Talimena National Scenic Byway
Official Website: Talimena National Scenic Byway
Particularly popular during the Autumn season, for its awesome colors, the drive is enjoyed by thousands each year. Mena serves as the gateway to the national byway. It is a gorgeous 54 mile route which spans one of the highest mountain ranges between the Appalachians and the Rockies. The drive offers lodging, picnicking, hiking and camping and the journey begins in beautiful downtown Mena.
Eastern Visitor Center
The facility sits at the base of Round Top Mountain at the east end of the Talimena Scenic Drive. Open daily from April to November, this station is staffed by Ouachita National Forest volunteers. A paved, accessible hiking trail, Orchard Trail, provides a chance to stretch your legs and enjoy the forest first hand. Interpretive signs explain the history of the site and many of the natural and cultural features along the route. An accessible deck overlooks the remnants of an old homestead. The Earthquake Ridge Trail system can also be accessed from this site.
The volunteers have a supply of free brochures and information sheets about attractions in the area. Restrooms, drinking water and picnic tables are available for visitors.
Earthquake Ridge Trail
Official Trail Map Trail Use Type: Hiking, Mountain Bike
The 6.8 mile loop trail system parallels the Talimena scenic drive. Traveling along in a forest of short-leaf pine, blackjack oak, post oak and black hickory, the day hiker will see interesting rock formations, a variety of plant and animal life, and a view of Ward Lake which once supplied the town of Mena with water. The trails have a moderate difficulty level and are popular with mountain bikers. Parking is available at the East End Visitor Station.
Official Trail Map Trail Use Type: Walking, Hiking, Cycling, Handicap Accessible
This accessible trail meanders through the picturesque pine and hardwood forest surrounding the Talimena Scenic Byway Visitor Information Station near Mena, AR. This short hike features the ruins of an abandoned home site with a viewing deck and benches. This trail and all site facilities allow easy access for all visitors including those physically challenged.
Blue Haze Vista
The long ridgeline in view is Fourche Mountain and the Ouachita River Valley spreads out below. Highway 71/270 is visible as it makes its way from the community of Acorn to Y-City. To the right of the pullout Earthquake Ridge begins.
Earthquake Ridge is about 5 acres of sandstone outcrops along the Talimena scenic drive. Large boulders form small bluffs and cliffs up to 20 feet in height. This naturally broken (fractured) formation has many openings that are wide and deep enough to walk through. It is easy to see how a person could conclude that such a feature could have been the result of a cataclysmic event such as an earthquake.
While the earthquake lore is an exciting explanation of how this rocky feature came into existence, it is incorrect. The ridge is a quiet testament to the subtle yet equally effective forces of gravity and erosion. This outcrop of sandstone is a small piece of the massive sandstone unit called the Jackform sandstone formation. Part of a large fold in the earth created when the Ouachita Mountains were being formed, this sandstone layer rests on top of shale layers. These underlying shale layers are not strong enough to hold the sandstone layer together. As the mountains erode away, the sandstone boulders you see are slowly fracturing and pulling apart.
The Acorn community is located where U.S. Highway 71 joins U.S. 270. Foran Gap, the pass through a saddle in Fourche Mountain, through which U.S. Highway 71/270 travels can be seen. Wolf Pinnacle to the east, one of the most striking features of Fourche Mountain, can be seen from this overlook. The Forest Service operated a fire tower on Wolf Pinnacle until aerial reconnaissance made the tower obsolete.
The Acorn community was an early settlement, formerly known as “gourd Neck”. The name was derived from the shape of the valley, with the “handle” of the gourd lying between Fourche and Rich Mountains. Through this neck pass the headwaters of the Ouachita River, the Kansas City southern Railway, and U.S. Highway 270/59.
Round Mountain Vista
“Shut-In-Valley” with no man-made structures is seen from this overlook. Rock creek begins its flow collecting water from Round Top Mountain, the highest point to the far left, winding between Middle Mountain, in center view, and Round Mountain, to the right and slightly behind.
U.S. Highway 270-59 and the Kansas City Southern Railway make their way up the valley toward the community of Rich Mountain. At times long freight trains can be seen
creeping up the steep mountain grade. The Ouachita River begins its journey to the Mississippi River at the crest of this grade, flowing between the highway and the railroad. Looking straight ahead is eagle Gap, the pass between the west end of Fourche Mountain and the east end of black Fork Mountain. Rich Mountain Fire Tower, on the highest point is visible in the distance.
