Tag: Arkansas

Queen Wilhelmina Lodge

It’s time to saddle up and head out west; west Arkansas that is. Late October and early November is the perfect time to take a road trip along the Talimena Scenic Drive to see the fall foliage at its peak. Arkansas Highway 88 cuts a path through the Ouachita National Forest on its way to the Oklahoma border. The Talimena Scenic Drive offers mountain vistas of forested peaks and valleys with a multitude of outdoor excursions to enjoy fishing, hiking, and canoeing.

And if you’re wanting to make a weekend out of it, make a reservation at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge perched on Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak.

Built to entice railroad passengers in the 1890’s, the original structure cost a whopping 100-thousand dollars (2.6 million in today’s dollars) to build and I’m sure a glorious site to see for weary passengers.

Dutch investors named the inn in honor of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and kept a reserved suite of rooms for her in hope she would visit, which she never did.

The lodge has been through several transformations through the years, but after an extensive renovation, re-opened its doors to the public in July of 2015.

A dramatic mountaintop setting, Queen Wilhelmina Lodge offers 40 guest rooms, fine dining in the Queen’s Restaurant, and is within walking distance of several hiking trails and family oriented activities. Including programs that teach visitors about the mountain, the flora, the fauna and the history of the area.

So saddle up and head west to Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

The Talimena National Scenic Byway stretches 50 miles from eastern Oklahoma to western Arkansas. It takes about an hour and a half to drive the entire route.

I can see why the views alone would lure American settlers to west.

The Lum and Abner Museum and Jot-Em-Down Store not only chronicles the history of the iconic radio program of the same name, but also strives to preserve an important era of American life.




Need a rest? Book a room at Queen Wilhelmina’s “Castle in the Clouds.” The lodge was renovated and reopened in July 2015.

American Farmer: Dyess Colony

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home,
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

“Five Feet High and Rising” Johnny Cash

The countless tales of overcoming adversity is one reason I love American history. From the Revolutionary War to the Great Recession there are so many stories that illustrate the resilience of our spirit. And while I love a good book, I find the best way to get a full sense of these narratives is by visiting the sites where the events occurred. I recently got a lesson on the courage of the American farmer when I visited the historic Dyess Colony in the Arkansas Delta region.

The Dyess Colony was created out of east Arkansas swampland in 1934 through Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. The idea was to relocate 500 farmers from barren land to an area where they could start again. It was the largest agricultural resettlement community in the country. About 500 families took part in the program and each family was given 20 acres, a house, tools and livestock. In addition to the homes there was a town center with a cannery, movie theater and hospital. Being chosen for the Dyess Colony was like winning the lottery for the families, many of whom had never lived in a house with exterior paint before coming to Dyess.

This was a helping hand, not a hand out. The families were responsible for clearing the land and paying the government back – around $2,000. Paying off the debt took a few years, but it gave them the opportunity to own their property rather than farm as tenants.

In 1937 a flood wiped out the farmers’ crops and many families left, but those who stayed learned that “good things come from adversity.”

The population of Dyess began to decline after World War II when better jobs than picking cotton became available. The colony might have been overcome by kudzu were it not for the efforts of Arkansas State University. The university has embarked on a project to restore the town center buildings and the home of its most famous resident – Johnny Cash.


Today you can visit Dyess to learn the farmers’ stories of survival and overcoming incredible odds. These folks made something out of nothing. You can literally touch soil that is part of our American heritage. The experience is a real testament to the human spirit.

Good to Know:
The Cash family arrived in Dyess in 1935. It’s said that Mrs. Cash sat on the floor and cried when she discovered her new house had painted walls. Today you can see the Cash home exactly as it was when Johnny Cash lived there including his mother’s piano. Visiting Dyess gives you context to understand the man. The hardships and successes he experienced helped form his music. If you are a fan or just love American history, it’s a must see.

Dyess Colony Visiting Hours and Location.
Tours begin at 9 a.m. with last tours of the day at 3 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays

Admission (includes the administration building and the Cash family home):
$10 general admission
$8 senior rate
$8 group rate (groups of 10 or more- comp tour operator and bus driver)
$5 student rate (children 5-18 or with a university ID)
$5 field trip rate (comp all bus drivers and 1 chaperone per 10 students)
Free-children under 5 and ASU students

Turn Up the Lights!

It’s not shocking that light plays such an important role in the December holidays. It is, after all, the darkest month of the year when days are the shortest. Who wouldn’t want a little extra glow?

