I've made my plans to try it again, that is, a return trek to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. More specifically, to the KOA campgrounds near Beaver Lake. This is site of Steve and Leila Walker's Annual Arkansas Campout, located in the scenic mountains of northwest Arkansas. (Last year was a total rain out for me. I stayed in a Eureka Springs hotel room for just about the whole weekend waiting for the rain to quit.)
I got the Louisiana and Arkansas road maps out, unfolded them, and began making my route plans. Visualizing the trip, I traced the red and blue lines: highway 137 north beginning in my hometown of Rayville, Louisiana, up Louisiana Highway 133 to Oak Ridge, to Bastrop, U.S. #165 to Beekman, and Highways 2/133 into Arkansas and on to Crossett, hanging a left on U.S. #82 for the 40 miles to El Dorado, then connecting to Arkansas Highway #7 to Camden, 24, 53 and 67 to Arkadelphia and 7 again through Hot Springs and on north. My initial plan was to leave early Thursday morning and be in Hot Springs before lunch; then maybe camping out near Mountain Home for the night, just taking my time meandering around on the back roads of northern Arkansas. The only definite plan was to arrive at the Campout sometime Friday evening.
On Monday evening of the week of the campout, I received an email from Al Rodrigue, a firefighter from New Orleans. I had met him at our local Louisiana MGNOC Rally in May, and we had visited for awhile. Anyway, Al had seen my email to the MGCL asking if anyone had plans on going to the Arkansas get together. Al and a friend had planned on traveling to Little Rock for the first leg of the trip to overnight at his friend's parents house and then on to Eureka Springs the next day, but plans fell through and Al would be riding solo. He had booked a cabin at the KOA and wanted to know if I would be interested in splitting the cost. Tent vs. shelter with an air conditioner? You bet, especially after last year's rain out. I originally planned to go solo myself but a riding companion would be nice, so I emailed him asking if he would like the same.
I sent Al directions to my house along with my phone number in case he had problems along the way in from New Orleans. When he arrived we would check on the storm brewing in the southeast portion of Oklahoma and make plans accordingly. Al arrived about six that evening, tired but ready to continue on. I had my bike packed and ready to go. It looked like the storm front was centered about the Arkansas/Texas border. With about 2 1/2 hours of daylight left, we decided to make a run into Arkansas as far as we could that evening.
After about an hour and a half, we left Highway #7 and connected to 24 at Camden, now headed in a northwest direction toward Arkadelphia. Within a few miles we began to see a dark line of clouds approaching: nightfall came quickly. We were about 50 miles out from Arkadelphia on a rural, lonely, tree lined highway when I began to notice some faint, flickering of light in the night sky. Was this lightning or just my imagination? Yeah, surely it was just my imagination, must be a strobe light on a cell phone tower somewhere, too irregular though. Off in the distance, peeking over the tree line, we could see small thunderclouds being illuminated from within by rapid firing lightning. It looked almost like a brain floating in the sky complete with frontal lobes and fissures.
It was off to the southwest and we should be able to miss it - hopefully. Again, about 25 miles from the night's destination, I began to notice more light flickering over the horizon. This time it wasn't from an isolated cloud, but along a line stretching in a north/south direction and to the west of us. By now we were traveling in a northerly direction, almost parallel to the approaching storm. There was absolutely no one on the road but us, and it was just 8:30 P.M.
Were there tornado warnings being posted that we didn't know about? Talk about an eerie feeling! With nowhere to seek shelter from the approaching storm, I turned up the rpms somewhat hoping I wasn't causing Al to override his confident level in keeping up. It was time to get to some civilization.
About two miles out from the hotel, the cold wind blast from the storm front hit us, making it difficult to ride; dust and leaves were being blown across the road. Uh-oh, here it comes! Finally, I could see hotel and eatery signs towering above the trees up ahead. For a couple of weary travelers, this was an oasis for sure.
We pulled under the entry canopy at the Comfort Inn, the first hotel we came to. The parking lot was filled with cars and I was hoping all of the rooms weren't booked up. Luckily they had a couple of rooms left and for a reasonable price too. The hotel staff was extremely friendly. The manager let us park our bikes under the canopy where we covered them to provide some extra protection from blowing rain. After we took our stuff up to the room, we hiked across the parking lot to Taco Bell. Before we received our order, the storm hit, glad we weren't out in that stuff on our bikes.
