Touring the Talimena Scenic Byway


“A customer standing upon one of many many majestic peaks within the space of the proposed park is thrilled by a panoramic view that can not be had elsewhere within the South Central States. With cheeks flushed by the invigorating mountain breezes, the mountain climber is rewarded by an inspiring view of numerous and anonymous peaks, mountain teams, dense forests, and welcoming valleys, all merging into the distant horizon. … Fed by crystal springs and like a lot molten silver these streams circulation, their turbulent programs unappreciated and barely visited.”

— Osro Cobb, c. 1926, quoted in “Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Reminiscences of Historic Significance,” 1990.

Southeast Oklahoma is a wierd land. There are not any facilities of commerce, and what’s there bespeaks an unlikely mixture of identities. On the 7-mile stretch between Talimena State Park and Talihina, Okla., for instance, you’ll spot an outsized church signal urging drivers to “Fear Much less Pray Extra,” a Kiamichi Valley Struggle Memorial tribute to U.S. veterans and a enterprise by the identify of “Canna Bliss Rx,” a aromatic institution that popped up close to the Ouachita Path’s head, driving the wave that adopted final yr’s approval of Oklahoma’s comparatively libertine medicinal marijuana legal guidelines.

Moments away, on the Talimena Scenic Byway at Panorama Vista — 2,260 toes above sea degree — the gales howl excessive and fierce. At this elevation, towering white oaks are lowered to bonsai-like proportions, punishingly pruned by wind and ice storms. Different vegetation acts as a visible compass; because the Ouachita ridgelines, atypically, run east to west, their slopes foster dramatically completely different units of bushes: hardwoods and paw paw bushes on the north, serviceberry and shortleaf pines on the south. It’s a terrain of extremes, able to exhibiting you the higher a part of a whole county in a valley beneath, however equally as able to shrouding you in dense droplets of opaque white mist, obscuring visibility a couple of toes in both path. And, as state Rep. Cobb acknowledged within the late Twenties, the Ouachitas are a gem hidden in plain sight for close by Oklahomans and Arkansans, nonetheless fairly “underappreciated and barely visited” compared to their counterparts elsewhere within the American panorama.

Make your method to Mile Zero

The quickest approach from Central Arkansas to the western finish of the Talimena Scenic Byway is, luckily, additionally a picturesque one, significantly when you cross Royal (Garland County). You’ll be able to skip the large field journey and refill the cooler with smoked cheese and chilly cuts from Burl’s Nation Smokehouse (10176 Albert Pike Street, Royal, Ark., 501-991-3875), a roadside smokehouse made as much as resemble a kind of hillbilly theme park, promoting moonshine jelly, house-made sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls the scale of a dinner plate. (You’ll be able to attain Talihina this fashion, by way of Interstate 30 and U.S. Freeway 270, or you can enterprise up Interstate 40 to Alma, all the way down to Fort Smith and thru Pocola and Poteau, Okla., towards Talihina on state Freeway 112 and U.S. Freeway 271.) No matter your method, you’ll see indicators pointing you to Talimena State Park (50884 U.S. Freeway 271, Talihina, Okla., 918-567-2052,, on the middle of which is a tree bearing an indication that reads “Mile Zero.” An alluring path straight forward marks an entry to the gorgeous, formidable Ouachita Path — a 225-mile route that crosses the size of the Ouachita Mountain vary and ends at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Arrange a campsite right here at one of many drive-in tent websites, or gap up on the Hootie Creek Home on the town (202 First St., Talihina, Okla., 918-567-5388,, a comfy six-room inn inside a historic brick constructing with a courtyard and sitting room.

Dangle in outlaw nation, or hail the Heavener Runestone

Enterprise about 45 minutes northeast of Talihina to the San Bois Mountains, the place a former Jesse James/Belle Starr hideout known as Robbers Cave State Park (4575 N.W. 1024th Ave., Wilburton, Okla., 918-465-2565, presents a swimming seashore and pool, sandstone cliffs for rappelling and eight,246 acres of caves, lakes and trails to discover. Robbers Cave rents yurts, campsites, cabins, a lake hut and rooms at its Belle Starr View Lodge. Or, head northwest of Talihina to the 55-acre Heavener Runestone Park (18365 Runestone Street, Heavener, Okla., 918-653-2241, and take the path all the way down to the large vertical sandstone slab with runic inscriptions based mostly in Viking-era Scandinavian grammar constructions, the origins of which have catalyzed arguments amongst linguists and students because the stone was found within the 1830s.

image of steak, baked potato and green beans from The Rock House in Talihina, OklahomaStephanie Smittle
MAKE RESERVATIONS: To eat hand-carved steak at The Rock Home in Talihina, Okla.