It’s also not a big surprise that the inventor of the light bulb introduced the idea of using strings of electric lights to decorate for the holidays. If you were riding the subway past Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park lab in December 1880, you would have undoubtedly seen his Christmas light display. His motive was product promotion, but his legacy is the tradition of adorning our homes in festive lights.

I’m thankful for Mr. Edison’s marketing ploy because I really enjoy seeing my town lit up for the holidays. This year I’m planning to take it on the road to visit some places along the “Arkansas Trail of Lights.” Sixty communities across the state participate with outdoor holiday light displays, parades and festivals. My first stop will be Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, where they have over 4 million lights. It’s a sight to behold! I also want to make my way to Mountain View to see their historic court square festooned with lights and hopefully get a ticket to “Caroling in the Caverns” at Blanchard Springs Caverns. I imagine the sound of singing in an underground cave is magical. For a pre-Edison experience I hope to go to Historic Washington State Park to see the luminaries and take the candlelight tour.

Each of these destinations is an easy day trip from Little Rock and the state makes planning my trip a breeze with their interactive map of locations and itineraries for the different regions. Who knows? With the price of gas so low right now, I might just try to hit all 60 stops!

Blanchard Springs Caroling in the Caverns

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Candlelight Tour at Old Washington State Park

Arkansas Made for the Holidays

If you are looking for something unique to give this holiday season, I suggest a gift from my home state of Arkansas. From tasty treats to sweet smelling soaps there is something for everyone on your list.

Lambrecht Gourmet’s Southern Pecan Toffee

Lambrecht Gournet's Southern Pecan Toffee

Lambrecht Gourmet’s award winning Southern Pecan Toffee is made with roasted pecan halves, covered in rich butter toffee and drenched in imported, single origin milk chocolate. The resulting confection is a perfect balance of crisp, buttery toffee covered pecans and smooth milk chocolate. It’s a gift that will be well-received and quickly devoured!

Wicked Mix

Photo courtesy of Wicked Mix
Spice up someone’s life with a bag of this fiery snack mix made with pecans, cashews, almonds and other tasty morsels. Available is Spicy Original, Hot Chipotle and, my fav, Chocolate-Laced.

PK Grill

Photo courtesy of PK Grills
If you grew up in the South, chances are your family had a cast aluminum grill in the back yard. The “Portable Kitchen” is a classic cooker for a backyard barbeque. Durable and timeless, this grill will become a family heirloom that you pass down to your kids.

Aromatique Orange and Evergreen Candle

Photo courtesy of Aromatique
Aromatique is a premier potpourri and candle maker in Heber Springs, Arkansas. Founder Patti Upton and I go way back, further than I’d like to admit. I love this orange and evergreen scent for the holidays.

Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun

At the Daisy Museum in Northwest Arkansas
If there is someone on your list who is a fan of A Christmas Story, they’ll be sure to appreciate a Red Ryder BB gun. Just be sure the recipient heeds the film’s warning about shooting out an eye.


Are you an Arkansas craftsperson, grower or maker? I encourage you to join ARKANSAS GROWN to help get your product out in front of consumers. And if you are a shopper, look for the Arkansas Made logo to identify locally produced goods. Check them out at www.ArkansasGrown.org.

Arkansas Wine Country

You might not think of Arkansas when you think of wine, but my home state is actually one of the oldest and largest wine producers in the South. The groundwork for this started millions of years ago with the formation of the Ozark Mountains in the upper northwest corner of the state. These ancient mountains help create a beautiful sandy loam that has proven to be an exquisite terroir for growing wine grapes.

Vineyards at Chateau aux Arc

Bacchus blessed us again in the 19th century when German-Swiss immigrants began flowing into the area to work in the coal mines. The European transplants found that the conditions were perfect for planting vineyards like those they grew back home. Many of these vineyards are still in production today and touring them is a fun way to take in the beauty of the region.

Visiting the heart of Arkansas wine country is an easy day trip to the town of Altus, where it’s possible to taste over 100 different wines in just a five mile stretch. I recommend making the trip in spring when the dogwoods are in bloom or fall as the leaves turn and the grapes are ready for harvest.

There are about a dozen wineries in Arkansas, but for this post I’m focusing on three – Post Familie Vineyard (www.PostFamilie.com), Wiederkehr Wine Cellars
(www.WiederkehrWines.com) and Chateau aux Arc (www.ChateauAuxArc.com).

Post Familie Vineyard

Open daily for tours and tastings.
1700 St. Mary’s Mountain Rd
Altus, AR 72821

Viewing processing grapes with Joseph Post.

