I hadn't really planned on driving through Mississippi, so I found a route that took us back through Lousiana and into Arkansas. Before we made it to the Land of the Downriver People we stopped in Monroe for some soul food.
We stopped at Big Momma's Fine Food and were treated to the best fried chicken we'd ever had.
Scott found it on his phone with good reviews. We walked in looking totally out of place. I was thinking it was a sit down restaurant. But actually it was more like cafeteria style. We were like, uh how does this work? You get to pick your entree, then two sides and a bread. We got a lot of food.
This was the best fried chicken I've ever had. Seriously.
Before we knew it we were back on the road in Arkansas.
The landscape had suddenly changed again.
Our return to Arkansas meant to return to unmatched hospitality. Our host at Erwin Estate High Point was out of town, but her parents and brother treated us to dinner and an encyclopedic knowledge of all the animals they'd shot.
I was expecting another quick, "Here you go," tour, but as soon as we arrived they invited us in and then we were having dinner with them. Their granddaughter, who was Meadow's age, was over too. They had a brief play date while we talked. Meadow has been lucky to have kids to play with on our trips.
After dinner the family lead us up to the high point.
Today ended up being the hottest day of the year for them. Their was even a heat advisory. They felt so bad having us camp up here. We were like, eh, we're used to it.
Of course, we had to check out the view from the lookout tower.
Mike pointed out his claim that the high point was the highest elevation this far south in Arkansas.
The other highest point was in nearby Hot Springs National Park.
They kept saying too bad it was so hazy because you can see farther.
The swing was the perfect addition to the lookout.
At some point on this trip Meadow has suddenly had a deep connection with one of her teddy bears. She doesn't usually become attached to any of her stuffed animals. She has her favorites, but they don't go with her everywhere. Suddenly Teddy has to go everywhere.
We jokingly said we should setup our tent on top of the observation tower. They said, go ahead. They thought it was a great idea.
So, we did.
Meadow didn't want to be in any pictures unless she could have the umbrella.
The sun was already setting, so we just meandered around.
Texas beer in Arkansas? Why not.
It really didn't feel all that hot or we were getting used to it.
We all agreed that this was an awesome place to camp.
Had we known that roping was going on that night, we'd have driven back down. I thought they might just be practicing. Whoops.
I thought it was at a nearby park. When we drove back down the next morning I noticed it was on their land. That would have been neat to watch.
Day 11 - Friday
In the morning I woke up for the hazy sunrise and got eaten alive by skeeters.
The only bad side about sleeping on top was that in the morning there would be no shade.
We had breakfast and then packed our stuff up for a next to last adventure.
Of course Meadow had to swing one last time before we went on our way.
I wasn't in a rush and it was going to be near 100 degrees today. So, we drove up Arkanas Highway 7 into hard of the Ouachitas and Ozarks.
We would regret taking the scenic route later.
Brooke wasn't feeling great, so she slept through Meadow and I's scenic overlook breaks.
I felt exhausted and my throat hurt. I thought for sure I was getting sick.
Brooke woke up from her slumber to stop for food in Russellville, Arkansas.
We stuck to our bbq, drive in or Mexican rule by going with Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant. It couldn't compare to our Austin food stops, but it would do.
I ordered the lunch special of the day. Although cheap it was a bad decision. Too Americanized for my spoiled Austin-Taco Truck taste buds. Meadow enjoyed her chicken taco on a hard shell.
Brooke was sleeping once again when we stopped again somewhere in the Ozarks.
It's like the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Except a lot closer to home.
Except a lot closer to home.
As we drove north the roads became more winding and the peaks ever higher.
Eventually we arrived in darling Eureka Springs.
We really have no idea what places are going to be like that we are staying at. Usually the hosts will post a few photos of the property, but everything always feels different in person. The place we would be staying at had only a few photos and made no mention of awesome town it sits in.
We were a bit early, so we got ice cream to Meadow's delight.
We weren't sure what to expect in Eureka Springs. After driving through the town and to our host Kimberly's, we were kicking ourselves for not arriving earlier.
When we drove up to the house I was like, are we sure this is the right place?
Our hostess had run to the store, but her husband let us wait inside their darling home.
First we picked our camping spot in the wooded land adjacent to her perfect bungalow.
There was another heat advisory today and Kimberly offered to let us stay in the house. We were like, no really this is fine. But actually being in her "backyard" it was nice and shady and much cooler.
Then Kimberly took us on a tour of her other land holdings around town. There was the giant acreage, perfect for dispersed camping next to Lake Leatherwood.
The wild raspberries.
And her demonstration solar project complete with solar-froze popsicles.
Not to forget the bomb shelter from Israel.
It's now used to educate children on bees. They have bee house making events.
But it was the bluffs and woods that we'd come for.
We set up our tent by the swing of course.
The land has a spring-fed dripping waterfall complete with a little pool to dip your feet in.
Of course Meadow preferred the swing.
I felt like I was in the Dells.