Dine at The Rock Home

4 nights every week, Sam and Tami Balzanna of Talihina hearth up their commercial-grade kitchen tools to serve hand-cut steaks, Maryland crab desserts and beneficiant pasta platters in a transformed Prohibition-era rock house that sits on the precise middle of their 283-acre property. The Rock Home (52060 Blackjack Ridge Drive, Talihina, Okla., 918-567-3577, is located in the course of the Kiamichi Mountains Vary and Potato Hills, so diners can see for miles by the encircling horse pastures whereas the Oklahoma wind howls by the rock columns on the entrance porch. Reservations are required.

Be a part of the espresso membership at Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner

Folks rise early in Talihina, and a lot of the weekday crowd at Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner (304 Dallas St., Talihina, Okla., 918-567-2051) may have moved on to their each day enterprise by 8 a.m., however that doesn’t imply you shouldn’t go for eggs and hash browns for breakfast, or for the frybread “Indian Tacos,” or the regionally beloved homestyle lunch buffet on Fridays and Sundays. The identify, a YouTube video stories, was gifted to Pam by a buyer and thereafter embraced as a model, proper all the way down to the customized espresso mugs.

Hop the byway vistas

A lot of the vistas alongside the Talimena Scenic Byway are marked by each street indicators and tan-colored plaques deciphering the historical past and geology of the vista. The primary views — at Outdated Navy Street, Potato Hill, Holson Valley and Panorama Vista — are available fast succession of each other, providing to the affected person traveler an opportunity to get into the rhythm of stopping typically and absorbing what’s round her. It’s like a real-life model of the hilly Sizzling Wheels observe you’d have constructed as a child — that’s, in case your toy finances accounted for hundreds of thousands of tiny mannequin pine bushes. That is neither freeway driving nor metropolis driving. Embrace it. There’s not a lackluster vista to be discovered, however don’t miss the Panorama Vista — a flat, sky-scraping lookout seemingly invented for the digicam operate that shares its identify.

Picnic and pitstop on Cedar Lake

Simply north of the byway, there’s an 86-acre lake, surrounded by a community of quick nature trails (together with a scenic 3-mile hike across the lake perimeter) and outfitted with a ship ramp, fishing piers and a swimming space. Cedar Lake is stocked with largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill to scrub and grill for a picnic lunch in the event you introduced alongside a rod and sort out field. When you bought an early begin and are searching for a extra rigorous day hike (or a leisurely in a single day hike, for that matter), the trailhead for Horsethief Springs Path is within the picnic space; the 11-mile loop crosses a number of streams on the best way up Winding Stair Mountain and joins up with the mighty Ouachita Path earlier than circling again down the northern face of the height to Cedar Lake.

photo of Train at Queen Wilhelmina Lodge in the fogStephanie Smittle
AT QUEEN WILHELMINA STATE PARK: A decommissioned locomotive.

It’s good to be Queen (Wilhelmina)

Named by Dutch traders after their matriarch, Queen Wilhelmina State Park (3877 state Freeway 88, Mena, Ark., 479-394-2863) seems to the eastward traveler simply after crossing the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line, towering and ambassadorial on the hillside. The “Fort within the Sky” lodge, in-built 1898 and rebuilt twice since then, sits on the apex of Arkansas’s second highest peak and has 38 rooms and a restaurant. A 1.5-mile miniature railroad runs between the campground and the lodge between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Within the occasion the byway overlooks left you wanting extra, the fast 1.3-mile loop path out to Lover’s Leap and again rewards the hiker with one other sprawling view of the rolling Ouachitas. Don’t miss one of many guided excursions of the “Marvel Home,” an architectural oddity constructed in 1931 that homes 9 ranges in what seems, from the surface, to be a modest two-story rock domicile.

