The Long and Winding Road

20/3/17. On Saturday morning Sheila and Robin kindly drove us back to the airport so we could pick up the hire car. It was strange to be driving again for the first time since October – and the Americans don’t help by putting the steering wheel on the wrong side either!

Avoiding the interstate in favour of what we hoped were more scenic roads, we headed north. We had initially hoped to get to the last state park before the Oklahoma state line that night but soon realised this was overly ambitious. After all, we are in no tearing hurry – we have the car for 2 weeks – and we had to get through Dallas which looked to be a rather daunting spaghetti of major roads. So we instead aimed for Fairfield Lake State Park to the south of the city, and even then we arrived after the office closed (4.30 does strike us as rather early for a leisure/tourist facility to close on a Saturday afternoon). There were also signs saying reservations were necessary and our hearts sank.

However, the manager was standing around and told us that he thought a couple of people had left early so we should just find an empty site and pay in the morning. Hurrah!

With the tent set up Stephen went for a walk along one of the marked trails, which confirmed our very favourable opinion of state parks.

Setting off next morning, we headed towards JR Ewing Town. As we approached the centre it was all going swimmingly. We switched from a north-south freeway to one heading east-west for a short while and then, in a section of roadworks, saw the signs for the road to the north west out of town. We were looking good!

And then all of a sudden, we were in the wrong lane and siphoned off towards Downtown!

We can deal with this. There are the signs for the road we should be on. Just follow them onto this slip road.

What! The slip road was coned off!

We were headed into Downtown.

And guess what.

It was the day of the Dallas half marathon!

We crawled around for half an hour until we saw yet more signs to the road we wanted and suddenly we were off with (relatively) clear roads in front of us.It was a long way out of the city with freeways and interstates and highways and turnpikes all intermingling in spectacular intersections with bridges and slip roads heading in all directions sometimes stacked 4 or 5 high. It is really not our sort of place but it was fascinating to see.

Eventually we found our way out and onto a quiet road heading past ranches and small towns. Much better.

We crossed into Oklahoma and made our way towards Sulphur (some hot springs apparently although we saw no sign if them) and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area where the campsite was located. In southern Texas the trees were starting to come into leaf and the spring flowers were out but here it was a long way further back – pretty much the only green to be seen was on conifer trees – making it look like winter rather than spring.

However, the temperature put the lie to that as it was around 30°C with the sun beaming down out of a near cloudless sky. We felt slightly disorientated by the contrasting evidence of what we saw and what we felt.

Having “done” Oklahoma by spending the night there, we headed east the next morning, still avoiding the interstates and sticking to what appeared to be the old highway that was roughly parallel. We passed through very pleasant farming land and woods until, in early afternoon, we passed into the sign for Talimena State Park.

In front of us we could see some high hills, or even small mountains. There was a sign saying 13% gradients ahead and indicating that the road could be closed in bad weather. Thankfully it was glorious so we headed upwards.

What a fabulous road. It was signposted as an American Scenic Byway and it was most certainly scenic. It reminded us very much of the Hog’s Back as the road followed the ridge with the land falling away steeply with spectacular vistas on either side.

But, this being America, it had to be bigger and better! It was longer, higher, quieter, more spectacular than its counterpart in dear old Surrey. There were many lay-bys to pull into and we kept stopping to enjoy the view. The wind was blowing strongly from the south and, at one of the stops, we read that this was very common. It restricts the growth of the white oaks (the main species of tree here) to 10-20 feet – dwarfs compared to the 100+ feet achieved in less windswept and lower areas.

We crossed into Arkansas still on this lovely road and entered the Queen Wilhelmina State Park which has a campsite on the last major peak in the range (Rich Mountain) where we spent the night. There was a rather nice hotel right by the campsite and we were mighty tempted but decided that, having already blown our budget because of the car hire, we should restrict ourselves to the $16 camp fee rather than $100 + taxes for a room. In fact, the view from our tent was at least as good and we were closer to nature. Which might not actually be a good thing as there were signs that we were in “Bear Country”! As it turned out we did not see one (phew!) but we made sure to store all the food in the car.

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