The next morning we took full advantage of the hotel's continental breakfast, finished, and went out to inspect our bikes. A retired college football coach and his wife came up and began asking about our bikes. All the usual questions, never seen one before, who makes it, etc. His wife thought they were just beautiful. He had just bought a Harley a few months earlier, and they were on their way touring northern Arkansas. He was stunned when Al told him that he had ridden over 500 miles the day before, coming in from New Orleans. He kept asking, "from New Orleans?" They were nice folks, and we enjoyed visiting with them and talking motorcycle trash. The hotel manager saw us preparing to pack our bikes, so she brought out some towels for us to wipe them down. (Remember the Comfort Inn at I-30 and Arkansas #7 if you need a room in the area.) After inspection and wipe down was completed, we packed up and left for Hot Springs.
The sky was still somewhat overcast, but the ride was enjoyable because of cooler temperatures left behind by the passing storm system. A few puddles lingered on the sides of the highway and in potholes but the roadway was dry. A few miles up the highway, we passed by Lake DeGray. Here Highway #7 runs atop the reservoir dam affording a beautiful view of the lake and its islands spotted out in the blue gray waters. (This area is in the southern most part of the Ouachita Mountains, becoming more rugged as we head north. It was quite different from the relative flat top of north Louisiana and southeast Arkansas.) About 45 minutes later we were at the south edge of the city of Hot Springs at Lake Hamilton.
I have visited here many times over the years and have always enjoyed my stay. Several lakes and parks in the area afford water skiing, camping, and other outdoor sports. Downtown has neat shops to browse in. Checking out the Hot Springs visitor center with Bathhouse Row (downtown is in a national park system) and walking along the promenade behind the bathhouses is a must do. Also, downtown hotels have facilities for soaking in the mineral waters of the natural hot springs and getting a massage afterwards. Of course, riding up the switchbacks to the observation areas on top of Hot Springs Mountain is always fun. We made a loop that follows the perimeter of the mountaintop, then traveled another set of switchbacks back down to the park. We cruised downtown Hot Springs for a few more minutes and then headed north out of town, again on scenic Highway #7.
Within a few miles out, the clouds were swept away as if by magic, leaving the sun shining in a clear, deep blue sky. We couldn't have asked for more perfect weather for riding.
Mt. Nebo, located about 8 miles south of Dardanelle, was our next stop. Mac Caruso holds the annual Fools on the Hill event (survival contest?) in February. The Mountain looked relatively tall from our viewpoint on Arkansas #7, running along the floor of the Arkansas River Valley.
Nebo had its top sheared off during the glacial advances eons ago, leaving a relatively flat surface for a state park and some homes/camps spotted around the perimeter. Hang glider pilots use the east rim as a launching area to ride the winds rising from up from the valley. If you come through this part of the country, be sure to challenge the switchbacks running up the north side of Nebo. After about an hour of sight seeing, we rolled back down the mountain, back to Highway 7, and on north again.
At about 3:00 P.M. we stopped for lunch at the Ozark Cafe in Jasper. The small town is a picturesque community sitting just north of the Ozark Nation Forest. It has a typical courthouse square in the center of town. The cafe is located in one of the buildings on the north side of the square surrounding the courthouse; some antiques shops occupy others. The lunch was great and so was the double dip ice cream cone, chocolate chip!
The Buffalo River National Preserve is just north of town. Outfitters had their trailers, loaded with canoes, stationed near the river. There weren't many customers that day as the river usually runs low that time of the year. Rather than continuing up 20 miles or so to Harrison, we decided to take Highway #74 West. The rural road paralleled the south side of the Preserve to Ponca and Lost Valley, two small communities located along the headwaters of the Buffalo River. The road teed into Highway #21 in where we turned north and ended up in Berryville. At this point, it was a short, 25 mile jaunt to the KOA campsite. While enjoying the scenery, I made a wrong turn on Highway #43, and we ended up making a long loop through the countryside to Harrison. Nice ride, but it added about an hour to our riding time.
