82 | CITISCAPES | JUNE 2019 t was honestly a blind decision on my part. Maybe even call it a huge gamble. When I arrived on campus as a student at the University of Arkansas in the fall of 1987, it was the first time I had ever stepped foot in the Natural State. Never lived here. Had never even visited. And what the heck was a “hog call,” anyway? Honestly, the only thing I knew about the state of Arkansas was that undersized All-American nose guard Tony Cherico played football for the Razorbacks. I read about him in Sports Illustrated. As a military brat, my youth was spent in different locations around the globe before my family settled in the Florida Panhandle. I was somewhat adventurous, so as the college years approached I decided to literally get away and go somewhere I had never been. As an aspiring sportswriter, I also wanted to go somewhere with a vibrant athletics program. Through limited research in the library and lots of college catalogs, my sights were set on a quaint school nestled in the Ozark Mountains. It just felt right. After applying and being accepted, against my mom’s wishes that I stay close to home, I hopped on a Greyhound bus for the two- day journey to Northwest Arkansas. I have never forgotten that ride as the bus meandered north along Highway 71 (this was pre-Interstate 49) through Mountainburg, Winslow and over the Boston Mountains. It still gives me goosebumps. It was the most picturesque scenery I had ever laid eyes on. The Natural State was an understatement. I had ended up in heaven. The mountainous terrain was right off the face of a picture postcard, and the brilliance of the trees and valleys couldn’t have been painted better by Claude Monet himself. As the bus crested just over the final hill, Fayetteville came into sight. I felt like Dorothy when she approached the Land of Oz. I instantly fell in love with the majestic aura of Northwest Arkansas. My new dorm room on the second floor of Gregson Hall offered a perfect view down legendary Dickson Street. But the real beauty remained the rolling hills and vistas that surrounded the city. It wasn’t long before some of my new dormitory roommates invited me on a camping trip to Devil’s Den State Park. Despite sounding like a place in a teen horror movie, I gladly accepted. The winding drive into the park was a treat in itself. The leaves had begun to turn on the native river birch and sugar maple trees, and the migratory birds and butterflies were enjoying their final days of the season. We decided to set up camp along Lee’s Creek with fishing gear, a cooler full of sandwiches and no tent. Sleeping under the stars was much more adventurous. And, despite not catching any fish and settling for a dinner of waterlogged sandwiches — thanks to melted ice and leaky baggies — we had a blast. That is, up until we were abruptly awakened by a downpour at 4 a.m. Then, like a third- grade fire drill, we hopped out of our drenched sleeping bags, scurried around in the dark to gather our gear and made a fast dash for the car. Soaked and half awake, we made our way back to Gregson Hall to complete our night’s sleep. Yet, despite what could have been viewed as a disastrous endeavor, it became just one of the many memories of genuinely fun times and friendship I have gathered since I first arrived here. Even a “bad” day is still a good day to live among these hills and its people. My career as a writer eventually landed me in other locations around the country over the following two-plus decades, but I never found another place that felt quite as special as this once-hidden gem we live in. No matter if I was living near the mountains of North Carolina or the beaches of Florida, I literally dreamed of one day returning to Fayetteville. With still no extended family in this part of the country, I took another gamble five years ago. Even with no pre-arranged jobs or house for security, I was able to convince my reluctant wife and teenaged kids to blindly uproot and move to the far corner of Arkansas. Once again, it just felt right. Things quickly began to fall into place for us all. Fortunately, but not surprisingly, they have now also fallen in love with Fayetteville, its neighboring communities and everything this region has to offer. The natural beauty. The people. And, of course, the Razorbacks. It’s no wonder why the Fayetteville metro area continues to be a Top 5 place in America to live – No. 4 in 2019, according to U.S. News & World Report. I was fortunate to discover this place many years ago, and so grateful to have had the opportunity to return once again. This time, I think I’ll stay. And I do feel truly blessed that my gamble paid off. Twice. ■ Steve Andrews is a career newspaper journalist and sportswriter. He is a transplanted Floridian who attended the University of Arkansas for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Steve and his wife, Tracie, have three grown children, Jordyn, Baylee and CJ. Follow him on Twitter at @Razorbaque or email him at razorbaque@yahoo.com. THE FINAL SAY | BY STEVE ANDREWS I The Natural State? This is Heaven.