Bentonville Arkansas has become a destination for many in recent years and continues to grow in the unexpected and remarkable offerings it has for visitors. If Bentonville is not yet on your radar, put it there. If you’ve not been, it’s time to go.
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Bentonville — Home of WalMart
However, the money spent in Walmarts around the world eventually comes back to northwest Arkansas. There the money is well spent.
One of the attractions in Bentonville is Sam Walton’s first store, now a museum. I zipped through it a little too quickly, but was intrigued to learn that Sam was a private pilot and often took to the air to scout out locations for his next store.
Sam’s last vehicle, a 1979 Ford 150, sits in front of the store. They say if you touch the door handle, you will inherit the same gift of frugality that led Sam to become the richest man in America.
Other than that old truck, you’ll find just about everything in Bentonville modern, sophisticated and engaging in a manner that most outsiders don’t associate with the Arkansas Ozarks.
Just a few steps away on the Bentonville square is a 21C Hotel. If you’ve never experienced one, you’re missing a good time. A combination of art gallery, restaurant and hotel, 21C pushes the envelop on a traditional hospitality experience. Although I must admit, the Bentonville location is a little more tame than other 21Cs I’ve visited.
Those who have been to 21C hotels know about the big plastic penguins. If you’re keeping score, the ones in Arkansas are green.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
In 2011, the money you have spent at Walmart over the years came back to the world in a big way. That’s when Sam Walton’s daughter, Alice, cut the ribbon on Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, offering free to the public some of this country’s greatest art. Designed by Moshe Safdie, Crystal Bridges is an experience not to be missed.
The 120-acre grounds include nearly four miles of beautifully crafted trails through wooded terrain. Various art installations and plant identification markers make it an enjoyable exploration of creativity and creation.
Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe, Norman Rockwell, Karl Bodmer, Dale Chihuly — the collection is so extensive that some critics on our nation’s coasts questioned if it was a waste of resources to place it all in the Arkansas Ozarks. Ya, get over yourself.
Biking Trails and More in Bentonville, Arkansas
I walked some, but not all of the trails at Crystal Bridges. I saved some energy for a late afternoon stroll through Compton Gardens, not far from my room at the 21C. With just 6.5 acres, it’s a small botanical garden, but it honors Dr. Neil Compton, one of the key figures in preserving the Buffalo River that flows through northwest Arkansas as America’s first National River. That’s a whole ‘nother story to tell you about some day.
Trails weave their way throughout northwest Arkansas, in large part thanks to the Walton grandsons who are passionate about mountain biking. Using a combination of private and public funds, the region is now cris-crossed with more than 100 miles of biking trail.
Another Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas
Almost by accident, I uncovered another museum in Bentonville. It, too, is free of charge, and quite impressive in its collection. The Museum of Native American History is the collection of David Bogle, a Boy Scout leader and member of the Cherokee Nation.
Much of what you see here, Bogle collected himself through walks through the woods of northwest Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. Some of what you see here is more than 10,000 years old. The displays of arrowheads and stone tools is considered the largest in the U.S.
I was delighted to learn about an organization called the Anti-Horse Thief Association through a fun exhibit here. Another exhibit showcased Buffalo Bill Cody in a way that I had never considered.
It’s a well-done little museum and worthy of your time when in Bentonville.
More to See and Do in Bentonville Arkansas
I was in northwest Arkansas for just a few days and ate many good meals — plenty of hearty biscuit-and-gravy kind of meals you would expect in the Ozarks, but also some creative cuisine at the 21C Beehive and the Neighborhood Market.
I was intrigued by advertisements for performances at the Walton Arts Center, the venue for the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas.
Yes, symphony and opera in the Ozarks. I didn’t have time to attend, but that’s what residents of this area enjoy, in large part due to the money you spend on your outings at Walmart. On behalf of civilized people throughout the Midwest, thank you very much.