Ouachita pics

The map below shows the eastern end of the Ouachita Mountains. McGee Creek Reservoir is the V-shaped lake just east of Atoka. The Talimena Scenic Drive starts on the green edge just east of Talihina.

The end of the trail at McGee Creek National Recreation Area

Back at camp

After the fog rolled in the next morning. Wish I had my kayaks.

Beginning of the Old Military Trail that connects to the Ouachita Nationsl Recreation Trail.

Talimena Scenic Drive

Dirt Road down the mountain that connects to the Oachita Trail.


Talimena Drive and the Ouachita Trail

Saturday morning we watched the mist roll into the lake from the far side as we ate previously hard boiled eggs, grape fruit, and sauteed chicken with homemade bread on the side. This shored us up for our Ouachita hike and drive. The mountains got steeper and higher as we ventured northeast. It was still cloudy but not foggy when we stopped at Talimena State Park, a mile ahead of the Talimena Scenic Drive to check out the google-indicated trailhead to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. The park lady said it doesn’t start there and gave George a couple of 8×11″ maps indicating a couple of short recommended loop trails off the scenic hwy as alternatives to through hiking. We spent all day reconciling the loop hiking map with the Scenic hwy map with Google maps location of the OT. There was only one landmark they all had in common, the Winding Stair Campground.

My objective for the day was to view the trailhead, hike for about an hour on our sore feet from the day before, assess other OT access sites and check out future camping options. Regarding the last point, the two above mentioned campgrounds were way too claustrophobic for our situation. McGee Creek is much more secluded and spacious, despite the one pad that was too close to us. No one was on our other side overlooking the lake, and there were plenty of other options, including cabins if I want to bring the kayaks instead of the camper.

After the beginning of the Talimena Scenic Hwy we finally located the Old Military Trail access. It was constructed in the early 1800’s and went from Ft. Smith to the Red River. If you take it south it joins the OT after about a mile, which does indeed start at the Talimena State Park. It wasn’t a good place for us to hike anyway, but why did she say that? There’s a pretty long loop you can take there. After taking a picture of the entrance to the Old Military Road we drove on. After a while we stopped at what we guessed was the “overlook” indicated on the paper map for the nice loop trail she recommended. There are about 20 overlooks with names on the other paper map, and they didn’t bother to say which one. This overlook, in addition to all the other ones, was very crowded with Indians from India and black-leathered motorcyclists. I hadn’t counted on the peak fall foliage Saturday crowds. Mercy can’t handle them in close quarters. While George used the facilities, I noticed a middle aged biker with a handle-bar mustache and a bandana. Mercy had barked at him, but she calmed down after he sat there waiting for his wife who was in front of George in line at the bathroom. More on that later. When George returned I looked at my google map for what may be a more remote entrance. There was a small road that went north off the hwy that didn’t have a parking area and intersected the OT. We turned on this, turns out, dirt, single lane, cliff lined road and shortly saw some hot pink tape hanging around what looked like a trail. There was indeed nowhere to park without blocking the one lane. So we drove down to an intersection with another dirt road to turn around. It was pretty, but not an access point unless you were being dropped off.

Winding Stair Campground was at the end of the suggested 2 mile loop that was recommended, and a few miles before that we finally saw some pedestrian crossing marks on the road, and went on to the campground. This place was also pretty crowded, again with Indians and bikers and there were big dogs off leash, belonging to a rare unmotorcycled white guy, that Mercy barked at till we passed them. We found a campsite near the trail head that was out of the way, and parked our car there. The sun was beginning to peak out pretty often and we were shortly in the woods. We did the 2 mile suggested hike across the highway, along the Mountain Top trail west, running parallel but far enough in the woods, along the downward slope of the mountainridge to not see or hear the highway. This was very nice, and clearly marked where to cross again for the short loop which took us briefly up the mountain and back east on the Ouachital Trail (finally!), back to the car. It was just right. It was 4:45 by then, and we still had to cook dinner, pack up the camper, and make it home that night in order to take our daughter to Church on Sunday. So we head back west on the same road while the sun was setting.

