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THE TALIMENA SCENIC DRIVE


  Copyright 1992, by Bob Soetebier


 

      Looking for some spectacular mountain scenery with incredible

panoramic views; yet prefer to avoid the crowds and the possible

effects of high-altitude sickness?  Look no further than the Talimena

Scenic Drive in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma.


     The 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive spans the highest mountain

range between the Appalachians and the Rockies, traveling along

mountain ridgetops averaging in elevations around 2,500 feet.  It lies

entirely within the boundaries of the 1.6 million-acre Ouachita

National Forest.


     The rugged Ouachita Mountain area was first explored by Hernando

DeSoto's party of Spaniards in 1541.  It was the French who later

named this mountain range "Ouachita" as their way of spelling the

Indian word "Washita," which means "good hunting grounds."


     The TSD's unique east-west orientation affords magnificent views

of the beautiful mountain valleys along both its north and south

flanks.  Along the entire Drive there are a couple dozen wide auto

pullouts.  At each of these scenic-overlook pullouts tourist

information signs are posted that detail historic and geographic

points of interest.  A few of these scenic pullouts are equipped with

inviting picnicking facilities at which you can linger and relax while

enjoying the views.


     The Drive runs west from Mena, Arkansas, (which is about 80 miles

south of Fort Smith, and approximately 20 miles east of the Oklahoma

border), on Arkansas Hwy. 88, to just a few miles northeast of

Talihena, Oklahoma, via Oklahoma Hwy. 1.  (Full services, which

include lodging, restaurants, grocery and gas stations, are available

in Mena, Arkansas.)


     Visitor Information Stations are located at each end of the TSD

-- in Mena and near Talihena -- and are open daily, April through

November.  Here you can pick up brochures, maps, and recreational and

interpretive information.  What makes the Drive even more appealing is

that there is no admission fee charged.


     Westward from Mena, Arkansas, the TSD winds continuously uphill

for a dozen miles with increasingly impressive views of the valleys

below.  Just before Arkansas' Queen Wilhelmina State Park (which is 13

miles from Mena, Arkansas) is a breathtaking view from the top of the

Rich Mountain Lookout Tower.  The lookout tower is at the highest

point -- 2,681 feet -- in the Ouachita National Forest.


     Queen Wilhelmina State Park is the oldest state park in Arkansas

and was built in the 1890's as a summer retreat for the wealthy.  But

by no means is it neglected!  It has a modern hotel and two elegant

dining rooms, a full-service campground, a miniature 1 1/2-mile scenic

railroad (loftiest miniature railroad in the U.S.), an animal

park/zoo, along with a miniature golf course, too.  The park also has

a short trail to a blufftop overlook with a great view.  All these

attractions are within easy walking distance of each other.


     Farther along on the Drive is Oklahoma's Robert S. Kerr State

Arboretum and Nature Center.  The arboretum is just 2 miles east of

where U.S. Hwy. 259 crosses the TSD.  With its modern, interesting and

informative visitor's center, beautiful grounds and self-guided

interpretive trails, the arboretum is a "must stop" for a visit.  The

interpretive trails here include the 1/2-mile Kerr Arboretum Trail,

the 3/4-mile Soil and You Trail and the 3/4-mile Struggle for Survival

Trail.


     Westward from Hwy. 259, the Drive continues along the spine of

the Winding Stair Mountains.  Approximately 3 miles west of Hwy. 259

is Emerald Vista, which provides a spectacular sweeping view of the

Poteau River Valley, Lake Windsor and the Cedar Lake Recreation Area.

Emerald Vista is adjacent to Winding Stair Campground, which offers

picnicking, tent and camper spaces and restrooms.


     Two picnic areas on the Drive deserve special note.  One is

Horsethief Springs (6 miles west of Hwy. 259.)  The other is the Old

Military Road picnic area (1 mile east of U.S. 271.)  Both these

picnic areas have interesting self-guided interpretive trails and

sanitary facilities, along with posted historical information.


     Two miles south of the western entrance of the TSD (7 miles

northeast of Talihena, Oklahoma) is Talimena State Park.  This 20-acre

park provides picnicking, tent spaces and camper hookups, along with a

hiking trails, a playground and restrooms.


     Because of its natural splendor, a trip along the Talimena Scenic

Drive will be one you'll always remember.  Be sure to allow yourself

plenty of time for an unhurried visit to this wonderful wilderness

area.

     [One caveat:  The Drive is closed in the winter when there is ice

and snow (it does not get plowed.)  If you choose to visit the area

then, you might wish to call the Ouachita National Forest's Mena

Ranger District Office at (501) 394-2382 to be sure the Drive is open

to traffic.]

 

     While in the area, some very worthwhile side trips include:

Heavener Runestone State Park, which is within 25 miles north of the

Talimena Scenic Drive (via Hwy. 259, and then north Hwys. 59/270 to

just north of Heavener, Oklahoma.)  Also, Robber's Cave State Park,

which is about 35 miles from Talihena, Oklahoma (via Hwy. 1 west, and

then Hwy. 2 north; just 5 miles north of Wilburton, Oklahoma.)


     Heavener Runestone State Park sits high atop one of the Ouachita

Mountains and offers a wide-ranging view of the surrounding

countryside.  A 1-mile loop trail leads from the visitor's center over

steep terrain to a 12-foot high and 10-foot wide runestone perched on

the hillside.  This stone is covered with runic alphabet carvings.  It

is theorized that these carvings were made by Viking explorers around

1012 A.D.


     Robber's Cave State Park is situated high up in the

heavily-forested Sanbois Mountains.  A short nature trail leads to the

cave from which the park derives its name.  This cave served for over

a century -- from the mid-1800's through the first half of this

century -- first, as a refuge for Civil War deserters; then later, as

a hideout for various notorious outlaw gangs of bank and train

robbers.

 

     For camping/hiking info and a free map of the Talimena Scenic

Drive, along with a Recreation Area Directory for the Ouachita

National Forest, contact the Supervisor's Office, Ouachita National

Forest, P.O. Box 1270, Hot Springs AR  71902.  [Tel.#: (501)

321-5202.]


     For info on Queen Wilhelmina State Park and other Arkansas points

of interest, contact the Arkansas Dept. of Parks and Tourism, 1

Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR  72201.  [Tel.#:  (501) 682-7777.]


     For info on Talimena State Park and other Oklahoma points of

interest, contact the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Dept., 500 Will Rogers Bldg.,

Oklahoma City, OK  73105.  [Tel.#: (405) 521-2579.]



[NOTE:  Underlined items in trip account link to additional related info about the points of interest.]