Eureka Springs, AR
There is so much that this town of 2,073 has to offer! Don’t let the population size fool you, they have over 100 original restaurants and only three franchises. The water created this mountain town…healing waters that is. Back in the 1800s, settlers heard the news of springs that could heal almost any ailment and flocked to the town. It was down in the valley of the Ozarks surrounded by trees, beauty and splendor. Eureka means “I have found it!”
There is much to discover including their downhill mountain bike trail system. The Walmart Foundation funded $1.5 million in the trail system and it will be completed within the next few years.
City Director Mike Maloney said, “The trails are significant. We have one of the only downhill trails for the experienced mountain biker as well as family-friendly trails. This is because of the geography we have and the 3,000 foot vertical drop. The experienced mount biker can get a great experience that lasts 20-30 minutes. It becomes a unique attraction that we have been looking for.” Eureka Springs has the only downhill trails east of the Rocky Mountains, and west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Many of these trails are on the grounds of “The Great Passion Play.” The 50 year running of “The Great Passion Play” which is an outdoor authentic experience nestled in the beauty of the Ozarks. It retells the stories of Christ’s time with his disciples on earth and some of the amazing miracles that he performed. It is a live musical performance with real animals and talented adults and children. It also depicts Christ’s final days on earth, including His last supper and crucifixion.
Randall Christy is the Executive Director of “The Great Passion Play” and has been a pastor for 35 years. He said, “‘The Great Passion Play’ is the most epic production of Christ on earth and over 6 million have attended the show.” He provides jobs to over 200 people or 1/10 of the city population. Christy focuses on missions there and he said, “God told me that I had to come here.”
Before Christy accepted the position in 2011, the play sold their animals and equipment and turned the lights off on the town’s monumental sculpture, the Christ of the Ozarks. The next year, Christy accepted his position and knew he had to dig out of a hole of $2.5 million in debt. In six years, he has paid the debt down to $2.2 million. Christy said, “The problem is most people don’t know that ‘The Great Passion Play’ is in trouble. If they did, they would want to help.” He has future plans such as building a representation replica of the “City of Heaven” as described in the Bible and the “Throne Room” that the book of Isaiah describes. Also, he would like to build an indoor theater so that you can see the show year round and the “ACTS of the Apostles” including special effects and miracles. If you would like to give to “The Great Passion Play,” you can make your tax-deductible donations at greatpassionplay.webconnex.com/donate.
Christ of the Ozarks is the iconic image of Eureka Springs. It is a beautiful white sculpture of Christ with his arms open wide standing at 67 feet tall with a 65 foot arm span. The face is approximately 15 feet tall, and it weighs over two million pounds. It was completed in 1966 two years before the play opened. The scripture on the plaque near it says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. John 12:32.” If you would like to dedicate a memory to a loved one, you can give a donation in any amount and it will light the monument.
Plan a full day on the grounds of “The Great Passion Play.” After you visit Christ of the Ozarks, be sure to take the Holy Land tour. This is a must-see! There is a petting zoo called “Noah’s Ark Park” for the kids and David the Shepherd speaks to the crowds and also has a store. You will be escorted with fantastic guides through the tabernacle King David built.
Rob Roberson has been a missionary for most of his life, and he goes into great depth on the metrics and dimensions of the tabernacle, the brazen altar, the colors, what they represent and more. He knows how to hold a crowd’s attention and shows parallels between the tabernacle and today’s world.
You will continue your Holy Land adventure into the beautiful ozark woods and to the city of Bethlehem where Jesus was born in a manager and depicted in a first century nativity scene. There are reconstructed buildings so that you can see and feel what it was like at the time of his birth.
The Sea of Galilee is a highlight especially when Jesus walks on the water after his surprise visit from the woods. Enjoy sitting at The Last Supper dining table and recounting the last moments of Jesus’s life. The three crosses on the hill above Jesus’s tomb are a sobering reality of what took place at Jesus’s death, but it gives the hope and peace that He is alive and rose again.
Another huge tourist attraction in Eureka Springs is Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR), “A nonprofit, ethical animal tourism destination that rescues exotic and native animals nationwide.” Word spread fast that the Jackson family was able to rehabilitate and care for big cats. In 1991 an exotic animal dealer who lived in Hope, Arkansas at the time approached the family with 42 animals in need. The Jackson family agreed to care for the big cats on a friend’s 459 acre property in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In 1992, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge – a lifetime sanctuary for survivors of the exotic animal trade – was born.
The passion and integrity displayed by each of the staff was undaunted. Emily McCormack is the curator and explained the epidemic of breeding and selling to the public. “The problem is that there are no federal laws – only inconsistent state-to-state laws – that govern private ownership of big cats and other dangerous wild animals. A lot of private owners inbred animals, which often results in physical deformities and other ailments. We learned that there is a lot of unscrupulous conduct taking place at exploitative operations. This includes cub petting programs which often involves the public handling newborn cubs that have been ripped away from their mothers almost immediately after birth.”
