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Flamingo Springs Trailer Resort is next-level kitsch

Outside of Prairie Grove.

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CENTRAL PERK, PLUS: At Flamingo Springs, plenty of "Friends"-themed easter eggs await the show's ardent fans. - KAT WILSON
  • Kat Wilson
  • CENTRAL PERK, PLUS: At Flamingo Springs, plenty of "Friends"-themed easter eggs await the show's ardent fans.

If you've ever said your goodnights from inside a concrete teepee at Wigwam Village in Cave City, Ky., or if your feet have ever graced the bottom of the Texas-shaped swimming pool at The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, you know good and well it's true: Themed accommodations are a real gas.

There's a new such getaway in the heart of Washington County: the Flamingo Springs Trailer Resort. It's a kitschy anomaly to the chicken farms and rolling hills that surround it in Prairie Grove; a winding driveway lined with pink flamingos leads up a hill to a ring of six immaculately themed travel trailers tucked into 50 wooded acres. Those, in turn, are situated around an Astroturf-lined swimming pool, a fire pit, outdoor grills, picnic tables and metal palm trees, all buttressed by a giant Quonset hut partitioned into a hotel lobby and a game room. Think: John Waters and Lisa Frank co-design a movie set with the ghost of Janis Joplin, deciding after filming wraps that they'll rent the thing out by the night.

Laura and Zack Kraus, owners/operators of Flamingo Springs, opened the business in June 2018, aptly timed in conjunction with a surge of interest in teardrop trailers, tiny houses and all things Mid-century Modern. Though the Krauses have a young child themselves, the vibe at Flamingo Springs is distinctly 21-plus, a policy the owners explain with casual candor: "Don't get us wrong, we love kids. In fact, we made one," the booking website states. "But if you and your significant other wanna get out of the house, relax, maybe blow off a little steam and there are a bunch of kids running circles around the pool, screaming, splashing you, that may impede your ability to do so. See what I'm sayin'?"

We do. What's more, we especially appreciate the resort's "play is for grown-ups, too" ethos. Flamingo Springs' game room is nostalgic eye candy — a clear testament to the Krauses' eye for collecting. There's giant Jenga, a pool table, an unlimited-play jukebox with selections from Sam Cooke, ABBA and The Troggs, a ping pong table, a swath of "paint-by-numbers" projects that cover most of one wall, a Sega Genesis and an Atari, plus a "Take One Leave One" bookshelf library with a Pee Wee Herman doll enforcing the honor code. A mini-kitchen is there to elevate your camping/grilling game, a vintage cooler begs to be filled with Northwest Arkansas's new influx of craft beers (or Busch Light, whatevs). The board game shelf overflows: Battleship, Othello, Yahtzee, an "I Love Lucy" game, something called "Hedbandz." Outside, there's ladder ball (new to us!), a horseshoe pit, Baggo, bocce ball and, our personal favorite, a BB gun range, where you can practice plinking empty beer cans. Overhead, a clear night means serious stargazing opportunities. Prairie Grove is far enough southwest of Fayetteville that your view of the night sky won't be hampered by light pollution. There is, by design, no Wi-Fi. Guest trailers are spaced apart at a neighborly interval and all guests share the game room, as well as an outdoor bathhouse with toilets and showers. The Krauses wanted to create a situation in which communal living and real-life human interaction are, if not forced, at least strongly suggested.

Honestly, though, it could be a while before you get around to doing any socializing outside of your own trailer, because you're liable to spend a while just poking around that tiny world. Behold, for example, the minutia contained within "The One With the Trailer," the shiny metallic torpedo devoted entirely to references to the sitcom "Friends." In it, the Krauses' keen penchant for detail rises to a fever pitch. The bed pillow is embossed with the word "P-I-V-O-T" in the "Friends" font, no less — a reference to a classic episode where Rachel helps Ross move into his apartment and hilarity ensues in the course of moving a couch. There's a troll doll, lovingly nailed to a two-by-four in the fashion of Monica and Ross' Geller Cup, also a "Friends" reference. In the DVD/VCR cabinet, there's a quartet of (empty) video cases with mock jacket covers of the porn films Phoebe's twin sister, Ursula, made using Phoebe's name: "Buffay The Vampire Layer," "Lawrence of A Labia," "Sex Toy Story 2." There's also a Hugsy penguin and a loveseat just below a sign for Central Perk.