The Post Familie Vineyard specializes in wine made from the muscadine, a native of the southeastern United States. Because they are a native grape they are easy to care for with no spraying necessary. This quality also makes muscadines a great choice for homeowners. And if you select a self-pollinating variety such as ‘Noble’ you don’t have to plant both a male and female vine.

At Post you’ll find 100 acres in cultivation. Northwest Arkansas is the northern boundary of where this grape will grow so Post plants the most cold hardy varieties. The most coveted in the red is ‘Noble’ and in the white, ‘Carlos’. The winery processes in excess of 1,000 tons each year, which makes them the leading grower and buyer in the central U.S.

Wiederkehr Wine Cellars

Open daily except Sunday.
3324 Swiss Family Drive
Wiederkehr Village, AR 72821

Al Wiederkehr and me in front of the Weinkeller Restaurant.

If you want to learn more about the German-Swiss immigrants who settled in Altus Wiederkehr Wine Cellars is a must see. Established in 1880 by Johann Andreas Wiederkehr it is the oldest winery in continuous operation in central United States.

The Champagne Cellar is a beautiful example of 19th century stone work. All the stones are dry laid with a mix of lime and sand for mortar. It was the first wine cellar on the property and now houses a restaurant where you can dine on dishes from the French, German and Italian regions of Switzerland. Even the tables and chairs were handmade on the property in the style of the Swiss Alps.

If you are a festival-goer head over to Wiederkehr in October for their annual weinfest. Flowing wine, great food and beautiful scenery; it’s a party you won’t want to miss.

Chateau aux Arc

Tasting Room open Monday – Saturday, Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
8045 Champagne Drive-HWY 186
Altus, Arkansas 72821

Chateau aux Arc

If you’re into sustainability practices like I am, then you’ll love the Chateau aux Arc vineyard and winery. The owner, Audrey House, is doing everything she can to produce an extraordinary glass of wine while reducing her carbon footprint on the planet.

Audrey set her sights on viniculture after a 1997 tour of a California winery. It just took ten minutes for her to realize that growing grapes and producing wine was her life’s ambition. Less than a year later she bought ten acres of Chardonnay grapes in Arkansas.

Her philosophy of working with the land is evident from the vineyards to the tasting room. She built a series of ponds that take advantage of a natural spring. Fish in the ponds fertilize the irrigation water so there isn’t any need for chemical fertilizers. Cover crops are planted to attract beneficial insects and return nitrogen to the soil.

It’s a beautiful place with a beautiful tasting room.

Enjoying a glass of local wine with Audrey House.

Destination Northwest Arkansas

I know I know… You’re headed up to Bentonville, Arkansas to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And you’re going to love it because it’s one of the most amazing places in Arkansas. But did you know the whole northwest portion of the state is filled with exciting things to do as well as some of the best food the region has to offer? In fact four Bentonville restaurant chefs where invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation in New York because, well, they’re just that good!

Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas

To help you get the most out of the trip I’ve created a Northwest Arkansas itinerary for you, which includes art, gardens, and of course food!

  1. Pig Trail Scenic Byway – If it’s on your route be sure to take the short cut between Ozark and Fayetteville lovingly referred to as the Pig Trail. This winding two-lane highway through the Ozark Mountains offers spectacular views, especially in spring and fall. Jump on Highway 23 just past Ozark and enjoy 19 miles of beautiful scenery. To get to Fayetteville take a left on Highway 16 at Brashears.
  2. Coffee Break – The first stop on your way to Crystal Bridges is Fayetteville. It’s a university town with lots of charm. I always like to take a coffee break on my road trips so I can stretch my legs. At Mama Carmen’s Café I can do some good while I’m at it. Mama Carmen’s was born out of a partnership with the namesake who runs an orphanage in Guatemala City. The café purchases the beans grown on Mama Carmen’s farm as well as donating 10% of the profits to the orphanage. And the coffee is good to boot. www.mamacarmen.com
  3. Garden Tour – While in Fayetteville be sure to visit the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. There are 12 gardens to discover plus a butterfly house. www.bgozarks.org
  4. Lunch – The next town you’ll pass through on your way to Bentonville is Rogers. The historic downtown area is delightful with brick roads and classic storefronts. There are a number of wonderful restaurants, but I suggest Heirloom Food + Wine. Everything is made from scratch using only fresh, local ingredients – they even make the bread and condiments! Every day they create a soup, salad and sandwich based on what’s in season. www.heirloomfoodandwine.com
  5. Garden Tour and Crystal Bridges – From Rogers it’s just a 15 minute drive to Bentonville home of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Either before or after visiting the museum take a stroll along the woodland trail at Compton Gardens. This public park is open from dawn to dusk and is a wonderful place to pick up ideas for using native plants. www.peelcompton.org  crystalbridges.org
  6. Dinner – At this point you’re probably looking to sit back, relax with a good meal. Petit Bistro is a French Mediterranean restaurant that is sure to please. Delicious 5 star recipes that is the perfect way to end a great day in northwest Arkansas. petitbistro.biz

