Tag Archives: travel

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.

I’m Taking a Hike on Strenuous Hiking Adventures

I like a long bicycle ride while on vacation, but I’m slow to embrace hiking.

For starters, you just can’t cover as much ground. On a bicycle, I can ride at a leisurely 10 miles per hour and soak up a lot of scenery. At best, I can only cover three miles per hour hiking. Two miles is more realistic; one mile or less if it’s rough or steep terrain. Hiking places such as Louisiana’s Mt. Driskill is about all I’m good for.

But if I want to vacation with my twentysomething daughters, I must be a good sport and lace up the hiking boots, fill the water bottles and forge ahead.

It usually goes somewhat like a recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, where we tackled the Cathedral Rock Trail, only a one-mile trail labeled “moderate.”

The first few steps were easy enough, but then it was more scrambling up steep red rocks and then trying to keep my balance on slick sandstone spots where the well-worn Brooks Ravenna running shoes I was wearing didn’t provide enough traction.

I bailed out. Actually Hubby gave up 30 yards before I did. Daughter Mary Grace went on to the top, and I remained at my stopping point for 45 minutes or so until she came back down. I could see Hubby just a little bit below but didn’t want to risk sliding down to join him.

What a sight we were.

At one point, I took a small rock and started rubbing it on the soles of my shoes to roughen them up—my own version of Castaway as Millennials, some even wearing flip flops, passed me on the way up.

I’m sure the mountaintop view was spectacular, but it wasn’t bad from my vantage point.

Cathedral Rock Trail
Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, Arizona

Any time my daughter suggests hiking a trail I suspect to be strenuous, I head to the internet to research how strenuous it is. We were in Sedona partly because I had nixed a trip up popular Camelback Mountain near where we were staying in Phoenix.

—108 degrees in Phoenix the day before

–winds of 20-30 mph with occasional gusts of 50 possible for that day

–at least 13 species of rattlesnakes emerging from hibernation

–parking lots often congested as early as 6:15 am, and most importantly

–7 fall or heat-related deaths on Camelback Mountain in two years, more than the knife-edge cliff of Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park.

Call me Debbie Downer, but that’s enough for me to pause and ponder my limitations.

Angel's Landing
Angel’s Landing-No Way Am I Doing This

I got out of hiking Angel’s Landing two years ago, because there was a steady rain the day we were there. Last fall, I was a good sport and agreed to the Shi Shi Trail leading to the rugged Pacific coast on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I even was willing to grab a rope and scale down a 200-foot bluff to get to the beach at the end. However,  after slogging through this muddy trail for 90 minutes, I demanded we call it quits before we got to the beach.

Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach trail. Would you continue down this path?

I have concluded I can best experience places such as the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails watching other people like Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods) tackle the challenge.

At the movies.

 

 

Saturday Morning at Phoenix Public Market

Even though I can’t usually load up on fruits and vegetables, I like to visit farmers markets while traveling to experience the local flavor and check out the booths and creative vendor names.

On a recent Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Public Market on the edge of downtown Phoenix.

Local tomatoes, organic herbs and oranges (orange trees are on residential lawns everywhere in Phoenix) were abundant. However, the best thing I ate came from Jerusalem Bakery. I got two outstanding borekas, sesame seed-topped phyllo dough with different fillings inside. One borek a was stuffed with feta cheese and kalamata olives and other with mushrooms, cheese and onions.

Although not a food booth, my favorite name was a shaving kit booth run by an Army veteran: “Shaving Private Ryan.”

 

On Top of Mt. Driskill-Louisiana’s Highest Point

Locating Mt. Driskill, Louisiana’s highest point, is no easy task. For starters, it’s only 535 feet so finding a summit that juts up from the “hills” of eastern Bienville Parish is difficult from the road.

And since it is the third lowest state summit (behind Florida and Delaware), Mt. Driskill is hardly a tourist attraction. Directions aren’t prominent until you get to the trailhead in the parking lot of a church.

