I remember when I was a kid going on family excursions to see the fall leaves in the mountains. It seemed like it took more than a little bit to get there and I got car sickness that made my head feel like it was in a vice. But I liked to go on those trips and have returned as an adult, so I must have been impressed with Talimena Drive.
As I recall, it was not only a lesson in appreciating nature’s aesthetics but my dad also would impart knowledge in tidbits. One example: The route is called Talimena because it’s the combination of Talihina, Okla., and Mena, Ark. — the names of the towns it connects.
This 54-mile stretch of Oklahoma State Highway 1 and Arkansas Highway 88 is deemed a “national scenic byway” and offers many turnouts to stop and soak in the landscape. That makes the byway a destination itself.
I just like the scenery and finding non-domesticated animals I can shoot with my camera. This little outing costs basically only what is spent pumping that apparent liquid gold into the gas tank. And finding the miles of hiking trails could cut that expense if I forfeited part of the drive in favor of navigating on foot.
Honestly, I didn’t realize there were so many things to “do” after the two-hour dive.
There are multiple lakes, rivers and streams in this area of eastern Oklahoma. People go fishing, boating and camping. I also found out there are equestrian camps and ranches for people who want to observe the beauty of Ouachita and Kiamichi mountains on horseback. And there’s white-water canoeing too.
The most popular time to visit the route is during the fall. Peak foliage season is somewhere in the range of late October to mid-November. If planning a trip to see trees of many colors, it’s a good idea to check online for each year’s optimal time. Several years ago, I was disappointed when I went expecting to see foliage and found a lot of bare branches. I learned my lesson.
I’ve also discovered that Sulphur — a little more than an hour’s drive from Durant — is a nice place to visit for people who like to be close to nature and wildlife. The town is touted as the “gateway to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.” Another “critter lover” and I stayed in a bed and breakfast just yards from a northern entry to that park.
The B&B was quaint. Its Website said it was “the last of the fine old bathhouses that once dotted Oklahoma.” I’m not sure if that part is true, but I know there was an old bathtub set near the front door with a hearty bunch of white flowering plants growing in it.
A very nice man ran the place. He cooked our breakfast and didn’t mind that we played the old piano, which also played all by itself, and tried a couple of hands at the accordion. He had quirky antiques and collectibles all around the house. (The bathing part, in case someone wondered, actually involved rooms more like his and her community showers. Not my favorite part, but not too bad either.)
On the east side of the house was a big porch for relaxing. There were bicycles propped up out there too. I borrowed one (as a guest, I was allowed) to ride up the winding hill. It was very nice. The park entrance opens right into a large picnic area with an expansive canopy of trees.
I went on up the road until deciding to turn right onto another road that led to a small lake surrounded by a walking path. I followed the path on the bike and thought all that would be quite enjoyable as a back yard.
Chickasaw Recreation Area has 30-plus miles of maintained trails that range from short/level to steep/uneven. I sent my mom, who’s afraid of heights, a few photos of me standing on a ledge. On the way to one of the flat trails, we visited the Travertine Nature Center and saw a few informational exhibits.
Besides the squirrels and rabbits running loose, we noticed a deer beside a winding park road. We saw some bison in the park, just off Highway 177. Another road took us to a relatively secluded spot where an owl flew right over the car. The photos might have turned out better if it hadn’t been dusk and I hadn’t been so excited that such a pretty (and big) bird I’d never seen before just swooped down so close to the windshield.
The park offers such a serene atmosphere. I would recommend it to anyone — except hunters. Y’all stay away.
Also note that the Chickasaw Cultural Center is at the western edge of Sulphur. The building and grounds were impressive, and the displays and activities were interesting and informative.