A few weekends ago I made a trip out to western Arkansas in pursuit of some colorful fall foliage. I had seen through researching the Internet that the Talimena National Scenic Byway was supposed to have beautiful autumn colors—and it did not disappoint. The Talimena Scenic Byway runs from Talahina, OK to Mena, AR for a little over 50miles. A snaky, curving road sits on the crest of Winding Stair Mountain (OK) and Rich Mountain (AR).
|Map of the Talimena National Scenic Byway|
Rich Mountain is the second tallest peak in AR at 2,681ft above sea level, only to be beaten by Mt Magazine (2,753 ft) in the Ozark Mountains. Winding Stair Mountain and Rich mountain are part of the Ouachita Mountain Chain. The Ouachita Mountains are what's known as “fold mountains”. When the South America plate collided with the Earth's crust it caused the crust to buckle. This convergence folded the crust into roll and wave shapes, forming the Ouachita mountains.
|Satellite image of the Ouachita Mountain chain (NASA)|
Unlike most other mountain chains, the Ouachita mountains run east and west rather than north and south. From the byway you have a great view of the rolling mountains and sunken valleys below. The byway meets with the Ouachita National Forest a nearly 1.8 million acre forest. Oak, pine, maple, hickory, and walnut trees line up around the byway and during the autumn months the forest explodes in hues of reds, oranges, and golds.
We planned out our trip and hoped we would be in or near peak color by the weekend. My mother accompanied me on the trip and we left Friday evening around 6:00pm. Our destination for Friday was McAlester, OK. This was a good base point, as we were only an hour drive from Talahina, OK, the western entrance to the byway. We got up at 6:30am and planned to leave around 7:30 am. When we left McAlester, OK high clouds were blocking out the eastern horizon and I was worried we wouldn't have good light for pictures. Clouds blocking out the sun would make the landscape appear flat and the colors dull. But we pressed on in hopes the sun would begin to burn off all the clouds as the temperatures increased.
DAY 1: Talimena Scenic Drive, Little Missouri Falls, and Crooked Creek Falls
|Western Entrance to the Talimena National Scenic Byway.|
We arrived to the entrance of the Talimena National Scenic Byway close to 8:30am. We pulled into the visitor center to get a map and information about sights along the byway. The Talimena Scenic Byway offers 22 vistas of the forest and mountains and with the second tallest peak in Arkansas we should see some beautiful panoramic views.
|Not long after we started the drive there was a pull off for the Choctaw Vista. This particular vista had a lot of changing fall foliage.|
|View from Choctaw Vista|
Potato Hills Vista:
|The Potato Hills Vista gets its name from the hills down below. They resemble mounds they use to plant potatoes.|
Holson Valley Vista:
|Very scenic view from Holson Valley Vista|
|There were some spectacular views of the changing forest in this area, but no vistas to pull over. We found a spot off the shoulder and I walked out to capture these beautiful scenes. |
|One of my favorite shots of the byway.|
|And of course I had to stop and get some close up shots of the foliage.|
|One of the better views of the drive Panorama Vista pulls off to a 360 degree view of the mountains and forest.|
|Scenes like this are all over the byway. The road is lined with beautiful fall foliage.|
|The origin behind the name is now lost, but some say they found a man's body in this area, hence the name Deadman Vista.|
|Boundary marker to the Ouachita National Forest.|
|This was one of my favorite vistas. The colors of the leaves were phenomenal!|
|Out in the distance you can see Sugarloaf mountain, the mountain the vista is named after.|
|Lenox Vista was another photogenic location. The dominant ridge in the background is named Lenox Ridge. Behind the ridge is the small town of Lenox, AR.I really liked how the ridge was speckled with areas of changing leaves. |
Cedar Lake Vista:
|The beautiful Cedar Lake Vista.|
|Here's a wider shot showing all the waves and ridges of the Ouachita's.|
|Shawnee vista was another great view. If you look off in the distance you can see the rolling hills that are the focal point of the next stop.|
|Spectacular view from Emerald Vista. The sun was just starting to break through the clouds at this point and generated some great light on the landscape.|
