I took off this morning at 9:30 or so headed for Magazine Mountain. At 2753 feet it's the highest point in Arkansas and it's only 84 miles from Conway. I have a semi-tradition of trying to make it to the highest point in whatever state I happen to be in. I don't always make it but I have been to the upper most reaches of New Jersey, Alabama, Colorado and now Arkansas. I should clarify, I'm talking the highest paved point. I'll leaving the hiking to Lisa.
I pulled out of the hotel and jumped on I-40 headed west just to the next exit. I got off and took off across State Route 64 which parallels the interstate so close it keeps popping in and out of view. 64 was still better than I-40 though. It's a well maintained road. It's pretty straight for the most part, but there are curves and hills enough to keep it fun. Traffic was light and there was ample passing room for the occasional calico pick-up with the crooked bumper. The road cut through several small towns. They were a lot like small towns everywhere with empty shops and boarded up gas stations. The road also seemed to be road kill central. If you weren't seeing a carcass you were smelling one. It was an olfactory overload.
On SR 64 I went through Morrilton and on into Russellville. I wasn't sure where I was heading. I was using a bad photo copy of a bad map I had stuffed in my tank bag and the roads were hard to see. I saw a little auto show in a store parking lot and decided to seek directions and check out the cars. There were some pretty nice hot rods and motorcycles on display. There was a brand new Ford GT which seemed out of place in the middle of rural Arkansas. The owner (or the owner's son) was rubbing the paint to within an inch of it's life.
After getting directions from a security guard I was on my way again. For about ten minutes. I wanted to be on Arkansas Route 27, which I was for those brief ten minutes, but I ended up going west again on AR 22. It all worked out as it went around in a big loop anyway. The whole Magazine Mountain area is a part of the Ozarks National Park and a recreational area for boating, hunting, camping, fishing, hiking and you get the idea. All roads (as few as there are) lead to Magazine Mountain. If I hadn't got lost I might have missed the Subiaco Abbey. I came out of the woods and turned the corner and there was a huge-castle like building even more out of place than the GT. It seems that in 1878 some Benedictine Monks founded the Abbey and now it's an Academy.
I came into Paris AR. hungry and ready for a break. I stopped at a tiny little place called the Grapevine, where I had one of their creations called the Santa Fe. It was a delicious salad with black olives, corn, tortilla strips, chicken and the house avocado ranch dressing. I'm not usually a salad eater but it was really satisfying.
Once I was finished I went one block and turned south on AR 309 which turned into the Mt Magazine Scenic Byway. It lived up to the name too. You start to climb up the mountain into the trees. The road at this point is under some major construction. It looks like it is being widened and the curves smoothed out. It'll be nice when it's done but for now it's a mess and a hazard. Fortunately that doesn't last long and the road turns into a decently wide two lane. The fun really started here. There were some tight twists and switchbacks along with some high speed sweepers and traffic was light. There were a few campers but like 64 there are several good passing areas. And for some reason people seem to freeze up in fear when a motorcycle pulls up behind them on a twisty mountain road. I had to slow down for fear of driving some guy off the road. He was going way too fast in an effort to keep ahead of me. He finally pulled over to let me pass.
Somewhere along the way I started back down. If the highest spot on the road was marked I missed it. As fun as the road was, I wasn't too upset and probably wouldn't have wanted to stop anyway. On the way back I looped around to AR 27 and found the route back to Dardanelle, where I had originally went awry. I was getting tired and thirsty by this time so I headed toward I-40 for the quick trip back. It was interesting to see how different the land was compared to the back roads, even though I rode most of the way right along the highway for the first half of the trip. The freeway seemed a lot more desolate and the terrain along it was swampy. Way too much traffic too.
It was a great ride. It reminded me of so many other places I've been but it was also distinctly Arkansas. Very sparsely populated and green. It was a good side to the state that I haven't seen too frequently since I've been here. The state has moved up a notch with me (the western side anyway).
Miles - 201