I've lived in Oklahoma all my life. Born here, raised here, and will most likely die here. The winters and summers are comparably mild; Spring and Fall are the best times. For those who have never been here, many people think of a place dominated by cowboys and Indians. And although we do have real cowboys (yes, they ride horses and raise cattle) and Indians (no, they don't live in teepees and run around half naked) here, the thing that really makes Oklahoma a great place is its natural beauty.
Oklahoma features all types of terrain from flat plains to rolling hills and an "almost mountain" to the densely wooded Ouachita National Forest in the southeastern portion of the state. Winding through the Ouachita Forest (pronounced wash-e-taw) is a 54-mile long stretch of highway known as Talimena Drive which connects Talihina, Oklahoma and Mena, Arkansas--hence the name. From approximately the last week in October through the first couple of weeks of November, the Talimena Drive is a favorite spot to view all of the brilliant fall colors.
Even though my wife and I are both life-long Okies, neither of us had been on the Talimena Drive. We decided this past weekend we would fix that situation. Friday afternoon, we drove to Poteau, OK--about an hour north of Mena, AR. Because we decided to make our road trip at the last minute, we weren't able to find accommodations in Mena. (Note: We determined early on that we wanted to make the scenic drive from east to west. Although it was a little longer drive to the starting point in Mena, it would make for a shorter drive home.) We stayed at the Best Western Traders Inn and opted for the King Suite --about $15 more than their standard Queen room-- which consisted of a King-size bed and a separate sitting area with a couch and occasional chair. Both rooms had a nice sized flat panel TV.
We checked into our room and then headed to downtown Poteau to check out a local steakhouse: Warehouse Willies. I had Willies specialty, the ribeye, while Dana enjoyed their bacon wrapped filet. Both steaks were very tender and cooked to perfection. Dinners came with baked potato and salad. The decor is probably best described as eclectic--everything from old signs, tools, screen doors and vinyl records covered the walls. I'd recommend Willies if you're in the area.
The next morning we made the short drive to Mena and ate breakfast at Skyline Cafe. GREAT biscuits and gravy! Dana got her usually scrambled egg(s) and bacon and I opted for eggs over-easy and grits--my favorite. Service was a little slow, but it was a Saturday morning and the place was PACKED. The wait staff did a great job of taking orders, keeping coffee cups filled and getting the food out to us. Nothing fancy about the Skyline's decor, just good old southern style cooking.
There are 26 different stops/vistas along the Talimena Drive. Several publications stated you could make the route in about an hour and a half if you didn't stop. Average time ranged from four to six hours if you stopped at each location. We took about four hours--we didn't stop at all of the vistas and our trip was slowed a bit by the heavy fog that rolled in that morning. Visibility was so bad at one point, we could only see about 10 yards in front of my truck! We drove through the Queen Wilhelmina State Park and could barely see the lodge. On a sunny day, I'm sure it's very nice.
By the time we reached the Kerr Nature Center, a little over half way long the drive, the fog had lifted and we were able get out and enjoy a walk along one of the trails there. As we approached the end of the drive it began to sprinkle rain, and by the time we pulled into the East Visitor's Center, it was a downpour! Perfect timing...and a great weekend getaway!