There is a crisis in this country, McCormack explained, “There are ten to twenty thousand big cats in the country and only 6-7% are held in good condition.” It is very competitive to be selected as staff at Turpentine Creek. Many have degrees in zoology or biology and enjoy housing on site. Speaking of housing, there are treehouses for guests to enjoy. You will be able to hear the roars among the big cats as you lay your head on the pillow at night. There are also five adults-only safari lodges, two family-friendly “glamping” tents and two safari suites available. We were lucky enough to visit on a day when the Refuge opened two new bear habitats totaling over 130,000 square feet of Ozark Mountain woodland. It is near an area on the property known as Rescue Ridge. That day, to much fanfare, five black bear and one Russian brown bear were released into the new space.
We were lucky enough to visit on a day that the 459 acres of Rescue Ridge was open to the public to view the release of their Kodiak bears. There was a tremendous turnout from the public and McCormack exclaimed, “It’s been like waiting for Christmas morning all week [with the release of the Kodiak bears]. We break our backs for them and for you. This is giving a bear their life back.”
While Rescue Ridge can be considered a retirement area for older animal residents and is generally off-limits to the public, TCWR offers exclusive tours to those who are interested in a more immersive learning experience at the Refuge. The organization also has a three-year goal of opening a new visitor education center. They are always in need of donations for these projects, including the 300,000 pounds of meat Tyson Foods donates yearly. If you would like to make a donation, please visit www.turpentinecreek.org/support-us/donate/. All donations are tax-deductible.
When selecting a place to stay, The Villas at Sweet Springs is ideal. It is a new luxury property in downtown Eureka Springs that opened in late 2018. It is a gorgeous apartment with spacious rooms and lovely decor including art and antiques. It is offered by Ozark Mountain Vacation Rentals who has the largest selection of lodging in the area. There is dedicated parking for guests in the busy downtown district. You are in the center of it all with live music only a few steps from the front door and walking distance to everything downtown! It is a beautiful insulated brick building that allows for a peaceful and relaxing stay in this upscale-vintage modern lodging. Call Damon Henke at 479-253-9999 to book your stay.
We met both Damon and Mayor Robert “Butch” Berry at the release of the Kodiak bears. Mayor Berry is a fourth generation native. His great great grandfather rode horseback to the “magic water” after his wife experienced her fifth miscarriage. Mayor Berry explained the appeal of Eureka Springs and said, “It’s residential and commercial, not just a tourist town. It’s a Victorian community that welcomes guests into their house. Many businesses are residences as well. There is commercial integration and a lot of the population flows nicely.” We also found out that many come here and never leave. There is a certain ambiance about Eureka that makes it all accepting of race, creed or color. Many of the people are preservationists and artists and celebrate with over 35 parades a year. Mayor Berry also relayed the news that the town will open four more downhill bike trails in 2019. He said, “One million tourists come every year, because it is the only downhill trail between the Rockies and the Appalachians.”
We would be remiss if we didn’t highlight a few of the 100 plus original restaurants Eureka Springs has to offer. The Grotto is a wonderful addition to the culinary scene. A husband and wife team own and operate it and are gracious hosts. They serve amazing dishes like the bacon wrapped quail and side of acorn squash with a buttery glaze of brown sugar garnished with cranberries and nuts. The menu changes often with seasonal dishes. We were lucky enough to try the Thai coconut soup with a flash fried soft shell crab. The Grotto is perfectly named since you dine in a cave.
Bubba’s Barbecue is some of the best bbq in the south. They are a real pit that cook over actual coals and not indirect heat. Get the sample platter so that you can enjoy the ribs, brisket and pork all in one heavenly dish. If you want to meet Bubba you can belly up to the stools at the front counter and he will entertain you with conversation and make you feel right at home.
The Local Flavor Cafe is the perfect brunch spot with a charming ambiance. The specialty cocktails are out-of-this-world and the baked brie is divine. For a unique dining experience, The Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway was established in 1981, and you can still enjoy a lunch or dinner train as you ride the rails.
We haven’t forgotten dessert! Sweet’s Fudge Kitchen is one of the charming shops near The Villas at Sweet Springs. It will transport you back in time to a place that doesn’t exist anymore. The homemade taffy is stretched in the front window of the tiny store. Sweet’s allows you to enjoy many of the favorite candies you had as a kid. It is the oldest and finest candy store in Eureka. Many things have changed since Sweet’s opened in 1969, but the quality and nostalgia have remained the same. The dipped cherries are our favorite.
If you want a good laugh and also want to be amazed, then visit Intrigue Theaters known as “one of the best things to do in Eureka Springs for couples.” It is a wide appeal to couples celebrating anniversaries and honeymoons.
Veteran performers and Illusionist Sean-Paul and Juliana Fay brought their show to Eureka Springs in 2011. Inspired by the larger than life performers of the Golden Age of Magic (late 1800- early 1900), Sean-Paul and Juliane produced and created an experience unlike anything else in the country. The Ghost Talker – Juliana Fay has always had an interest in the paranormal and the afterlife.
It is widely known across the country and uniquely their own. Sean Paul said, “People come in skeptical and leave believers.” There are two show offerings, comedy and a contemporary, or a victorian show. Sean Paul said, “Time travel brings people back to the time of magic.” Guests are seated in the 110 year old Stone chapel building that has been recently transformed into a Victorian salon complete with crystal chandeliers and the footlights illuminate vaudeville stage proscenium.