An Epic Spring Break on US Highway 71: Day 2
This week, thousands of Arkansas students and their families will be spending time away from school as our schools let out for a well-deserved break. But what can you do with that sort of time?
Last year, my daughter Hunter and I set out along Scenic Arkansas Highway 7 and explored it from one end to the other to bring you all sorts of ideas on activities you can undertake with your family. This year we’re at it again, and we’re exploring US Highway 71, which runs from the Louisiana border to the Missouri State Line.
Each day this week, we’ll share an itinerary for adventure. You are welcome to follow along! And to share your experiences along the highway, please feel free to tag us with #SpringBreakOn71.
We were up bright and early on our Monday morning and enjoyed breakfast at the Hampton Inn in Texarkana before taking a detour from our route. Our mission—peanut patties.
Elve’s Peanut Patties have been a southwest Arkansas staple for 60 years. Though Mr. Elve Otwell has passed on the business, it is in good hand with the Hickeys. Shelley Hickey let us into the shop where those little round patties are made and we watched as they were poured, cooled and wrapped. Check out that story, here.
From there, it was right back where we came from to hop back on US Highway 71 in Texarkana. A short ways up the road, we dropped into the Arkansas Welcome Center at the Red River. This is one of 14 Arkansas Welcome Centers that provides information about the state to incoming guests. Thirteen of these are located close to our borders; the remaining location is in the Big Mac Building on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds. This center is small but it’s a great place to catch a pit stop, grab a free cup of coffee and learn about stuff all over Arkansas—not just in the region. If you’re traveling US Highway 71, this is a must-stop. Be sure to have your name and hometown recorded. In a few years, the new larger Welcome Center will be ready to go.
Just north of the Welcome Center, we passed over the Red River.
Our next town was Ashdown. I’ve written before about the classic Herb’s Creamland and it’s still a great place for a burger or sandwich.
We headed downtown to see the trains. This town in Little River County was established back in 1892, around the Kansas City Railroad and its operations. It was originally an agricultural boom town with lots of farm products and timber passing from the outlying areas through its depot and railroads to other places. It’s also home to a paper mill that’s been going since the mid sixties.
There were train engines here and there—working engines on the lines that run through town.
There’s also the Two Rivers Museum, which houses a lot of the history of the area and has a caboose to boot. Did you know Ashdown used to be called Turkey Flats? You do now!
A ways up the road, as we were headed to De Queen to catch lunch, Hunter hollered out “we need to stop there!” There happened to be Karen’s Krystals, and just seconds after we pulled up and tumbled out of the car, a kind gentleman by the name of Steve started sharing all sorts of lessons on geology and rocks in general with my daughter. You really should read about that here.
We spent a while at Karen’s Krystals before getting back on the road. I noted this place in Lockesburg for a return trip at a later point—the Lockesburg Hardware Store, which according to its sign originally opened in 1869!
There were a few places to dine here and there in De Queen, but many of those places were closing as 2 p.m. approached. Fortunately, the folks at the old Cypress Restaurant, now called the Five Percent according to the waitress, were accommodating, and Hunter and I both got excellent burgers. We were even surprised with small pieces of strawberry shortcake by our waitress, which was so sweet, especially since we were the last customers of the day.
The buffet was done, but the waitress invited us in for burgers and brought us strawberry shortcake. She says this place is called the Five Percent, but the cups say The Cypress Restaurant. #dequeen #arkansasfood #strawberryshortcake #SpringBreakOn71 #openroadtrip #visitarkansas #us71 #openroad #epicroadtrip #cbopenroad #hondaroadtrip #arkansashighways
At Wickes, we turned off towards Umpire for a visit to Cossatot River State Park Natural Area. The views on this stretch were breathtaking, with the slow roll to the flats to the south and views of the Ouachita Mountains in the distance to the north.
Daffodils were everywhere, along stretches of roadbed, in ditches and along fence lines and all over yards.
Visiting Cossatot River State Park Natural Area takes you off the main road. It’s my 50th Arkansas State Park to visit (I have just Milwood and Daisy to go), and on this particularly chilly day we were the only visitors. But we found a lot of cool exhibits and relaxed a bit in the aviarian watch station on the back of the building.
Then we went down to the river and gazed through the clear, bubbling water to the rocky bottom.
You’ll find a lot more about our visit in my full write-up here.
The evening was starting to encroach, so we headed first to Mena, where I pointed out the excellently restored Esso station on Arkansas Highway 88, before we headed up the highway up to Rich Mountain. Along the way, we stopped at several of the overlooks as we drove higher and higher along the ridgetop.
And right at sunset, we were at Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge. The view was stupendous.
Yet Northern gorgeous sunset view from another vista on Arkansas Highway 88 on the way to Queen Wilhelmina State Park. #queenwilhelmina #queenwilhelminastatepark #arstateparks #arkansasstateparks #vista #sunset #SpringBreakOn71 #openroadtrip #visitarkansas #us71 #openroad #epicroadtrip #cbopenroad #hondaroadtrip #arkansashighways
Despite the threat of poor weather and the end of the winter season, the lodge was almost full, so Hunter and I shared a King Bed room near the front desk. If you’d like to know more about the recently remodeled lodge, check out this story.
That night, we dined at the Queen’s Restaurant. A fellow diner suggested we try the roast beef, which I did. I eat a lot of places, but this by far was the best roast beef I have ever eaten in a restaurant. It didn’t even need gravy. Hunter had the chicken fingers kids meal, and it was equally impressive.
Once dinner was done, we retired to the great room on the back of the lodge and enjoyed board games while the clouds gathered.
In the middle of the night, we were awakened by tapping on the window—hail that was coming in sideways on the top of the mountain. No worries—no one was hurt and we had another great item to add to the story.
Tuesday’s itinerary includes Waldron and Fort Smith. Stay tuned for more itineraries as we share our fun throughout the week.
Kat Robinson is a food and travel writer based in Little Rock. She travels Arkansas and the South searching for good stories, tall tales and the next great little restaurant. Read about more of her adventures at TieDyeTravels.com.