Popeye Statue in Alma
One of my favorite things in Arkansas is the Popeye statue in Alma.
It's an incredibly cheesy statue, but I love it. If you're a big Popeye fan, you can also check out the spinach can water tower that proclaims Alma the spinach capital of the world. The spinach can is found off U.S. 71 North and also proudly sports Popeye the Sailor man.
The first Popeye statue was built in 1987 out of paper mache and fiberglass. It was retired in 2007 and replaced with the great bronze statue you see in Alma's town square (Fayetteville Ave) today. The original statue is in a store called Kustom Kaps right up the street.
Why all the Popeye love in Alma? Alma is the home of Allen's Canning Company, which cans spinach. They are also the home to the Spinach Festival every year, normally around April.
Christ of the Ozarks - World's Tallest Uncrucified Christ
What can you say about a seven story high Jesus? He is a part of the "Great Passion Play" and was built entirely by hand. It was sculpted in 1966 by the late Emmet Sullivan. The Passion Play website says he helped build Mount Rushmore. He also helped build the now closed Dinosaur World in Arkansas. The Christ statue is more than 66 feet tall. At the thickest portions, the statue is made of 24 layers of mortar on a steel frame and weighs over two million pounds. The foundation, which is virtually welded into the rock of the mountain, required 340 tons of concrete interlaced with steel. During construction, the framework of the statue was completely surrounded by scaffolding. Workers had to build an elevator up the side of the framework in order to reach the statue's higher segments. Taller than most humans, the hands from wrist to fingertip measure approximately 7 feet. The statue's arm spread from fingertip to fingertip spans 65 feet.
The Little Golden Gate Bridge
The Little Golden Gate Bridge in Beaver takes the name "Little" seriously. It's only 554 feet long and 11 feet wide. The Beaver bridge is the last remaining suspension bridge in Arkansas. Just be careful. It's a one lane bridge, so you have to be considerate to oncoming traffic. You don't have to worry about much traffic in the sleepy town of Beaver, though. The town is almost as small as the bridge.
The bridge is pretty spooky on it's own, even without the traffic issues. The bridge itself is made of wooden planks, kind of like hardwood flooring. When you travel over the bridge, you can hear it creaking and wobbling. You wonder, "Will it hold?" It's held up since 1949, so your probably safe.
The bridge has had it's hard times, though. It was hit pretty hard by the rains of 2008, and the state highway department has suggested tearing it down to make room for a new, modern bridge. However, historians and locals are quick to protest and it was repaired when it was damaged. It's not quite as wobbly now as it was, which might be a good thing.
The Little Golden Gate Bridge is on AR 187, which which runs from Ark. 23 to U.S. 62 between Holiday Island and Rogers and very close to Eureka Springs (map). This is one of the most scenic areas in the state. What else can you do in Beaver? Well, check out the "Save the Little Golden Gate Bridge" page to learn more about Beaver Arkansas. The area is actually pretty popular with bikers because of the scenic drives.
Mammoth Orange Cafe in Redfield
The Mammoth Orange Cafe in Redfield has been attracting roadside tourists since the 60s.
Redfield is about an hour from Little Rock, towards Pine Bluff. My mom tells me that the Mammoth Orange used to be a must stop on the way to Pine Bluff. You can bypass it these days, but why would you? They have excellent milkshakes, a decent menu and you'll be eating in a piece of Americana.
The Mammoth Orange Cafe was built in 1965 by Earnestine Bradshaw. It was shaped like a giant orange to mimic the Orange Julius stands that were popping up all over California in the 50s and 60s. Mrs. Bradshaw had worked at orange drink stand, and wanted to bring that back to Arkansas. Mrs. Bradshaw passed away in 2007, but the Orange is still carrying on in her memory. It's open today and operates as a dairy bar and cafe.
You can read the full review and find the link to the directions. If you're heading towards Pine Bluff or going to Redfield, be sure to stop in and enjoy the Mammoth Orange.
The Merman of Hot Springs
This attraction is located inside Arkansas Alligator Farm. I enjoyed going to the alligator farm as a kid. You got to pet an alligator, see a feeding and see tons of big alligators doing what alligators do. However, in every travel book you read, you'll see their biggest claim to fame is the Feegee/Fiji Merman kept in a glass box at the farm.
I don't know all the history of the merman, but none other than PT Barnum himself originally popularized the idea. PT Barnum is the father of sideshow attractions, and darn good at separating a fool from his money. Barnum's Fiji mermaid was the torso and head of a baby monkey sewn to the back half of a fish and covered in paper-mache. The creature was shown all over the world in 1842. Barnum claimed it was caught somewhere in Fiji by one of his staff. Since then, there have been many fake Fiji mermaids and merman, and even Ripley's has gotten in on the mermaid action.
