Sometimes places, towns, states surprise you. Stereotypes are true and stereotypes are lies and it’s hard to find anything that’s not seen through a prism, trues colors shifting with the light.
And by that, I mean, how do you feel about Arkansas? I lived there twice, very briefly, as a kid. If I were to conjure up a list of the most affluent states, Arkansas likely would not be on my list. And yet, if I were judging states by their rest areas (and kind of, I am), Arkansas would be at the very top.
Arkansas rest areas are beautiful (actually, several states have beautiful rest areas; and several have awful scary rest areas that you worry stopping at will put you front and center as the star of your very own horror movie).
Arkansas is one of the states that lets you park overnight to get some sleep. (What is up with these states that don’t allow that? I get they don’t want you to camp there or live there. But isn’t a big part of the point to have a place to REST if you need it so that you don’t fall asleep on the road and crash into a school bus?)
I drove over the state line from Oklahoma (where I encountered zero rest areas, by the way) and drove into a Ozarks paradise at the first rest stop. Rolling hills, wooded picnic spots, flowered meadows. I walked into the welcome center,. The man behind the counter sprung into action. Can I fill that travel mug with coffee or water? Why yes, yes you can. I could have hung out in the welcome center all day. The man assured me that I did not want to miss Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. Have you heard of Crystal Bridges? I had not.
I drove on to Bentonville, home of Walmart. I don’t know what Bentonville is actually like, but my snap judgement based on only driving around is that it’s a lot like Redmond, WA, home of Microsoft. Lots of tax dollars available for great public spaces like parks and hiking trails. It’s beautiful and spacious and peaceful.
Onward to Walton Blvd and the original Walmart. You have never seen a Walmart so organized, so full of inventory, so brimming with helpful salespeople. It is a study in contrasts, truly.
Next stop: Crystal Bridges – the museum that Walmart built. I’m not even kidding a little bit. The first thing you see as you walk up to the entrance is the sign that says “admission to Crystal Bridges is sponsored by Walmart. There is no cost to view the collection”.
Serious money is behind this museum. They are, for instance, moving an entire house here.
Here was one of my favorite pieces, by Georgia O’Keeffe:
And then I headed north towards Missouri, where the sun is hot, but the beer is cold, and the river is just down the road.