New national scenic byway in Oklahoma, Arkansas

Monday, December 5th 2005, 12:57 pm
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ On a new national scenic byway in the Ouachita Mountains, motorists can see both the forests and the trees.

Talimena Scenic Drive takes visitors through thick woods and over quiet mountaintops in the Ouachita National Forest in southeastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

The drive can be made in a little over an hour, but the U.S. Forest Service recommends taking a more leisurely pace along the 55-mile stretch of sylvan stillness from Talihina, Okla., to Mena, Ark., through mountains that are millions of years old.

In highway terms, the Talimena byway is Oklahoma 1 that snakes through the forest and becomes State Route 88 at the Arkansas state line before reaching the end of the drive.

``It's a mix of pine and hardwood trees so we have color all year round. It's just an incredible visual experience,'' Forest Service spokeswoman C.J. Norvell said after the agency officially dedicated the byway at a ceremony at Queen Wilhemina State Park in Arkansas on Nov. 18.

The Ouachita National Forest is the South's oldest and largest national forest with more than 1.7 million acres. The drive bends along Winding Stair Mountain in Oklahoma and reaches its highest point at 2,530 feet on Rich Mountain in Arkansas, ``where you can just see miles and miles and miles around,'' Norvell said.

Along the way, motorists may spot bear, deer, or other wildlife. They can stop at picnic areas or campgrounds and walk the forest trails. They can vacation at Queen Wilhemina lodge. In earlier years, the forest was a hunting spot for American Indians and early settlers and a hideout for outlaws.

Norvell advises modern-day visitors to bring food and make sure their fuel tanks have gas because there are no convenience stores.

``It's up and down and around so it's not a road that you're going to get on and go 55 miles per hour from start to finish,'' she said. ``And when you get onto the Arkansas side, there are some straight ways that run right along the top of Rich Mountain that are really spectacular. It will take you through a dwarf oak forest.''

On Rich Mountain, visitors can climb an old fire tower to get a view of the land.

The National Forest System declared the drive a scenic forest byway in 1989 but the stretch attained greater recognition for its beauty and significance to the country when the Federal Highway Administration in September designated the road a national scenic byway. The forest service ``sponsors'' the road and developed a management plan for its preservation.