On our first attempt, we set out with Google maps. I had directions, but hubby wanted to drive through Ringgold rather than the planned Arcadia, which messed up my navigation. Even my Verizon had pockets of no service as we wandered around Bienville Parish.

We were close, but missed a sneaky turn on Highway 507 as we ran out of daylight. We wound up at Liberty Hill church and cemetery, which I thought might have been the entrance from my last visit to Mt. Driskill in 1986.

But,  it wasn’t the right church. Rural churches look a lot alike, particularly in a 30-year-old memory. Since you don’t want to find yourself in those parts with less than a quarter tank of gas, we drove six miles to Bryceland Mall (that’s the real name) to fill up and headed back to Shreveport.

Next week we made a return trip with precise directions I had printed out. That took us to Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church and the Mt. Driskill trailhead.

Mt. Driskill
Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church on Hwy. 507 is the Mt. Driskill entrance

It’s a pleasant hike the mile or so up with only two real inclines that caused much resistance. It would be prettier in the fall with the hardwoods sporting color, but the forestland on this cold January day suited us just fine.

Although finding Mt. Driskill wasn’t easy, once you get there it’s marked well enough so you don’t get lost in the woods. It’s on private property but landowners have granted permission for public use, even giving an alternative route for those who want a longer hike path.

Mt. Driskill
Summit marker–notice the cardboard Louisiana sign with black marker

Once at the summit, we found confirmation that this was, indeed, the highest natural summit in Louisiana. There’s a whole organization called Highpointers.org, whose members make it to every high point in every state. Highpointers had placed two benches at the mountaintop to catch the view of the Louisiana forest land and neighboring Mt. Jordan. Learn more here. In fact, the ashes of Jack Longacre, founder of the Highpointers, were spread on top of Mt. Driskill in 2003.

Selfie on the summit

 

Directions from I-20 in Shreveport

— Take Exit 69 at Arcadia and head south through town
— Turn left on SR 147/Jonesboro Road and continue for 9.3 miles
— Turn right onto SR 507 and continue for 2.7 miles to the Mt Zion Presbyterian Church parking lot

Bienville Parish has a lot of interesting and quirky places. Read here 

 

 

 

Presidential Libraries Are Worth Visiting

I trace my fascination with presidents with a couple of childhood events. I was in first grade and home sick that November Friday when Walter Cronkite cut into As the World Turns with the tragic news that JFK had been assassinated.

The next year I was home for two weeks with the flu just after my mother bought a set of World Book encyclopedias. Bored, with no videos and only two channels on TV, I began memorizing the presidents in order and the state capitals as well.

Since it’s President’s Day, I’m remembering some of my visits to presidential libraries. My love for presidential history and my tendency to prefer museums showcasing narrow topics (rather than the massive Smithsonian) are reasons why I find presidential libraries so appealing.

I have been to four of them – Bush 41 & 43, Clinton & LBJ and came away with new appreciation for their service, even for the ones I didn’t care for politically. When visiting comprehensive museums such as the Smithsonian, I am overwhelmed, but I can manage presidential libraries since they focus on only four to eight years of history. There are only 13 official ones administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. Texas has three of them.

Here are my brief takeaways from the four that I have visited:

George W. Bush, Southern Methodist University, Dallas: I thought the 9/11 exhibit especially touching with details of the President’s, Vice President’s and first lady’s schedules during that time. The $16 admission is a bit pricey compared to the other libraries visited in the $7-$10 price range.

Since this was the museum we visited most recently, I remember more details about the whole trip. On the day we visited the museum. We opted not to eat at “43,” the museum’s restaurant and went to Rise!, a great soufflé place about three miles away. Rise! has presidential tie-ins as we were seated at the  “Bush” table,  the 43rd president’s regular table evidenced by family signatures on the underside. George W, then the former president, was eating a crab soufflé at this table when advisors called to say Osama bin laden had been killed. Another regular Rise patron is Chandler Roosevelt Lindsley, granddaughter of Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt, who lives in the Dallas area. You can purchase her cookie booklet there.

