The drive to Eureka Springs from Oklahoma is a harbinger of what’s to come: The elimination of the word ‘hurry’ from your vocabulary.
You really have no choice. As anyone who has driven the hilly, twisty-turny roads leading into northwest Arkansas will tell you, at some point, you come to grips with the fact that you’re just not going to get there quickly. So settle back and enjoy the ride.
Things don’t happen fast in Eureka Springs – and that’s the point. The town palliates the psyche, re-centers the soul and invigorates the spirit. And if you can grab a body massage too, so much the better.
Believe it or not, famous cartoonist and entrepreneur Robert Ripley loved Eureka Springs and featured it frequently in his work:
No two streets cross at right angles to each other;
Every floor of the eight-story Basin Park Hotel is on the ground level;
St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church is the only place of worship you enter through the bell tower;
A house in town has two addresses because adjoining streets align with different stories of the structure.
Bring your walking shoes – you’ll need them to do the town properly. It’s literally built into the sides of the Ozarks, hence nicknames are easy – the Up and Down Town, Little Switzerland and the Stairstep Town.
Strolling the village filled with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants is a leisurely joy. The entire downtown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the town’s determination to preserve its treasured past is amply evident.
A few miles west lies the jewel of the woods, the Thorncrown Chapel. Designed by architect E. Fay Jones, the renowned 48-foot-tall structure feels like it’s part of the forest thanks to more than 6,000 square feet of windows. The chapel’s style is a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom Jones apprenticed.
Imagine a chunk of limestone in the shape of a V that is 30 feet wide on top, 16 inches wide at its base and 12 feet tall, and you have gravity-defying Pivot Rock. It’s in a park north of town that also boasts a natural rock bridge.
Hear the diesel train whistles blow about a mile from downtown, signaling the departure of the Eureka Springs Excursion Train as she heads along scenic Leatherwood Creek. Catch a four-course dinner with a taste of the 1920s in the Eurekan Dining Car.
Jesus Christ’s last days on Earth are recounted most weekends at what sources say is “America’s No. 1 attended outdoor drama,” the Great Passion Play. 150 performers, a multi-dimensional outdoor set of sight and sound – even live animals – make the Passion Play a must, as it has been since 1968.
Back in town, you’re ready for what the area’s name says it’s all about, the springs. Healing waters accompany skilled hands to massage away every ache and pain at a half-dozen or so spas.
Historic hotels also provide therapy services in Eureka Springs. The 115-year-old Basin Park Hotel is in the heart of the action downtown by Basin Spring and the even older Crescent Hotel with its 18-inch-thick magnesium limestone walls sits on the mountaintop. Both hotels are said to be haunted. At the celebrated Palace Hotel and Bath House, luxuriate in eucalyptus steam rooms and indulge in a mineral bath in a clawfoot tub.
Victorian bed and breakfasts are everywhere in town, each more delightful and interesting than the last. A few of the old Victorians are open for tours, such as the charming, rose-colored, often-photographed Rosalie, built in 1889 at a cost of $17,000, a tidy sum in those days when the average home in Eureka Springs cost around $800.
Editor’s note: Please check eurekasprings.org for the latest information on facility closures and event cancellations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.