Sunday, July 23, 2023

2021-05-29: A Weekend Roadtrip up to Oklahoma's Ouachita National Forest and the Talimena National Scenic Byway

Well we had a 3-day weekend, so I decided another quick geocaching roadtrip in the GeoJeep was just what we needed. After a little research I discovered the Talimena National Scenic Byway located up in southeast Oklahoma and the Ouachita National Forest.  There's geocaching, offroad Jeep trails, and lots of scenic views. So we drove up from Central Texas yesterday and today we went for a drive. Follow along as we explore what I called the "Blue Ridge Parkway" of the mid-west...

Starting out in the town of McAlester in Pittsburg County, our first geocache was at the Oakhill Cemetery (GC3Q1R1). There were well over 16,000 burials here dating back to 1863. East of town, closer to Richville, is the Carbon Cemetery (GC425CH). This one is a bit smaller with less than 200 internments and even fewer remaining headstones.

Taking the rural backroads of Highway 1 into Latimer County, we soon encounter the Higgins Hitching Post geocache (GC6N344) and two more at the Mountain Station Cemetery (GC74MF4, GC77XHN). These were near the Overland-Butterfield Stage Route. The cemetery's earliest grave dates back to 1859. Andrew Mackey was killed in a stage coach wreck on a return from a California gold field.

Passing by Buffalo Mountain, we drove up to the top for our next geocache (GC3D0EJ). I didn't find the cache cause I wasn't up for bushwhacking at the time. But it was well worth the drive up as this is a spot used frequently by hang gliders and the views are spectacular.

At the western end of the Talimena National Scenic Byway is the former Welcome Center. It was recently closed due to budgetary cutbacks. Peaking through the windows it looks as though it had only been closed for a few  minutes. Everything is still in it's place. So I found the geocache (GC8JVDN) and we were on our way.

The Talimena Scenic Byway is a 54 mile drive through the Ouachita National Forest from Talihina, Oklahoma (OK-1) to Mena, Arkansas (AR-88). Let's begin the drive and take on the scenic vistas.

It didn't take long to get to the first roadside pull-off and geocache at the Choctaw Vista (GC1GNDE). A few people parked and taking in the scenery. Lucky for us none were interested in the ammo can geocache in the woods.

A few hundred feet and across the highway is parking for the Choctaw National Trail and another geocache with a bit of historical value (GCVKB6). After a short 0.2 mile hike from the parking area, I got about as good a photo as I can get of this nearly 200 year old road, abandoned, forgotten, and being reclaimed by nature. The Fort Smith to Fort Towson Military Road was constructed by hand in 1832 by the U.S. Army under the command of Capt John Stuart of the 7th Infantry. It extends over 130 miles of rugged terrain through the Choctaw Nation.

The road was originally used to relocate the Choctaw people to their new home in Indian Territory and to move supplies and troops between Fort Towson in Oklahoma and Fort Smith in Arkansas. Robert E. Lee, General Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, and other famous figures used the road. Travelers from Poteau, Wister and Talihina used the road until about 1930.

Our new roadside scenic view was at the Holson Valley Vista. Snapped some more photos and grabbed another geocache (GCXA75).

Next was the Panorama Vista, though with so many people at this stop I just wandered into the woods and grabbed the geocache (GCVKAG).

Soon after though there was another scenic vista and we once again stopped to view it. One legend has it that Deadman Vista got its name from many years ago when horse thieves were caught on a nearby trail. With justice swift back in those days, the thieves were hung from an oak tree in a nearby gap. Here's Candy taking pics at the scene and reading the historical markers.

This wasn't one of the scenic vista's, but after passing through here, I just had to have a photo. Drove a few miles to a spot I could make a u-turn. Then passed through again until I could find another spot for another u-turn. Then, safely parking off the road, I proceeded to take several photos. Oh, if only I still had my Corvette and traffic blocked for miles at both ends!

Upon reaching the north/south road of US259, we took a little side trip to the south. I like finding old abandoned sections of roads and bridges. And this "Lost Highway" geocache brought me right to one (GC34XWB). Safely pulling off onto the shoulder of US259 and taking a short hike along the old road alignment I found the old single lane bridge which crossed Big Cedar Creek almost completely reclaimed by nature.

A few miles further down US259 is the Pipe Springs geocache (GC40Z2M). Pipe Springs dates back to the 1920's when the Oklahoma-Rich Mountain Railroad built a fifteen mile spur from Page, Oklahoma to the new sawmill town of Pine Valley. The railroad workers drove a pipe into the ground to get water to supply their needs. It also provided clean fresh water to the loggers on the mountain.