Bananas Foster Souffle at Rise!

Also, you can include a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas to learn more about the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Daughter Mary Grace poses by the Presidential limousine at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on the Texas A&M campus.

George H.W. Bush, Texas A&M University, library in College Station covers the Gulf war, but it was the Bushes public service and their time in China with the CIA that I found most fascinating. A good time to go is in May when the drive leading to the library is surrounded by Texas bluebonnets.

LBJ, University of Texas, library in Austin featured a life-sized mechanical LBJ wearing a cowboy hat sharing folksy stories when I visited 10 years ago. That exhibit has since been replaced by LBJ in a suit in the Oval Office. I haven’t seen it, but I think the former captures his persona better.

Bill Clinton, Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas: The middle of the first floor has an interesting timeline of important events during the time of the Clinton administration, 1993-2001, with the daily schedule of Clinton’s almost 3,000 days in office. Press the appropriate button, and you get “a day in the life.”  The museum gives great views of downtown Little Rock and the Arkansas River. Through April 2, there’s an exhibit on Beatlemania!

Downtown Little Rock view from Clinton library

Ulysses S. Grant Library at Mississippi State!

Presidential  libraries are 21st century creations, but some earlier presidents have foundations that administer birthplaces, libraries and museums. In an ironic move, Mississippi State University is now home to the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library. Yes, you read that right, a former Confederate state houses the library of the former general of the Union army. After a complicated and fascinating dispute that is still in litigation, a MSU history professor had the Grant papers and artifacts moved from Southern Illinois University to MSU in 2012. Read more here.

Harry S. Truman

A couple of years ago we were traveling and found our hotel in Independence, Mo, just outside Kansas City, and the home of Harry S. Truman.

Truman Walked the Streets
Truman Walked the Streets

There wasn’t enough time to visit the presidential library. However, I loved seeing the silhouette signs around town of Truman to depict how he walked everywhere. I’m also amazed at how just spending 30 minutes in a place where a president lived lived piqued my interest in the Truman administration – so much that I downloaded David McCullough’s wonderful biography of the 33rd president.

A Bit of Presidential Trivia

I’m still fascinated by this information I picked up on a trip to Washington, D.C. last May. Two grandsons of our 10th president, John Tyler, are still living! Read more here.

So on this President’s Day, I think I’ll forgo the furniture store sales and read up on one of the presidents. Can anyone suggest a book or a movie?

My Trip to Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile

All I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a trip to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile, a 107-year-old building that the Food Network star has handsomely restored into a restaurant, bakery, deli, retail shop and ranch office.

We made the six and a half hour trip from Shreveport last week. The drive’s not bad when places like Paris, Texas and Okmulgee, Oklahoma have Starbucks!

Hubby and his brother were good sports as my sister-in-law and I made our way around the store. We did come away with a few purchases, but my main goal was to look around, sample the food and hopefully run into Ree, aka Pioneer Woman, or one of the Drummond clan.

The shop was as beautiful as pictured on her the blog. There are some pricey items — a cast iron skillet in the shape of the United States for $125, metal butterflies sculpted into a horse for $250 but fun lower-end items such as $3 bacon lip balm, $6 finger puppets of historic and literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Sherlock Holmes. And lots of dinnerware in bright colors and florals.

Originally, I thought we’d eat a late breakfast/brunch there, shop, tour the town, drive out to the ranch and return for a late afternoon meal. But on further reflection, I felt one big PW meal was about all my diet could stand.

The menu isn’t extensive because I have a feeling Ree Drummond only wants to serve things that can scale perfectly to feed a large restaurant crowd.  I did a rough count one day and figured I have made more than 60 of her recipes so I wanted to order some things I hadn’t tried.

Hubby got the Marlboro Man sandwich, strips of tenderized ribeye sauteed with onions and served on a soft hoagie bun with homemade potato chips. He shared some with me, so I got the  salad with steak added. For an appetizer,  we had creamy olive cheese bread. They were all what you would expect from Pioneer Woman–delicious!

