Sunday, March 7, 2010

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder...

A welcome shout-out to the followers of Jack Riepe of Twisted Roads fame. Jack is an accomplished author, comedian, and (albeit a little known fact) a babe magnet from way back. One can only hope that when they grow up, they can attain such status. Welcome and I hope Thunder Road becomes a frequest stop for you all.

It is said that absence makes the heart grows fonder. As such, this winter has been absolute HELL on bikers. Whether it is the repeated episodes of Snowmageden in the Northeast or unseasonably wet and cool temps across the South and Midwest, Mother Nature has not been very accommodating to those longing to feel the wind in their hair and bugs in their teeth.

Like many on a budget, I used my portion of the Christmas budget to fund this year’s "wish list" - new rain suits for my bride and myself, faring mirrors, and a new bag made to fit the tour-pak rack. I used the winter garage time to install said gifts, perform needed maintenance, and give the bike a general deep clean. In the evenings, I would find myself cruising virtually - surfing the Internet for cool places to visit, reading biker-related stories, and sharing route ideas. In short, I'm anxious for some serious road time.

This year, my goal is to put 12K miles in the saddle through a combination of three or four multi-day trips and regular weekend excursions. One trip will be to explore new roads and sights in Louisiana and the Piney Woods of East Texas, while another will be into the lush mountains of Northwest Arkansas. And if the work schedule allows, perhaps a return trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway for our 30-year anniversary. I suspect the rainy season is going to continue into the spring, so it will be early May before we do the big rides.

The Grand Central Hotel - Eureka Springs
Photo compliments of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission

I’m most excited about returning to Eureka Springs in Northwest Arkansas. It is said that one-third of the nation’s population lives within a day’s drive of Eureka Springs and it remains a favorite tourist destination today. A step back in time, this Victorian village was founded in 1879 as a spa town when natural hot springs were discovered. By the 1890’s the town had grown into a full-blown resort town built on the mystic healing powers of the springs.

Downtown Eureka Springs is approximately two square miles and is built vertically into the mountain sides. The eclectic collection of vintage homes and commercial buildings remain today, as does the steam train that carries tourists through the valley. The downtown area is also known for its narrow roads that were originally built to handle horse and wagon traffic. While the Historic Loop can handle normal automobile traffic, many of the neighboring residential streets can barely handle two motorcycles passing mirror-to-mirror today.

US Route 62, the early days
Photo compliments of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotions Commission 

With the introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T, the number of cross-country drivers began to grow exponentially, despite the fact that most roads were dirt or gravel, at best. In 1916, the US government introduced the national highway system and Route 62 (US-62) runs from Niagara Falls, New York to El Paso, Texas via Eureka Springs. This portion of the highway was constructed in the 1930’s and considering it was during the Great Depression era, it came just in time to help revive Eureka Springs as a tourist destination. When first completed, the highway was known as the Ozark Skyway and Ozark Trail.

Coupled with AR-23 (the Pig Trail Scenic Byway), the roads in and around Eureka Springs make it a top motorcycle destination. Perhaps the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotions Commission sums it up best, “Eureka Springs is fortunate to be one of the few places in America that still has the mid-century roadside culture intact to tell this part of our history – The Auto Age.” All of this history, and even today there is still not a single traffic light in the town.

One of the many biker draws for Eureka Springs is the number of options to entertain visitors. The town actually has three-faces – the historic downtown district, the entertainment highway, and Beaver Lake.

Spring Street at Night
Photo provided by the Eureka Springs Tourist Center

The historic downtown district has a wealth of art galleries, local shops, museums, and restaurants for evening entertainment or as an alternative distraction for spouses or significant others who have tired of riding. The City Auditorium was built in 1928, opening to John Phillip Sousa and his 67-member orchestra. Since then, many first-rate acts have continued the show - Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Dwight Yoakum, Mavis Staples, and Bill Cosby, just to name a few. Perhaps the best way to enjoy the Historic Downtown area is via the trolley that stops at most hotels located along Route 62 ($5 all-day fare).

The highway (Route 62) hosts most of the hotels, motels, and roadside eateries, as well as the world famous The Great Passion Play, the Pine Mountain Jamboree, and the Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down Music Theater. For lodging, the Rodeway Inn Swiss Holiday Resort caters to biker and car club needs and interests. Joe “Mr. Big” McClung (owner) and Ray “Ray-Ray” Beber (manager) are riders themselves, with Joe having ridden the roads of NW Arkansas for over 40-years. If you’re interested in a guided historical or scenic tour, give them a call a few days prior and they will deliver an unforgettable experience. Another must-stop is the Rockin’ Pig Saloon, the Rowdy Beaver, and Bubba’s BBQ.

A short drive northwest of Eureka Springs, the White River flows into Beaver Lake. This pristine lake is tucked into the Ozark Mountains, boasting 600 miles of shoreline and 30’ visibility that is the perfect setting for great fishing, water sports, hiking, and day recreation. The area also offers fantastic motorcycle touring. One of the must-ride roads is AR-187 that loops off of Route 62 and includes the Beaver Bridge (915’ in length), reportedly the first suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River and only remaining suspension bridge in Arkansas.

Beaver Suspension Bridge on AR-187
Photo by John A. Weeks III

If you haven’t been to Eureka Springs before, make the trip. If you haven’t been there recently, come back soon – as the area is truly a unique biker experience. It's enough to make the heart grow fonder...

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