Talimena Scenic Byway (Maps)

     Talimena Scenic Drive follows the tops of the Kiamichi Mountains in the Ouachita National Forest in Southeastern Oklahoma and Southwestern Arkansas. The name Talimena drive comes from the towns nearest each end of the 54-mile drive. On the Oklahoma side is Talihina, Oklahoma. On the Arkansas side is Mena, Arkansas, the purported hub of the Arkansas mafia’s drug flights.

    When the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge was first constructed in 1897, there were no roads leading to the mountain site. The railroad station located at the foot of the east side served as the tourist center.  An excellent (for that time period) three-mile road was built from the station to the top of the mountain in 1897, and a three-seated hack was used to transport visitors to the lodge. Mexican burros were also used to transport supplies and visitors.

    In the 1930s a road was hacked out by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), through the forest from the town of Mena to the top of Rich Mountain, where the Lodge is located. This road was just a trail for many years. In early May 1963, preliminary work was begun on the drive we know today. By autumn work was in progress in Arkansas, and Oklahoma to construct the first highway of its kind in this part of the country. It was completed in April 1970.

    "No billboards, no auto junk yards, no honkey-tonks, no big trucks, no high-speed traffic, no man-made blight on nature's beauties--that 's the theme," was the statement made in the Arkansas Gazette. The drive took five years to complete the drive, but was worth the wait.


    In 1938, Bob Cochran, a pioneer resident of Polk County, decided that the drive should be planted with flowers. He gathered a variety of flower seeds and began planting at the bottom of the drive at intervals to the top of the mountain.  During this entire period the drive was known as the "Skyline Drive" and several local businesses used that name in their advertising. One local cafe opened during that period, 1922, still carries the name, The Skyline Cafe is located on Mena Street.

    In February 1989, the Talimena Scenic Drive was designated a National Forest Scenic Byway by Forest Service Chief, F. Dale Robertson.  The Forest Service created the Scenic Byways program to promote recreational opportunities in national forests with outstanding scenery.

     The Ouachita National Forest dedicated the drive as a scenic byway during a ceremony at the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Line on June 20, 1989.  The Talimena Scenic Drive leads visitors along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita ranges of Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. There are breathtaking views with many vistas for shooting photographs.

Ripley Prize

    While holding a seminar near Rich Mountain (formerly called Mount Mena), 25 noted scientists, interested in plant life and who make annual field trips to many parts of the world, visited the Ouachita National Forest. A naturalist, after much study and research, said that one square mile of Rich Mountain was one of the most peculiar pieces of land of similar size anywhere.

    It was his opinion that on this square mile more kinds of wild fruits, timber, flowers, and medicinal plants, ferns, mosses, grasses, weeds, and small plants were growing than could be found on any similar tract--in a natural wild state--anywhere in the world.

    He submitted this amazing fact to Ripley's "Believe It or Not" contest and won first place. He itemized 47 varieties of trees, 27 wild fruits, 17 kinds of medicinal plants, over 100 kinds of flowers, and mosses and ferns, some of which are subtropical.

    The name Ouachita comes from the Choctaw Indian word "Ouachita," meaning "hunting trip." The Ouachita range is the one of only two mountain ranges in the western hemisphere which runs east and west. The range begins at Little Rock (Pinnacle Mountain) and ends at Atoka, Oklahoma. Mena is often referred to as a "Window on the Ouachitas". The Fall Foliage in the Ouachita Mountains is unforgettable.