Just before we get to the beginning of the Talimena Scenic Highway, theres a man at the top of the hill waving people to slow down. After we go over the hill we see a short line of cars not moving. We stop and a man comes to our car, setting Mercy off, but George could hear him over Mercy’s barking. He says there’s been a motorcycle accident. I can see reflections of emergency vehicle lights reflecting from around the bend on a car about 10 cars in front of us. Here we go again, waiting on a closed road for an accident to be cleared. Two Indian kids had gotten out of their car just ahead of us and were taking pictures of the guard rail beside us. Oh, that’s what Indians do, I thought, and occupied myself with my no reception phone and such. After about an hour George says he’s going to go see what’s going on. When he finally comes back he said he saw the large touring bike on its side, 2 ambulances, a guy with a bandage around his head and his arm with another guy sitting next to him. There’s also a crowd of witnesses close by that a policeman approaches and asks what happened. I forgot to mention earlier that there were ladybugs, the yellow biting kind, swarming wherever we went, except in the woods. They were all around our campsite and at the stops along the hwy. George said they were particularly thick among that group of people and he had to keep swatting them away. The witnesses said the bike went off the road, attempted to go back on, but hit the lip and flipped twice. “You mean he was run off the road?”, someone asked. George couldn’t hear the answer. The woman riding in back was in critical condition, and George said a prayer for her. Oh dear. We couldn’t roll the windows down while we waited because of the lady bugs. George said, “you know what those kids in front of us are looking at?” No. “Walking sticks.” What? Sure enough, I looked and there were tens of walking sticks along that guard rail that I could see from my window. I wonder if they eat lady bugs. Later we saw a Careflight helicopter approaching and saw a policeman with his orange spray paint marking the middle of the road. Must be bad. I bet Careflight landed at the visitor center at the entrance to the highway and they were going to drive her down there in the ambulance. I knew there would be no capable hospitals for a very long way. After about an hour and a half we were let through and we could see that the orange paint marked the beginning and end of skid marks that started on the inside, oncoming lane. Then we saw the dirt divots on the right side where the bike had gone off and on again. Then in the oncoming lane the bike and one of the ambulances.

In the Visitor’s Center we saw the helicopter turned off and the ambulance with not much activity outside it. Just a couple of people talking. That didn’t look good to me. After a few miles down the road I got a strong impression that the lady wanted people to appreciate the scenery, despite her death, and know that she died experiencing her favorite thing – a gorgeous day. She died quickly and with no pain.

George then told me that he thought he recognized the guy sitting bandaged on the curb as the guy waiting for his wife at that bathroom. She had been in front of him and had advised George to “use the bathroom on the right”. She seemed very nice. The man had been letting some Indians sit on his bike to have pictures taken.

I asked if he had a handlebar mustache, was older than us, and had a soft, round, weathered face and a bandana. He said yes, and that the bandana must have covered his bald head. Wow.

Then I looked up at the sky and there was the most perfectly formed profile angel wing connected to a body that had a cloud coming out the back of its head. I said, that’s her being taken to heaven by her angel, and she must have died of a head injury.

Later I found the article about it. She must have been on life support till that night because it said she died at the hospital in Fayetteville, Ark. She was from Farmersville, Tx, east of McKinney. Lord have mercy.

We made it home at 2am Saturday night. I napped in the car on the way home. George slept in the next morning and cleaned the car of dog hair and slobber while I took our daughter to Church.


McGee Creek Park’s National Scenic Recreation Area

Friday morning after breakfast we packed our Silk Soy Peach yogurt and Nature Valley dark chocolate almond protein bar to share, water bottle with a stevia sweetened flavor squirt, Keen hiking sandals, and the three dogs into the Jeep Grand Cherokee and headed around the country block with occasional abandoned little stores to the National Scenic Recreation Area that has over 25 miles of hiking trails, upland from the McGee Creek Reservoir. To hike you have to obtain a permit at the “closed” ranger station. In the dog run that included a very nice open bathroom, you fill out your information and where you plan to start hiking. There is also description of a first timer’s hike through the prettiest part, which we found compelling enough to try. As we were letting the dogs out of the Jeep, the Ranger and his wife rode up to the building on two horses and were letting them take a drink from the trough close to the building while their large, but old, brown dog sniffed about. This set Mercy off, so we put her back to them and continued to the trail.

You take the South rim trail north from the Ranger Station, take a left at the Little Bugaboo Creek trail, then another left onto the West Branch trail. This is a nice twisty turny up and downy forested shady trail with beautiful fall color in the deciduous trees mixed among the piney evergreens, and with large dark boulders randomly littered about. Then when you hit the West Boundary Trail you take the borderline back to the ranger station. But there is an option to keep going on down to the lake, which we did, and increased our hiking time at least an hour, making it 4 hours of beautiful, motivating exercise. Mercy loved being let off leash to take a couple of swims in the lake.

We didn’t see anyone else on the trails until we came up on the Ranger’s camper where his horses were tied up and his dog came around their tall chain linked fence to greet my dogs, which set Mercy and now Cassie off again. George and I tightened the leashes to no slack and tried to block the view with our bodies while the Ranger thankfully closed his gate with his dog inside. Good dog for listening. Schwew. Then we proceeded across the road to our car.

It was 5ish by the time we got back and it was cooling off. George made a lovely fire with our jointly gathered firewood, thanks, Oklahoma, and we were quite cozy through sunset with the dogs napping by the fire in between Mercy being put in time out in the camper when she barked at the arriving RVers. She eventually calmed down enough to join us again even though she growled briefly, until we hushed her, at people passing our camper on the way to the “Comfort Station” bathrooms. I cooked fish and canned seasoned squash on our propane range in the camper, which we had with a sunflower salad kit that I mixed. Quite filling and fortifying after our day. We ended it with some refreshing sparkly hard apple cider that George ferments in his closet. All five of us slept well that night. The dogs are pretty comfy on the overturned mattress on the bottom bunk in their dog beds over spread out garbage bags.



