Spring Break on US Highway 71: Day 5, Artist Point

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.

Thursday morning came bright and early at Lake Fort Smith State Park, where we enjoyed doughnuts and danishes from Paul’s Bakery and repacked the car.

Before we left, we went down to the visitors center and took a look at the exhibits. Winter is the slow season for Lake Fort Smith State Park, so some of the exhibit’s residents (reptiles, for the most part) were unavailable for viewing. But Hunter did take the opportunity to utilize binoculars to check out other parts of the park.

From Lake Fort Smith State Park, we traveled north a short distance and stopped at Artist Point. This overlook at the end of Saddle Canyon is a favorite for photobugs, and has been for generations.

We also went into the old shop at Artist Point, the last remaining such gift shop along this stretch of US Highway 71. After I-540 (now I-49) was opened in 1998, traffic drastically dwindled on what’s now known as the Boston Mountain Loop. Still, there is a small museum at Artist Point and you can find many hillbilly-centric items for sale to take home with you.

We opted for lunch at Grandma’s House Café, which is known for its ample offerings and a pie buffet. Hunter balked at meaty items such as ham, meatloaf and fried chicken and instead filled her plate with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, fresh tomatoes and corn. Even so, she had two platefuls before she began eyeing that pie table, but she did manage to sample the cherry cream, coconut and pineapple cream pies. 

She fell asleep on our side route to Terra Studios, and when she woke we were in the parking lot. The moment she stepped out of the car, she made a beeline for a gazebo that’s totally encased in Blue Birds of Happiness. Her instant attraction to these little glass creatures was immediately evident. More than eight million of these tiny glass birds have been sold, and if you’d like to know all about the history of the creature, check out this article.

Hunter was also fascinated with the Terrans, small clay creatures that show up all over the park at Terra Studios. She found them in the forest and alongside the lake, driving tiny cars from the parking lot and playing board games on the patio.

Spring Break on US Highway 71: Day 5, Terra Studio

She didn’t know until I took her into the room that houses all those Blue Birds of Happiness for sale, that she could take one home. She spent several minutes looking through all of the birds before finding one that fit her perfectly, and we took it home with us.

Once we left Terra Studios, we headed into Fayetteville and checked in at The Chancellor Hotel before driving over to Arkadia Retrocade. Now, for a child raised in the 1980s, arcades are magical. But I found I had to do some translation for Hunter. Arkadia Retrocade is an entire arcade full of console games from the 1980s and early 1990s, and instead of getting a roll of quarters to play on throughout the night, all the games are rigged for free play. It’s $5 admission, and that covers the entire day, so if you want to leave and get dinner, that’s cool, you can have your hand stamped.

Spring Break on US Highway 71: Day 5, Arcadia Retrocade, Fayetteville

Hunter showed some proficiency with boss games, especially a late 1980s game version of The Simpsons, which she played for over an hour. I indulged myself in the games of my youth—Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man and Q-bert. Then we sat down on an old couch in front of a console TV and I introduced Hunter to my first love, an old Atari, complete with Pitfall and Frogger and Digdug.

Spring Break on US Highway 71: Day 5, Arcadia Retrocade, Fayetteville

We even spent a while working our way through the original Super Mario Bros. on a Nintendo player… a guilty pleasure that ate hours of my time my junior year of high school playing with my best friend Jerry.

While we could have spent all night at Arkadia Retrocade, eventually we needed sustenance, and we found it at Wood Craft Stone Oven, a pizzeria on the south side of town. Hunter got her very own artisan pizza with pineapple, while I chose a Curly, which featured all sorts of mushrooms.

It was a busy day, and by the time we got back to The Chancellor Hotel we were both beat. We retired for the evening, with more full days ahead of us to enjoy.

Thursday’s itinerary includes Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers. 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.