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9 hours and 260 miles later I have arrived at my campsite for the night in Queen Wilhelmena State Park in Arkansas, not quite to Mena.  What a day!  My mom, Bart and Gabby wished me goodbye around 8 this morning, and I spent the rest of the morning driving to Talihina (Indian for iron road), Oklahoma (Indian for red people) to start my first scenic drive, the Talimena Scenic Byway.  Long drives are always good for random thoughts, interesting radio shows, and unique billboards to say the least.

To begin, I think I got more mosquito bites in the hour loading the van and filling the water tank than I did the whole time I was in Africa…bug spray would have been more useful in Dallas.  Next, how do people commute?!?  The first 50 miles of my trip North on 75, I watched the southbound parking lot…the 10 minutes of the morning show on 102.9 on the way to work was perfect for me.  Speaking of, I haven’t listened to the morning show for almost 2 months…I kind of missed it.  Today they were talking about spa treatments all the way from Morocco that are now available in Dallas – a coffee/lemon mudwrap is used for detox – Tonya/Kris – no need to drink the coffee and lemon concoction from Egypt – now you can just soak in it!

To get to Talihina, I had to drive toward Bonham, TX, a client I used to work on.  That was a work reminder…YIKES – no work thoughts allowed!  I guess 12 years of history will do that to you.  Work probably also made me notice the billboard for a hospital in Paris, TX that said the guaranteed wait time for the ER was ONLY 30 minutes!!  If you’re hurt and it’s not life threatening, go there…even with the drive time you could still get seen faster than most places in the metroplex – haha. 

Now to the good stuff.  The drive through Oklahoma, despite the rain and fog was still beautiful…grassy fields, rolling hills, countless creeks and rivers, and mountains while only 2,700 feet high looked much grander (when I could see them) due to the vistas.

My first real stop after getting some help at the Ouachita National Forest Visitor Center was Old Military Road, normally a popular picnic site with trails and this historic marker pictured to the right.  Old Military Road, Ouachita MountainsGiven the weekday and rain, no one was there except mowers, and an older gentleman by the name of Logan Brown who has been coming to the Ouachita Mountains every year (sometimes twice a year) since 1966.  After that, there were numerous vistas.  I made a promise to myself before I started out on this journey to stop and take a picture when I passed scenic turnouts since I’ve never stopped before – well, I stopped 20 times in less than 50 miles!  We’ll see how long that lasts.
ouachita mountains, sugarloaf vista

Mountains and valleys are behind the clouds

To top it off, many of the views were cloud covered.  You wouldn’t have to go to Kilimanjaro to hike above the clouds…you could just go to the Ouachita Mountains and it’s not nearly as cold (though I will say when you’re used to 100 degrees, the low 70’s feels quite chilly!)  At least I’ll sleep well tonight.

Sunset Point Vista – beautiful!

The Ouachita Mountains run east/west – unusual for this continent with most mountain ranges following the north/south directions.

Horesthief Spring, ouachita mountains

The old watering hole – dried up now

The next stop, Horsethief Spring, according to Reader’s Digest got its name from horse trafficking in the 1800’s.  Horses were smuggled from the Ouachita Mountains to Texas.  The bandits’ activities were so blatant that the route was dubbed Horsethief Trail and the watering hole where they camped – Horsethief Spring.

Finally I decided to go for a hike.  The folks manning the Visitor’s Center clued me in on a short loop called Mountain Top Trail.  I figured that would be better than setting out on the 192 mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail.

My wet rats

I think the hardest it rained all day was the 45 mintues the dogs and I set out hiking.  I briefly thought about geocaching, but it was just too wet, and Petey’s face said, I want back in the van!  If it weren’t the first day, I probably wouldn’t have been so gung ho, but it was a good start, and it washed the bug grave yard off the front of my van and made me go ahead and pull in early to a campsite to dry off and learn van camping techniques.  So far everything is taking about 3 times longer…which container is the flashlight in…where are my cotton balls?

The campgrounds are super nice.  The lodge where you check in is named for the original structure built by investors from the Netherlands in 1898.  According to Reader’s Digest, the investors had hoped if they named the hotel after the queen, then Queen Wilhemena would come visit.  She never came, and the hotel failed a few years later.

Off to Hot Springs tomorrow where I will begin the Scenic Highway 7 drive.  I hope to couchsurf soon, but I have been so unorganized and playing catch up, that I’ve hardly had a chance to look at my route and find any couches available.

Websites:  www.fs.fed.us/r8/ouachita, www.queenwilhelmina.com

For notecards, key chains, or photos on canvas, visit http://www.notablenotecards.com or http://www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards

boots website copy

ETB

PS…I had a little trouble inserting the pictures and the font randomly changed as I was typing and I can’t find the edit button to adjust it, so this will have to do, especially with the slow connection in the middle of no where!

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