Voyages: Natural State

Winter in Arkansas is for art, cheese and nature lovers
Milky Way over the White River, Norfork Arkansas

The art world was turned on its head when Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Arkansas, an architectural masterpiece designed by Moshe Safdie that celebrates both art and nature.

Since Crystal Bridges opened in 2005, the small Walmart town in the northwest corner of the Natural State has blossomed as an art mecca, thanks to philanthropist and arts patron Alice Walton. A 21c Museum Hotel that marries art and hospitality debuted on the town square and art events now occur frequently.

Next year, the town welcomes The Momentary, a 63,000-square-foot contemporary art satellite to Crystal Bridges that will include space for visual and performing arts, culinary experiences and opportunities for artists-in-residence. The Momentary opens Feb. 22, 2020, in what was once an old Kraft cheese factory. Like Crystal Bridges, admission is free due to the museum being sponsored by Walmart.

If you visit Bentonville during the holidays, be sure to take in North Forest Lights, a nighttime light and sound experience that encourages participants to reconnect with nature and art. The five exhibits include waves of light through a grove of trees, a hearth representing the region’s spiritual heritage and light pixels on a bridge that offer the illusion of water in a forest. The family-friendly holiday show begins Oct. 26 at Crystal Bridges, but continues well into the new year.

For more information on Crystal Bridge, The Momentary and North Forest Lights, visit crystalbridges.org.

But Bentonville isn’t the only happening spot in Arkansas. The U.S. Marshals Museum was dedicated in September on the 230th anniversary of the creation of the service, the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency. Exhibits are soon to follow in the town where Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves brought outlaws to justice at the city’s courthouse, what is now the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Racing aficionados will enjoy the expanding racetrack options at Oaklawn Racing in Hot Springs, which includes a high-rise hotel and a multi-purpose event center. Other gaming expansions include Southland Casino & Racing in West Memphis, Ark., and Pine Bluff’s new casino.

If peace and quiet is more your speed, the state offers a wide variety of parks, from the flat Delta landscape near Memphis to the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.

“This time of year is prime bald eagle viewing,” said Meg Matthews, public information coordinator for Arkansas State Parks. “Many parks — Lake Ouachita, Lake Dardanelle, DeGray Lake, Pinnacle, Bull Shoals, to name a few — take guests out on guided tours. Some are in boats, others on foot or via car or van.”

Several parks hold “Star Parties” during the winter, Matthews said, where local astronomical societies collaborate with park staff to set up telescopes for star viewing. For the holidays, visitors may enjoy the 600,000 lights decorating the oil field park at the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources. History lovers may prefer Jacksonport State Park and its 1872 courthouse that now serves as a museum. The town was once a thriving river port because of the confluence of the White and Black rivers.

Want to be part of the art scene while staying at a state park cabin? The nationally syndicated Ozark Highlands Radio records live at Ozark Folk Center State Park near Mountain View and visitors may join the audience. The show features live musical performances from both regional and national acts.

But that’s just a sampling of what’s happening in Arkansas this winter. For more information, visit arkansas.com. For up-to-date park information, visit arkansasstateparks.com.

Categories: Travel

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