On our third visit, Bentonville continues to intrigue us. It’s an unlikely mix of small town and boom town, of traditional values and cutting edge contemporary art, of dare devil mountain bikers and artsy looking visitors, hymns played on the 5 p.m. Sunday church bells and a wild Nick Cave avant-garde installation at an industrial chic museum in a former Velvetta cheese factory.
With Covid raging across the land (Arkansas is slightly less beet red than Iowa on the Covid map…although it may as well be the political map too), this has been an easy place to social distance. We rode our bikes up down and around the Razorback Greenway trail that is right near our Airbnb and runs north-south, curving through dense hilly woods along a ravine by Crystal Bridges museum, past sculpture along the “art trail” and paralleling a crazy off-road dirt trail with jumps and platforms that draws daredevil teens and adults.
In town, the trail skirts the pristine town square, lined with well-tended old brick buildings, and heads through neighborhoods with a remarkable mix of architecture, from tiny unassuming shacks and ranch houses to massive elegant old mansions and new modern mansions that sit close to the street but are block-deep and high, lots of tin, wood, porches. Some newbies tower over their smaller older neighbors. One house in our neighborhood must be four times the size of its neighbor.
Our Airbnb is just northeast of the square in what seems like the newer part of town on NE 2nd St., which feels a little more rural with huge lots than the east side. We are behind our Airbnb owner’s attractive ranch house, in a spacious studio apartment tacked onto a barn-like garage. It is country chic inside and incredibly well-equipped, down to the homemade marshmallows, Hershey bar and graham crackers for s’mores, using the brick fire pit in our very private back yard.
We also have an outdoor deck where we have eaten all our meals because it has been so incredibly warm (and we are not eating out during a pandemic). Our view looks out onto woods and a ravine. Past the ravine is an intriguing stone mansion with a French mansard roof. We finally walked around the block to see it. Turns out it’s even more enormous than we thought, on a street with three more huge tasteful houses with private electronic gates. As D says, we are in Hamptons Territory here, which is weird because this is, or used to be, small town northwest Arkansas. We assume many of the new fancy homes being built all over town are for Walmart bigwigs.
I haven’t even gotten to the museums, which is why we came here. We biked about five minutes south to The Momentary, the dramatic industrial cool museum that opened last spring as a hipster offshoot of Crystal Bridges Museum. It’s an industrial retrofit, with poured concrete walls and large high-ceilinged spaces for huge installations so it was well-suited to Nick Cave’s over-the-top concoctions. We started in one large room filled with dangling cut tin ornaments in many colors and shapes, that grew and shrank and shined with the breeze.
The main attraction is an enormous hodge podge of kitschy stuff – – ceramic birds, beads, old sambo sculptures and black-faced jockey lawn ornaments (the very un-PC ones) crowded astop an enormous tacky chandelier. To see it up close, we could climb one of three yellow metal ladders to a small clearing. Given Covid, we had to wipe our hands with a sanitary wipe before and after climbing. We also went to another viewing platform on a balcony, which we had all to our own. (There were few visitors to begin with.)
Outside, on a vast lawn with a huge tarp/tent, there was supposed to be activities like yoga and meditation but they never seemed to materialize, even though I signed up for something called sound and light. Circles were drawn on the lawn to help people sit six feet apart. We rode bikes to a nearby former industrial space, that had a few shops and food place, including 8th street market which was mostly closed on a Sunday. We walked through one space called Holler where a few young people were playing shuffleboard on a glossy wood floor in the middle of a space lined with a bar and tables to eat burgers and ramen ordered on a computer screen. Not sure where the food was coming from. There were a few food trucks outside. We went in one lovely shop specializing in textiles and wool, with beautiful indigo dyed cloth and paper like we saw in Japan.
We rode around the market district surrounded The Momentary , another interesting mix of old housing and new contemporary homes. Then we rode north on the razorback greenway trail through the prettiest stretch, winding through the woods past and north of crystal bridges. A bit hairy to navigate at times with strollers and mountain bikers on crazy trails parallel to our more sedate trail. The northern bit of the trail that leads to a small lake was closed due to construction. We ended up taking another trail (north Walton) back. Although it runs parallel to highway 71, most of the time we were hidden in the woods and it was far less crowded than the Razorback greenway. Once we got to town, We rode on a combination of what felt like country roads and trails. Later this evening we took a long walk, admiring the mix of architecture and homes east and west of the square.