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A couple posing with "Big Red Lens" by Frederick Eversley at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas

Arkansas

An Arkansas Cultural Tour: Where History Meets Legends of Americana

By: Idoia Gkikas

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  • States:
    Arkansas

From sites that celebrate the early days of Blues music to monuments to U.S. Civil Rights and presidential history, Arkansas’s culture and history is full of surprises.

Learn political history in the capital city of Little Rock, visit one of the original Walton 5 & 10's in Bentonville and add stops at small towns in between for a lesson in Arkansas’s lesser-known contributions. Along the way, you’ll be greeted by the state’s gracious Southern hospitality and beautiful and diverse landscape.

Exploring Little Rock, the State Capital

The vibrant and fun-filled city of Little Rock tempts visitors with a huge selection of attractions, dining options, outdoor experiences and an active events calendar. It’s also where Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the USA, launched his political career. See the re-created Cabinet Room and Oval Office and walk the scenic gardens at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, situated on the Arkansas River. For a deep look into U.S. Civil Rights history, take a ranger-led tour of Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and learn about the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students who played a prominent role in desegregating public schools. A statue of the group stands in front of the Arkansas State Capitol Building just a few minutes away. Three Department of Arkansas Heritage museums round out your Little Rock tour: Historic Arkansas Museum, Old State House Museum and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

Stepping into the re-created Oval Office at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center

Stepping into the re-created Oval Office at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center
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Museums in and near Bentonville

At the foot of the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, Bentonville is known as a cyclist’s mecca and the birthplace of Walmart. A visit to the Walmart Museum is a must to learn about the Walton family and the humble beginnings of the world’s largest retailer. The Waltons have also left their mark in the local arts scene with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton in 2011. The museum, which offers free admission, houses five centuries of American art including works by Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe and Norman Rockwell. In nearby Fayetteville, catch a play or concert at the Walton Arts Center. Also in Bentonville, the Museum of Native American History tells the stories of Native American Indians through more than 10,000 artifacts, including authentic headdresses, a teepee and a woolly mammoth skeleton.

Exploring the impressive collection at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Exploring the impressive collection at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
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Small Towns, Big Legends

Find more regional history on display at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, which also broadcasts King Biscuit Time, the longest-running daily Blues music program in the USA. In town, look for the historical marker dedicated to Helena native and Rockabilly legend Conway Twitty, part of historic Helena’s ongoing effort to highlight the town’s important musical heritage. You can also check out the Arkansas Delta Music Trail, which has more musical landmarks including the town of Twist, where B.B. King named his guitar Lucille. North of Helena, visit the 1930s-era Historic Dyess Colony to see the boyhood home of renowned singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.

NASCAR fans should make a pit stop to see racing memorabilia at the Mark Martin Museum in Batesville. Fort Smith, once a waypoint during westward expansion, was named a Top 10 True Western Town by True West Magazine. Its welcome center is housed in Miss Laura’s, the only former bordello on the National Register of Historic Places, and watch for the opening of the U.S. Marshals Museum in 2019.

Tour the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home at the 1930s-era Historic Dyess Colony

Tour the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home at the 1930s-era Historic Dyess Colony
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Getting There

Fly into Little Rock’s Bill and Hillary International Airport (LIT) and rent a car to explore the state. You can also catch connecting flights into Fayetteville’s Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).

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The Arkansas State Capitol softened by fall colors

Destination

Little Rock