Our merman has lived in Hot Springs for over five decades. He's housed indoors. If he was ever kept in the gift shop, like I remember, he's not anymore. He's housed in the same room as some taxidermy animals, and the winter holding for the alligators, so his exhibit is a bit dark and musty. I guess if you're into cryptozoology, you're into that sort of thing. What do you expect for $6.50? I guess that's probably what Barnum's customers said too.
More info about the alligator farm.
Outhouses in Arkansas
Booger Hollow is a small, small town in along Scenic Byway 7 in northwest Arkansas. The town's sign proclaims "population 7, counten one coon dog." Actually, I think "Booger Hollow" was made up to attract tourist. The location on a map is in Dover, AR. The main attraction used to be a quirky little gift shop, The Booger Hollow Trading Post, full of hillbilly humor and Arkansas products. The aforementioned outhouse was part of the trading post, and found a little bit down the road from it.
The "Trading Post" is now closed. They were sold in 2004. However, the Double-decker outhouse is still there, as late as last summer. It boasts "maw" and "paw" areas and, "upstairs closed 'til we figure out plumin'." Cheesy, but it's a photo op if you're going down the byway.
That's a fun outhouse, but do you want to see what a real, Arkansas outhouse was like? I know you do! We all do, right? Right? A cool place to see how Arkansans lived is the Grant County Museum in Sheridan. You can see how house was kept in early Arkansas, including the facilities. You can also check out the national outhouse tour, which includes a historic outhouse in Mena, in the Ouachita National Forest.
You know my favorite time to see an outhouse? When it has the runs, which happens every year at the Mountain View Beanfest. Who knew beans gave outhouses the runs too? Every October in Mountain View, contestants put their toilets on wheels and barrel down Jefferson Street. It's hilarious. The crafts have fun names and decorations. It's one of those great, fun events that you have to see at least once. This year, Beanfest is October 28-30. They have a kid's outhouse racing event too. More information and photos.
The Norman, AR Library
Most people don't even know where Norman is. It's located in Montgomery County near the Caddo River, and it's tiny. The population was only 378 at the 2010 census.
There are smaller towns in Arkansas, but no libraries smaller than the one in the Norman town square. The Norman Library is only about the size of a small bedroom: 177 square feet. It is/was a freestanding library and fully operational for a many years. There are claims that it's the smallest freestanding library in the US, but the Norman website says there are smaller libraries in California.
Norman's website lists the history of library. I think it's very interesting that the shape of the town was caused by one woman's vision, especially in the 30s-40s when women didn't get to say much. The library was built in 1939 by the WPA. Aside from it's size, it's noted for it's rock work (as many WPA projects are) and Spanish tile roof.
The library has been closed for repairs for a while, but you can still see it and historic town square. You'll see a glimpse of the spirit of Arkansas past.
Helena and Gravity Hill
This is the only Arkansas location I know of where your car can roll up a hill. It seems to defy logic and gravity, but it's actually an optical illusion. There are several hills like this, and the one thing they all have in common is an obscured horizon. When the horizon is obscured, our brains can't readily process our position. At Gravity Hill in Helena, the trees are angled oddly too, which contributes to the illusion. More about the effect.
The truth behind the effect is boring, but when I was doing the research for this blog post, I found out much more interesting legends about why you roll uphill. Apparently, the hill is haunted. Who is it haunted by? Who knows. Some claim it's a team of high school football players who died in a bus crash on the hill, others that it is little children who died in a bus crash, and I even read one retelling where it was a grandma who died on the road. The legend of the little kids is my favorite. Those who tell this story add a great, spooky detail: if you sprinkle baby powder or flour on your bumper, you'll see the tiny hand prints where the kids pushed your car up the hill. That kind of detail just makes any urban legend better.
I had never heard the baby powder legend until last week, so I've never tried it. I've always heard it was a fun, optical illusion. Don't let me spoil your fun, though. Sprinkle some baby powder on your bumper and have at it! Next time I go to Helena, I may try it myself.
Gravity Hill is actually Sulphur Spring Road. From AR 185, turn north onto Sulphur Spring and keep going until you get to the stop sign at the intersection with US 49. The stop sign is the "bottom" of the hill. If you put you car in neutral, you really do roll "uphill" for about 200 feet. You can do it again and again if you want. Feasibly, you could also roll anything else you wanted to roll uphill...if you're weird. If you look at the Google Street View (this view is looking "up" the street, from the stop sign at the "bottom" of the hill), you can kind of see the unusual angle of the trees.
The cops won't ticket you for breaking the law of gravity, but it's a real street and they will ticket you for breaking traffic laws. I'm sure rolling backwards on a public street counts as breaking the law. Don't blame me if you get a ticket for acting silly. It's not a very busy street though, so use your best judgment.
If you're into hauntings or history, you should visit the Helena Confederate Cemetery too. Many say it is haunted by some of the soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. The "the Stonewall Jackson of the West" is buried there. It's located on Holly St in Helena.
I'm surprised there is no legend that it is Confederate soldiers pushing your car uphill. I'm up for starting one.