I wanted to get prune cake just to see if it lived up to its menu billing– “Don’t get hung up on the name. This just might be the best thing you have ever eaten.”  But I didn’t have room and will have to save it for another visit or make it myself. Did I mention we split a pecan sticky bun before lunch?

I didn’t see any calorie counts or “on the lighter side” on the menu. Only those marked “bring a hearty appetite.”

We had to wait about 40 minutes for a lunch table — it will be longer on weekends and during holidays, shorter during breakfast. Todd, the youngest Drummond child, was bussing our table. Sister Paige, 17, was on duty as barista, and Ladd, Marlboro Man himself, was working the crowd.

Ladd Drummond “Marlboro Man” graciously poses for a picture with me
Todd Drummond
Todd and Paige at the coffee bar

I guess Ree was home blogging, making lasagna or gathering cattle.

We ended our time in Pawhuska by driving eight miles out on U.S. Highway 60 to the Drummond Ranch entrance sign and continuing on County Road 4461, a gravel road, until we could see her house in the distance. We wanted to see if she really does live “on a ranch in the middle of nowhere”

She does.

And the wind was sweeping down the plain that day.

A trip to Pawhuska would be a terrific paired with a trip to Tulsa (an hour away with beautiful Art Deco architecture) or Oklahoma City (two hours away with National Memorial commemorating 1995 bombing and National Cowboy Museum). 

Pioneer Woman Mercantile

A Gratitude Lesson From a Rainy Vacation Day

A recent vacation taught me an unexpected lesson on gratitude.

The  vacation itinerary that I drew up for a recent trip that I took with my daughter included a morning drive along the Hood River County Fruit Loop, a 35-mile route dotted with 30 farm stands in Oregon between the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood.

It was prime  harvesting season when I was there in October so I envisioned lots of apple picking on a crisp, sun-splashed fall day. Then we’d have lunch at a local winery and enjoy an afternoon of bicycling  on America’s original scenic byway. Perhaps we would hike a little of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The only question was how could we choose among those 30 points of interest–fruit stands and berry farms, wineries and cider houses, u-pick apple and pear orchards, lavender farms, an alpaca farm and even a chestnut  farm.

The Fruit Loop brochure had me excited as I looked at the farms pictured with blue skies, dahlias in the foreground and snow-capped Mt. Hood in the background. Likewise, the historic Columbia Gorge Highway site had postcard-worthy photos of bicycle trails.  I packed a few of the new almond butter-filled Clif bars just to create a photo similar to the one of a cyclist on the package.

clif-bar

But it was not to be. It rained miserably all day. So we didn’t get to bicycle or hike at all. We didn’t ride the Fruit Loop with our windows down and sun roof open as we had hoped. We should have peeked through the sun roof with our umbrella for a amusing photo op, but frankly I was too bummed out.

We did drive along Highway 35 and the side roads that make up the Fruit Loop. We stopped at a  few farm stands — Packer Orchards, Apple Valley Country Store & Bakery and Draper Girls Country Farm. We found the best variety at Draper Girls — Pacific Rose, Spice and Pink Pearl to name a few. The latter had a bit of pink in the flesh.

pink-pearl-pink-inside

Our adventure for the day: Returning to the Airbnb to watch Reese Witherspoon in “Wild.” And eating some of those apples.

So what was the gratitude lesson?

It took me a while upon returning home, but I reflected on past vacations. On one trip to the beach, rain was forecast every day of the week–we almost cancelled our condo. But as it turned out, it rained none of the days we were there.

We did experience a downpour three years ago during one of the vacation days in New York City, but that was one day of rain, four days of sunshine. (And can you really whine on a rainy day in New York when that means spending it in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?)

On my rough scorecard of vacations past, I’m averaging about  9 out of 10 sunny days. Was I as grateful for those as I was complaining about my rainy October trip to Washington and Oregon?

From now on, I’m going to start vacations with less of an entitlement mindset about the weather. Then, when a vacation day is wrapped in sunshine, maybe I’ll treat it like a gift.

