Monday, June 20, 2022

Biking in the land of OZ, NW Arkansas

Spring Break 2022!

I haven't gone anywhere for spring break since maybe 2005, when I last participated in one of the Upper Midwest's most prodigious institutions for learning. A gap in Jr. North's school schedule presented us with an oppertunity to pack up the Vista Cruiser and head south in search of spring. The snow would follow us to about mid Iowa but, we did find it eventually, in Bentonville Arkansas.

An on-trail, open air cafe.

The 10 - 12 hour drive to Bentonville, Arkansas was broken up with hotel stops in KC on the way down and Des Moines on the way back up. Thankfully, a hotel with a pool is all we need for a successful and entertaining layover. 

Stop #1, skateboarding in Des Moines.

That night we stayed in Independence, Missouri near the Bass Pro Shop. It's a destination shopping area but we were there for its proximity to the freeway and the indoor/ outdoor pool. Jr and I swam outside in the cold sunshine and we took an after dinner walk around the "lake," watching the waterfowl do their thing. It was very spring like.

Heading back North on Thursday, we stayed in downtown Des Moines, hoping to take advantage of the giant skateboard park and botanical gardens. It was cold and rainy in the morning, so we didn't get many outdoor activities in. Dinner at the Royal Mile, meat pie and English bitter, was a trip highlight.

And now for the main attraction, Bentonville Arkansas. Bentonville is a booming little town in northwest Arkansas and the home of Walmart. It's also home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the country. The locals sport an interesting mix of business casual and athleisure wear; the trails reflect that mix too. In town you'll find highly manicured bike trails and jump lines while just north of town there are at least 100 miles of back-country Ozark bike trails to explore.

Mrs. North in excellent form

My rig suffered a mechanical failure on the first day.
I was able to rent a "full squish" Orbea Occom!
Thank you Mojo Cycling!

We got a little riding in on the first afternoon but it rained the first full day, closing the trails. We spent day one exploring Eureka Springs, about a 45 minute drive to the east. It's a very fun town built into the hills, hosting many historic buildings, shops, and even a ghost tour. The rain and earlienes of the season kept many visitors away and we had it mostly to ourselves. 

Eureka Springs

Bedrock is a common motif.

Green, just like spring!

One of many in town.

On the return journey, we caught the last tour at War Eagle Cavern. It didn't blow me away with formations but it was a fun side trip. On a hot summer day, it's probably heaven.

This is what the underside of a sinkhole looks like,
 a very common topographic feature in south east Minnesota.

 A river flows through this cave system, 
making short work of any stalactites or stalagmites.

The following day we wandered the hills behind Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art while we waited for the bike trails to dry up.

We started out on some of the in-town "trails." The trails don't really close and they do dry up quickly. As complete newbs to the area, it was hard to know where to ride and we did get into some wet trails. Minnesota bike trails are often gated off until they dry out. These were built out of crushed gravel or built into the rocky hillside. The other odd-to-us thing is that most of the trails are two-way and are designed with that in mind. All the uphills felt like we were going the wrong way, but you get used to it.

Mrs. North

Mrs. North dropping in!

And Jr. too.

A water crossing on Black Apple Creek trail.

Good times!

Some of the more challenging trails.

There's no shame in walking the tricky bits.

More water!

Choo choo, the most fun I've had on a bike!

Community bouldering is available at the brewery/ café/ bike shop plaza.

That's Jr. North flying through the air.

Yet more signs of spring.

This was worth the drive.

We rounded out our visit with a hike at Tanyard Creek before making our way North to Des Monies.

Our outdoor activities, social distancing, and AirBNBs have kept us all (mostly) happy and  healthy in these turbulent times. The family bike rides, both near and far, have been a much needed diversion, a consistent reward, and a relief valve for us all. I very much hope that you and yours are finding balance, happiness, and satisfaction in your day-to-day or weekly routines.

- Ride North

cool | rainy, then sunny | April 3rd - 8th

Trail maps

Little Sugar - back country trails 25 mile loop

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