So now to get back to the Talimena Scenic Byway, I could have just made a u-turn and gone back north on US259 and re-see what we just saw. Nope, we got to keep moving forward and discovering new things. Plus we got the GeoJeep! Right next to the pipe spring was this 2-track Jeep trail going east and reconnecting to Talimena. I can never remember to turn on the video for the entire trails,  but here's a short clip:

Back on the scenic byway, we make our way over to our next virtual geocache at the Kerr Nature Center (GCH896). But it was closed.

Moving right along down to the Sunset Point Vista. At this scenic view parking area there were two earthcaches (GC3R2NE, GCZ8ZT) and a traditional geocache (GC2JRG5). The earthcaches focused on the folds of the earth and the glaciers that were in this region. The traditional was a short hike up the hill where I took this photo looking back at the GeoJeep.

So the plan was to drive all the way across the Scenic Byway over to Mena, Arkansas. But it is already nearing 5:00 PM and we haven't even reached the Oklahoma-Arkansas State Line yet. After too more geocaches at the Kiamichi Valley Vista (GCTXYH) and Chaha Vista (GC8HT2Z), I decide that it's best to go ahead and backtrack to US259 heading south.

We arrive at the Three Sticks Monument virtual geocache (GC69F2). The dedication sign at Three Sticks says they symbolize land, wood and water. It recognizes U.S. Sen. Robert S. Kerr, U.S. Sen. Mike Monroney, U.S. Rep. Carl Albert, Gov. Raymond Gary and R.G. Miller for their contributions to conservation in southeastern Oklahoma. It's too bad the vandals have to put their graffiti all over it.

On the way to Three Sticks, we passed by this other monument so we backtracked to see what it was. Turns out there was also a geocache there too (GC20VE3). On Oct. 29, 1961, President John F. Kennedy and his entourage traveled to southeastern Oklahoma to dedicate a highway. US259 was a much-needed north-south thoroughfare, opening up that part of the state for commerce and tourism. It was an astounding moment in history; the president of the United States on hand for an Oklahoma highway dedication. The State of Oklahoma and the Knights of Columbus marked the occasion with this granite stone.

One final geocache (GC3DZWV) stop before making the trek back to civilization in search of dinner! Lenox Mission School established in 1853 by Dr. Simon L. Hobbs and wife as part of the Presbyterian Church mission. This is the site of the mission. The marker on the highway says that they started with 48 students. Nothing remains except for a small, fenced cemetery. Dr. and Mrs. Hobbs are buried in this cemetery.

That's our journey across most of the Talimena National Scenic Byway. I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps added it to your "To-Do" list the next time you're in SE Oklahoma.

To follow along on our travels and keep up with my latest blogs, you may do so here of course by clicking the "Follow" button to the right. And there's also my main website at AwayWeGo.US for the complete index of my traveling adventures going back to 2005. But also by using one or more of your favorite of these social media platforms: FacebookMeWeGabRedditTwitterGETTRInstagram, and TruthSocial. These all link directly to my profiles. Again, please feel free to comment and / or share.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

2021-04-02: Day 11 Finishing Route 66 in Oklahoma and Turning South into Texas and Returning Home

Well finally we've reached the eleventh and last day of our roadtrip adventure. We started out in Maiden, NC in what Google said would take 18 hours and 1210 miles to drive to Killeen, TX. Now here we are starting our 11th day in Oklahoma City, following the famous Route 66, and soon to be making that left turn down into Texas. On this final day we found more Route 66 roadside attractions, more historic buildings and bridges, a ghost town and of course more geocaching counties! So without further delay, hope on board for the ride and let me show you what great places we found today...

Our first stop was for the Osiyo Big Cherokee geocache (GC96K4R). Located at the Cherokee Trading Post and Travel Center, it was a busy place. Lots of muggles prevented us from finding this geocache. Fortunately I found a previous geocache here, now archived, and already had the county.

On the side of one of the buildings there was this huge mural and statue depicting a scene from life here in the 1800's. This is just a small portion of that mural.

Just a few miles west down Old U.S. Highway 66 into Caddo County, and we get to another one of my favorite historical structures. The Pony Bridge (GC8YAQ7) is the longest bridge on Route 66 at 3,944 feet. A joint venture Oklahoma Federal Aid Project No. 164-H and officially named the William H. Murray Bridge, it spans across the South Canadian River and was completed on July 1, 1933. It was nicknamed the "Pony Bridge" because of its 38 pony style trusses.

Across the county we found the historical Provine Station and our next geocache (GCY1GQ). This old Route 66 gas station was built by Carl Ditmore in 1929. W.O. Waldrop purchased the gas station in 1934 and renamed it the Provine Station. A small tourist court was added for overnight stays. In 1941 Lucille and Carl Hamons became the next owners where they raised their three children in the upstairs living quarters. Lucille operated the business for 59 years.

