunkle classic.
Jim had worked in the corporate world in Texas for too many years and
came out to Mountain View to buy the Dulcimer Shoppe and start a new
life. His love of music and beautiful instruments is infectious, and he
casually grabbed an autoharp as he told us his story and began playing for
us. Back behind a wall of glass we watched the dulcimers being lovingly
Deep in the Ozarks, we felt like we were reaching into the heart of
American culture, one that is home grown, a little rough around the edges perhaps, and lacking any kind of commercial spin. So it
surprised us as we drove along the rural roads and suddenly found ourselves scanning the radio dial and counting eight radio
stations broadcasting in Spanish. As we listened to a Mexican um-pah beat for a while, I thought of my German ancestors who had
settled in Wisconsin in the mid-1800's. The parents spoke German exclusively at home, and only two of the four children were
born on US soil. At night the father read aloud to the family by oil lamp. He would read latest Charles Dickens novel translated into
German. Suddenly the Spanish radio reaching out to Latinos in the Ozarks made sense and
seemed as American to me as everything else we had seen in Arkansas.
With these thoughts in mind, we pulled into Bentonville, Arkansas, arguably the birthplace of
modern America's consumer based economy and, by extension, possibly the very heart of
It is the home of the Walton family's retail dynasty and site of Sam Walton's first store,
predecessor to today's Walmart chain. Opened May 9th, 1950, the storefront is humble and
simple, not even the largest building
on the block. It faces a town square
which is built around a large statue of
a confederate soldier.
Unlike most American small towns,
this one is flush with Walmart money, and there is a
plaque thanking a Walmart CEO for the investment
the company has made in sprucing up the town.
Every building on the square sports a fresh coat of
paint and bright clear windows, a rarity in small
town America where boarded up windows and
vacant store fronts are far more common. Walton's
store is now a Walmart visitors center, and there
are wonderful black and white photos from the
1950's showing the store's simple beginnings.
Sam's plan was to make just one cent profit on every item in the
store, regardless of what the "market value" might be. He
resented the way small town proprietors tended to overcharge for
necessities, and his intention was to bring the prices that were
available to big city residents to all the small towns of America. He
bought an airplane to make it easy to visit his far-flung stores, and
later said that without Walton Aviation, Walmart never would have
become what it did.
It is ironic that by trying to serve the small town American
consumer he also helped put China, India and other distant
societies plunk in the middle of the world
economy. At the same time, he led the
homogenization of small town America, a high
cultural price that we have all happily paid so we
could have easy access to cheap consumer
Mom-and-pop stores still thrive in other
industries, however, bringing color and charm to
their communities, and our sampling of Arkansas music shops had proven that. Mark
especially liked the local Bentonville bike shop, Phat Tire (one of his favorite beers as well).
On their front door they replaced the traditional door handle with a mountain bike frame.
The list of local weekend rides they had posted looked very tempting too.
However, we had an appointment for warranty work on our trailer in Chanute, Kansas, and
we had to keep moving.
Public confederate pride
Private confederate pride
Scenic Route 7
Overlook in the Ozarks
Diesel prices jump
Ozark Mountains, Arkansas
May 2-4, 2008 - After leaving the Natchez Trace we were on a
mission to get to Kansas, but we took the scenic route through
the Ozark mountains rather than the interstate to get there. We
stopped briefly in the town of Hot Springs which is famous for its
hot baths. Fancy bathhouses were erected along the main
drag for tourists to enjoy steaming in the hot baths. We didn't
take a dip, but the buildings were intriguing.
We were also
intrigued to find that
the Confederate flag
was flown in many
places here as well,
including the front
courtyard of a public
Ed's Flags was
doing a bang-up
business, and he
in his lineup.
to spot a
flag was in the
front yard of a
The Scenic Route 7 through the mountains is a hilly, twisty drive. It was
a little bit of a struggle with the buggy, and Mark had to concentrate as
we wound our way up and down through the range. We saw lots of
motorcycles and even a motorcycle rally. This would be an ideal
place for any kind of two-wheeled vehicle.
There weren't too many lookouts with views, but we did stop at one
where we got a good view of the valley.
We weren't near any major cities, and the gas prices reflected that.
When we arrived in Florida on February 5th, 2008, diesel was $3.11
a gallon. Now, a mere three months later, diesel in Arkansas was
$4.39. Little did we know that by the time we got to the North Rim of
the Grand Canyon, two months after we took this photo, diesel would
be $5.34 a gallon.
We passed through several fascinating little communities where all the signs were in Spanish. I had always thought that the border
states had the most Latino residents, but here in the heart of the Ozarks we discovered some thriving Hispanic communities.
We had been told at two visitors centers in Arkansas not to miss Eureka Springs. It is a quaint
town, they said, with a very cute main street and lots of charm. Unfortunately, it is not RV
friendly. In fact, it is not tourist friendly. We stopped at the visitors center on the edge of town to
find out where we could park so we could walk the town. It turned out that in order to see the
town you had to pay $5 to park your RV for the day outside of town and then you had to take a
shuttle bus into town -- $9 for two people. So in order to see this quaint, charming town we had
to shell out $14. On top of that, the restrooms in the visitors center weren't even in their
building. They were way around in the back behind a bunch of shops, and they were decrepit
and dirty. So we skipped Eureka Springs. One theme that has been repeated over and over in
our travels is that the more you pay the less you get.
From the Ozarks we scooted through Missouri and finally landed in Chanute, Kansas, a small
town tucked into the southeastern corner of the state.