And be more thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ride America’s Rails to Trails And Never Say “Car Back!”

When I became interested in bicycling again a few years back, I started reading up on old railroad beds that had been converted to bike trails.

No car traffic. Small towns, rural scenery, city waterfronts. Rest stops and water fountains along the away.  Sounded great.

And it is.

My first rails-to-trails ride was on the Tammany Trace on an old Illinois Central corridor in South Louisiana. I rode the entire 27.6-mile trail and back during my 55th birthday weekend. It’s a beauty. Since that ride about four years ago, I’ve been to others, including the Katy Trail in Missouri, a 238-mile trail that stretches  across most of the state. (For the record, my husband and I rode sections not the entire Katy Trail).

There are new trails to ride almost every day thanks to The Rails to Trails Conservancy,  a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating  a more bikeable and walkable America. Their website TrailLink.com contains a wealth of information on these trails–not only on rails-to-trails conversions but all traffic-free bicycle and pedestrian paths. You can find out about surface types, towns and things to do along the routes, user reviews and more. Most trails also have their own websites independent of TrailLink.com.

Rails-Trails
There are plenty of tools available to research rails-trails.

I have the TrailLink app on my phone that points me to nearby trails while I am traveling. A few like the Katy are crushed limestone, and we were glad we had hybrid bikes with wider tires when we rode. The trail was smooth but we couldn’t manage much more than 8 mph in places. I prefer the paved trails (either asphalt or concrete) with small towns to explore along the way.

There are plenty of rail-trails with all types of surfaces. According to TrailLink.com, there are now 1,997 miles of rail-trails comprising 22, 470 of miles in the United States. Another 777 trails are under construction.

Most rail-trails have speed limits of 15 mph or so, You aren’t competing with racing cyclists, but you are sharing the trail with pedestrians and, in some cases, equestrians and skateboarders.

There are some exciting rail-trails/greenways under development. The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile project that will connect Maine to Key West, Florida and many Atlantic Coast cities between them.  Closer to home, a 132-mile Northeast Texas Trail is being developed between surburban Dallas and the outskirts of Texarkana. Some sections are already open, but it’s a mix of gravel, crushed stone and asphalt. Study the map and read the comments on road conditions carefully before you head out.

One of my favorites to ride was the High Trestle Trail in Iowa, so named because it includes a 13-story converted railroad bridge over the Des Moines River. The bridge lights up at night giving the experience of  riding through a tunnel. My current favorite is the one I rode most recently: Tanglefoot Trail in Mississippi down the path of a railroad built by William Faulkner’s great grandfather.  The fun is experiencing small towns along the route. You can read about my experience here.

High Trestle Trail bridge
Sunset on the High Trestle Trail bridge near Des Moines, Iowa

Next month I’m going on vacation to Washington and Oregon, and I’ll be trying a couple more rail-trails.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy also has a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame–currently at 30 trails. They are recognized for such things as scenery, maintenance and community support. Here’s a few from that list:

Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail in Wisconsin. This is the original rail-trail, opening in the 1960s. Wisconsin has a vast network of rail-trails, and we are just going to have to go back to Wisconsin to explore them all. We did enjoy the Hank Aaron State Trail along Milwaukee’s lakefront and the rural Ahnapee State Trail in Door County, Wisconsin. The Elroy-Sparta is crushed limetone and features three tunnels. The 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta connects with three other trails to form 101 miles.

But I’m partial to the paved trails, so I’ll be exploring these Hall of Fame trails soon:

Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail: These  trails join together for 95 continuous miles. The Silver Comet, named for a popular passenger train that traversed the route during the 1940s and 1950s, is the longest at 62 miles beginning on the east at Smyrna  just outside Atlanta. At the Alabama line, it joins the 33-mile Chief Ladiga and proceeds to its western end at Anniston.

Longleaf Trace. This is one in my home state that I keep intending to try, but I have just not made it there yet. The route is mostly a rural 41 miles through fields and the trail’s namesake longleaf pine forests.