Big Cedar Vista:
|The appropriately named Big Cedar Vista didn't offer a wide panorama view because of the dense cover a large Cedar trees.|
Sunset Point Vista:
|We are now at the western most end of Rich Mountain. This would be a great spot to watch the sun set below the mountains.|
|This large cluster of smooth rock are what's known as rock glaciers. Some of the special plants in this habitat are found nowhere else in the world.|
Kiamichi Valley Vista:
|A nice view of Kiamichi mountain to our south.|
Mountain Fork Vista:
|Here is another favorite shot of mine. This was captured at the Chaha Vista. Chaha comes from the word Choctaw which means "mountain high than others".|
|Up until this point we were in the far reaches of eastern, OK. Not far from the border was Mountain Fork vista and our first miles in Arkansas territory.|
Rich Mountain Fire Tower:
|We came to a turn off called "Tower Rd" driving down this narrow one lane road we entered the Rich Mountain Fire Tower Picnic Area. We are now at the tallest peak of Rich Mountain at 2,681 feet above sea level. |Grandview Vista:
|The aptly named Grandview vista had a great view of the rolling mountains to the south. I was planning to return to this location for sunrise photos the next morning. |Round Mountain:
|Below the mountain is the community of Acorn. It was named after the acorn shape of the field in the valley. I personally didn't see it, but they say its best viewed during the spring months.|
Blue Haze Vista:
|Last vista before getting to Mena, AR.|
The Talimena National Scenic Byway was really a beautiful experience. I had found a great spot to return to for the next morning's sunrise. We stopped in Mena, AR and got some gas and had a very quick lunch. We were now heading to the southeast and deeper into the Ouachita forest. We were looking for a place called Little Missouri Falls National Recreation Area. The Little Missouri River flows through the Ouachita forest and cascades into a moderate waterfall near the upper reaches of the river. We had to traverse some rough dirt and gravel roads to get to the falls. It was rough going in my mother's Volkswagen Bug, but eventually we made it. We arrived at the parking lot around 4:00pm with not a whole lot of light left at this point. This was the only part of the trip I was disappointed with. The falls were very nice and I had some good light, but being a weekend, I did have trouble with other tourists. There was a family of 15 people who didn't care I was taking photos of the falls. I struggled to move around them and get some isolated shots of the waterfalls. Me and two other local photographers danced and hopped around the rocks to capture the Little Missouri. One of the photographers told me about another waterfall close by (one I was planning on going to and had researched before the trip).
|Cascades at Little Missouri Falls |
|Looking at the falls head on.|
|I believe this is my favorite shot from the location.|
We decided to leave and head towards a less populated area. Through Google Earth I was able to locate another photogenic waterfall close by. This waterfall was actually in some one's campsite. We pulled off another gravely dirt road in the Caney Creek Wilderness Area. I informed them I would be passing through to capture some images of the waterfall. I made the small climb down to the falls but everything around the falls was slate—and very slippery with wet hiking boots. I carefully navigated the rocks and got into a position where I could see the falls.
|And a beautiful fall it was!|
|The falls actually continues down another ten feet, but in order to get that in the frame I would need to be in the creek. Something I really didn't want to do. |
|This was shot with my Nikkor 18-35mm ED lens at 18mm. I was just at the edge of the water. Despite falling and scraping up my left hand it was a great way to end the day!|
After I was satisfied with the photos I climbed back up to the car and we made the drive back to Mena, AR. It was time to grab some dinner and get some rest. I was planning to get up early the next morning and catch the sunrise at Grandview vista on the byway. I transferred the photos from the days shoot to my laptop and went to bed. Tomorrow was going to be another great day.
I'll have Day 2 uploaded next week.
Thank you for the support.