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Beckham Creek Cave Hotel

When I first heard “cave hotel,” I thought, “Well. That’s nice. Sounds quaint.”

I met the property manager in the parking lot of the single church in Parthenon, a town in which I’d never found myself before. After a brief chat, we pulled out of the parking lot, me trailing behind her SUV in my little Toyota. When we pulled onto a dirt road, I wasn’t concerned, though the farther down the road we went, the more curious I became. About 15 minutes into our journey, we turned into a curve and suddenly, there it was.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that such a place existed in Arkansas, but it did. The face of a cliff inset with a natural stone wall and stunning windows was what the pictures online showed, but the sheer size is impossible to grasp from a photograph. And when I entered, well, my jaw dropped open.

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The Beckham Creek Cave Hotel is, simply, luxurious. And it’s no surprise, given that it was built in the 80s by the founder of Celestial Seasonings as his end-of-the-world bunker. Later acquired by investors out of Texas and recently remodeled, the hotel, perhaps more rightly called a lodge, is something out of a fantasy novel.

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The space feels nothing short of cavernous. I was surrounded on all sides by rock walls, the sides of which felt polished to the touch, though I was told by the property manager that the texture was caused by the thousands and thousands of years of water running down the sides of the cave. 

The living area has a large television that is none the less dwarfed by the space surrounding it, and who would want to watch TV here anyway? Instead, the nearly 15 feet long couch would be better utilized talking with friends and drinking a glass of wine. 

The gourmet kitchen is a chef’s dream, with double ovens and plenty of space for entertaining. But the best part? The view from the kitchen is of a formation called the Spanish Staircase, a fall of rock that from a distance appears to be a waterfall, but up close is actually solid rock. The property manager indicated this is one of very few formations like it in the world. 

The cave boasts four bedrooms, each with its own bath. The showers aren’t your typical showers, either; instead, the cavernous spaces are completely exposed to the cave walls, creating what I’m certain is a most unique bathing experience. While the cave walls have been sealed in sensitive areas, such as over beds or near electrical fixtures, this is a living cave, and as such, drips happen. 

The cave is still being formed by the water running through it, and thus the cave benefits from a constant water supply. In a section of the hotel accessible only to staff, there is a sophisticated water treatment system along with a large reservoir, the excess of which drains outside.

When the water outside is high, it creates a small waterfall beside the drive that's perfect for enjoying while checking out the rest of the view or sitting beside the fire pit. If you get the urge to wander, there are roughly 200 acres of property and multiple trails. The Buffalo River is also quite close, making for plenty of opportunity for outdoor fun.

This is one of the most amazing spectacles in Arkansas. If you get the chance to spend a night or a weekend here, take it. 

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Treehouse Cottages

While spending the night in a treehouse sounds like something your children might try to convince you to do, the Treehouse Cottages in Eureka Springs are not your kids’ treehouse. Instead, a relaxing weekend at the treehouses is something a couple or a couple of friends would enjoy.

Laura, the desk clerk, greets visitors at the register, where guests check in and customers make purchases from the gift shop. Many retreats offer a gift shop, with postcards, keychains and perhaps mugs with their logo stamped on them, but this shop is exceptional. Patsy, the owner, has curated a small but warm space in which to display both her own works in pottery and the works of other local artisans. There is also a small selection of jewelry available, as well as a whimsical series of decorative turtles.

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The treehouse cottages have two locations: the original location next to the gift shop has three treehouses, while a second location only a couple of miles away has four treehouses. All offer privacy and an up-close view of nature.

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I spent some time in a treehouse from the second location. The flight of stairs leading to the top created a sense of retreat from the rest of the world. Though late-season foliage shielded the cottage, the proximity of each cottage to the other allows for privacy even when the branches are bare in the dead of winter. In fact, I was told that several returning guests keep an eye out for last-minute snow cancellations, as they so enjoy the view when surrounded by a winter wonderland.

Regardless which season you choose to come, wildlife abounds. Birds alight on limbs just feet from the large windows, and each cottage is complete with at least one bird feeder to tempt the winged creatures. Bring your binoculars, because you’re likely to see deer, squirrels and other wildlife easily viewable from the deck. Because of the height of the deck, guests can view ground-level wildlife without spooking them—a real treat. 

And when you’re ready for an intimate dinner, you’ll be pleased to find the dishes, all beautifully and expertly handmade by Patsy. She even crafted the tiles around many of the Jacuzzi tubs found in each cottage. There, situated in a glass-surrounded cutout, guests can bathe while continuing to enjoy the view. 