Because the trailers are dry — no sinks, bathrooms, tanks, etc. — there's room for the theme to sprawl out to every nook and cranny. A Christmas-themed trailer, "Candy Cane Lane," boasts design inspiration from Clark W. Griswold and is billed thusly: "Your black sheep uncle drank too much 'special eggnog' and threw up vintage Christmas decorations all over this trailer." An "Old West chic" trailer, The Horn, does its best Laurel Canyon impersonation from behind saloon doors. The pale pink, winged "Pour Some Shasta On Me" channels Cinderella, Winger and White Lion. "The Pink Fuzzy Unicorn" is just as teenage dream as it sounds — all neon cheetahs, "BFF" pillows and board games with names like "Dream Phone." The Haight-Ashbury is a mint green and Creamsicle-orange-colored nook, announced outside its doorstep by a stop sign with the word "WAR" spray painted across the bottom third. And, while the fierce level of commitment to theme is endlessly adorable, it does occupy some tabletop real estate; pack light and remember that anything you've got stored in your car is only a few steps away, anyway.

TAKE ONE, LEAVE ONE: A Pee-wee Herman figure enforces the honor code in the game room library. - KAT WILSON
  • Kat Wilson
  • TAKE ONE, LEAVE ONE: A Pee-wee Herman figure enforces the honor code in the game room library.

When we stayed, the nights had just turned from cool to "Dang!", and Zack Kraus dug out a space heater for us from the attic, which worked like a charm. We waved to their cute, sleepy kid and marvelled at the effort all over again.

And why shouldn't we? It's an endeavor clearly born of countless hours on eBay and at thrift shops, and certainly it's a ripe alternative to a growing network of premium — but nevertheless cookie-cutter — hotels being built in Northwest Arkansas. Besides, doesn't every sometimes-camper dig the idea of doing camping-without-the-heavy-lifting? The Krauses' full weekends during its opening summer months bear that forth, and even into the upcoming winter months, groups have booked the whole place for a weekend at a time, securing a discounted rate.

I envision the Krauses in 20 years, with the wooden fence covered in a cross-decade mosaic of metal signs, an Instagram archive from a visitor that time-stamps additions and remodels — and maybe an extensive collection of flamingo-themed objects from all over the world, mailed to the couple by friends and family until the joint's a veritable pink museum in the mountains.

Flamingo Springs Trailer Resort is at 15475 Greasy Valley Road in Prairie Grove. See flamingospringstrailerresort.com for details. Bring: food to grill, firewood, beer (the Crazy Horse Saloon at the turnoff to Greasy Valley Road has a drive-through!), the makings for s'mores.


The flight to Flamingo Springs

Let's start with the basics; namely, achieving escape velocity from the Central Arkansas area. The Big Piney Rest Area between Knoxville (Johnson County) and London (Pope County) has emerged from a 2016-17 renovation as an (unmanned) Welcome Center, with high ceilings, glass entrances and nicer bathrooms. And, if you're feeling peckish, try venturing beyond the fast food options alongside Interstate 40. Rivertowne BBQ in Ozark serves up rib meat "possum balls" and charro beans to die for, and just around the corner, there's Southern Grill, a charming little diner/steakhouse that serves consistently delicious breakfast until 2 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and until 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. If you're closer to Clarksville, try the mile-high meringue pies at South Park Restaurant or the delectable poutine at Fox & Fork, part of a French-inspired Southern menu that's easily the culinary star of Johnson County.

On I-40 near Alma, signs start pointing you to the Roland Cherokee Casino and Sallisaw, Okla. Maybe they do that just as John Moreland's "Sallisaw Blues" comes on the radio, beckoning you to bend your plans toward the apparent kismet. You're headed northward, though, and there are a number of ways to go. You could catch up on all the fantastic grub you might have overlooked — or pined for — in the Fort Smith/Van Buren area: charbroiled chicken with lemongrass and pickled vegetables at Green Papaya, a legendary French dip sandwich at Ed Walker's Drive-In, or a big bowl of Paradise Soup at Pho Vietnam. Or, if you've got your eyes wisely set on arriving at Flamingo Springs before magic hour, consider skirting around the FS/VB metropolitan area altogether and making an early stop for dinner at Thai Curry in Van Buren (518 N. Plaza Court), a warmly lit spot that serves delicately crisped tofu, chicken wings muddled with slices of jalapeno, an array of potstickers and soups and noodle dishes, sweetened by syrupy iced accompaniments — Thai coffees and Thai teas, served in highball glasses.

