Our June 2012 Trip to Joplin, Missouri and Bentonville, Arkansas
By Bob Soetebier
Having left the St. Louis area during the low-traffic hours on a mid-June Sunday morning, we arrived in Joplin, Missouri, at high noon. The conveniently located Best Western motel -- just north of I-44 on South Rangeline Road in Joplin -- had no problem accommodating our early check-in, while honoring our no-advance-reservation, first-come-first-served TravelBuddy discount coupons. After we made a quick pit stop in our well-appointed motel room, we headed back out into the 90-plus degree heat (fortunately accompanied by low humidity and brisk winds) to do some hiking and sightseeing in the area.
Our first Joplin excursion was to Shoal Creek on the southwest edge of Joplin. Shoal Creek is actually a very scenic river. It is south of I-44 off Hwy. 86 where there are a couple of where there are various ways access to Shoal Creek. One is from the old Reddings Mill Bridge, which is now a pedestrian-only crossing. The other one is via the adjacent Wildcat Glades Conservation And Audubon Center. Another is via the stream-side McIndoe Park at Jackson Rd. on Glendale Blvd. one mile from Hwy. 86.
After crossing very picturesque Shoal Creek on the Jackson Rd. narrow (one car at a time) low-water concrete bridge, we made a right on Riverside Drive and drove another mile to the must-see, and accurately named, Grand Falls. We had first learned of Grand Falls from its mention in a must-have book called Geologic Wonders And Curiosities Of Missouri, which notes that Grand Falls is the largest, continuously flowing waterfall in Missouri.
After some rock hopping at Grand Falls, we headed back to the Jackson Rd. low-water bridge and parked at the adjacent Riverside lot trail head. The mostly paved -- except for the last few yards -- ¾-mile (one way) trail parallels Shoal Creek and leads to both the overlook of Wildcat Glade and Mother Nature’s Gap.
Our next stop was at the Reddings Mill Bridge parking lot trail head one mile south of I-44 off Hwy. 86. Here we hiked a couple of miles out-and-back via a combo of the St. Johns Creek Trail (along Shoal Creek) and the Woodlands Loop Trail. Along the trail we investigated the cool shade of a bluff overhang called Shoal Cliff Village Cave. The cave was both an old Indian dwelling site and an appropriately gated-off bat cave entrance.
Back on Hwy. 86 we visited the Audubon Center -- ½-mile south of I-44 -- and walked its informative short nature trail. We also drove down to the bluff-side, cold-water Wildcat Spring along Shoal Creek in the conservation area, too.
Back in Joplin, after viewing some of remnant damage from the May 22, 2011, catastrophic massive tornado, we headed to the Historic Murphysburg District. It’s located just west of the downtown Joplin Main Street business district. The historic district is bounded by Byers and Jackson Avenues and 2nd and 7th Streets. It’s compact enough and well worth the time to park the car and walk. Among the many architecturally interesting homes and buildings was the must-see 1890 Schifferdecker Mansion at 422 S. Sergeant Ave.
Well-known mural artist Thomas Hart Benton grew up in Joplin. However, we were also unable to view the historic Thomas Hart Benton mural as it is located in the Joplin City Hall which is only accessible during regular office hours on weekdays.
On a previous trip to Joplin we had visited the nearby George Washington Carver National Monument. In addition to its museum there is a ¾-mile hiking trail there, too, that takes you by a serenely shaded pond.
On other trips to the Joplin area we have also travelled the few miles southwest to the viewing location of the intriguing “Joplin Spook Light” (JSL), which is actually just across the state line in Oklahoma. The JSL has a long history of sightings even from as far back as 1886; well before automobile and train lights. Even the local Indian legends made note of the JSL. We also first learned of the JSL as it is noted as “The Devil’s Promenade” in the aforementioned book, Geologic Wonders And Curiosities Of Missouri. The JSL is also mentioned on the official website of the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Leaving the Joplin area it was only 45 miles later that we entered Arkansas via U.S. Hwy. 71. A couple of miles farther on, our first stop in Arkansas was at the state Welcome Center in the scenic town of Bella Vista. Don’t miss the plethora of helpful (free) brochures, maps and discount coupons available here.
Continuing south on U.S. Hwy. 71 it was only another dozen miles before we made a turn westward onto S.E. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville, Arkansas. There are a number of motels to choose from on this thoroughfare. Courtesy of the aforementioned TravelBuddy coupons, we chose the modern Microtel Inn & Suites, arriving there for another early check-in. After a quick pit stop in our room, we were back out the door to explore Bentonville.
Just ¼-mile south of W. Central on S. Walton Blvd. is the location of the Peel Mansion and Historic Gardens. In addition to the tourable historic mansion and its beautiful gardens, on the grounds there is a pristinely preserved stand-alone cabin that now serves as the museum’s store. In the gardens there is also a vertically standing slice (82” in diameter) of what was once the largest Sycamore tree in Arkansas.
