Exploring the Lower White River: Des Arc and De Valls Bluff, Arkansas
The band in which Char and I perform, Vintage, has performed many times in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Traveling west through the state on Interstate 40, we’ve frequently hit heavy traffic delays around exit 202 due to construction. Early on, we learned we could take the exit for a little detour and travel through a few towns surrounding the White River and pick up the interstate closer toward Little Rock. The detour takes us through a small town called De Valls Bluff which is located just on the opposite side of the interstate from another town called Des Arc. Both towns are situated along the White River and seemed like great weekend getaways for us. For months, we wanted to travel into these towns and explore the Lower White River area. Finally, on May 19, 2012, we made the trip… and we fell in love with the place! After spending a relaxing day there, we already have plans to go back.
De Valls Bluff
De Valls Bluff was settled by Jacob DeVall around 1850. At the end of the Civil War, and with railroads causing a downturn in river traffic, the settlement began seeing a decline in population. As of the 2000 Census, fewer than 800 people call DeValls Bluff home.
A rather impressive old railroad bridge built in the 1920s, long since abandoned, rises from the White River along the main highway through town. The remarkable structure invites you to imagine what it must have looked like in its prime. The bridge was a vertical lift bridge, weighing over one million pounds, and costing just over $300,000 to construct.
The downtown area, while mainly vacated, showed some signs of rebirth as at least one new business, was preparing to open along the main strip.
The town of De Valls Bluff, Arkansas grants adventurers easy access into the White River. The river itself contains many beach areas that are accessible via boat. We stopped in the White River Dairy Bar located at the river’s access point next to a park before exploring the river. We made camp along the river bank and took time for lunch and relaxation. It was a beautiful journey for us and we look forward to returning soon.
Just on the outskirts of town there is a restaurant worth noting: Craig’s Bar-B-Q. We were heading to our next White River destination, Des Arc, when we passed several out of town Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside the small establishment. “If that many bikers know about this place, it must be worth checking out,” Char remarked. On our return from Des Arc, we did enjoy dinner at Craig’s… and it was fabulous! Living from Memphis, the BBQ capital of the world, you’d expect that we’d be burnt out on BBQ sandwiches and ribs. Craig’s, however, was an unexpected delight! Very unique in flavor (the sauce had a tangy sensation that we couldn’t quite figure out – it was fantastic), this place stands out among other contenders. We learned that while The Traveling Twosome hadn’t heard of Craig’s, it is a well known place nonetheless. And its reputation is well deserved! We will be back!
Des Arc, Arkansas was equally as enjoyable. You can’t miss the town due to the large sign on the side of the highway announcing your arrival. Entering the town, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time. The downtown district, which is situated along the White River and boasts a nice riverside park, is charming in every respect. Of the few open storefronts, one was a guitar store! Yep, this town was certainly up our alley! We stopped inside and spoke with the shopkeepers, a lovely retired couple who invited us to jam with them and informed us of local festivals throughout the year.
We walked along the main strip, checking out crop dusters (and getting an idea for a future A Day in the Life episode), shops, nature, and attractions. Most of all, we just enjoyed each other in a most peaceful setting. There’s something about small towns that brings a calm and a rest to us. We love experiencing small town life! Des Arc is the kind of town in which you’d still expect to find an old fashioned ticker tape parade on the Fourth of July along Main Street. We could imagine seeing Wally and Beaver carrying backpacks and walking home from school. Large wrap around front porches, fresh lemonade, reading a book under a weeping willow tree in the rain, climbing a tree with your first crush… the town is poetry.
Of course, we had to check out some of the local yard art as well. All along roadside America, you’ll find treasures worthy of a photo shoot if you keep your eyes peeled. Driving along one road, we spotted what had to be our trip’s mist unusual find: a billy goat yard ornament. Yes, it was time to grab the camera. I can’t imagine actually wanting to wake up each day, morning cup of coffee in hand, and peer into the eyes of this thing as you step outside first thing in the morning. Even more, I can’t imagine wanting to come home on a dark and stormy night and have to cross this monstrosity just to get into the safety of your home!
We had nothing to fear, of course. I had Char with me… and she was eager to try out her wrestling skills on this creature should it suddenly take on life and begin stalking us.
The town is also home to the Lower White River Museum where you’ll learn about the role of Arkansas’s White River as an important transportation route for the earliest Arkansas settlers. Admission to the museum is free.
Arkansas’ lower White River makes a great day trip or weekend getaway for anyone in the Mid South. We can’t wait to return!