Fayetteville: Land of Great Art, WalMart, and Miles of Hiking

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Fayetteville, Arkansas may not be what you expect. If you’re thinking of wandering the hills looking for old, abandoned stills and a backwards culture you’re sure to be surprised. When you speak of Fayetteville you have to include the surrounding area that includes Bentonville because of the powerful influence of the Walton family.

It is a short drive from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) to Fayetteville and Bentonville. If you want to kick off your visit in high gear you can do so by making Bentonville your first stop, and especially the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

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The Moshe Safdie designed building located at 600 Museum Way housed an extensive and fabulous collection of American art including contemporary works all the way back to early colonial days. If you’re wondering what you will see on the 120 acres of forest in the Ozarks you will be pleasantly surprised and probably amazed at the unbelievable collection to be found in the first major art museum to be opened in the United States in many years.

The entire list cannot be included in this brief space, but maybe a sample will give you an idea of what you can expect when you visit.

A few others include Thomas Eaken, Winslow Homer, John LaFarge, Norman Rockwell, Jackson Pollock, Alfred Maurer, Mary McCleary and more.

Alice Walton led the development of the museum concept and donated $317 million to the project. And, you may be happy to learn that admission to Crystal Bridges is free.

It is worth mentioning that a wonderful addition to the campus in 2014 was the Bachman Wilson House by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The New Jersey house was dismantled and relocated to the Crystal Bridges campus.

Walmart Museum

As long as you are in Bentonville you might as well make a downtown stop at The Walmart Museum beginning at the Walton’s 5 & 10 where it all began and ending at The Spark Cafe Soda Fountain.

As you drive through Bentonville on your way to Fayetteville you will probably be impressed by the large warehouses and buildings belonging not only to Walmart, but to the many major vendors to Walmart – all of whom are required to have a presence in the area.

Entering Fayetteville

Fayetteville is a lovely small city with a very impressive college town atmosphere. The University of Arkansas plays a major part in the cultural and sports activities. Walking through the “Old Main” section of the university and dining in the Inn at Carnall Hall is a wonderful experience reminiscent of long ago days when the author first encountered similar feelings as a freshman at a real university with vine covered buildings.

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Dickson Street would appear to be the heart of off-campus activities lined with dozens of interesting restaurants, bars, shops and fun places for both students and locals to hang out. And, one of the most interesting would have to be the Dickson Street Book Shop Inc. It may not look like much from the inside, but once inside you may not want to leave. A terrific assortment of used books that will grab your attention and have you sitting on a stool to peruse might just find you in there for hours. Just one section alone is filled with books of historic accounts from different states. You may find some of your ancestors there because some of the books were published census reports listing every individual living in the state at the date of publication.

Fayetteville has the typical lot of hotels for your stay. If you’re looking for something a little offbeat you might want to check out the Mt. Sequoyah Conference & Retreat Center. It’s on top of a hill within walking distance of the center of town. By walking distance I mean the downhill walk can be done in less than an hour and the trek back up a little longer. If you’re driving it’s just a few minutes to the nearest grocery store and that is important because you can rent a cottage with a fully equipped kitchen where you can prepare any or all of your meals. Just leave some opportunities to eat at a few of the fine eateries in town.

Another advantage of staying on the hilltop is access to a number of hiking trails through the woods. You might even get lucky and spot a beautiful 8 point white tail buck. At least one of the trails down the hillside links up with other urban trails that can keep you walking for miles.

An alternative for getting around town is the very fun little Sumo electric carts that are street legal. I’m not sure I’d recommend them for the higher hills, but to zip around town for shopping and sightseeing, especially on the U of A campus, they can be fun in nice weather.

For a more traditional accommodation the Chancellor Hotel in the center of downtown is an excellent choice. With a view of the square and minutes from all the Dickson Street activities you won’t miss any of the fun. You can have breakfast in the hotel or just walk a couple of blocks to the Little Bread Company for a supersized cinnamon roll or other delectable pastry. Some of their breads apparently have to be ordered in advance and, if you really want your choice of the pastries you need to arrive early.

Read more about Bentonville and Fayetteville at http://www.offbeattravel.com/fayetteville-askansas-art-walmart-hiking.html

A very pleasant lunch or snack experience can be had at the Savoy Tea Company also just a couple of blocks from the hotel. On a chilly day the large hot chocolate will warm you nicely and you can add that to a very tasty sandwich served with your choice of tea-infused roasted potatoes or a seasonal fresh fruit cup. Of course, they also have fresh baked goodies for your sweet tooth.

While you’re strolling about the Downtown Square be sure to stop into Fayetteville Underground with its fine art collection of more than twenty Northwest Arkansas artists. You’ll find painters, photographers, sculptors, potters and others who may or may not be in their individual work spaces during your visit. But, don’t worry, there will be someone to accept payment if you find something to take home with you.

One of the most exciting things about this delightful little city is the Walton Arts Center. Time it right and you may be able to catch a performance of the likes of Diana Krall, Branford Marsalis, the Malpaso Dance Company with Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Octet or even a Broadway touring company production. Check out the website here for the Walton Arts Center calendar.

If all this activity is getting you hungry again you might want to try the Mermaid for a steak cooked exactly to your specifications. There is also Tim’s Pizza on the square serving a tasty thin crust selection.

Looking for comfort food on a chilly day? Hammontree’s can fill the bill. Start off with a bowl of their French Onion Soup. It won’t look like what you might expect at a high dollar French restaurant, but it really does taste like what you would expect. And it’s pretty filling. But, if that’s not enough you’ll want to order what this busy place is famous for. It seems to be kind of a sports bar and appears to be staffed with mostly college students. In this case that’s all good. The young people are all very polite and professional and it is a really fun place to get a terrific grilled cheese sandwich. They do have a menu with a lot of choices and you can get exactly what you want with a choice of bread, cheese and even meats. Here is a suggestion for you. Start with Sourdough bread and add the house cheese, Swiss cheese, prosciutto and Poblano peppers – Wow! Delicious. If you have a big appetite be sure and add the Sweet Potato fries and a beer or a soda. If this doesn’t fill you up there is always the dessert menu.

Now that your tummy is full it’s time to work off a few calories. Experience Fayetteville publishes a Trails Guide for Parks & Bikeways that not only lists the trails, but also provides contact information for outfitters and bike rentals. The Razorback Greenway allows biking, running or walking on the 36 mile, primarily off-street, shared use paved trail which can take you all the way from Fayetteville to Bentonville as well as dozens of popular community destinations.

The nearby Devil’s Den State Park is about 25 miles from Fayetteville and offers camp sites as well as cabins with kitchens. Hiking, backpacking and mountain bike trails lead to backcountry areas in the Ozark National Forest. Canoes and pedal boats are available for rent. There are sometimes interpretative programs on the 15 mile Butterfield Hiking Trail. Depending on the season there is a cafe and a swimming pool. There is a store as well as group camping, a pavilion, a meeting room and a playground. Go to VisitArkansasStateParks.com to request a parks guide book and the Bicycling in Arkansas booklet. For an extensive guide of more Arkansas adventures go to Arkansas.com. So, pack your bags, head for Northwest Arkansas and Keep on Traveling!

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Bob Painter Robert Painter is an adventure travel writer currently residing in Southern Utah. When not traveling around the globe his time is spent hiking and exploring the wonderful and beautiful red rock surroundings of his new home.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: January 22, 2016

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