Columns » Bob Lancaster

Not sure why



An alleged fragment of the original "little rock" was relocated then "dedicated" the other day in the hope that the publicity would lure some tourists.

It surprised me a little to hear that there are apparently tourist hordes out there who'll go out of their way — by a considerable distance, too — to see a chunk off an old rock that achieved distinction in the first place by being unimposing. But maybe there are, and maybe they will.

If you and yours are among this horde, I want to nominate some other lesser-known Natural State attractions you might want to check out.

Starting with, given your predilection for gawking at unexceptional rocks, the scattering of bauxite boulders in the shoulder stubble along the old Bauxite cutoff between Bryant and Shaw in Saline County.

These are as dull a bunch of rocks as exist in Christendom. They're big enough so you couldn't easily make off with a passel of them, but small enough so you could sit on one and have your picture snapped, to send back home with the message:  "Here I am sitting on a rock in Arkansas. Not sure why. Wish you were here."

Trailered locals have moved a few of smaller of these stones into their yards and hand-painted their addresses on them, or other warning messages such as "Bad Dog" or "Keep Out." I also saw "Srs. '87" on one of them. Probably from Benton, Bauxite, or Bryant HS, middle-aged now, saved, with grandkids, monthly payments for the duration, fading dreams.

This rubble isn't Mount Rushmore — it's not Rock City — but  if you're a tourist of the easy-going and relatively undemanding type, you might like it better than a hacking cough. If you're able to avoid the abundant poison oak and spreading adders in the spaces between rocks.

Other notable rocks with minimal touristic allure here in Arkansas include the piles of fracked shale in Cleburne and nearby counties; the Lawrence County courthouse-square meteorite said to have fallen on the same night that the Stars Fell on Alabama; the Calico Rock; the Dardanelle Rock, which used to have a big water tank atop it, giving residents down below such municipal water pressure that just by turning on a faucet they could whang dents into their washtubs; the madstone at Mt. Ida with the highest-ever Boone & Crockett rating; David O. Dodd's tombstone, lightly stained with what looks more like romanticizer jism than bird dookey; the Star of Murfreesboro, big as a goiter; the whetstones (not the lawyers) of Hot Spring county; and the rocks that Willard and Precious got off, if you remember them, back in the sunny morning of Hillbilly Camelot. To name just a few.

If you get tired of looking at uninteresting rocks, we have in reserve a plethora of uninteresting trees. Cutovers as big as our biggest lakes, and anomalous individual trees, mysterious in situ, like the Marion County cedar that a native variety of poisonous reptile seems to regard as its Thorncrown.

One day every summer copperhead snakes for miles around hadj to this tree and the field that surrounds it. Human observers always mention that the gathering seems to have a religious aspect or air, and while I find that intriguing, I remain skeptical.

I'll grant you these copperheads exude a revivalist enthusiasm. They might be clapping their hands if they had hands and shouting halleleujah if they had larnyxes. But the notion of snake rites expressing some kind of highly developed snake theology hauls me up. Billy Graham says beloved pets will have an afterlife — dogs, mostly — but I don't see any way a damned old snake could have one. Answer me this: Do rattlesnakes rattle psalms?

It's not an entire tree, but a three-inch center slice of the olde original Marked Tree was laminated into a coffee table and now graces the parlor in a private residence at DeWitt, or maybe Marvell. It's shown by appointment only, and while there's no admittance fee, "upkeep donations" are encouraged. (I assume that goes to buy an occasional can of Pledge.) They'll take the TV off of it if you ask — they might mutter a little about this — or they'll mute it if you just have to visit during an episode of "Desperate Housewives."

Another tiresome side tour takes you to King Crowley's birthplace at Jonesboro. Legend has it that King Crowley was a pre-Columbian monarch, a literal giant, perhaps one of the ancient Toltecs or ancienter Mound Builders, his likeness educed or adduced from an inexpertly wrought sandstone figurine supposedly unearthed near his workshop in 1924 by a Jonesboro gunsmith named Deefy Rowland.

Too much information already, I suspect, but anyhow this Rowland festooned the King Crowley story for several decades, abetted by a prominent Little Rock writer lady named Babcock and  a prominent Little Rock historian lady named Knoop — not making this up — but eventually even Smackover schoolboys figured out that King Crowley was just a stupid hoax. In mid-Century 20, he came to be known affectionately as King B.S. Crowley.

That workshop where he was conjured is long gone, but you might find a contemporary Jonesboro geezer who speaks authentic frontier gibberish who can direct you to the site. Send me a postcard if you find it.

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