Seeing Longleaf Trace on the list makes me want to plan a trip tomorrow. Anybody want to ride with me?

 

 

 

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Bicycling Trip: Big Bridge, Big Rock in Little Rock

Hubby and I were new to  bicycling when one of the first trips we made was to Little Rock, Arkansas.

I had read that the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians was the Big Dam Bridge (name explanation to come later). So we loaded up our bikes and headed to Arkansas to check it out.

We made a day trip of it then and just piddled around riding along the Arkansas River Trail on both sides of the Big Dam Bridge. But we’ve been back since for a weekend and will go back again to this bicycling jewel just three hours away from our home in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Big Dam Bridge, which celebrates its 10th birthday today, spans 4,226 linear feet across the Arkansas River seven miles west of downtown.  As for the name: The story  goes that when funding was an issue, a county judge said “we are going to build the dam bridge” and declared he was talking about its location over the Murray Lock and Dam. Others took it another away.

Whatever the name origin, the Big Dam Bridge has been a beacon of health and fitness activities in a southern state better known for rice and gravy.

Big Dam Bridge
Big Dam Bridge-Photo Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Big Dam Bridge is a climax of the 16-mile Arkansas River Trail that connects Little Rock and North Little Rock. Most, but not all, of the trail is a dedicated path with no car traffic. There’s two other downtown Little Rock bridges where you can bicycle over the Arkansas River, including one right by the Clinton Presidential Library. Yet another bridge, west of Big Dam Bridge, is at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Maumelle rivers and takes you to the 1,000-acre Two Rivers Park. More on the four bridges here.

Riding over the bridges may be entertainment enough, but we discovered there’s lots to see within a stone’s throw of the bicycle trail.  The trail connects to 38 parks and six museums. On the south bank of the river (or Little Rock side), you have the state capitol, River Market (farmers market, shops and restaurants) and the Clinton Presidential Library. On the North Little Rock side, you pass the USS Razorback WWII-era submarine and get a glimpse of the scenery that earns Arkansas the nickname “the Natural State.”

One North Little Rock natural spot is an area known as Big Rock, where the river Delta meets Ouachita (pronounced Wash-i- taw)Mountains just a bit off the trail. There once was a quarry there that made railway ballast for 100 years. A smaller rock outcropping on the south side was named “Le Petit Rocher” or “the Little Rock” by a French explorer.

Checking out the Big Rock on a 2012 ride
Checking out the Big Rock on a 2012 ride

What impressed me on my visits was the mix of people using the trail — overweight individuals  struggling a bit but pushing forward on the Big Dam Bridge incline; families with children in bicycles with training wheels and one or even two in baby strollers; old folks, couples and singles walking dogs (and availing themselves of the dog waste bags provided); and serious cyclists/runners in mesh jerseys or no shirt at all.

The Big Dam Bridge 100, the largest bicycling event in Arkansas, will draw crowds to Little Rock Sept. 24.  (There are shorter distances in addition to a century ride). I’m not participating that day, but I look forward to enjoying bicycling in Little Rock again soon.

Big Dam Bridge cycling tour attracts thousands
Big Dam Bridge cycling tour attracts thousands. Photo courtesy Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

Arkansas River Trail website. If you want more than 16 miles, you’ll find extended rides that go out to scenic Pinnacle Mountain State Park or the 88.5-mile Grand Loop traversing  several Arkansas counties on a mix of paved paths, on-road bicycle lanes and rural roads.

Little Rock’s Arkansas River Trail is one of the bicycling spots featured in a new 45-page glossy Arkansas Road Cycle Guide.  It’s a wonderful publication with routes segmented by easy, moderate and difficult. You can download it here or have it mailed to you.(There’s a separate guide for mountain cycling enthusiasts).

Arkansas Road Cycling Guide
Arkansas Road Cycling Guide

Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

North Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Bobby’s Bike Hike in the River Market rents bicycles and offers family-friendly bicycle tours around the city.

