Oklahomans and out-of-state tourists have enjoyed fall foliage tours in southeastern Oklahoma since the opening of Oklahoma State Highway 1 in 1969. On June 7, 1970, Lucy Baines Johnson Nugent, Lyndon B. Johnson's daughter, dedicated the highway. As the only Oklahoma highway built specifically for scenic driving, the road followed and connected two truck routes constructed and maintained by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Federal and state (Oklahoma and Arkansas) funds reimbursed construction costs of approximately $6.9 million dollars. Known as Talimena Scenic Byway since February 1989, the highway winds through the Ouachita National Forest and connects Talihina, Oklahoma, and Mena, Arkansas. The fifty-four-mile route affords many lookout points and peaks at approximately twenty-six hundred feet at Winding Stair and Rich mountains. A variety of trees creates a kaleidoscope of fall colors ranging from gold, orange, and crimson, to shades of purple.
At the west end of Talimena Drive is Talimena State Park and the Old Military Road historic site (National Register of Historic Places, NR 76002155), where a military road was built in 1832 to connect Fort Towson, Indian Territory, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Along Talimena Drive are other historic sites that present information regarding the significance of the area and its early inhabitants such as the Caddoan and Choctaw people. The Robert S. Kerr Memorial Arboretum, Nature Center, and Botanical Area offers an interpretative center and self-guided nature trails. Since November 1988 the ninety-seven-thousand-acre Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation and Wilderness Area has provided camping, hiking, and horseback riding, as well as fishing and hunting. The east end of the drive terminates at Mena, Arkansas, and the Queen Wilhelmina State Park.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 29 May 1983. Aileen McWilliam, Lloyd Lane, and Homer L. Johnston, Talimena Scenic Drive Guide: Ouachita National Forest (N. p.: Talimena Scenic Drive Interpretive Association, The Forest Service, 1974). "Talimena Drive," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 6 June 1994.
Linda D. Wilson
© Oklahoma Historical Society