When I woke up this morning, the sun was still about two hours away from rising. It was 4:15, and we had to hit the road before 6, because we were driving to Texas today. While yesterday's travels allowed some time to visit small towns off the beaten path, Day Three was all about covering as much ground as possible between photo spots. It was too dark to get shots of the truck by the hotel's heart-shaped swimming pool or by Graceland, so we were soon back on the road, heading for our next stop, Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
It didn't take long before we crossed the Tennessee River and entered Arkansas, the second state on our trip. Even though we were more rushed than on Day Two, we could still avoid the 40 for a little while (nothing personal; we just wanted to see something different). Our route was to take the 64 to the 167 to Eureka Springs. We stopped at a CITGO gas station in Augusta, so Melissa could get some coffee; she's the first driver today. So far, there was a lot more farmland, farm equipment, and feed stores in this state than we saw in Tennessee. However, the trend of acres of vehicles at small lots along the way, ranging from rust-buckets to amazing classics, continued on. We also saw an unusually high number of old school buses, which didn't look like they had been driven in a long time. Some of these vehicles were on organized lots, while others looked like they were being hoarded.
We each had one breakfast (and potato)-related hope on this trip: Melissa wanted to get hash browns at the Waffle House, and I want the hash brown casserole at Cracker Barrel. We checked hers off the wish list this morning, at a Waffle House on the way. Waffle House was pretty good -- better food than Denny's and less expensive. The staff was really nice, too. And back on the road...
Into the Ozarks, with scenery that's similar to Tennessee, but the homes look different. We still have some narrow side roads with a tree canopy shading them, but the homes look newer, more consistently from the post-war era. The Frontier was fun on the gentle, winding curves, as we wound our way through and over the hills. While the sky was hazy with humidity in Tennessee, here, it is bright blue, yet the temp is still cool -- a perfect 72 degrees and not humid. On hills and passing, shifting into fifth gear helps, but the Frontier's response is much quicker in fourth.
Overall, the truck has been terrific, but we've discovered a couple of minor gripes with the interior that I hope get resolved with the next generation. I'm fine with not having a navigation system or satellite radio. I certainly don't need either of those. (I like them, but it isn't a deal-breaker if a vehicle doesn't have them.) But when a vehicle comes with an iPod-specific jack, that typically means you can use it to charge your phone. And I needed to. In this case, plugging in didn't charge it, and an alert popped up that confirmed my iPhone wouldn't charge. There are two power ports, though, and fortunately, I had the cord for the phone, so I was back in business. The other issue, which is more annoying than a real problem, is that the doors automatically lock when you drive above a certain speed, but they don't unlock when you stop. It doesn't unlock them unless you take the key out of the ignition. I'll have to look in the manual to see if this is a setting I can change.
There was another photo stop on the way, this one spontaneous: Melissa saw a sign for a natural bridge off Hwy 65 in Clinton, and decided to see what it was. The 100-foot bridge was made of sandstone, and while they don't let you walk it, you can hike to the base and get a good look at it. There's also a cave, plus a small moonshiner's cabin.
Soon, we arrived in Eureka Springs. It is filled with character, and its entire downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. It also pops up on such lists as "1000 Places to Visit Before You Die" and a variety of travel destination recommendations. Downtown is filled with cool old buildings, many of which now house gift shops and restaurants. There's a charming bridge that runs across the main street, and there is another road, one that'll take you up to another part of town, that meets this road at a sharp vee. We wandered up there, working our way around parked vehicles to get a glimpse at what I imagine is called Upper Eureka Springs by the locals. (The roads are two-lane roads. Total. If someone parks in one of the designated parking spaces, it makes that stretch one-lane wide.)
After Eureka Springs, we were off to Oklahoma, where we connected with the I-40 and made up some time heading to our next stop. This stretch was different from our drive in the Ozarks, not only because we were now on an Interstate, but because groves of tall trees on both sides of the road were replaced by what looked like a dense forest of shorter trees. We would drive into and out of several Native American reservations, with the specific nation name indicated on signs on the 40. We motored on, finally reaching a spot called Pops, a soda shop in Arcadia, Oklahoma, on Route 66. Just calling it a soda shop doesn't do it justice, though, as this place carries hundreds of different types and flavors of soda, from the basic types you know to imported sodas and oddball flavors like buffalo wing, bacon, and peanut butter. I bought a buffalo wing soda, but I haven't tried it yet. Hmm. Is that one going to taste better cold or warm? I ended up buying 12 bottles of soda, all different flavors.
Outside the shop there's a gas station and a giant sculpture of a soda bottle with a straw sticking out. This was our dinner stop, where we enjoyed excellent diner fare. I had chicken strips, possibly the best I've ever had, and washed it down with a custom soda from their fountain. (The dipping sauce for the chicken was gravy. That may have helped the strips earn their "best ever" status.) The decor in Pops is very modern. Tall exterior glass walls were covered with glass shelves, all of those filled with bottles of color-coordinated soda. Melissa wondered how those bottles could stay so perfectly arranged, even though many of them were within easy reach of people eating dinner. That's when we discovered that the bottles were glued into place.
It was the last stretch of the day. We had to drive from Oklahoma to Amarillo, Texas, and the sun was starting to go down. In anticipation of the drive, Melissa drank a 5 Hour Energy -- her first ever -- and drove with haste. What little traffic was on I-40 thinned out as we continued west. After a stop for gas, we got to The Big Texan hotel after midnight. Four states, almost 800 miles, and 18 hours later, our day was finally done.