Paths cut northward to Prairie Grove via Interstate 49 or U.S. Highway 71 are lush ones indeed, but if you've never taken state Highway 59 toward the town of Figure Five, you'll be rewarded with new sights and pitstops for doing so. There's the Crawford County Speedway, with stock car races at 7 p.m. every Saturday. And, if you turn off on state Highway 45 at the town of Dutch Mills, you'll drive through the pastoral, pristine town of Cane Hill in Washington County, home to one of the oldest institutions for higher learning in the state. Cane Hill College, as it's called, sits imposingly atop a rolling green hill just next to a free-standing belfry, surrounded by an open field with historical markers and plaques detailing its complicated history. It's both a good spot to stretch your legs and a chance to find out about a weird little Arkansas town you'd never met.

Eat, Drink and Be Prairie (Grove)

In a town where the biggest building is the Baptist church, a good Tex-Mex place can become a veritable social hub, as it was when we visited Gabriela's in Prairie Grove on a cool Thursday night. With a sensible preface from the locals, we wrapped our minds around the idea of Mexican-American dishes that leaned more toward the latter's influences, and dove into the pool-of-cheese-and-refried beans fray. A decadently battered Chile Relleno with Chicken ($8.99) came atop the aforementioned pool and an onion enchilada, and a Mexican Sampler ($10.25) showed off the best of Gaby's appetizers — breaded shrimp poppers stuffed with cream cheese, quesadillas and flautas suspended over a mound of layered nachos. We didn't spot a bar on the menu or in the wings, but the sampler was bar food to beat the band, and enormous enough to have gone mostly into the cooler to be revived for dinner the next night. Sophisticated cuisine Gabriela's is not, but hey, it's Prairie Grove, y'all; the cover page of the Gaby's menu states that the restaurant will "provide you with the best Meal Around," and a quick glance at the Prairie Grove skyline will tell you there's not exactly a throng of competitors for that title. Not to be missed, though, according to our hosts at the Flamingo Springs Trailer Resort, are the cinnamon rolls at Fat Rolls — a charming little bakery on Mock Street in the town's historic district — and, no joke, the greasy spoon breakfasts at a gas station called Frederick's One Stop.

STEPHANIE SMITTLE
  • Stephanie Smittle

Briar Rose Bakery & Deli

"Did you go in the little door?" That's the verbal handshake that can take place between devotees of Briar Rose Bakery & Deli, the storybook cottage-inspired bakery at 28 E. Main St. in Farmington, which brushes up against Fayetteville on the larger city's southwest side. A specialty cakeshop inside churns out Boston cream pies and loads of cupcakes, and Briar Rose's cinnamon rolls get their very own oven. There's a little tea room for dainty diners and a wood fired-oven chars handmade pizzas on Saturdays. Here, the croissant dough is a close competitor of Serenity Farm Bread's for Best in the State, and Briar Rose uses that brilliant buttery dough in a variety of ways. Even the decadent orange roll — probably the best orange roll we've ever had, period — was built of that same flaky magic, rolled into a spiral and infused heavily with orange zest. You can get a gluten-free fruit crumble, biscuits and gravy, a tiny croissant with its ends dipped in chocolate Magic Shell-style, or go plop a dollop of the bakery's flavored, house-made whipped cream into your coffee. And if you leave holding a white box filled with half a dozen of the aforementioned Briar Rose pastries, you will find that you are well-received anywhere you go until the box is empty.

STEPHANIE SMITTLE
  • Stephanie Smittle

Prairie Grove Airlight Outdoor Telephone Booth

Just opposite the entrance to Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, at 505 E. Douglas St., there's a real deal telephone booth, with a dial tone and those cool bifold doors and everything! Sure, the option to use your credit card to fund the call takes a little of the romance away, but you can still put that Superman cape to good use in the family photo shoot.

HEY, KIDS: Lemme tell you about the old days! - STEPHANIE SMITTLE
  • Stephanie Smittle
  • HEY, KIDS: Lemme tell you about the old days!

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