A 15-Minute Ride Along Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Tucumcari, New Mexico, the largest town on a monotonous Interstate 40 stretch between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas , is a good place to  make a quick trip down memory lane.

You could gas up at the Flying J or Pilot travel stations on the interstate and be on your way, but on a recent trip we took 15 extra minutes to ride along the Historic Route 66 that goes through the edge of town.

Route 66 is called the “Mother Road” because the long route between Chicago and Los Angeles became famous as the one of the original U.S. highways. Built in 1926, it became synonymous with road trips and is immortalized in film and song. Today, pieces of the road remain as an iconic relic of early road tripping.

Most of the motor courts were abandoned after Holiday Inn Express and others opened along the interstate. Some have been restored. Others have  become eyesores. One still had a sign hanging out bragging that Clint Eastwood had stayed there as if it was making a last gasp for survival. (Indeed, Rawhide with Eastwood was filmed in Tucumcari until the early 1960s.

Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico
Blue Swallow Motel Tucumcari, New Mexico

The most photogenic is the Blue Swallow Motel, which looks like it is frozen in time with a Hudson automobile out front and rooms remodeled to every detail including vintage magazines and rotary dial telephones. We were driving through on a late afternoon but next time I’d like to pass through when the Blue Swallow and other businesses turn on their neon lights.

Tucumcari is making a decent attempt to draw nostalgia tourism with its Route 66 Museum and an annual festival called Rockabilly on the Route. Its community college also has a well-regarded dinosaur museum.

Maybe I’ll check out the museum on another trip, This time, I only saw the dinosaurs along old Route 66.

When you are traveling across country seeing how many miles you can cover, you don’t usually have time to take the backroads.  Sometimes just a small detour — 15 minutes in this case — is enough to quench your curiosity and make the drive more memorable.

 

Wal-Mart, Art & a Little Bicycling in Northwest Arkansas

I was a checker at Wal-Mart the day Elvis died. That’s where I was 40 years ago today. It was the summer after my sophomore year in college that I spent some time working at Wal-Mart, which recently had opened in my hometown.A fellow employee, or I suppose an associate as we were called, came into work and told that Elvis had died. So it’s not so much Elvis that I am thinking about today but Wal-Mart.

A few days ago I spent some time in Northwest Arkansas, where it all began for Wal-Mart. Bentonville still is the corporate headquarters of the retail behemoth.  I was struck by how much that Walton money has propelled a little-known place in the Ozark Mountains into such a vibrant business and tourist area. It’s one of the Top 25 fastest growing metro areas in the country.

Here’s three Wal-Mart inspired attractions you don’t want to miss.

Walmart Museum. In 1950, Sam Walton opened a Ben Franklin variety store called Walton 5  & 10 on the square of then-sleepy Bentonville. The facade is restored just as it looked in 1950. Inside, there’s a candy & souvenir shop, and it’s full of visitors close to 9 p.m. on a August weeknight. In the back, museum exhibits tell the story of Wal-Mart in an engaging timeline from the 1950s to today, including his 10 Rules for Building a Business.

Wal-Mart timeline
Sam Walton’s bust overlooks part of the Wal-Mart timeline
Sam Walton's pickup
Sam Walton’s 1979 Ford pickup

Driving a humble pickup truck isn’t written in those rules, but his 1979 Ford F-150 is on display there as an endearing symbol of Walton’s humility.

“I just don’t think a showy lifestyle is appropriate. Why do I drive a pickup? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls-Royce?” is the Sam Walton quote on the display.

The museum complex also includes a soda fountain. A few doors down is a newly-opened War-Mart Neighborhood Store. It  fits into the quaint square look, resembling a Whole Foods more than a discounter.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. There’s no place outside a metropolitan area that has such a diverse collection of art, sculpture and architecture. And, there’s no prettier setting. Art pavilions are nestled around two-spring-fed ponds with forest trails winding through the 120-acre site, about a mile from the Bentonville square.

Original portraits of  George Washington by famous artists Gilbert Stuart and Charles Willson Peale are there. So is Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter oil painting and a Frank Lloyd Wright house that was disassembled in New Jersey and reconstructed there. There’s several Andy Warhol originals including one pop art of the Coca-Cola bottle that museum founder Alice Walton (daughter of Sam) paid $57.3 million for at Christie’s Auction House. Walton outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and paid upwards of $35 million reportedly for Kindred Spirits, a famous Catskills Mountains landscape.

Crystal Bridges Museum
The design and setting of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is just as interesting as the art inside.

