Arkansas History & Culture in the Natural State

History & Heritage, Magazine Features

Explore the beauty of the Natural State through its natural landscapes, captivating art and thought-provoking Arkansas history museums

Sometimes, the most precious gems are hidden in plain sight. In 2018, after 10 minutes of searching, a 71-year-old retiree made Arkansas history by discovering a 2.63-carat ice white diamond sitting on the surface of a 37-acre plowed field at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. This is one of the only places in the world where public prospectors can search for authentic diamonds in their original volcanic source.

Visitors search the eroded surface of a volcanic crater for a variety of rocks, minerals and gemstones, keeping any treasure they find. When rainfall uncovers larger diamonds and the sun comes out, they sparkle and are often easy to see. In 2018, 256 diamonds, weighing a total of 49.64 carats, were found and registered at the park.

The Strawn Wagner Diamond was found in the Crater of Diamonds State Park public search field

The Strawn-Wagner Diamond was found in the Crater of Diamonds State Park public search field.

In Bentonville, a stone grotto made of boulders, ranging from 3,000-10,000 pounds, is covered in natural quartz crystals. Excavated in west central Arkansas, these quartz crystals were formed deep underground when two of the earth’s tectonic plates slowly collided 300 million years ago. The pressure caused an uplift that formed the Ouachita Mountains. Visitors walking along the 3.5 miles of trails through Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s 120-acre site can admire these ancient crystal-laden boulders near the upper pond.

Designed to spark the imagination, the trails help guests form connections to the Ozark landscape and to downtown Bentonville, while admiring exquisite art installations. The 50-foot-diameter Fly’s Eye Dome, designed by American architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, can be seen on the north lawn and is one of only three prototypes fabricated in Fuller’s lifetime.

The stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art welcomes all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature. Crystal Bridges was developed by the Walton Family Foundation for all to enjoy, and general admission to the museum and grounds is free. Designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the building complements the surrounding Ozark landscape, integrating the element of water on the site through the creation of two spring-fed ponds spanned by signature bridges and surrounded by pavilions housing galleries and studios.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art welcomes all to celebrate the power of art and the beauty of nature.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art welcomes all to celebrate the power of art and the beauty of nature.

Impressive water features were also prominently featured in the sleek Mid-century designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. The famous architect introduced Usonian design, a distinct American style he developed during the Great Depression to offer affordable access for the average middle-class family. Committed to preserving the American way of life, Crystal Bridges acquired and relocated Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House in 2015, keeping it accessible to the public through self-guided tours.

Crystal Bridges Museum’s permanent art collection spans five centuries of American masterworks from the Colonial era of Arkansas history to current day. Included are iconic images such as Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola (3)— each reflecting a distinct moment in American artistic evolution. Major works by modern and contemporary American artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, John Baldessari and James Turrell, are displayed in the permanent collection along with topical temporary installations.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art celebrates Arkansas history and art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Guided group tours can be arranged for groups of 10-60 guests, and may include box lunches or a seated lunch in the museum’s restaurant. Audio tours are available through a free app, which can be downloaded to Apple or Android devices.

Bentonville is also home to the Museum of Native American History, founded by David Bogle, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation. Admission is free and visitors can view 10,000 Native American artifacts important to Arkansas history. Scholars, artists and advocates host monthly conversations and give an authentic voice to historical and contemporary Native American culture. Guests even search for modern-made, hand-knapped arrowheads hidden in rocks around the onsite tipi.

Learn more about the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw with a visit to the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock. We Walk in Two Worlds tells the story of Arkansas’s first people, the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes from early times to today. The dominant presence of the Native American voice with member interviews from the three prominent tribes informs, educates and guides visitors through the experience. Historic Arkansas Museum former Chief Curator and Deputy Director Swannee Bennett said, “What makes this exhibit unique is that it is a story of the Arkansas Native American told in large part with an Indian voice.”

Former Museum Director Bill Worthen added, “The State of Arkansas officially partnered with the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw Nations and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to tell this story of struggle and endurance.”

For more group travel planning advice and inspiration, be sure to Download the Arkansas Group Travel Planner.


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