Sunday, November 18, 2018

Our Ozark Adventure!

October and November showed us WHO'S BOSS for sure.  It was full of good things, so I'm trying to back up and catch up!

Ever since trekking to Fayetteville last year to watch The Dogs play the Hogs, we have been dying to go back to Arkansas! We fell in love with the rolling hills and Ozark Mountains and knew this would be the perfect place for our next family vacation! 

Y'all know me.  I did all the research throughout the year and finally found the perfect lodging for the Wells Family 2.0! (It was certainly different having to consider a new baby in the mix. We are professionals at squeezing a pack-n-play hotel closets and bathrooms, but TWO kids is a little more to consider.)

And despite whatever impression or stereotype you have about Arkansas (I can say this because people do the same thing to Mississippi), it is the most beautiful place with the friendliest people and SO much to do! Honestly, there were several things we didn't make it to because we couldn't squeeze one more activity into our schedule! 

We stayed in Ft. Smith last year because we went at the last minute and all the hotels in Fayetteville were booked up! But I'm so happy we did because we simply fell IN LOVE with this historic town. My grandfather was actually based at the military fort there years ago. The Historic District has a military park with the original fort, some cannons, museums, and the most adorable park called The Park at West End with a Ferris wheel and other rides.  So we intentionally spent the night in Ft. Smith  to go to the park, but sadly, our first day of travel was POURING down rain.  So we ate at a delicious family Italian restaurant called Joe's Pizza and Pasta and headed out for Eureka Springs the next morning!  

Greyson will be the most seasoned hotel child ever! I'm almost glad he practically lived in one the first few months of his life! Buddy loves a rolling cart.

The weather was perfection the next day when we arrived in Eureka Springs. I can't say enough how absolutely adorable this town is. The history, the architecture, the personality is unlike anything I've ever seen! People flocked to this town in the 1800's due to the legendary "healing powers" of the natural springs and waters.  Eventually,  the wealthy came to Eureka Springs to "show off" and consequently, it is a mecca of gorgeous and intricate Victorian homes. 

Since we knew there was a ton of history behind this town, we started with a narrated trolley tour when we arrived! We love starting any trip with at tram or trolley tour to just get a good overview of the town and spot places we might like to go back to! The kids shockingly did great. (I was nervous, because it was a 90 minute tour and 90 minutes of ANYTHING is like eternity for a toddler.


It was really hard taking pictures of the town because it was tight quarters, but GOODNESS. It is SO CUTE.  The town is literally carved into the mountains and winds around so the streets are almost on top of each other! Some of the houses look like regular homes but hang off the mountain so they are really 4 and 5 story homes! Can't be captured in pictures anyway, so you'll just have to go yourself! ; ) 

Thanks UPS man for ruining my shot.

This is the historic Crescent Hotel (we actually stayed on this property but in a cabin).  Greyson called it the "castle" and it was QUITE the history of serving as hotel, hospital, and yes, event asylum.  No surprise that it's super spooky and supposedly very haunted. (We didn't get to go on a ghost tour, but they hosted many!) It was beautiful inside and had a gorgeous balcony that overlooked the mountains.

The springs were beautiful but not exactly what I expected.  There IS a spring where there is a pool that people still "dip" in, but we didn't see that one.  This was the Grotto Spring that we got to inside.  Greyson loved it. 

After the Trolley tour, we checked into our cabin which was just a short stroll from The Crescent Hotel. And it was even much larger in person! Super happy with it, so if you take a family vacation, these cottages are the PERFECT size! We had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one of course turned into Taylor's nursery. : ) We were on the lower level cottage so we even had our own personal elevator which was probably Greyson's favorite feature. We did a lot of relaxing on the deck and in the hot tub after our long days of pushing strollers and herding little ones.

That night, we were worn out from traveling and unpacking (I seriously felt like I unpacked our whole lives), so we ordered pizza from the hotel and snuggled up for story time.  This was the first time we didn't bring an air mattress for Greyson; he got his own room which happened to have a king sized bed. He thought that and the 52 adorning pillows on the bed were the most amazing thing ever. We did so many fun things on this trip, but little thrills like this are the best memories.

The next day was FREEZING so we actually ventured to War Eagle Cavern for Greyson's first cave tour! (After all, it's a constant 58 degrees in the cavern, much warmer than the 42 degrees outside!)  This little place was so darling.  The people were so friendly, the tour was short and sweet, and the cave was beautiful. There were supposed to be bats in the cave, but much to Greyson's disappointment (and my COMPLETE JOY) they had not flown in that day. (Let's just ponder what those bats are dropping as they fly over your head.) Taylor was a trooper and just hung out (literally) in her carrier. We also got to do a little "gold mining" which just thrilled Lil' G, since he is a big fan of Gold Rush. Our little bag of dirt JUST HAPPENED to to be FILLED with treasures.  Wink wink.

Greyson picked out a little stuffed eagle we named "Clifty" (the name of a town we passed by on the way) and we bought Taylor a wolf ("Wolfie") that she snuggled up to pretty quick.  As we left the cave, I turned around and saw my two little blessings back there holding their new stuffed animals and I ABOUT DIED.  My heart just melted.

