Day 1 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways in the USA
Nine hours and 260 miles later I have arrived at my campsite for the night in Queen Wilhelmena State Park in Arkansas, not quite to Mena. What a day! My mom, Bart and Gabby wished me goodbye around 8 this morning, and I spent the rest of the morning driving to Talihina (Indian for iron road), Oklahoma (Indian for red people) to start my first scenic drive, the Talimena Scenic Byway. Long drives are always good for random thoughts, interesting radio shows, and unique billboards to say the least.
To get to Talihina, I had to drive toward Bonham, TX, a client I used to work on. That was a work reminder…YIKES – no work thoughts allowed! Now retired from 12 years of public finance investment banking, I’m off on a year long journey. The work of financing hospitals probably also made me notice the billboard for a hospital in Paris, TX that said the guaranteed wait time for the ER was ONLY 30 minutes!! If you’re hurt and it’s not life threatening, go there…even with the drive time you could still get seen faster than most places in the metroplex – haha.
Now to the good stuff. The drive through Oklahoma, despite the rain and fog was still beautiful…grassy fields, rolling hills, countless creeks and rivers, and mountains while only 2,700 feet high looked much grander (when I could see them) due to the vistas.
My first real stop after getting some help at the Ouachita National Forest Visitor Center was Old Military Road, normally a popular picnic site with trails and this historic marker pictured to the right. Given the weekday and rain, no one was there except mowers, and an older gentleman by the name of Logan Brown who has been coming to the Ouachita Mountains every year (sometimes twice a year) since 1966. After that, there were numerous vistas. The ridge tops are covered with “dwarf” mature oaks whose growth is stunted from the cold winds and ice in the winter.
I made a promise to myself before I started out on this journey to stop and take a picture when I passed scenic turnouts since I’ve never previoualy stopped. This promise has resulted in 20 turnouts in less than 50 miles! We’ll see how long that lasts, especially since, many of the views were cloud covered. I paralled the Ouachita mountain range that uniquely runs east/west which is unusual for this continent with most mountain ranges following the north/south directions to my next stop Horsethief Spring.
Horsethief Spring, according to Reader’s Digest got its name from horse trafficking in the 1800’s. Horses were smuggled from the Ouachita Mountains to Texas. The bandits’ activities were so blatant that the route was dubbed Horsethief Trail and the watering hole where they camped – Horsethief Spring.
Finally I decided to go for a hike. The folks manning the Visitor’s Center clued me in on a short loop called Mountain Top Trail. I figured that would be better than setting out on the 192 mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail.
I think the hardest it rained all day was the 45 mintues the dogs and I set out hiking. I briefly thought about geocaching, but it was just too wet, and Petey’s face said, I want back in the van! If it weren’t the first day, I probably wouldn’t have been so gung ho to walk in the deluge. At least the shower washed the bug grave yard off the front of my van and force me to pull in early and learn van camping techniques. So far everything is taking about 3 times longer…which container is the flashlight in…where are my cotton balls?
I crossed into Arkansas before settling on the campgrounds at Queen Wilhelmina State Park . The lodge where you check in is named for the original structure built by investors from the Netherlands in 1898. According to Reader’s Digest, the investors had hoped if they named the hotel after the queen, then Queen Wilhelmina would come visit. She never came, and the hotel failed a few years later. Off to Hot Springs, Arkansas tomorrow where I will begin the Scenic Highway 7 drive. ETB
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