By Jamie Hammack
Here is a question. Have you driven the Talimena National Scenic Byway lately? Have you ever? Many people who have lived in the area haven’t done so. I know, I know. You’re busy and don’t have time for it. But you probably aren’t THAT busy and could take the drive to see what others drive hundred of miles to see. The beauty that is on our doorstep here in the Ouachita’s. It’s a short drive each way, only 54 miles on Arkansas Highway 88 to Oklahoma 1 into Talihina and it’s filled with places to pull over and take in the views from atop the mountains. Opened in 1969 and dedicated by Lucy Baines Johnson, the daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1970. From the Byways vistas you can see thousands of acres of pine and hardwoods. Aside from the valleys below, much of it is stunted growth and was of no use to log and thus it is old growth. Ponds and fields dot the landscape as you look out over the Winding Stair Mountains onto land, because of how water drains through the rocks and sediments, has more in common with a desert than a forest.
As the drive winds its way across mountain tops be sure to stop at some of the picturesque vistas like Kiamichi Valley Vista. Don’t be tourist, driving by slow enough to take a pic with your phone only to hit the highway without stopping to continue along. Stop. Get out of the car and take it in. Listen to what you hear around you. The cool wind blowing through the trees. Birds chirping. Smell the fresh air. Take it all in and enjoy it. There are numerous vistas along the Byway where you can do so. They are wonderful places for you to just go, sit and decompress from whatever ails you.
At the halfway point you’ll arrive in Talihina, Oklahoma. The name is said to come from two Choctaw words. “Tully” and “hena”, meaning Iron Road, a reference to the railroad the town was built around. Before heading back to Polk County try one of the local restaurants to fill your belly, then as you leave crank up some Kings of Leon and their song, Talihina Sky, enjoy the drive back, and feel good that you live in such a wonderful place with so much beauty nearby.