Talimena Scenic Drive

Before being recognized as a National Scenic Byway by the America's Byways program in 2005, this 54 mile (86.9 km) stretch of highway was known as the Talimena Scenic Drive. Most of the folks living in Talihina, OK (the westernmost end) and Mena, AR (the easternmost end) still call it the Talimena Scenic Drive. Or, they just call it the drive. It follows the part of the Ouachita mountains called (from East to West, Arkansas to Oklahoma) Rich Mountain and the Winding Stair National Recreation Area. In Arkansas it is AR HWY 88 and in Oklahoma it is OK SH 1 (State Highway 1). The road is two-lane but features 22 scenic vista pullouts (bring your camera!). These vistas have views that are indescribable. It is worth mentioning that on occasion the mountaintop which provides these breathtaking views is literally in the clouds. That's right, if there are low clouds the effect is like dense fog.

Queen Wilhelmina State Park

Queen Wilhelmina State Park (QWSP) is located 13 miles west of Mena on the Talimena Scenic Drive. Why Queen Wilhelmina? I'm glad you asked! Near the end of the 19th century Arthur Stillwell was a railroad developer for the Kansas City, Pacific and Gulf railroad who was instrumental in bringing the tracks through the area where the Talimena Scenic Drive would eventually be. He needed money and had pretty much used up all of the investors on this continent. So he turned to Holland for railroad capital. Mena, Arkansas sprang up, as a tent city initially, around 1898 and a train station sealed the deal there. Another station on the same rail line going through the valley between Rich Mountain and Blackfork Mountain, which run east and west as long ridges, was named Rich Mountain Station and a small community of Rich Mountain soon followed. A hotel lodge was built at the location atop Rich Mountain which later became QWSP. The Lodge had a Victorian theme and was built using the plentiful native stone. Guests would get off at Rich Mountain station and take a horse drawn carriage a very steep two miles to the Inn. It was named in honor of the young Dutch monarch Queen Wilhelmina who was invited to the June 22, 1898 grand opening to be held just four months before her crowning. The Queen never came, but no doubt appreciated the gesture. The railroad was sold and eventually became Kansas City Southern which it still is at time of this writing. Around 1910 money got scarce again and the Inn, by now nicknamed the Castle in the Sky, was closed and abandoned. The once opulent castle now provided shelter for open range sheep. In 1957 the site became Queen Wilhelmina State Park and the lodge was rebuilt using much of the original stone walls and reopened in June of 1963. It was going strong when a fire started in the kitchen ten years later on Nov 10, 1973. The Castle in the Sky was destroyed by the fire and rebuilt yet again, to re-open in Nov. 1975.

Ouachita National Recreation Trail

There are many trails along the Talimena Scenic Drive and listing them all is beyond the scope of this write-up but the Ouachita National Recreation Trail is just too cool to leave out. It begins at Talihina, Oklahoma close to where the Talimena Scenic Drive begins and stays roughly parallel and fairly close to it until about two miles east of QWSP then plunges to the valley floor and continues to Pinnacle Mountain State Park just west of Little Rock, AR. That is 223-miles (359 km). Better pack a lunch!

True Grit

The setting for the Charles Portis novel, "True Grit", is the Winding Stair Mountains of Eastern Oklahoma and that would have been a good place to film the movies based on it. Alas, the film producers apparently preferred the much different mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

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