Yes, I am in Oklahoma! And yes, I feel like I should be singing. I wonder how many other people have that reaction? While I was driving, I was thinking about everything I know about Oklahoma (short version: almost nothing) and how strange it was to be in a national forest that I truly had never heard of before. Ouachita National Forest. Spell check doesn’t like that, so maybe I’ve spelled it wrong, but I think spell check is actually just as ignorant as I am.
My plan was to stay at Beavers Bend, a state park recommended by a reader (hi, Kyla!) through the weekend, at a primitive camping site — no water or electric. But when I got there, the park was bustling. So many people! So many cars! I drove slowly through the park, or maybe part of it, trying to figure out how to register for a camping site, but there was no parking anywhere and much traffic. I wound up heading back out the same way I came in, still looking for the camping headquarters, and when I got to the end of the road, I pulled into a forest service parking lot and started looking for a different campground. It really did look like a great location — there was a sandwich shop at the end of the road that had a sign up reading “organic, gluten-free” and I still can’t believe I didn’t take advantage, but even that parking lot was totally full. I’m guessing Oklahoma has spring break this week.
Reserve America had a walk-ins only campground listed that looked a reasonable driving distance away, so I got back on the road and headed north again. My bigger plan was to drive the scenic Talimena Highway into Arkansas when I’d spent a few days in Oklahoma. Imagine my surprise when I drove right by said highway on my way to my campground. Oops. Yep, I am geographically challenged. I hadn’t realized I was as close as I was to my intended final Oklahoma destination. Too long spent living in Florida and California, I guess, where halfway up the state is a long, long drive, and not enough perspective on the bits of map I was looking at.
But I kept going and made it to Cedar Lake. I drove slowly through the campground, again looking for the ranger station, the place where usually someone is waiting to take your money. I didn’t find the ranger station (it doesn’t exist) but wow, there are a ton of horses here. One loop is an equestrian campground and there are probably 30 sites occupied by people with horse trailers and horses. I really love the idea of people taking their horses on vacation with them — it just seems so friendly — but I’m guessing that there must be some horse event this weekend somewhere nearby. If I had internet, I’d try to find out, but I wouldn’t even know how to start the search.
I finally figured out that there was a fee station, where you fill out your info and put your money in an envelope and leave it for someone to collect. But this campground is also pretty full. I wound up in a spot that is just big enough for Serenity and sloped. If I had a tent, it would be perfect, because it’s a really nice tent spot. View of the water and everything. But the parking area (as opposed to the tent area) is not level enough to be an ideal camper spot.
And the weather… well, it’s not spring yet. I wish I could stay for two weeks, because it will be spring in two weeks, the hints of it are everywhere. There are violets growing in amongst the trees and the occasional pink flowering tree in full flower. But far more of the branches are barren and gray still, and the sky is overcast and gloomy and I… I am just sick of the rain.
So I only paid for one night here and my new revised plan is to head out tomorrow, drive the scenic Talimena Highway and wind up in Arkansas. A lower elevation is likely to be a little more spring-like, I think, so instead of a few days in the hills of Oklahoma — (Seriously, the hills of Oklahoma? I had no idea, my mental image of Oklahoma is entirely oil fields and plains and scenes from the musical) — I’ll have a week to spend in Arkansas.
And hopefully it will at least be nice enough tomorrow to make my scenic drive a little scenic. Today was so cloudy that at points I was driving through dense fog. Super gray, misty, beautifully spooky, but no visibility at all. If tomorrow is the same, my scenic drive will be scenic only in my imagination. It was fun driving through the fog — I like spooky in most circumstances — but I’d like to actually get to see some of Oklahoma before I leave it.
I don’t know what route you’ll take to return back east, but if you have time and it’s on your way, you should check out the Diamond Fields of Arkansas. You can actually dig for diamonds!! I’ve done it with my husband and it’s great fun! You get to keep what you find, and if the stones are nice enough, there’s a chance management will buy it from you.
I realized you probably don’t have Internet so that link was useless to you — here’s the text from the site:
Where can diamonds be found? The answer might surprise you. Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond-producing site in the world where the public can search for diamonds. And the policy here is “finders, keepers,” meaning the diamonds you find are yours to keep.
To hunt for diamonds you will search atop a 37 1/2-acre plowed field, the eroded surface of an ancient, gem-bearing volcanic crater. You will access this field through the Diamond Discovery Center, an engaging interpretive center featuring exhibits and an A/V program explaining the three most popular methods of searching for diamonds. The park staff provides free identification and certification of diamonds found here.
