Arkansas: Dirt Roads and Weather

My friend, Kayla, can’t wait to see posts about Georgia. She has already heard a couple stories about it that I plan to share soon, but to get to that, you have to know a little more about the layout in Arkansas.

You must see where I have been to fully understand where I am.

Was that philosophical enough for you?

Whoever named Arkansas “The Natural State” was spot on. It’s so natural that Possum Grape doesn’t even have pavement past the freeway overpass…

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There is no need for it. The overpass dumps out onto a dirt road that weaves through low-lying farmland until it empties out between that building and little white church sign onto old Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67.

Yep, I’m talkin’ bout that old highway that was there before the fancy freeway came through in 1987 to parallel it. Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and more used to take that road to play in clubs along the route.

A few years ago, signs were put up along Hwy 67 to celebrate its history as Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway. Within a day or so of one such sign going up around my hometown, it was stolen. There is not much to do there, and kids get bored.

My point is that the roads around my hometown have such rich history to me. I learned to drive on those dirt roads between the highway and freeway, and by learning to drive, I do not mean that I was a teenager finally getting the keys.

Back home, people learn to drive young, like “sittin’ in their mama’s lap working the steering wheel when they are five years old” young. The only things you have to worry about on those roads are pot holes, stupid people, and weather.

The weather is the biggest deal. Arkansas is an extremely beautiful place. It has some gorgeous scenery, and that scenery can change pretty quickly. My family talks about the freeway coming through like it was a bit of a saving grace because of weather and what it does to the land.

Add a little weather to a road, like the dirt one that weaves through low-lying farmland, and you have a recipe for disaster. You see, the area I have been describing is very close to the White River, and when it rains, it cuts people off from the highway.

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Not very Rock ‘N’ Roll anymore, right?

Members of my family used to have to get out while they could when the rain would come. My grandfather, a wonderful man, had to row his kids across the waters in a boat so that they could go to school at times. My mom tells stories about staying with family on the higher ground when the water was up. That’s why a lot of roads in Arkansas, including the freeway, are built on levees.

Overnight, if the river’s right, water can creep toward houses. It can seem like you are driving through a lake on those levees. The little dirt road I learned to drive on gets swallowed.

Being on the less flood-prone side of the farmland, near the highway, has its own disadvantages, though. Possum Grape is where the flat land meets the Ozarks, so Rock ‘N’ Roll highway runs right between land so low that it floods and land that begins to get very hilly.

When winter comes, we never get snow in that area. We get ice storms: storms that coat everything in a solid sheet of ice. Yes, the storm may coat the ice in a very thin layer of snow, but that’s just because even winter storms understand the importance of camouflage in Arkansas.

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A weatherman saying “snow” means “everyone go to the store.” That’s because we are worried about what’s really coming. Snow is crunchy. You can get a little traction on snow, but ice is a different beast. People think we are crazy for closing schools so fast and raiding the stores, but ice is slick and heavy. Tree limbs can’t take the weight of it.

A lot of people have 4-wheel drive in that area, but even that may not get you out of your sloped driveway or past a fallen branch. Sometimes, whole trees fall under the weight. I was once trapped on my school bus for about an hour because we went up an icy road and got stuck by a fallen tree.

That’s not the only thing that can’t take the weight of ice; power lines can’t either. My parents and I spent a whole week inside our house with no power… a few times. Our 4-wheel drives couldn’t make the slope. Out there, it takes that long to get lines fixed in bad weather. That’s why you will likely never see my mother relying solely on an electric stove or heater.

When I was in college, we had a bad ice storm that knocked out power to people for a month in some places. School buildings became shelters. I believe we were declared a national disaster area.

Walking places for supplies isn’t an option in icy weather, and for most it isn’t an option at all. The nearest Walmart is about 25 miles away from my hometown. So, when weather happens, you may be stuck with what you have for a while.

Keep in mind that on a normal day travel is quiet and beautiful in Arkansas. There is a nasty side, but even the changed scenery can be beautiful. Growing up there prepared me for weather obstacles. These things are home to me: dirt roads and weather… though I could seriously do without the tornadoes.

I haven’t experienced much weather in Georgia yet, aside from the rain that made me feel like I had moved to Seattle for about a week. Nature will throw things at me, but I’ve got The Natural State’s help in preparing for that. It’s the flipside I’m getting used to in Georgia. Things operate a little different in the city.

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2 Responses to Arkansas: Dirt Roads and Weather

  1. Wow. Ice storms, alternate heating and cooking, bathing at public schools which were closed except for the gym showers, out of mercy…sounds like home to me, too. 😉
    Great writing! I think you took the photos out behind our 40–but I know you did not. Just so “home”.


    • Thank you, Katharine! All of the photos are originals that I took at various times. I’m so glad they feel like home to you, too. It makes me feel like I got it right. I hoped to show what life in AR is really like at times.

      Liked by 1 person

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