The east end of Black Fork Mountain was the location of the Eagleton Burn, a devastating fire in October, 1963. Started by a spark from a railroad engine on a windy day, this fire burned more than 13,000 acres of timber in two days and took four days to control.
The small community of Eagleton was established about 1896 with the arrival of the railroad. It was a thriving lumber mill town in the 1920s, with a population of 400-500. The Depression of the 1930s shut down the timber industry and the population dwindled to less than 100. Eagleton may have been named for the golden eagles that can sometimes be seen soaring in the updrafts above the saddle just west of the overlook.
CORRECTLY NAMED, THIS IS ONE OF THE WIDEST PANORAMIC VISTAS. In front lays the Mountain Fork River Valley with scattered farmsteads between the settlements of Potter and Hatfield. Looking up the valley is the divide between the Kiamichi and Mountain Fork Rivers. The Kiamichi and Winding Stair Mountains in Oklahoma can be seen to the west, far in the distance. Lake Wilhelmina is in the valley below.
Notice the wavelike positioning of the many ridgelines. It is easy to see how the Ouachita Mountains were formed when compressional forces in the south pushed the softer, more pliable rock layers up and over each other.
Rich Mountain Tower
Rich Mountain Fire Tower, unlike most of the fire towers of the Ouachita National forest, still stands thanks to the restoration and maintenance efforts of volunteers. The Forest Service first maintained a fire lookout on Rich Mountain beginning in 1907. A wooden platform in a tree was replaced through the years by several crude wooden structures; in 1952 the current 58-foot steel structure was put in place.
The fire tower is open on weekend afternoons from Memorial Day in May through Veterans Day in November. Volunteer staff will gladly give you a tour. The view from the tower, at approximately 2,681 feet, is one of the most spectacular in the Ouachita National Forest.
A restroom, picnic tables and grills are available for visitor use. An interpretive sign discusses the history of the tower.
Lake Wilhelmina Vista
This pullout looks to the south into the valley that holds Powell Creek and Lake Wilhelmina. Lake Wilhelmina is an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission facility approximately 300 acres in size, constructed in 1958. The lake has a reputation as one of the region’s best bluegill and redear fishing lakes. The commission maintains a concrete boat ramp and fishing pier on the lake’s southeast side and a dirt launching ramp on the west side. A primitive camping area and picnic tables are situated on the east side.
Across the highway from the vista, the Ouachita National Recreation Trail begins its descent north down Rich Mountain to the Ouachita River. At the east end of Black Fork Mountain, the trail turns east over Fourche Mountain.
At the end of this short trail is the small community cemetery of Rich Mountain. There are 23 graves, only one of which has a legible inscription. The rest of the grave markers, consist of stones placed at the foot and the head of the graves. No one knows the date of the first burial. The land was deeded in 1890 for a church, school, and cemetery; the church and cemetery were already in existence at this time. The last person was buried here in 1949.
A dozen or more families settled the top of the mountain along a strip of 8 to 10 miles. A few of the settlers came as early as 1860. The soil is usually deep and rich along this relatively flat mountain top. Another attraction was the presence of springs and clean water.
Many homesteaders settled on Rich Mountain for health reasons. Malaria and tuberculosis were rampant in low lying communities of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. The mountain air and spring water were thought to be good for healing.
Others were seeking the freedom and independence of this secluded area often for illegal reasons such as moonshine operations or evading the law. For the most part, the settlers were “salt of the earth”, and a hardy breed.
Choctaw Nation / State-line Historic Marker
Interpretive signs at the pull-off explain the significance of the site. A patch leads to the 1877 survey marker which marked the boundary between Arkansas and the Choctaw Nations.
A U.S. Government appointee surveyed this line in 1825. A resurvey in 1857 found that the old line diverged to the west, depriving the Choctaws of some of their land.
A act of congress had made the erroneous line the official boundary. An octagonal iron post, weighing several hundred pounds, was placed in the ground with a pile of native rocks around it.
Near the top of the post are numbers “1877” (south side); “Ark.” (east side); and “Choc” (west side). The markers were probably hauled in by mule. A 1935 geological survey marker is nearby.
A trail, called the State Line Trail, probably the trail used by the surveyors, was in use until the 1930s, mainly for the purpose of transporting “moonshine” from the Kiamichi Valley across the mountain to the railroad settlements. It was a convenient “dodging” trail. Oklahoma officers could be eluded by crossing into Arkansas, and Arkansas officers likewise eluded by stepping into Oklahoma.
The Ouachita National Recreation Trail starts its downhill descent into the Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness Area as it travels westward.