Escape to Eureka Springs

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Known as the City that Water Built, Eureka Springs is a quaint, charming tourist destination in northwest Arkansas. A family trip recently took me to its city limits for a delightful getaway. In fact, I’m having difficulty getting back into the swing of the normal routine, and I’m blaming it on traveling!

A bed and breakfast known as Cliff Cottage was our destination. The others in our party – my mom, two of her sisters, a cousin and one of my sisters – all arrived at the Kansas City airport Thursday afternoon. I met the others at their respective terminals, and we all tromped over to the rental company, picked up a van and we were off.

Driving south from Kansas City offered a view of some spectacular Missouri landscape, although we were hoping for a bit more color in the fall foliage. It’s a straight shot from KC to Joplin, where we stayed Thursday night. Heading south and east from Joplin was fairly straightforward until close to the Arkansas border when the road began to curve. From then on, it was mountain driving.

It’s a pretty drive into Eureka Springs, and once in the city, we weren’t disappointed. Lots of Victorian houses perched on the mountain side, winding and steep streets, and while there were lots of visitors, the townsfolk were for the most part friendly and helpful.

Back in 1856, hundreds of “healing springs” were discovered, and the town of Eureka Springs was founded in 1879 to accommodate those seeking the cure as the local waters were said to have magical, healing properties. The Web site, Eureka Springs Then and Now, has video and more on the history of the town. The Crescent Hotel, for instance, opened in 1886. The town’s spa era continued until around 1910, when “to take the waters” as a means of treating illnesses became outmoded in light of modern medical practices. Low in minerals, the spring waters are extremely pure, and it was bottled at one time through the Ozarka Spring Water Co. Although the company is now located in Pennsylvania, the brand can still be found in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and portions of Tennessee, Missouri and Kansas.

Cliff Cottage is actually three cottages in a row on an upper road (an extremely narrow road) overlooking Main (or as it used to be known, Mud) Street. Each suite in the cottages has a well-known name. We were in the Emily Dickinson Suite and the Sarah Bernhardt Suite, complete with photographs and drawings of the women, and in the case of Emily, a few of her books. In Sarah’s room, a biography of the actress was displayed on the coffee table.

A trolley ride took us to the grand Crescent Hotel atop the highest point of town and to a number of shops filled with art, jewelry, pottery and more. We visited the Eureka Springs Historical Museum (did you know Carrie Nation lived in town until her death in 1911? Even smashed a few of the town’s liquor establishments.), bought fudge at Two Dumb Dames Fudge Shop, and made a quick stop at The Inn Convenience Store (I just had to mention the names of those shops!). We ate at the Main Street Café, Local Flavor (great salmon and steak!), Geraldi’s Pizza, and the Mud Street Café (which is located in Underground Eureka at the level of the former Main Street).

Outside of town, we visited Thorncrown Chapel, an amazing glass structure open to the gorgeous scenery around it. As we sat in the stillness of the small sanctuary, a hawk winged its way around the chapel, heading for the trees up the slope. The chapel contains 425 windows and more than 6,000 square feet of glass. Opened in 1980, the chapel almost wasn’t finished. Read more about its history, and see some amazing photos, on the Web site.

Another stop was the Blue Spring Heritage Center, which spotlights the largest spring in Northwest Arkansas and the heritage of the several Native American tribes. The spring, now surrounded by a large circular stone wall, is a fissure about 3 feet wide and estimated to be 500 feet deep. Each and every day it pumps 38 million gallons of pure water into the White River. As you look down into the pool of water, it looks as blue as the sky.

The weather cooperated with us. After a rainy Thursday, the rest of the weekend was perfect fall weather. Cool, crisp temperatures combined with fresh mountain air to create the perfect atmosphere for our weekend escape. Thank you, Eureka Springs!

The area is also known for the huge Christ of the Ozarks statue and the New Great Passion Play. A few other Web sites to visit: Eureka SpringsEureka Springs Chamber of Commerce;Eureka Springs Network; and Eureka Springs Online