Afterwards, we headed to War Eagle Mill which is a an old grist mill in a beautiful red barn with a cozy restaurant upstairs.  They were days away from their annual craft show, which apparently HUNDREDS of thousands from all over the country turn out for.  Fortunately, we made it before the crowds and got some delicious bean soup and blackberry cobbler. The grounds and drive in were breathtaking!

That was about as much as we could pack into that day, so that night Jeremie made his famous oven  s'mores and off to bed we went! 

The next morning we all had fancy breakfast at the "castle" and headed downtown to explore Eureka Springs and do a little shopping.  

I will admit that Downtown Eureka Springs is not the most stroller friendly area.  The sidewalks were bumpy and hilly (cuz, duh, we were in the mountains) and all the shops were really close quarters for little ones.  But we had a great time.  And since the kids had missed a lot of naps the past couple of days, we had a low key day and back to the cabin for naps!

The next day we were up and at 'em and headed out for Silver Dollar City which is an amusement park in Branson, about an hour drive. I can't even begin to describe how AMAZING AND FUN this place is!!! Think Cracker Barrel meets Six Flags.  It's like a country-themed amusement park that is nestled in the trees.  It is SO toddler friendly! Greyson rode rides almost all day! There were also shows that we didn't make it to and an underground cave that is supposed to be beautiful, but we simply ran out of time! And we pretty much opened the park up at 10:30 ish and closed it down at 6:00.  The weather was PERFECT and it was probably one of my favorite days of parenting ever.

They had a whole store devoted to costumes which was Greyson's dream come true.  He picked out a jet pack to go with his Astronaut suit. 

Greyson's favorite area was a brand new exhibit called Fireman's Landing.  There were all types of fireman related rides and a huge indoor feature that had balls that you shoot out of big fire hoses.  It was SHEER CRAZY but he loved it!

This treehouse feature called the "Half Dollar Holler" was INCREDIBLE! Greyson climed, ran, crawled and jumped until he couldn't anymore.

The old me would have NEVER attempted taking a 6 month old to an all-day amusement park, but I'm so glad we went; we had the best time and it's a memory I'll always hold dear! This place is the PERFECT family destination!


The Lord ended a perfect day with a perfect sunset on the drive back.


BUT.....if you told me I had to do it again the next day, I'd die.  My body was SO TIRED. We definitely milked the hot tub that night!

The next day we decided to go for a more relaxing vibe, and headed to Dogwood Canyon Nature Preserve. This was a lucky online find, and it ended up being one of our favorites! It is a 10,000 acre nature preserve tucked in between mountains and owned by the founder of Bass Pro Shops. We lucked up and got on a morning wildlife tour. (Sidestory: They were all booked up online, so I called first thing in the morning and they said they had opened one up, but it left in an hour.  Y'all.  It was a forty minute drive there. We were literally still in our pajamas.  But we moved FASTER THAN LIGHTNING and got out the door in 10 MINUTES. TEN MINUTES with two kids.  I think we should win the Nobel Prize for that.) Anyway, the wildlife tour was amazing; we saw elk, bison, longhorn, and even a bald eagle, the real life "Clifty".

The grounds were BREATHTAKING. Seriously, it's the one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. There was a restaurant on the property, an amazing treehouse that Greyson LOVED, and a neat learning center inside with all kinds of fun and educational stuff for the kids.  (And of course a gift shop where Greyson picked out a sweatshirt with horns on it that said "I'm a Deer.")

This is a real life eagle's nest! HUGE!

I love that the people who offered to snap our picture got a "Before" and "After".

At the end of the day, EVERYBODY was tired.

On the way back we stopped by the Christ of the Ozark statue which is located on the grounds of The Great Passion Play. (Which I would love to see, but the kids are a little young for.)  It was beautiful and much larger in real life than I expected! 

I can't help when I look at this to think of the verse:  Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14

We had one last dinner at the Rooftop Restaurant at the castle, and here's how Taylor handled it: 

The next day we packed up the car to head out! It was RAINING, but we didn't let it stop us from one more excursion! We just can't pass up a train ride, so we boarded the steam engine at the ES&NA Railway and took about an hour ride down the tracks.

This train depot was originally built in 1872! It was gorgeous.

This is probably my favorite family pic from the trip! ; ) 


We did stop in Rogers, Arkansas on the way out, which is another adorable town that I wish we'd had more time to explore! We ate lunch at the most amazing grilled cheese restaurant called Hammontree's Grilled Cheese (I'm hungry just thinking about it) and then took Greyson to the Daisy Airgun Museum  (think The Christmas Story).  Greyson was IN HEAVEN and picked out his very first BB gun. He was so excited; I can't believe I didn't get any pictures!!!

We stopped again to spend the night in Ft. Smith, because it was late by then.  Again, more rain, so I guess we'll just have to go back so we can go the Park at West End one day!

The next day we took our weary bodies back to Texas...


......and as always, there's no place like home.

We had the most amazing time though; it was the perfect first vacation as a family of four! And honestly, I think we could do another Arkansas trip just based off the things we found while we were there! And I can't believe I'm saying this, but I definitely want to make a trip to Branson now! The whole area is just super relaxed and family friendly!

There's nothing I love more than making memories, and we certainly did just that! I have a million more pictures, but I'll try to contain myself!

Will try to catch up soon with the rest of this crazy month!