Saturday, November 21, 2015: We started our day in Bella Vista, Arkansas. [Reader should insert the Arkansas joke of choice here.] Seriously though, set in the Ozark Mountains, the Bella Vista area is very scenic. We made a quick stop at the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel, younger sibling to the highly renowned Thorncrown Chapel, near Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
We drove another 15 miles down the road to Bentonville, Arkansas, best known as the corporate headquarters of Wal-Mart. It’s now also home to a fantastic art museum, Crystal Bridges, built by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. It’s amazing not only in its collection of American art (spanning iconic Revolutionary War portraits and early American landscapes to Normal Rockwell and Andy Warhol), but also in its architecture and setting. Even more amazing – general admission is free (sponsored, unobtrusively, by Wal-Mart). There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house on the site as well.
Walton’s choice to put this incredible collection of American art right in the middle of the country outraged some coastal critics, and it might be a valid criticism if the museum sat empty in the middle of a corn field. But it does not. Northwest Arkansas is a well populated and heavily touristed area of the country, and the location of Crystal Bridges provides a wonderful opportunity for those not in New York or San Francisco to see a world class collection, which probably will be better appreciated for it.
Leaving Bentonville, we drove a relatively new section of I-49 South through the Ozark Mountains. It was a very interesting drive. The new highway bridges over the deep valleys between the mountains and gives an overhead view into what would otherwise be very inaccessible places. We caught a few glimpses of what appeared to be rustic homes on the banks of creeks or rivers running along the bottoms of valleys.