Whew, that’s one very big day. If you decide to make it a weekend trip, I suggest the 21c Museum Hotel. It’s within walking distance of the museum and located right on the town square. Remember, there are so many more things to do here and all over Arkansas. The best way to find them is to visit Arkansas.com.

Arkansas Eats

As an Arkansas native I’ve always known that we have some stellar places to eat. Everywhere I go in the state there is a fantastic feast waiting at a restaurant, diner or roadside stand. Which is good because I love food.

The state is famous for southern staples such as fried catfish, barbeque and pie but our food is also influenced by our proximity to the southwestern flair of Texas. As we are an agricultural community a traditional Arkansas meal always includes a generous helping of something that was grown nearby. Purple hull peas slow cooked with a ham hock, cornbread, sliced tomatoes and fried okra are all sides you’ll find on the dinner table in Arkansas.

We’ve never strayed far from our culinary roots, but the national trend for locally sourced ingredients has produced a number of sensational restaurants that specialize in home-style cooking with a contemporary twist. How about catfish served over a bed of hoppin’ John and fried okra? Or perhaps a grilled pork chop with creamed corn, peppers and almonds. Are you hungry yet?

Arkansans aren’t the only folks who recognize what our state has to offer. Recently Forbes Travel Guides included our capital city Little Rock as one of five secret foodie spots with shot outs to Ashley’s, Ciao Baci, ZaZa’s Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co. and Whole Hog Cafe.

Arkansas Farm to Table Restaurants

In addition to these recommendations I have a few others that I suggest you try for a plate full of local flavor featuring seasonal ingredients.

Brave New Restaurant – Get the mixed grill that includes a variety of grilled meats served with an herbed demi glace.

South on Main – This is where you will find the fried catfish and hoppin’ John. Yum!

Trio’s – In the summer they have a farmers’ market plate with seasonal vegetables that’s wonderful.

Table 28 – The restaurant offers unusual interpretations of southern favorites. Make reservations for a seat at the chef’s table (table 28) for an exclusive 6-course meal prepared and served by Chef Rains.

The Root Café – Great burgers and sweet potato fries. A definite must if you have a hankering for breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Capital Hotel Bar and Grill – The Friday lunch special is red sauce braised brisket with rice bread and chow chow. That’s what I’m talking about!

The Hive – If you love a good pork chop this is the place to go. Chef Matthew McClure sources the pork from a local farmer raising heritage pigs known for their exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Oh, and be sure to stop in at the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The current exhibit is a collection of French modern masters including Matisse, Cezanne and Degas. It will be on view until July 7, 2014.

28 Springs – You can’t come south and not eat chicken and dumplings. Savory herb gravy and a flaky biscuit crust make these some of the best chicken and dumplings to be had.

The Farmer’s Table Café – One look at the breakfast menu and you’ll know why this place is the talk of the town. The Hash Skillet is to die for.

HEIRLOOM food + wine – A glass of wine and a platter filled with artisanal cheeses, seasonal fruit, walnuts, honeycomb and fig-rosemary crackers plus an amiable companion? Is there a better way to end the day?

Special thanks to Lyndi over at NWAFoodie.com for recommending some great restaurants in northwest Arkansas!

Fried Dill Pickles

It’s astounding to me but it wasn’t until 1963 that someone thought to fry a dill pickle. I know, right? Bernell “Fatman” Austin was the first to serve these treats at the Duchess Drive In in Atkins, Arkansas and they’ve been a southern staple ever since. If you don’t believe me try them and get back to me. Here’s a recipe that is similar to those served at a local catfish joint.

1 quart jar dill pickle slices
2 teaspoon red pepper
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
8 ounces milk
5 – 6 drops hot sauce
2 cups flour
vegetable oil

Mix egg, milk, hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon of flour in bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl combine the red pepper, paprika, black pepper and 2 cups of flour.

In a large, deep skillet or fry cooker heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the pickle slices in the egg and milk mixture, then dredge them through the flour and spices, then the egg and milk again and then the flour once more.

Next drop the battered pickles into the hot oil and fry until they float to the surface and turn a nice golden brown.

Serve immediately.