Opened in 2011 with $317 million from the Walton Foundation, Crystal Bridges is the first major art museum built since 1974 in America. Admission is free thanks to Wal-Mart  although special exhibits have fees and may be booked so plan ahead. A gallery exhibition of acclaimed Dale Chihuly glass artist just closed, although there are some pieces in an outside setting on exhibit through mid-November. Upcoming 2018 special exhibitions include a Georgia O’Keefe show.

Razorback Regional Greenway. This 37-mile bicycle & jogging path may have a less obvious War-Mart footprint, but it’s there. A $15 grant from the Walton Family Foundation jumpstarted development of this path that connects the growing communities of the area from south Fayetteville to Bella Vista Lake north of Bentonville and near the Missouri state line.

I spent a little over an hour riding a section near Fayetteville, and it should be on the short list for anyone looking for the top places to ride in the South. The  Fayetteville area was busy but not too congested and close to restaurants, coffee shops and micro breweries. Farther north, the path goes to quaint downtowns, through tunnels and over bridges. It connects with about 20 other trails and spurs to such places as Crystal Bridges, three Arkansas lakes and the University of Arkansas campus as well as to shopping and residential neighborhoods.

Those are three Wal-mart-connected reasons to visit Northwest Arkansas. There are many more, including the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, an entertainment venue, and Walmart AMP, a music pavilion in Rogers.

It’s not just Walton money that has made the area prosperous. Tyson Foods and  J.B. Hunt Transport are both headquartered there. In fact, J.B. Hunt founder Johnnie Bryan Hunt has an interesting entrepreneur story of his own as he was often carried a money clip of $100 bills around town, handing them out to people in need.

Sounds a little like Elvis to me.

 

Farmers Market Spotlight: Fayetteville, Arkansas

The farmer’s market in Fayetteville, Arkansas is known for its colorful flower bouquets as much as it is for fruits and vegetables.

Most of the vendors who sell heirloom tomatoes are also selling zinnias and dahlias in a rainbow of colors.

Colorful peppers and flower bouquets
What’s more colorful — the peppers or flower bouquets?
Happy Flowers
Flowers make me happy

Around since 1973, the market on Fayetteville’s historic square has grown into a hip place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. I was there last Saturday. Visiting the market helped me get a good picture of what Fayetteville is like.

I saw it this way: A miniature Austin without so much “weird” crossed with Oxford, Mississippi without so much Oxford shirts or Faulkner.

There were many tomato varieties and colors. Some were bicolored. Some of them were even red. Actually, Arkansas is known for pink tomatoes. It’s the state’s official fruit/vegetable. Bradley County’s Pink Tomato Festival is one of the oldest continuously running festival in the state.

Tomatoes come in many colors
Yellow, Red, Pink and Almost Black.Tomatoes come in many colors

The Fayetteville vendors were a mix of:

  1. New urban gardeners with their organic kale and food trucks

2.  Rugged farmers from places like Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove who’ve been working the terraced slopes of the Ozark Mountain foothills for decades and

3.  Many Asian family farmers introducing squash blossoms and edamame to the local food scene.

Arkansas’ growing number of Asian farmer includes Xiong’s Farm in Decatur, Arkansas. They have been selling at the Fayetteville Farmers Market for six years.

 

Arkansas is on the forefront of the growing edamame industry. It was the first state to commercially grow the edamame soybean variety. And, the town of Mulberry near Fort Smith is home to the annual Edamame Festival. Learn more here.

So Arksansas is now home to the Edamame Festival as well as the Purple Hull Pea Festival (Emerson).

It’s National Farmers Market Week, and I appreciate my Shreveport Farmers Market and the smaller markets in my community. But I also enjoy visiting other markets when I’m on the road.

Mid Week in West Monroe, Louisiana

I was traveling on Interstate 20 the other day and made a stop in West Monroe, Louisiana. I’ve always loved Antique Alley there and never seem to have enough time to cover the whole strip.

I was glad to check out Miss Kay’s Sweets & Eats. The Duck Dynasty personality recently opened a bakery and lunch spot in a renovated 1920s-era building that was once West Monroe’s first gas station. I was in a hurry so I grabbed some potato salad to go. (I’m a tough potato salad critic, so if that’s an example of the quality of other items on the menu, I’ll be back!).

I enjoyed the mural on the side of the building (see top of page) and was glad to know the West Monroe Farmers Market wasn’t far away and open six days a week, so I hopped on over. Here are a few pictures from that quick trip.

My favorite sign at the Farmers Market