Can you hear the banjos?

Trip Start Nov 03, 2004
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Trip End Nov 23, 2006


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Flag of United States  , Arkansas
Monday, October 10, 2005

Fayetteville was our staging point for the Ozark Mountains. Way back
when, when the government was handing out (Indian) land in lotteries
and land grabs and other democratic distributions of chance, the
Ozark Mountains were sort of the booby prize. They weren't already
covered in grass but trees, they were fairly remote and up mountains
(actually they're hills - the summit is 2,165 - and not very rough
hills at that by New Zealand standards; the settlers who cleared the
King Country would have had it harder, except for the snow). The
people allocated land in the Ozarks became isolated and very self-
sufficient, living in small, often family-based communities,
suspicious of, and suspect to, outsiders. Most of the Ozarks didn't
even get paved roads till the 1950s. They do seem a bit odd.

We're here for the Yellville Turkey Trot. Decades ago, in the second
weekend of October, the locals of Yellville would hold a turkey shoot
by tossing turkeys off the courthouse roof (wild turkeys can fly) .
Later someone got the bright idea of throwing the turkeys out of a
low flying aircraft. These days people (non-local, non-farming
types) get upset with the idea of shooting the turkeys so they just
toss them out of the plane and you chase them through the streets -
catchers keepers. Officially, the day includes the Miss Drumsticks
pageant, a parade celebrating the turkey, a turkey-calling contest
and turkey dinner. The plane doesn't appear on the programme, but
every year it mysteriously arrives with a cargo of wild turkeys. And
we wouldn't be there because ...?

Actually, we nearly weren't. We arrived early, missed the turn off
and detoured thirty miles back to where there was no traffic
tailback. By then they had closed the highway and sent us off along
route 202 to some mystery destination. When we got there the Flippin
(it's a town not an expression of frustration) police officer told us
to go back along the 202 to where we'd started. Envisaging a day of
driving backwards and forwards along the 202 we thought, "F*** it,
we'll go hiking instead". We couldn't find the trail we were looking
for and after stomping along a pointless trail in a boring forest on
what was shaping up to be a pointless day ... we circled back to
Yellville (only three hours later) where the road was open, the
police vanished and the parking a breeze.

They actually do toss turkeys out of a low flying plane.

And the hillbillies (and Bikers for Christ) come out for a day of
Elvis and rockabilly. For health foods like onion blossom (an onion
chopped in eighths, battered and deep fried), cheese sticks (crumbed
and deep fried), toasted ravioli (crumbed and deep fried), funnel
cake (pancake batter squiggled into deep frying oil), and giant
turkey drumsticks that would serve as clubs and don't appeared to be
deep fried. For the chance to catch a turkey, join the Republican
party, show off their quilting, win a shotgun or get their face
painted. For the opportunity to talk dogs and crops, catch up with
family and neighbours and be puzzled by townies. For a good natured,
dry, community get-together centred around grown-ups charging around
behind flapping, squawking turkeys or dressing up as them.

We visited Eureka Springs, an outpost of a different type of oddness,
where white witches, astrologers and tarot-card readers out number
bank tellers. They have, in recent history, elected a dead mayor.
We came to visit Dinosaur World - a 70 acre woodland dotted with a
hundred or so life-size concrete dinosaurs. These date from the
period when it was believed dinosaurs were not colour blind and,
being descendants of, or precedents to, birds might have come in
tropical parrot colours. Sounds like our kind of place really. It
was closed - apparently permanently. The chicken wire pterodactyl at
the gate had tipped over and was rusting. But we had a lovely time
skulking around in the bushes taking voyeuristic, telephoto pictures
of slightly faded, dog-eared, lonely dinosaurs.

On the way back to town we stopped at Thorncrown Chapel. The dream
of a local, Jim Reed, the chapel is the closest thing we've ever seen
to where you should worship God. On a rough stone floor, completely
made of glass, surrounded by the forest - it is entirely about
creation and nothing about man.

The town is picturesque 1900s, wooden with second storey balconies,
dormers and lace work. We lunched on the balcony of a hotel not
unlike many rural New Zealand pubs, on meals that threatened the
trusses. The background music was provided by banjo, guitar, fiddle
and, yes, a washboard. We didn't actually see any dungarees but
gypsy cotton skirts and palm reader velvet tops featured as
traditional female dress (traditional male dress is jeans and a
baseball cap, just like everywhere we've been this year, except San
Francisco). You could almost hear the cauldrons of soap and fudge
boiling.

I've been mauled by a Wal-Mart shopping cart - perhaps I'll sue
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