This exciting route through the Ouachita Mountains offers a wild ride through history as it introduces you to famous (and infamous) folks with Arkansas connections, such as Al Capone; Babe Ruth; old-time radio/television celebs Lum and Abner; and James Black, the original knife maker for Alamo hero Jim Bowie’s famous blade.
The best place to begin this winding ride through southwest Arkansas is Hot Springs. The Spa City, as it’s called, is famous for its natural thermal waters. In 1886, Cap Anson first brought his Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs) to Hot Springs for spring training. Dozens of baseball legends, including Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson, played here. Walk in their footsteps on the Hot Springs Baseball Trail. Nestled in the Ouachitas, the resort town also made a great hideaway for some of the nation’s most notorious mobsters. Al Capone was a frequent guest of the Arlington Hotel, as well as area bathhouses and nightclubs. The Gangster Museum of America preserves the history of this era.
From Hot Springs, this route takes you along Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita, where there are many resorts for overnight stays and marinas for fishing or boating while you’re in the area. US 270 and AR 88 snake their way to Mena through the Ouachitas. The first half of the route is through the Ouachita National Forest. The road is mostly broad sweepers surrounded by lush timber. At Pencil Bluff, the landscape becomes pastures and farmland as it approaches Mena.
The historical stop on this stretch is at Pine Ridge, the hometown of the fictional characters of Lum and Abner. Any fan of old-time radio and television programs should drop by the Lum and Abner Jot ’Em Down Store and Museum, a real-life model for their make-believe world.
The Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge is atop Rich Mountain and offers spectacular views and an opportunity for a break. From Mena to Dierks, travel US 71 then US 278 east over the Cossatot River and drive through Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area. Just south of Dierks, you leave the mountains and arrive in Nashville.
The only diamond site in the world open to the public is Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro along AR 27. At Kirby, consider a side trip on AR 70 along scenic Lake Greeson.