A few facts about diamonds in Arkansas: The first diamond was found here in 1906 by John Huddleston, the farmer who owned the property at that time. The Crater of Diamonds has changed hands several times over the years and several unsuccessful attempts have been made at commercial mining. All such ventures are shrouded in mystery. Lawsuits, lack of money, and fires are among the reasons suspected for these failures. This site was operated privately, and later as a tourist attraction, from 1952 to 1972. In 1972, the State of Arkansas purchased the Crater of Diamonds for development as a state park. The park is open throughout the year except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Pets are allowed in all park facilities, with the exception of the park gift shop, Diamond Springs Water Park, and Kimberlite Cafe, as long as they remain on a leash under the owner’s control at all times.
The diamond-bearing soil in the diamond search area is plowed periodically when weather allows to help bring more diamonds to the surface. Plowing is unscheduled but generally takes place once a month during spring, summer, and fall. Historical structures, old mining equipment, washing pavilions, and sun shelters are located on the field. Diamond mining tools are available for rent or purchase at the park.
Fees to search for Diamonds
Children (ages 6-12) $6
Children under 6 years old FREE
20 Admission Pass $170
Admission is good for the entire day. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, tickets purchased after 6 p.m. are also good for admission the following day.
Organized groups of 15 or more may receive half price admission by reserving a date of visit with park staff at least 24 hours in advance. NOTE: Organized groups do not include large family groups.
I Googled the directions to the Diamond Fields… it’s closer than I thought it would be.
1 h 27 min (65.3 miles) via AR-27 S
Fastest route, the usual traffic
From Ouachita National Forest
Take NF-33 to US-270 E in Pencil Bluff Township
7 min (2.3 mi)
Follow US-270 E and AR-27 S to Murfreesboro
1 h 14 min (59.9 mi)
Take AR-301 N and State Park Rd to your destination
6 min (3.0 mi)
209 State Park Rd
Murfreesboro, AR 71958
Judy, Judy, Judy said:
I’ve aways wanted to do crystal mining. There are places in Arkansas where you can do that, too.
BTW you may know this already but most towns have a library where you could take a laptop and avail yourself of free wifi even in the parking lot without ever going in.
I used to drive highway 40 through OK and my perceptions are you’re either holding your nose against the smell of cows or oil. Not a fan.
Yeah, there are lots of places with free wifi — Starbucks is always an option, too. But I’m not generally driving around looking for wi-fi — I’m parked at a campsite without it. I did pass lots of crystal sales places as I drove through Arkansas — I didn’t stop at any because I didn’t want to be tempted to buy things that I don’t have room to keep, but it would be fun to look for my own!
Oh, that sounds so fun! I will see where it is. I bet I already drove by but maybe I’ll go back.
Pam Brizendine said:
Welcome to Oklahoma! Sorry about not finding a spot to stay at a camp ground. Yes it was Spring Break. and Oklahoman’s love to camp! lol
I’m definitely going to have to go back! And maybe find someone to take me fishing, because everyone was fishing and I never have — it’d be fun to try!
Kyla Bendt said:
I think a lot of people think of Oklahoma as flat, monotonous, cow-filled, farm land. And parts of it very much fit that description, but it really is surprisingly diverse.
I can definitely relate to that experience of showing up at a State Park when it is way too crowded. Those 3-day holiday weekends at the Oklahoma State Parks are the worst. And more than once I’ve accidentally been booked at Robber’s Cave State Park the Sunday night after their fall festival. Granted the fall festival always looks like everybody there is having fun and it makes me feel a bit envious, but it’s just not really my sort of fun. Truthfully, I prefer my state parks mostly empty and then like to imagine how much fun people have when they go!
Oklahoma is much too hot and humid for my tastes in the summer, so I’m hoping you get a chance to go back and spend more time in the fall once the weather is nice. Also, I hear that scenic drive is amazing when the trees change colors, but every time I’ve hit it in the fall, it’s been a few weeks too early.
Oh, I bet it is beautiful when the leaves are changing color. I might have to try to time that right. I don’t usually mind the heat at all, but it’s not fun with the dogs and the van. I can do okay in almost any temp, but they need it cool. So I will avoid summer-time in Oklahoma and thanks for the tip!