Oh well, It was time for another break. We stopped at a Burger King on the west side of town for a cold drink. While standing outside near our bikes, Al saw Charlie ride by, headed west on his California II. Charles is another rider from New Orleans (trumpet and cornet musician). Al finished his smoke break and we also headed west toward Eureka Springs. Maybe we could catch up with Charlie along the way. Traveling on Highway #65, running in a northwest direction and then turning west on #62 at Bear Creek, the next stop was the KOA, about 50 miles away.
We arrived at the campsite about 6:00 P.M. and parked in front of our cabin. There were Guzzis, tents, campers, and riders everywhere. After unloading the bikes we walked down the gravel drive toward the welcome pavilion to check in. Steve and Leila Walker were busy making everyone feel at home. Frank Wedge (riding solo) was in a heavy discussion. Dena and Gene Jones from El Dorado, Arkansas, had already arrived. Ken Hand and Peggy Tillery from Texas were just rolling in, towing a camper with Ken's EV. Also Charles Fardella was behind them. I guess he stopped off along the way since he was ahead of us at Harrison. After a few greetings and munching on goodies provided by the Arkansas Reps, we walked back to the cabin to sort out our stuff.
The cabin was a small log-hut looking shelter with a window air conditioner at one end. It had a front porch with a swing; the interior floor area was roughly 12 x 14 feet, just enough space for a full size bed and bunk bed. (No bathroom though, just campground communal facilities.) Charlie and I got the bunk, Al the full size. Charlie warned us that he snored, but I didn't hear anything. I was tired.
The next morning at about 9:00, we walked down to the pavilion and got in on the tail end of the "continental breakfast". We signed up for the poker run scheduled for that afternoon. It looked like the route would be fun. Bikers were already leaving to explore Eureka Springs and the surrounding countryside. I was ready to go myself.
Al was interested in a canoe trip on the White River that was located a few miles west of the campsite. We picked up a brochure of one of the outfitters and decided to go by to see what the latest scheduled time was for departure. Good, 5:00 P.M. gave us time to do the poker run and the canoe trip.
Traveling back east on Highway #62 we skirted the southern part of downtown Eureka Springs and continued on to just east of town and then north down a one lane road to Onyx Cave. It was nice and cool down there. Not the best cave I've been in, as far as seeing interesting geological formations, but it was okay. Back up top, we went through the gift shop, drifting around looking at everything. There were lots of trinkets to buy.
We went back toward town, then north on Highway #23 through the center of the downtown area. Lots of tourist crowded both sidewalks on each side of the street. It almost looked like a Swiss Villa with businesses and houses lining the narrow streets corkscrewing up and down the side of the hills. We explored the back streets for a while and then back on Highway #23 North past the old train station.
The road west of town was curvy and narrow, often dipping down into individual valleys with a small stream meandering along beside the road. We turned left, crossed the stream, and passed the abandoned mine and a roadbed. We ascended the hill ending up at Highway #62. A few minutes later we were at the campgrounds completing the loop.
After eating a light lunch at the campsite, we paid for our poker hands and picked up our directions for the run. We headed back into town, following almost the same route we did earlier in the day, but continuing on north toward Missouri. A few miles out I began to notice that my bike was having a hard time tracking right. Oops, a flat tire! Back down the mountain to a convince store with an air pump. I had only 9 pounds of air in the rear tire by then. I filled it up with air and hurried back to Eureka Springs to a full service station. The station mechanic plugged the tire with an auto tire plug. I almost couldn't bear to witness the torture that tire was going through when the reamer was used. The plug looked like a rag hanging out. Poor tire was ruined now for sure, but the patch held out for the rest of the trip. $7.50 please.
By now it was getting late and we missed our 5 O'clock date with the canoe man. (Sorry about that Al, maybe next year.) Oh well, we got a six pack on the way back to the KOA to help smooth out the rest of the evening.
Back at the campsite, we lifted a few beers and the talk soon begin to flow freely. Charlie volunteered to make another beer run to the local convenience store, while I checked on the flora behind the cabin. Walking from the cabin down to the pavilion at about twilight we saw a large motor home with a few Guzzis parked around it. It turned out that it was Guzzi Dave, his mother and mutual friends. They had fixed a big pot of gumbo and were kind enough to invite us over. Talk about gooood! If you don't already know, Guzzi Dave (David Munnerlyn) is a Cajun from Lafayette, Louisiana, a character that knows how to pass a good time fo' sho'.
