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By Austin Tackett
The idea of a vacation often times elicits images of hotel stays in exotic locals, or week long excursions that include shopping, sightseeing, and elegant dining. However many people find that the most fulfilling getaways are those experienced right in the driver’s seat of their car. That’s the idea behind the National Scenic Byways Program, an organization whose mission it is to preserve and recognize stretches of state highways in America that have significant naturally scenic or historic qualities.
Nestled away in the far southeast of the state, lies the Talimena Scenic Byway, a beautiful 54 mile stretch of Oklahoma State Highway 1 that begins in Talihina and ends heading eastward shortly past the Arkansas border. The route was opened in 1969, but was recognized as a National Scenic Byway by the US Department of Transportation in 2005, and has since become one of the most popular destinations in the state. The highway winds through the mountains of the Ouachita National Forest, the oldest National Forest in the southern United States boasting an abundant array of unique wildlife and vegetation.
The Talimena Scenic drive has become infamous as a fall foliage viewing destination as the entire stretch of road comes alive with color in the autumn months. Beautifully striking reds, yellows, and oranges line the entire mountain scenescape during October and November, as seas of color radiate as far as the eye can see. Of course, every season offers a unique beauty of its own to the popular drive. Spring and summer months invite a green lush density of vegetation amongst the smoky hillsides, while the cold months provide a clear, seemingly endless, view of the mountainsides in the crisp winter air.
A visit to Talimena Scenic Byway can very easily be enjoyed from behind the wheel, however more adventurous types can find solace within the many tranquil hiking trails located at various points throughout the Ouachita National Forest. These trails offer a closer glimpse of the breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife that live amongst the tall pines dominating the mountainside. There are also 22 scenic vista pull-outs among the winding two lane highway, so you don’t have to exert yourself in order to take in abundance of beauty that covers every direction of the drive.
The mountains are inhabited by an abundance of bird species including roadrunners, which can be seen darting across the street from time to time, while larger animals like deer and black bear are common as well. Hawks glide and hover above in the air adding authenticity to the unspoiled landscape surrounding commuters on all sides.
The Talimena Drive is a perfect weekend getaway that doesn’t require a lot of planning. Fill up the tank, load up the I-pod, and prepare to truly get away from it all. This is the type of trip that leaves you feeling recharged and refreshed, and all it takes is hopping in the car.
Additional information on events or attractions across the state can be found on the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department website, www.TravelOK.com or by calling 1-800-652-6552.