Aside from the pleasure of staying in a cozy, well- appointed cottage, the town of Eureka Springs is incredibly convenient. If you’re staying at the original location, historic downtown is within walking distance. And if you’re at the second location, worry not—despite the secluded feel, town is still well under five minutes away.

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Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

The drive to Eureka Springs is one of the prettiest in the state, and with the cool weather greeting me as I exited the car, I was ready to finally find what was in store for me at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. I was early for the three o’clock check-in but hoped to make the upcoming hourly guided tour included with all stays or available for purchase separately.

In the visitor’s center, the smiling clerk took my name and assured me I had plenty of time to make the tour. Following the map I was given, I made my way out the back of the visitor’s center to meet the tour group at the end of a mulched path. To one side, a large grizzly bear observed the arriving visitors.  

The tour, an hour-long walk along a half mile of paved sidewalk, is led by one of several staff members and focuses on their mission of refuge. No animals are purchased or bred at Turpentine Creek; instead, the facility offers a home to animals that have been mistreated, bred for profit, or purchased as exotic pets. According to their website, Turpentine Creek’s mission is to “spread awareness about the exotic pet trade and the struggles these animals face in captivity and in the wild.” 

Our guide, a passionate intern recently graduated from college, was happy to tell us about the behavior of these wild animals, their habitats and how visitors can help. When a young boy had multiple questions about the differences between lions, tigers and bears (oh my!), she thrilled to share as many details as the boy wanted to hear.

After the tour, I drove over to my room for the night, the Kilimanjaro Suite at the Zulu Lodge. The suite is one of five lodges sharing a central deck with a gazebo, fire pit and hot tub. Each suite also includes a private deck off the back with a view of the Ozark Mountain range. 

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I’d been told staying in the park was like spending a night on the Serengeti. While it was attractive and uniquely decorated, with paintings of big cats on the walls, the real atmosphere came when the sun went down. Watching the sun slowly sink into an orange-red wash of color on the back deck was its own pleasure, and then, when daylight had just faded, the lions began singing.

It’s called caroling. It’s not a growl; it’s not a purr. It’s altogether different. It’s the lions' own special call meant to mark their territory, and it can be heard up to five miles away. The nocturnal beasts begin calling at dusk, and don’t quit until the sun rises again.

When I rose from my slumber, I was pleased to find I’d slept well, the comfortable mattress having done its job. In the mini-fridge, there were muffins and fruit cups, along with cream for the coffee cups on the counter. If one was inclined to rise by seven or so, there would be plenty of time for coffee on the deck before walking over to watch the lions be released from their sleeping pens by eight. 

Bring your kids, a friend or a partner. The big cats are a sight worth seeing, and staying at the refuge offers an experience you can’t get at just any hotel. 

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Diamond John’s Teepees

Murfreesboro is well-known for its diamond hunting. The only diamond mine in the United States is found here, and visitors regularly bring home rough diamonds of all sizes. If you find yourself in Murfreesboro for the day or for a week, particularly if you’ve got children along, a sprawling riverside retreat might be just what you’re looking for. 

Diamond John’s is located close to the diamond mine, and they’ll even supply diamond mining equipment for guests to check out, saving the cost of renting at the mine.

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After you return from your search for diamonds, the kids might not be ready to quit for the day. Rest assured, Diamond John’s has you covered. Every night, the staff places gems in the sand. After interested children gather, they’re given flashlights so they can “hunt” for gemstones.

Have you wanted to give fishing a shot, or were you surprised when your kids showed interest? Well, Diamond John’s wants you to try it, too. That’s why they provide poles for fishing on the Little Missouri River, located right there on the property.

They even have well cared for animals you and your children can check out up close, including goats, peacocks, ducks and horses. The property as a whole is clean and tidy, and even the grass near the animal pens is neatly trimmed. 

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Diamond John’s prides themselves on their effort to make the stay pleasant for the entire family, with an emphasis on children’s activities. But, the whole family will find their lodging options unique—particularly the teepees. And don’t worry—there’s plenty of room for everyone. Designed to hold up to four adults in the regular teepee or eight in the Grand Master Teepee, each has a view of the river from the front door.

The large hot tub near the teepees is the perfect place for adults to relax after a day of diamond mining, and if you like, you can sit by the river as the sun goes down.

While the three smaller teepees have air conditioning, the larger one does not, though all four have heat. A rare find in lodgings, pets are welcome at Diamond John’s, the icing on the cake for a family friendly place to stay close to home.z