After photographing for a while we went back to Kimberly and her husband's place for a wonderful dinner and a enlightening conversations. The two of them were doing such cool things in retirement.
We couldn't say no to another home cooked meal. I was nervous about Meadow refusing to eat with them. Not only did she eat with us, but she ate everything on her plate. We had chicken and a salad. Meadow even got green beans.
On the way back we ran into the family who was staying at the neighboring cabin. We struck a conversation and ended up drinking beers and hanging with them for the night. They had a little boy Meadow's age. What luck for her. They even invited us to stop by if we ever pass through their home in Fort Worth. We'll take you up on that Danny and Katie!
It also turns out that Danny has family in Minnesota. And we may have talked them into trying Hipcamp.
Day 12 - Saturday
We had to wake up super early again to get in some more photos and make a drive to Iowa.
Meadow wasn't quite ready to wake up.
Nope, not even a little bit.
We were also going back to Kimberly's house for breakfast. I tried to get Meadow up so she wouldn't be too crabby.
"Climb up on those bluffs so I can take your picture."
We shot some more pics and packed up to have breakfast with our camp hostess.
First a dip in the springs. If we had stayed longer I would have sat right down.
I was already missing Arkansas and we hadn't even left.
Arkansas turned out to be another state, like West Virginia that I never would have thought to go to, but fell in love with.
Kimberly was watering her plants on her picture perfect porch when we arrived for breakfast.
After dinner the night before, Kimberly served us chocolate cake for dessert. I noticed the slice of cake looked like a Bundt pan.
I think my interest in Bundts inspired her breakfast for us. An egg bake in a bundtlette pan. And again Meadow sat down with us and ate all her food! I'm always surprised when Meadow feels comfortable around certain people.
We followed Kimberly over to the farmers market in the area where actual residents live.
We got some cucumbers for Meadow and a Persian melon for later.
Then we said goodbye to Kimberly and promised to come back to stay again.
Eureka Springs just has a picture perfect vibe.
We had to get going, but wanted to go into town one last time. All the architecture here was from the 1800's and early 1900's.
The town is famous for its dozens of natural springs. All of the springs can be found amongst beautiful gardens.
I wish we had more time to explore. We are definitely coming back again.
These little spring parks are everywhere.
Like Brooke said, Arkansas was the big surprise of the trip. We knew that we'd love Louisiana and Texas was so dang Texan. Heck we got to spend a few days with the Torreses in Austin! But Arkansas was a blank slate in my mind. It turned to a be a state that we definitely want to spend more time in.
We both agreed we want to retire here.
Oh, hey, Missouri...
Brooke was not in the mood for BBQ in Kansas City.
So I found a place that specializes in Hawaiian wraps, Longboards. It may have been in a strip mall, but it was damn good meal.
When he said he found a Hawaiian wrap restaurant for lunch I wasn't expecting much, but it was really good. Kansas City was also having, surprise, an excessive heat warning. Heat indexes were 110 degrees. We could not catch a break from it.
And then we drove and drove some more until we reached Iowa. Sorry, Iowa, but you can't compete with your southern neighbors.
But it did turn out that we'd be staying in a killer campground just to the northwest of Des Moines, Star Field at the White Rock Conservancy.
And it was cloudy and midwest humid. Finally it felt almost comfortable!
It was ten plus degrees cooler, but Meadow was still sweating.
We made pasta with the cucumber we'd picked up in Eureka Springs.
Then we played in the meadows with Meadow. The field was filled with thousands of butterflies.
As soon as we arrived the campground host took Meadow and I for a ride in the John Deere Gator through the red clover fields. Tons of butterflies were flying all around us. It was pretty magical.
Apparently it's also the hip place to mountain bike camp in Iowa.
We were the only campers without bikes.
And there was tons of wild black raspberries.
I was expecting this place to be a normal campground, but it was truly a hidden gem.
The campground hosts invited us over for s'mores.
Of course I had to get a picture of the said stars in the field. They just peaked out as we were hitting the hay.
Day 12 - Sunday
Our camp host and his grandsons picked pounds of black raspberries in the morning alongside Meadow and Scott.
We came back with a couple bowls of black raspberries to add to our oatmeal.
"Mama it's the flower from your tea,"
I think we were all ready to head back home, but the conservancy had some places we had to see.
If this wasn't the end of our trip we would've taken them up on the canoe ride down the Middle Raccoon River.
Instead we did a little hiking.
There are three campgrounds at the conservancy. The tent campground, rv and equine. Surrounding the area are many water, hiking, horse and biking trails. There are also a few cabins to stay in. This area was pretty neat.
The goal of the area was to bring back what Iowa is supposed to look like.
Of course a stop on the swing was a must.
The Whiterock Conservancy practices a combination of conservation and environmentally responsible farming.
So we checked out a few of their pastures.
We snacked on Persian melons and then packed our things up for the last time on this epic Hipcamp road trip.
We said goodnight to this journey by eating at our fourth go-to road trip restaurant: a freaking casino buffet.
Heck to the yeah!