The Ouachita Mountains

We finally got past the fiery three semi truck wreck that completely closed down the oncoming lanes and eventually let our direction slowly by. We made it to McGee State Park at 1am, set up our camper and got to bed around 2am. 3 hours behind schedule. I just read that one of the semi drivers, 40-year-old Charles Prosser, died of his burns. God rest his soul.

Friday morning was cool and cloudy as we drank our coffee and ate our 50% less sugar cinnamon pecan oatmeal. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, thanks to George getting every other Friday off. Our coming very proximal (see Potapo campsite diagram. We were #1, they were #2. Next time we’ll try to get #8) neighbor’s reservations would start at 5pm. Our rescue dog, Mercy, has high anxiety over approaching men and most dogs. One of our other dogs, Cassie, usually joins in her reaction. We are hoping that over time she will get over it. She has made some progress in that the loud, dramatic reactions usually don’t last as long, providing the man doesn’t penetrate her space bubble, which is about 30 feet away. We had to make sure to attach her lead to a strategic tree behind the camper, fortunately close to the fire pit where we were hanging out, to decrease that likelihood.

We chose McGee State Park because it is the western tip of the Ouachita Mountains, and only 3.5 hours, under normal driving conditions, from our home, making it accessible after George gets off work. My interest in the Ouachita Mountains has many variables.

One, when I was around 13, my family had planned our second, after Big Bend when I was 6, biggest scenic vacation to date, to the Colorado Rockies. I was beyond excited. But right before we were to leave, my mother went to her heart doctor to clear it with him. He did not approve and told her to stay below 3000 feet. Since then I have hiked on 14,000 foot Rockies and indeed the thinner atmosphere is very taxing to the cardiovascular system. Anyway, my parents changed plans and we ended up making a couple of beautiful stops on our way to the Arkansas Ozarks. These are still mountains as the uplift is striking , steep and tall. The Red River that we crossed on the way is at 641 feet, 2000 feet below the highest peak in the Ouachita Mountains. One of our stops during that vacation was in the Ouachitas at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Arkansas, a very beautiful place.

Two, when were were at Big Bend National Park reading the geology plaques a few years ago, I learned that some of the mountains in the north part of the park are connected to the Ouachita Mountains in southeast Oklahoma through southwest Arkansas. Down there they are part of the Marathon Uplift (see Ouachita Mountain link above). In a previous geology post I referenced the Ouachita Orogeny that is an ancient mountain range that used to be much taller, 10,000 feet, and extended along I-35, through Dallas. It, along with the Appalachians, was formed when Africa smashed into our continent.

(As a side note, I believe it took a long time for the stars to go supernova and condense their atoms enough to make heavier elements like gold, for those elements to gravitationally congeal, to join with other space dust to make asteroid-like rocks, and for those rocks to gravitationally congeal to make orbiting, rounded planets. Then there was a long time that our flat planet was underwater making shale, sandstone, and later limestone out of created primitive plant matter and ubiquitous trilobites. It took a long time to make that very thick layer. Then there was a huge flora and fauna dinosaur age that lasted however long. Then maybe these got wiped out by the volcanic age, the destruction perhaps aided by still unorganized asteroids. These asteroids have largely been sucked up by Jupiter and other planets. Then there was the modern created plant, animal and people age. Either the continental collisions and spreading occurred right before this age of the 6th day, or during the flood. Seems to me this could have occurred rather quickly with all the resulting boulders still exposed. Our soil layer over the limestone is rather thin. Most river valleys are rather shallow. The deep ones like the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon and Santa Elena Canyon can be explained much easier by sudden earthquakes and uplifts than erosion at current rates.)

Three, my husband is from Erie, Pennsylvania, which probably rivals Seattle Washington as the cloudiest, wettest place to live. He does not like lots of sun. The Ouachitas are pretty shaded up and were 8 degrees cooler at the top than at our campsite near the base. But unlike him, I love the exposed, unshady Texas Big Bend during the cool months because the geology is so dramatically exposed. Alas.

Four, I just found out about the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. For the past few years I have been intensely interested in the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. I have written about how I don’t really want to backpack and camp, but section hike these famous trails. The ONRT is much shorter, but still a very challenging, mountainous distance: over 200 miles. It is close to home, not quite as overwhelming, and very beautiful. The trailhead is about an hour east of McGee State Park. The trailhead also begins very close to the beginning of the Talimena National Scenic Byway, both of which also run through Queen Wilhelmina State Park on their way to Hot Springs, Ark.



McGee State Park

Atoka, Oklahoma was supposed to be an hour away from where we are now. However the “13 minute delay” on hwy 75 is so far a 25 minute standstill for a supposed accident. I’ve seen 2 cars so far, make that 3 including the lightless ambulance that just passed by. 😦 Lord have mercy) coming the opposite direction.