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Exploring the Eerie Ozarks with Monsters and Mysteries in America

Moon in daylight sky over Talimena Scenic Drive through Arkansas and Oklahoma Ouachita National Forest in fall

To those who believe in the paranormal, a few things are certain: Sasquatch is real; it’s not just a weather balloon; and it’s never just your imagination—or the wind or the creaks of an old building. To the skeptics we say: the truth really is out there. Rand McNally once again teams with Destination America’s Monsters and Mysteries in America, a TV series that travels the nation documenting first-hand accounts of encounters with legendary creatures, UFOs, and restless spirits. The episode on the Ozarks airs Sunday, April 7 at 10 pm E/P. To get ideas for your own mysterious road trip, read on.

Monsters and Mysteries: The Ozarks

Learn more about legends of the Ozarks on the all-new episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America, premiering Sunday, April 7 at 10 PM E/P on Destination America. In the meantime, here are some episode highlights.

Fouke Monster (Fouke, AR): Imagine driving along a woodsy backcountry road at the end of a long day. It’s dark, and you’re alone, but you’ve made this drive many times before, and everything’s routine. Until you see it: a large, hairy, two-legged creature up ahead, in the headlights, amid the trees. You stop. Your heart skips a beat. You’ve just seen something you’ve heard about but never believed you’d see: the Fouke Monster (a.k.a. the Southern Sasquatch or the Boggy Creek Monster).

Spook Light (Joplin, MO): A short ways from town, in an area known as the Devil’s Promenade, an eerie light regularly appears in the night sky. It glows different colors. It moves. Scientists have tried to explain it but can’t. Quapaw Indian lore holds that it’s the spirits of a young couple who leapt to their deaths rather than be separated for their forbidden love. Another legend says it’s an Osage chief who was decapitated and now searches for his head, lantern in hand. Or is it the phantom miner, out searching for his family who were captured by Native Americans?

Pope Lick Creek Monster (Pope Lick Creek / Louisville, KY): Those eerie sounds coming from the woods in the Fisherville area east of Louisville might not be echoes of distant voices or the wind howling or the screech of a train on the 100-foot-high trestle. They might be coming from the Pope Lick Monster, a half-man, half-goat creature said to inhabit the area. The stories about this beast, and how it came be to be here, are many and varied. All, however, portray the monster as a malevolent trickster, intent on luring people to their deaths.

Rand McNally Road Trip: Eerie Ozarks

This trip starts in Joplin, MO, and heads south into Arkansas, along the edges of the Ozark National Forest and to the storied frontier town of Fort Smith. It then travels southeast, amid the Ouachita National Forest, to the resort city (and onetime gangster hangout) of Hot Springs, before heading down to Fouke, about 17 miles southeast of Texarkana. Below is a summary; for details on en-route attractions, check out the Eerie Ozarks Road Trip itself.

Joplin: Joplin is so friendly that it was a finalist in the Friendliest category of Rand McNally’s 2012 Best of the Road® Competition. Even the ghosts have sweet dispositions—as evidenced by the numerous shy but playful spirits said to haunt the Prospect School B&B. Though there are plenty of unique shops, restaurants, and other attractions in historic downtown, one of your first stops should be the Joplin Museum Complex, where you can learn all about the town’s mining heritage and the Spook Light, a mysterious and scientifically inexplicable light that regularly appears in the night sky just outside town. Before leaving, pick up directions to the Devil’s Promenade viewing area. And don’t forget to ask about the time that Bonnie and Clyde passed through. . . .

Ozark Forest Region: It’s not far from Joplin to the border of Arkansas. Along I-540, you’ll cut through a section of the Ozark National Forest, which spans roughly a million acres and has spectacular vistas of hardwoods and pines, deep valleys, and rugged bluffs. At the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers, on the Oklahoma border, is Fort Smith. The structure that gave the city its name was established in 1817 to protect settlers. In later years, it became the court of Judge Isaac C. Parker, who sentenced so many criminals to death, that he was known as the Hanging Judge. You’ll hear all about these bygone days at both the Fort Smith National Historic Site and the reportedly haunted Fort Smith History Museum.

Hot Springs and Beyond: South and east of Fort Smith, the routes travel amid both the Ozark and Ouachita National forests. The latter is known for its many rivers and lakes, perfect for swimming, fishing, canoeing, and white-water rafting. One of its hubs is Hot Springs, which is both a resort city and a national park. Enjoy a sybaritic soak and massage at one of its opulent 19th-century bathhouses and hike along trails past thermal mineral springs.

At the Gangster Museum, you’ll learn how tough guys like Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and Al Capone mixed business with pleasure on visits here. You can even stay in Scarface’s favorite room—Number 442—over at the Arlington Hotel, a 1925 grand dame that purportedly has a few ghostly guests. You can also get in touch with Hot Springs’ racier side at Maxine’s, a bar and music club in a former bordello.

Before leaving Hot Springs, stop by the Arkansas Alligator Museum, one of the region’s oldest tourist attractions and the perfect segue to the next leg of your journey, which takes you into gator country. It also takes you through dinosaur country: in a gypsum mine near the town of Nashville, thousands of enormous sauropod footprints were found. After checking out the concrete molds of tracks made by these giant beasts, head south to Fouke, the home of Boggy Creek, which is, in turn, the home of the Southern Sasquatch.

More Information

Hot Springs Ghost Tours: If you’d like to do a little ghost-hunting while you’re in town, look into the 90-minute Hot Springs Haunted Tours.

Fouke Monster Info: The staff at the Fouke Monster Mart can fill you in on recent sightings and direct you to Boggy Creek. A good way to prep for your excursion, though, is to watch the 1972 movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek, and to read Lyle Blackburn’s book The Beast of Boggy Creek.

Pope Lick Creek Monster: The website of the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society has a rundown of the many stories surrounding this creature. For information on planning a trip to the area, check out the website of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.