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.

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