I met Dave the first spring that I had my new EV. I was traveling down the Natchez Trace near Port Gibson. (I had just left a BMW rally near Jackson, Mississippi) when I met a couple of guys coming in the opposite lane on what I though were Guzzis. I couldn't really tell for sure though as they flew by. Anyway, we waved and continued on. About five miles down the road I stopped at a restaurant for drink and eats. In a few minutes, a couple of guys came in the front door, walking back to my table grinning. Who are these guys? Am I in trouble? It was Guzzi Dave and a friend on the way to the BMW rally. They were the ones that I had passed a few minutes earlier and had turned around to come check me out. Talk about impressed! You meet the nicest people on a Guzzi.
If you have a chance to attend south Louisiana's Guzzi/BMW rally in Lafayette (in November) do so. I Gar-ron- tee you will pass a good time. By the way, check out Dave's EV brake lights if you have a chance. A mini psychedelic (70's lingo kiddies) light show.
After visiting late into the evening, it was time for me to turn in. A long (for me) 450 mile trip home awaited for me tomorrow.
We were packed and ready to go the next morning at about 9:00 A.M. We had been hearing bikers starting to leave at daybreak and the campground was mostly deserted by now. A few quick good byes to those remaining and we were on our way home too. But first, breakfast! We needed food!
Eureka Springs is just a quick seven mile trip from the KOA. Along the way, we hunted for a cafe with an all-you-can-eat breakfast bar. We found a good one near the intersection of U.S. 62 and Arkansas Highway 23, but I forgot the name of it. After the feast, we paid up and walked out to our bikes. A local came up, very interested in seeing our machines. He was one of the very few people who knew what Moto Guzzis were and said he was glad to see something other than the multitudes of Harleys and Japanese bikes running the streets. He liked the uniqueness of "them Guzzies".
Charlie had problems starting his California. Out came the screwdriver and after going through the ritual of shorting some terminals on the rear of the starter, the engine roared to life. The Louisiana Trio blasted out of the parking lot and headed south on Highway #23. Within a couple of miles south of town, in a field next to the highway, the annual Indian Powwow was being held. (Sounds like the makings of another Indian casino site to me.) We would have liked to have stopped to see what that was all about, but we had a long way to go.
Down Highway #23 through Huntsville, Brashears, and the Pig Trail (a 20 mile section of Highway 23 that is a motorcyclist's paradise), ending just north of Ozark. South of Ozark, we picked up Highway #309 running through Paris and up to Magazine Mountain, the highest land elevation in Arkansas. We stopped at a couple of turnouts to enjoy vistas of the Ozark National Forest.
At one of these overlooks, we met Mr. and Mrs. Martin with her father Jack Edsall who was also out enjoying the beautiful day. Mr. Edsall showed an interest in our bikes and began telling us about his Eldorado and his trip through the western states back in the mid 70's. He said he took photos of his bike in front of the welcome signs of all of the states he visited. During WW II, he was a mechanic for the army specializing in Indian motorcycles. Quite an interesting fellow indeed, and we enjoyed visiting with them.
South of Magazine Mountain at Havana, we connected to Highway #10, east to Danville, then south on #27 through the small communities of Rover, Onyx, Aly, Story, and Washita, skirting the west end of Lake Ouachita and on into Mount Ida. A few miles south, we picked up Highway #8 at Norman and rode along beside the headwaters of the Caddo River running through Caddo Gap and Glenwood. It was time for a gas stop and a short break, then back on Highway #8 for a 40 mile run into Arkadelphia where we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant. After the meal, it was back on Highway #7 through the backwoods to Camden and then on to Gene's Moto Guzzi in El Dorado. Neither Gene nor Dena Jones was home, but we took a short break in front of the dealership anyway. We didn't think they would mind.
Fifty more miles south brought us into Ruston, Louisiana. It was time for another gas stop. I hadn't check my mileage for awhile, but I would generally gas up when Al did even though I didn't need too. I calculated that the EV was getting about 56 mpg from the last fill up, pretty good! After a quick break, Al, Charlie, and I headed east on I-20, and an hour later we were at my home in Rayville, arriving there about 10:00 P.M.
Al and Charlie departed the next morning to their homes in New Orleans. We all agreed it was a great trip.
Jack Green (firstname.lastname@example.org)