Regional Bicycle Tours Showcase Small Towns, Rural Countryside

I was scared to try another organized bike event since my embarrassing debut at the Tour de Fire Ant a couple of years ago. But small town hospitality and a history-rich flat stretch of road wooed me to Bikes, Blues and Bayous in Greenwood, Mississippi last Saturday.

I did a leisurely 20 miles. About half of the 900 riders were going for the metric century (62 miles), but I wasn’t intimidated. Well, maybe a little.

But, if you are like me and enjoy seeing the countryside up close on a bicycle, you may want to check out some of the scenic rides coming up during the next few weeks.  Flat or rolling hills, rural routes or a rural/city combination-take your pick.

Bikes, Blues & Bayous started on a bridge over the Yazoo River and went onto Grand Boulevard shaded by 300 oak trees planted 100 years ago.  The movie The Help was filmed there. Then, it was over the Tallahatchie Bridge (of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe fame) and into the rural Mississippi Delta past shacks turned into a hotel and historical sites tied to the blues and the civil rights movement.

Tallahatchie Flats
Bikes, Blues & Bayous route passed Tallahatchie Flats, shacks you can rent for overnight stays

Most bike events, like the Greenwood ride, have a family-friendly fun ride of 10 to 12 miles, another in the 20 to 30 mile range,  another 40 to 50-mile ride on up to metric century and century rides. The great thing about these rides is most have police escorts at major intersections and sag wagons to pick you up if you break down–physically or mechanically.

You can check out the routes online beforehand and even see which ones have the best rest stops and after parties.

It would be hard to beat Greenwood’s  setup with one stop complete with jazz music and refreshments served in vintage country store containers. If you biked further on down the road, you were rewarded with a church spread  more typical of a Delta bridal shower.

Some tour routes are loops. Others are out and backs, great if you are like me and want to stop to take pictures. You can note your photo ops going out and actually stop to take them on the return trip.

When you’re leisurely riding like me, who’s in a hurry?

Here’s a partial list of some upcoming rides within a three hours drive from where I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. You may want to plan early as hotel rooms fill during the most popular events.

Tyler, Texas. Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 13: This has moved from March to August, and it’s coming up fast. It begins  just south of Tyler through rolling hills and up “The Beast,” a .7-mile hill with a 13 percent gradient — that’s steep! Another popular one later this month is the legendary Hotter Than Hell 100 on Aug. 27, a little farther away in Wichita Falls, Texas.   You can just about count on 100-degree heat.

Alexandria, Louisiana, Le Tour de Bayou, Sept. 17: This ride begins and ends at the 216-year-old Kent Plantation,  the oldest structure still standing in Central Louisiana. There will be living history demonstrations and free tours of the house and grounds, which includes several interesting buildings such as a blacksmith shop and sugar mill.  This is mostly flat, especially on the shorter distances.

Little Rock, Arkansas. Big Dam Bridge 100, Sept. 24. This is the largest ride in Arkansas. The Big Dam Bridge spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River, making it the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians.  The rides provide beautiful hill and river scenery.

Benton, Louisiana, Seize the Road, Oct. 1. This begins at the Bossier Parish Courthouse and goes by scenic Bossier Parish horse farms. The ride benefits the Epilepsy Foundation and was cancelled last year because of stormy weather. Hopefully, there’ll be clear crisp fall weather this year.

Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bricks & Spokes, Oct. 1. The cool thing about this one is it’s the only time of year bicyclists are allowed on the old Mississippi River Bridge. The route crosses the bridge into the flat delta in Louisiana and (if you are adventurous) back into hilly Vicksburg and through Vicksburg National Military Park.

Marshall, Texas, Tour de Fireant, Oct. 8. Who knows, I may give this another go. The good thing is the ride doesn’t start until 9 a.m. so you can sleep in. Or come early for the 8 a.m. 5K run or do a run/ride combo.

Greenwood, Mississippi is an interesting town to visit. It has a rough past like many Mississippi Delta towns, but has some bright spots downtown including the Viking Cooking School, a boutique hotel and shops, and independent bookstore.