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Arkansas' Bentonville, a place to visit in the Ozarks

Arkasnsas’s Northwest corner has come alive. The new Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport serves the town of Bentonville and the resort town of Eureka Springs, as well as the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the ever-challenged razorbacks,.

Bentonville is the home of Walmart and the Walmart Visitor Center on the town square tells the story of Sam Walton’s fabled rise to fame and riches. At the conclusion of the tour of the Walmart center is an old fashioned soda fountain where a visitor can still get a heaping scoop of delicious ice cream for 99 cents.

Sam’s daughter, Alice Walton, decided to build a museum of American art in Bentonville. She hired internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who envisioned a building that would complement the surrounding Ozark landscape. Nestled into a natural ravine, the Museum integrates the element of water on the site through the creation of two spring-fed ponds that are spanned by two bridges and surrounded by a group of pavilions housing Museum galleries and studios. Mrs. Walton named her museum Crystal Bridges - “crystal” for the name of the natural spring on the site, and “bridges” for the bridges built over the meandering water running through the property. It’s a beautiful place, inside the buildings and in the rolling landscape outside.

Along with outstanding examples of nineteenth century American painting, and paintings and sculpture representing various schools of twentieth century art, the museum’s glassed-in Eleven Restaurant, with water on both sides and a beautiful vaulted wooden roof in the middle of which hangs Jeff Koons’ huge, 3000 pound golden heart, ten feet wide and nine feet above the heads of diners. Guests can choose from a variety of sandwiches, salads and a few hot dishes for lunch daily, except Tuesday when the museum is closed, and dinner on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Bentonville itself offers visitors a variety of dining options. The 21CMuseum boutique hotel (200 NE A St.), open for a little more than a year, offers diners a sophisticated meal of contemporary american dishes in its Hive restaurant.

Just down from the central square, the Tusk & Trotter (110 SE A St.) is an informal restaurant, serving a variety of pork cuts, including fried pig ear chips, as well as traditional American dishes.

For breakfast, the Station Cafe (111 Main St.), owned like much in town by the Walmart Company, is the place to go. It’s a folksy, colorful spot with early twentieth century decor, small booths with tables covered in checkered oilcloth, good coffee and fresh eggs.

There are half a dozen cafes on the square and on First Fridays (the first Friday of each month), Bentonville celebrates with a festival of sorts when food trucks offering ethnic and American foods park all around the central square. A good time is had by all.

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