Mangia in Mena

If the lodge restaurant doesn’t journey your set off for dinner, there are a few locations open within the night in downtown Mena: Branding Iron BBQ & Steak Home (623 Sherwood Ave., Mena, Ark., 479-437-3240) serves up fried inexperienced tomatoes and potato-and-brisket soup with aged Black Angus steaks and complete racks of ribs. Or, in the event you’ve landed in Mena on a weekday, duck into Suzy Q’s Candy Lotions & Espresso (601 Mena St., Mena, Ark., 479-216-6770), an enthralling boutique storefront within the historic downtown district that pairs after-dinner delights like affogato, hand pies and old school banana splits with classic tabletop board video games.

image of Kathryn Moore Stucker, proprietor of the Lum and Abner Jot 'Em Down StoreStephanie Smittle
VISIT THE LUM AND ABNER JOT ‘EM DOWN STORE: And proprietor Kathryn Moore Stucker in Pine Ridge, Ark.

Pay homage to Arkansas’s comedy pioneers

In your drive down winding Wealthy Mountain (and out of the clouds), you’ll cross by the rolling farmland within the cities of Ink and Yocana into Pine Ridge, house of the Lum and Abner Jot ’Em Down Retailer (4562 State Freeway 88 W., Pine Ridge, Ark., 870-362-4442). Contained in the partitions of the 1909 constructing — which doubles because the neighborhood’s official put up workplace — you may get misplaced in a trove of artifacts detailing the careers of Chester Lauck and Norris Goff, the comedy duo who broadcast over 5,000 radio exhibits beneath their adopted hillbilly monikers, Columbus “Lum” Edwards and Abner Peabody. The true gem right here, although, is Kathryn Moore Stucker, the museum proprietor/curator and Pine Ridge historian who stewards the store, who unquestionably is aware of extra about Lum and Abner historical past than anybody else on Earth. Must you want sustenance earlier than that eastward stretch, cease in to the Skyline Cafe (618 Mena St., Mena, Ark., 479-394-5152) and seize some eggs with kielbasa at one among Arkansas’s oldest diners. Convey money; Skyline doesn’t settle for credit score/debit playing cards.

image of cheeseburger from the Dairyette in Mount IdaStephanie Smittle
DRIVE-IN DELIGHT: The cheeseburger from the Dairyette in Mount Ida.

Dine on the Dairyette

Enterprise hours on the Dairyette (717 U.S. Freeway 270, Mount Ida, Ark., 870-867-2312) typically imply the sq. footage of the dairy bar equals lower than the sq. footage taken up by the automobiles and vehicles huddled round it. A limeade or a milkshake needs to be on the high of your to-do listing, and the cheeseburger is quintessential drive-in fare.

Cruise Crystal Nation

This slice of Montgomery County is located atop large quartz deposits, and newbie miners will pay a each day or hourly payment to hack away at uncovered hillsides in quest of geological treasure at a handful of crystal mines open to the general public. Should-haves for a day dig: outdated garments, gloves, water, sunscreen and a digging device commensurate to the scale crystal you hope to haul house (shovel, crowbar, screwdriver). Fashionable mines embrace the Jim Coleman Rock Store & Crystal Mine (5837 state Freeway 7 N., Jessieville, Ark.), Wegner Crystal Mines (82 Wegner Crystal Ranch Street, Mount Ida, Ark., 870-867-2309) and the Coleman Miller Mountain Mine (358 Bighole Street, Jessieville, Ark., 501-984-5257). Paying a go to to the web site of the mine of your selection may spare you an idle wait; quartz farmers are folks of routine and sometimes have set departure occasions for the journey from their rock store to their tucked-away mines.

Pull up a barstool on the Shangri-La

This mid-century marina’s roots lie within the days when Individuals first fell in love with the thought of the household car — and with street tripping. Boathouse decor adorns the cafe at Shangri-La Resort (987 Shangri La Street, Mount Ida, Ark., 870-867-2011) the place, for 50 years, proprietor Varine Carr has been stocking the pie cooler with delights like coconut creme, butterscotch, lemon, cherry and chocolate pies price pairing with a cup of espresso or packing up for a mid-float snack.

Cool off in Lake Ouachita

Arkansas’s largest lake (after Bull Shoals, that’s, which we share with Missouri) is the stuff of fairytales: 40,000 acres of dense forest with epic mountain biking alongside the Lake Ouachita Vista Path, vacation spot striped bass fishing, boat/kayak leases and round 200 islands to discover. The lake’s 16-mile Geo-Float Path, marked by yellow buoys, provides motorboaters a tour previous the quartz-veined Zebra Rock, pure seashores and cliffside rock formations whose waves and curves element hundreds of thousands of years of geological historical past.

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