Continuing westbound into Custer County and past Weatherford, my next geocache stop was for a "Cache Across America - Oklahoma" cache (GCXD60). There's nothing special about the cache or location. However this is a series and there is only one in each state with a bonus in Washington DC. I try to get them whenever I'm in the vicinity. One day when I finally retire, I'll plan a road trip specifically to get the remaining states in the series.

Well it's about that time now when we reached US-183 in Clinton, Oklahoma and leave Route 66 to make that left turn and drive south towards Texas.

A minute later we cross over into Washita County and soon arrived into the town of Bessie. Our first stop was at the Peace Lutheran Church. The church was organized in 1893. Land was given and a church building / schoolhouse was erected in 1906. This current building was constructed in 1942. The Lutheran Cemetery is next door as well. 

Another historical building in town, and the location of our next geocache (GC15MV7), was the 1916 Bessie Schoolhouse. There's a pretty nice mural on the side of the building depicting scenes of the early days in Bessie. Next door to the schoolhouse was where the bank used to be. Frank Simpson and Fletcher Rickard robbed the bank on January 24, 1928. During the robbery, the cashier of the bank, Ben Kiehn, was killed and Fletcher Rickard was wounded and died later the same day. Simpson escaped and was never caught. The granite cornerstones and granite "Bank" stone are part of the Bessie Memorial Park.

Continuing southbound on US-183, we passed through this small town called Rocky, Oklahoma. Rocky was established in 1898 when two businessmen settled and opened the Rocky Mercantile Store constructed from rock gathered at the Kiowa Reservation. At it's peak in 1930, the population was around 500. Today it is barely over 100. This old church and house caught my attention and I stopped for a quick photo.

Crossing over into Kiowa County, the next town is Hobart, OK. The Rock Island Depot (GCD1E8) was built in 1909 and was used until the 1970's. This was a busy location during the growing years of Hobart. these include World War I and II. The rapidly growing farming industry depended on this rail service to transport it's products. It was left in disrepair until the Kiowa county historical preservation society acquired it in 1987. After many hours of volunteer work and money it was reopened as a museum.

South of Hobart was the small community of Babbs. A picnic area along US-183 is the Babbs Switch Memorial and a virtual geocache (GCD1E9). It was set up to remember those who perished on Christmas Eve in 1924. On this date a Christmas party was going on in a 1-room frame school house when a candle, that was lit on the tree, started a fire. Since the doors to the room opened inward, the kids panicked, pressed against it and could not open it. Everyone inside perished. The school was rebuilt and was used to point the way to safer county schools nationwide. This tragic event is the reason all school doors open outward.

Our next two geocaches were in Tillman County at the Frederick Cemetery (GC7A74B, GC2HNE8). There are over 12,000 internments dating back to 1844. We didn't have time to look around so just finding the geocaches, a photo, and back on the road.

Well we finally made it to the Oklahoma-Texas state line. This means crossing the Red River Bridge (GC8D4F0). Even though highway traffic crosses a newer modern bridge, the old US-70/US-183 bridge is still there. The plaque mentions that it was built in 1939 by the Texas and Oklahoma Highway Departments. The length of its largest span is 75 feet, with a total length of of 5,463.2 feet and a deck width of 24 feet.

One last stop in Texas before reaching home. I wanted to stop by this old abandoned schoolhouse in the ghost town of Gilliland since we were so close. Back a couple of years ago when I was working nearby, I hid a geocache here and it seems to have gone missing. So I replaced it.

I wrote a blog a while back specifically about this town of Gilliland. I tell of the town's history and share a lot of photos of some of the abandoned businesses and houses. You can take a look and read the stories by clicking here.

So that was our 11 Day, 3404 Mile Adventure starting in North Carolina and returning to Texas. Taking the long northerly route of course! Here's a recap with links to each days blog post:

Day #1Turning a 1400 Mile Drive into a 3404 Mile Road Trip! Day 1 in North Carolina and Virginia
Day #2Virginia, DC, Maryland, and Pennsylvania
Day #3: Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio
Day #4: Ohio and Indiana
Day #5Visiting the Birthplace of Ben Hur in Indiana
Day #6Visiting Presidents Lincoln and Reagan in Illinois
Day #7Touring More Abraham Lincoln and Route 66 Sites in Illinois
Day #8Visiting history in St Louis, Missouri via Route 66 and the Gateway Arch
Day #9Exploring the Historic Route 66 Through Missouri
Day #10Cruising Route 66 Through Kansas and Oklahoma

To follow along on our travels and keep up with my latest blogs, you may do so here of course by clicking the "Follow" button to the right. But also by using one or more of your favorite of these social media platforms: FacebookMeWeGabRedditTwitterGETTRInstagram, and TruthSocial. These all link directly to my profiles. Again, please feel free to comment and / or share.