Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Slow Road.

I’ve been all over the state, driving highways and byways from Sulphur Springs to Lake Village and Texarkana to Paragould these past few months. I’ve seen crazy names for barbecue places, unusual road signs, people who may or may not know how to drive, you name it. But I certainly didn’t expect to find what I found north of Cedarville.
David Backlin has more recent photos of Arkansas Highway 220 here.  Take a look.
Grav and I were on our way to Fayetteville for the first home game of the season. We were gathering research on the tailgating phenomenom and needed some great stories and excellent photographs. But being around noon and the game not being until six, we decided to go ahead and have lunch at a place called Imajerk BBQ there in Cedarville.

Lunch was good and we were geared up for what we expected to just be an hour or less on the road. We consulted the TomTom and decided rather than taking Highway 59 all the way up to Tontitown, we’d be better off heading up Highway 220 and going through Devil’s Den State Park. TomTom cheerfully told us we’d be at our destination at 3:05pm.

The road seemed pretty decent, though the “Curvy Steep Road Ahead, Use Low Gear” signs told us it’d be a pretty thrilling ride. We swept down into one valley and out across another, cheerfully chattering on about what sort of Hog fans we might encounter.

We came to this beautiful bridge across Lee Creek and *whomp* suddenly hit gravel. The road had very quickly gone from asphalt to barely above dirt without as much as a “how do you do.” I pulled to the side quickly and consulted the TomTom, which could only offer me two bits of information: “Some portions of highway may be unpaved” and “Acquiring Signal.”

Well, always being up for an adventure, we decided to press on. And at first, it was a nice respite. Highway 220 curves back and forth through some of the most desolate stretches of forest in the Ozarks, with ridges and drop-offs and lots of flora and fauna. We even saw a few deer.

A few miles up the road we came to a single lane low-water crossing, got halfway across and came to a quick stop. The view of the short bluffs under the canopy of trees over the dark blue-brown water below was breathtaking, and Grav had to jump out to take pictures. I reminded him that we needed to make haste and get to Fayetteville.

Well, let me tell you what -- there was no haste to be made. There were few road signs, no highway markers, no help from TomTom and a gradual disintegration of the roadbed surface. Four-wheelers passed us in the other direction several times. We pulled to the side to let a dooley pass and wondered just how much further we were going to have to travel.

And yet through the whole portion of the trip we were marveling at the sheer beauty of it all, the intertwined trees above, the floor of the woodland, the stones that would jut out from the roadbed and caused us to do crazy maneuvers to miss them. We both agreed how great it would be to be able to stop and photograph it all -- the temperature was perfect, the lighting sublime, the afternoon perfectly lazy.

But we had an assignment to carry out, and concern smacked us over whether we would get there in time. So we pressed on, for the most part. There were a few instances we had to pause -- including one place where the deer were standing right by the road and didn't spook when we drove right up by them. Even in our haste, we had to momentarily stop and shoot.

The road started to improve, and a couple of SUVs came our way. We made it about a half mile further and came into the horse camp area of Devil’s Den State Park. A few hundred yards later we both cheered as tires hit asphalt once again.

We did manage to make it to Fayetteville on time, but decided to forgo a return trip via Highway 220. Later I’d discover that the road is Arkansas’ only unpaved highway. I do wonder if it would be wise to do an upgrade. The equipment needed to pave the road might damage an almost pristine forest in all its glory. One day I’ll go back and take my time, as much time as it should take to look at 220 right.

1 comment:

  1. Up until around 1998-99, 220 ended just past the old Lee Creek bridge and the road to Devil's Den was county and forest service maintained.

    There are plans to eventually improve the roadway, but it probably would affect the beauty of the area given all the switchbacks and the rugged terrain that would have to be "improved".

    I'm all for leaving it as is, even if means ceding the roadway back to the county.


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