Riddle me this, where can you combine diving and visiting a flamboyant arts community, including a parade with a crocheted fire truck? Key West, right? Could be. But if you want to combine those experiences with a haunted hotel that was once a sanitarium –you’ll have to look to the land of Waltons and Clintons: Arkansas, the Natural State.

Crocheted Firetruck, Eureka Springs 2016

Admit it, you thought I invented the crocheted firetruck detail out of whole cloth, didn’t you?

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to be exact. One of the multifold beauties of travel is that it challenges you to rethink your preconceptions. Northern Arkansas is green, peaceful and offers hot springs and cool freshwater diving. Visit the Crescent Hotel , whether you stay, take the truly gruesome Crescent Ghost Tour , or relax in the New Moon Spa. The remodeled spa is actually just down the hall from a morgue; you see, the hotel had a past life as a sanitarium run by a notorious and actually murderous quack: Norman Baker). More history on the Crescent Hotel; thankfully it is again a beautiful hotel, and not a sanitarium decorated in purple and gold.

While I didn’t stay at the Crescent Hotel, I enjoyed the Inn at Rose Hall, owned and operated by Mill Valley emigrés. Check out the Grotto and (Literal) Wine Cave that has seating by an actual cave.  Cave restaurants must be a thing in this part of the world.

On to the Northern Arkansas diving: Beaver Lake has a dive park north of the dam. A beautiful park all around. Nota bene: bring dive shoes with treads as the smooth rock formations at the entrance are slick and slippery. If you need gear or practice in a heated pool, C and J Sports can provide both.

IMG_2648

Diving: it saves you a bar tab! (To be honest, I wish we could tell you it was a wild night at the dive shop… but the cork had leaked, so I am afraid all I had for my efforts was a bottle of  Patron Lakewater.)

After you’ve dived Beaver Lake, if Eureka Springs has only whetted your appetite for art, you can drive west on U.S. Highway 62 to the small town of Bentonville, about 30 miles from the Oklahoma border and home to the only art museum in the nation since 1977 to be founded with a major endowment (a major endowment is defined as more than $200 million –Crystal Bridges had $350 million).

IMG_3984

Crystal Bridges is an inversion of what you would expect to find in green and rolling ArkHoma. Alice Walton, heir to that purveyor of globalized goods, gave this part of the nation a museum to display four centuries of American art. The museum is forever free to the public.

IMG_3977

I walked through the galleries in reverse chronological order, which is probably a statement on how I apperceive existence, but for the purpose of this writing was a cool way to appreciate this collection. My retrospective began in the late 20th century, with cowpats of melted aluminum and an oddly poignant oblong of green candies.

You could interact with the died-young artist by taking a candy and eating it, which was intended to show both transience and regeneration. It seems that non-representative art needs contextualization; part of its meaning is its point on the x-axis of technical development and the intellectual background of its creator.

IMG_3973

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! “Landscape” by Mark Tansey. 1994.

Traveling into the past, art becomes more representative. Portraits meld from abstract to glowingly representative to flat and cracked. Landscapes unscroll from steaming and industrial through mythic representations of the West to the primitive use of placing things in the background above the foreground to show distance.

Crystal Bridges makes a statement about the universality of fine art. Hundreds of millions of dollars of beaux arts are displayed here, in a small Ozark town of trees and country roads, free for all to admire, rather than sequestering sculpture and paintings in the echoing mausoleums of a megalopolis.

I liked the interaction of form and content in the above marble, an artistic medium developed by empires dead for centuries. The content is people who, like the Etruscans, came under an empire.

img_3946

A guest book at a wedding? Directions to the next way station? A “No Trespassing Sign?”

Finally, I visited some art work indigenous to Arkansas, not contained by Crystal Bridges and south of Fayetteville. Before there was U.S. Highway 71, people were travelling by foot and leaving their version of road signs and blogs. The “Indian Shelter” is a natural scoop in the rock along a trail in the modern day Ozark National ForestOzark National Forest. It’s unmarked and underneath a winding mountain road. Where exactly? You’ll have to ask the owner of the Locke Mountain Cabins –I can’t give out all the secrets in one blog post!