One-half mile west of S. Walton Blvd. on Central Ave. takes you to the absolutely must-see Museum of Native American History. Here you’ll be greeted by a statue of a bison and a colorfully decorated, outdoor replica Indian teepee. However, it’s some of the unique, one-of-a-kind antiquities in the museum that intrigued us the most. One of these unique items is the only completely intact Indian knife -- with intact deer leg-bone handle (that is over 2, 5000 years old!) -- known to exist anywhere in the world! Another such item there is the thinnest known rock blade: 9-7/16” long, by 3-3/8” wide, by 3/16” thick. To this day, no one has been able to reproduce such a thin rock blade.
Three-quarters of mile east of S. Walton Blvd. on W. Central Ave. takes you right to the Bentonville town square park with it central garden statue fountain. On the southwest corner of the square on Main St. is the 5-10 Walton’s museum. (If you we’re pressed for time, I would not make it a priority.)
What is well worth your time, just a couple of blocks north of the town square, is Compton Gardens on the east side of Main St. and 3rd St. This was the home site of a native of Bentonville, Dr. Neil Compton, who was the renowned savior of the Buffalo River. (As an avid hiker and canoeist, Dr. Compton spearheaded the public campaign to prevent the damming of the Buffalo River. Under his leadership, the successful campaign resulted in the Buffalo River being the first designated “National River in the National Park System.) In addition to native plants, the shaded wooded gardens trails display both statuary and well-done natural rock placements.
A bonus afforded to visitors to Compton Gardens is that it is the southern terminus of the Crystal Bridges Trail. After a short, less than 1/5-mile downhill walk on this trail, it connects to the 1/3-mile long Art Trail. The scenic Art Trail leads to the southern entrance of the Crystal Bridges Museum Of American Art. (The Crystal Bridges Museum is open free to the public and is sponsored by Bentonville-based Walmart.) In addition to the extensive collection of artworks within the museum, there are about a dozen metal sculptures on the grounds of Crystal Bridges; along with numerous wooded trails, and reflective water pools, too. As impressive as is the art collection -- which also includes original paintings by both Thomas Hart Benton and Norman Rockwell, the sculptured museum buildings themselves are even more so. (We were told that the buildings themselves cost over $6.5 billion to build!)
When we left Bentonville, we headed eastward to Rogers, Arkansas, which is only 3-3/4 miles east of U.S. Hwy. 71. We parked our car conveniently in downtown Rogers at Centennial Park at First and Walnut. (Walton Blvd. turned into Walnut eastward of U.S. Hwy. 71.) We then set out on foot to walk around half-dozen blocks of the downtown Rogers Walnut Street National Historic District, passing by a beautifully restored vintage Coca Cola wall mural, the historic Lane Hotel, and the recently renovated Rogers Little Theater where world-renown Will Rogers once held a benefit performance for the town. (Will Rogers’ wife, Betty Blake Rogers, was from Rogers, Arkansas.)
Our walk ultimately led us to the Rogers Historical Museum where we saw the original city jail cells from the original Rogers City Hall. The two impregnable, conjoined jail cells held two bunk beds each. The entire cramped double-cell jail was only 6-1/2 feet wide, by 6-1/2 feet high, by 9 feet long! The museum also held a very interesting and informative display about Monte Ne which was a former (now-submerged under nearby Beaver Lake!) exclusive health resort that was built in the early 1900s by one-time wealthy businessman William “Coin” Harvey. In the late 1800s, Harvey was a nationally well-known proponent of the monetary Silver Standard (as opposed to the Gold Standard.) He was also the campaign manager for William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 unsuccessful Presidential run.
After leaving Rogers, we continued eastward less than a dozen miles via Hwy. 12 -- crossing an arm of Beaver Lake -- to Hobbs State Park, which is over 12, 000 acres and is the largest state park in Arkansas. We stopped at the dual-trail head parking lot for the ½-mile Historic Van Winkle Trail and the ½-mile Sinking Stream Trail. (A well-used public restroom is there, too.) We took the partially paved Van Winkle trail, which passed through a pedestrian tunnel under Hwy. 12. Along the trail there were numerous informative plaques about the Van Winkle Hollow home site and his National Register of Historic Places steam-engine-powered mill site. The mill (which is no longer there) was in operation from 1858 to 1890 and was one of the most important such mills in the region.
We had hoped to hike some of the other more than a half-dozen trails at Hobbs S.P., but it had rained for about three hours earlier that morning leaving the other trails wet and muddy. After stopping at the park’s visitor’s center, we backtracked ¼-mile westward from there on Hwy. 12 and then drove on south on scenic War Eagle Rd. (CR 98) for about 1-1/2 miles for a stop at the one-lane, steel War Eagle Bridge. (It too is on the National Register of Historic Places.) The bridge is adjacent to historic War Eagle Mill. The mill -- originally built in the early 1830s, has been destroyed (by flood and fire) and rebuilt four times…the last time being in 1973. The still-in-operation 3-story grist mill includes a store and a restaurant.
Being short on time, we were only able to spend less than a half-hour enjoying the mill and bridge and continued on our journey. As we have many times since our first visit to Arkansas in 1980, we were already planning to come back to “The Natural State” of Arkansas.
[NOTE: Underlined items in trip account link to additional related info about the points of interest.]