No Jed Clampett. No dim-witted hulking Li’l Abner. Sadly, no scantily clad big bosomed Elly May either. No moonshine stills, no shotguns, and no coonhounds. No banjos?! I found the stereotypical grim canvas representing the Ozarks in need of a makeover. Given a brush and paint, I’d draw freshly-paved, hilly, serpentine roads traversing vast wilderness. Friendly outgoing and helpful people. Beautiful ancient expansive caves. High plateaus with stunning views into deep forested valleys. Natural rivers, teaming with fish, flowing alongside steep bluffs. And huge man-made reservoirs, their blue and white waves glinting in the afternoon sun.
Why, oh why, did it take me so long to visit the Ozarks? Firstly, the outside world does not depict the Ozarks in a flattering manner, though admittedly one would be have to be very naive to believe even half of the negative press. Secondly and more to the point, the insiders do little to correct the record and promote themselves. A region distinguishes itself through multiple means: art, culture, cuisine, music. And while the Ozarks have all these, you’ll need to search far and wide to find any of it.
Take cuisine for example. Say “Boston” and baked beans or a rich clam chowder come to mind. Miami – Cuban sandwich. Buffalo – chicken wings. Texas – BBQ. Wisconsin – bratwurst and beer. The Ozarks – squirrel and raccoons? Of course, you can’t find these items on any menu. But why not? Just look at Cajun Country in Louisiana for inspiration. Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and Justin Wilson took some of the most disgusting creatures on the planet (swamp critters) and turned slim into sublime. No reason a domestically raised squirrel or raccoon couldn’t reap similar exquisite taste sensations. Then it’s just marketing.
Bluegrass is quintessential Ozarks with deep heritage roots. During our seven days and nights there, despite an extensive search, we heard none. That’s because there is no forum for local musicians to perform. Of the 75 counties in Arkansas, 37 are dry, and dry means no taverns. Many believe they’re simply a devil’s playground of intoxication and brawls, but bars provide a venue for social gathering and music. With the exception of the suffocating urban congestion of Fayetteville, Arkansas, we saw no bars. With nowhere to promote their music, bands have little incentive to practice their skills. The result is they either move away, or worse, stop playing altogether. Ozarks Bluegrass is on the endangered list: hopefully it won’t become extinct.
Where the Ozarks do excel is Nature. We partook in two cave tours, canoed a national river, enjoyed a ferry crossing over a massive man-made reservoir and rode our motorcycles through thick forest on pristine, hilly, tortuous roads with stunning vistas. At the end of the day we pitched our tents at two memorable camp sites: one besides a world-class trout stream and another atop Mount Nebo with gorgeous views of the Arkansas River Valley.
As a motorcycle destination, the Ozarks are certainly worth a look. Most all conceivable goods and services are readily available and costs lean towards the inexpensive side. Fuel is downright cheap, especially when compared with the Chicago area. Here’s a snapshot of daily expenditures for this trip… click image to enlarge.
Waypoints and GPX file Download
Following is a map showing all the waypoints for this trip.
For the first time, all four levels of Wandering Nomad Badges have been awarded to businesses and destinations on an adventure. Congratulations to the following recipients:
Mount Nebo State Park. Dardanelle, Arkansas
The access road alone will have you remembering this state park. Ascending up an 18° grade, the road twists through numerous 180° hairpins before reaching the summit with campsites high above a forested river valley. Friendly, helpful park officials are a delight to work with and go out of their way to ensure your stay will be enjoyable. Firewood, beverages and snacks are available, along with hiking trails and a pool.
D & S Cycle. West Plains, Missouri
A small shop specializing in ATV repair, D & S also services motorcycles. What they lack in brand specific parts they make up for with knowledge, skill, ingenuity and compassion. After our Victory was involved in a deer crash, the owner agreed to remain open on a Saturday afternoon to look over the bent machine. Ninety minutes later, after some banging with hammers and mallets, the Victory was road-worthy once again. The gold standard in outstanding service.
Onondaga Cave tour. Leasburg, Missouri
Besides Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, this is probably the second most impressive cave tour I’ve taken. Huge formations with underground pools and streams are artificially lit besides concrete walks and stainless railings. The cool temperature is an added bonus on a hot afternoon.
Core Brewing Company. Springdale, Arkansas
Ten tap handles pour excellent, fresh beer at $3.50 / pint in a pleasant tasting room set within a characterless industrial park. Shaded outdoor seating on a large wooden patio provides opportunities for fresh air on sunny days. Cold six packs to go for that beer at your hotel later at night. No food served but no problem bringing your own.
Wild Cave tour, Blanchard Springs Caverns. Mountain View, Arkansas
A caving experience set somewhere between a guided cave tour for the masses and that of experienced spelunkers, the Wild Cave tour at Blanchard Springs Caverns gives novice cavers a taste of what it’s like to get off the paved lit paths. While not dangerous, there are moments where concern for bodily injury does come into play. Take it slow and easy, listen to your guide and it’s a lot of fun. Act like a clown and you may come out on a stretcher.
Gravity BrewWorks. Big Flat, Arkansas
A small operation brewing 30 gallon batches, Gravity BrewWorks is smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. But they are certainly worth the drive. The beer is fresh, expertly crafted and very well priced. The knowledgeable brewmaster is more than happy to show you his operation; from the gravity fed brew process to the fermentation room to grain selection and storage. Small tasting room with limited hours draws local cliental. Open less than one year, the brewery cannot keep up with demand and is planning to expand production soon. Cheers!
Rainbow Trout and Game Ranch. Rockbridge, Missouri
How would I describe the Rainbow Trout Ranch? An idealistic setting in the woods with a clear trout-stocked river flowing past. A gorgeous dining room with windows overlooking said river. Attentive friendly waitresses and delicious just-cleaned fish fillets served with your morning eggs. So why the Warning Badge? I ordered an item not on the breakfast menu and they plucked my wallet for cash like a vulture rips entrails from a carcass. Watch for unscrupulous pricing and hidden fees and you should be fine.
Mega Motorsports. West Plains, Missouri
Imagine you’re in the middle of nowhere, far from home and your vehicle becomes disabled. A man passes by and you ask to borrow his cellphone to call for help. He replies, “Piss off” and keeps on going. That’s the equivalent of what the service department of Mega Motorsports of West Plains, Missouri did after a member of our group crashed his bike into a deer. We called to request they look at the machine to determine the extent of the damage. Their response was deplorable: they could fit us into their schedule in 16 days! Sixteen days! “Sorry to hear your bike is all screwed up and you’re 600 miles from home. Just take a seat, we’ll be with you in 382 hours.” Their website has them patting themselves on the back with this drivel:
“About us: Quality vehicles from Polaris, Can-Am, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Bennche and great service (emphasis added) set Mega Motorsports apart.”
Riiiight, and I’m the Queen of England, wanna check out my Crown Jewels!? If a 16 day wait to simply look at a bike that was in a crash is great service, I’d hate to see their definition of horseshit service. In reality, what sets Mega Motorsports apart is that they’re suffering from a critical case of moral nihilism and I recommend you pull the plug.