Unexpected oasis: Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, on Spring Street (photo by Sheila Scarborough)If you’re in search of the Berkeley of Arkansas, with a little Key West and Branson thrown into the mix, look no further than the Ozarks and a little town called Eureka Springs.

It’s the kind of place that organizes bluegrass and blues festivals, gay-friendly “Diversity Weekends” and an annual UFO conference.

The Master Ching Hai Meditation Association Adopt-a-Highway sign is across the road from the popular Road Dawg biker shop; thousands drive past both on their way to attend the Great Passion Play outdoor drama under a 67 foot tall Christ of the Ozarks statue.

The main part of town can get a little too “My Old Mountain Home” cutesy for my taste, but a walk up historic Spring Street reveals beautiful, lovingly-preserved Victorian houses. They have survived numerous threats from fires over the years, and many were torn down during the Depression to use the value of their lumber to pay taxes, so townsfolk are appreciative of the ones that are left.

Throughout the historic loop, quiet little pocket parks surround each of the original 62 springs that brought people here to “take the cure” as early as 1879. Spa visits and water therapy are still quite popular for visitors today; I enjoyed a eucalyptus steam bath (complete with a photo of me in the contraption) at the Palace Hotel and Bath House.

The arts are at home in this mountain village; for example, writers of every genre enjoy retreats at the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. Cookbook authors spend weeks there testing recipes in the unique culinary suite’s full kitchen. Says Special Projects Consultant Sandy Wright with a laugh, “I’m not proud of this, but I had three pieces of blueberry pie because, well, the author was trying to get the consistency right.”

Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the Palace Bath House (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The nearby Art Colony’s eight studio buildings are arranged so that visitors can wander around and talk to working craftspeople as creations are being made. Naturally, the artisans have plenty of their wares available for sale.

For a different kind of stimulation, there’s always a standing bocce ball challenge on the Colony’s court.

For a good meal, try Local Flavor Café or the Mud Street Café. If you’re not in a hurry, there are fresh “Ark-Mex” vegetarian meals at The Oasis, tucked down a staircase off Spring Street; call (479) 253-0886.

Eureka Springs is located on the old Ozark Trail (now Highway 62) a road trip artery that ran from Niagara Falls, New York to El Paso, Texas. Consequently, many of the motels are Mom-and-Pop tourist court style. Distinctive cottage-style lodging is available at the Rock Cottage Gardens and the Tall Pines Inn.

To the west of town is the Pea Ridge National Military Park, site of one of the largest Civil War battles west of the Mississippi. To the east of town is plenty of outdoor adventure on the Buffalo National River or local arts and culture at the well-regarded Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View.

Pay a visit sometime, for a relaxing mountain vacation.

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