Driving home from Conway, Arkansas, recently, I tried a new route. Normally, it is a straight shot from Conway to Harrison, then an hour westward to Eureka Springs. Though a Sunday evening, this major artery through the Arkansas Ozarks seemed especially heavy with traffic and impatience. I try to avoid both.
At the town of Clinton, I had an idea and turned left onto a state highway and followed meandering asphalt through the Boston Mountains. The elevation rose immediately into dense forest and automobile traffic ceased to exist. The occasional opening on high spots showcased stunning scenery.
The population of wildlife I saw greatly surpassed that of domesticated humans in shiny metal boxes coming at me at high rates of speed. I found myself relaxing and my mind wandering. That is what a deserted open road does to me.
I missed the name of a dying community with a sizeable abandoned school building that I passed through. Probably the victim of school consolidation. In the Ozark National Forest, I thought of Charlton Heston as I drove through Ben Hur.
When I reached Boxley, I saw several elk, mostly cows, grazing along the highway. Despite my low rate of speed, I could have clipped a young gangly bull elk that stepped out in front of me had I not stomped the brake pedal vigorously. Balancing his huge velvet rack, he bobbed his head as he gave me the fish eye dismissively, then glanced back at three other bull elk that were watching. Perhaps he was trying to clip me as some sort of initiation rite for the juvenile street toughs of Boxley.
After Boxley and Kingston, I did see some vehicular traffic, mostly pickups and Jeeps with canoes and kayaks. I turned west and at Marble saw the first open gas station since Clinton and then took the short cut through Alabam and Old Alabam to reach Forum.
When I reached the city limit sign of Eureka Springs, I realized that it was the first population sign I’d seen since Clinton. One hundred and fifty-eight miles of driving and saw not a single community that had enough population to brag about it on their city limit sign. I liked that.