After a long, record hot Oklahoma summer, I unexpectedly had a weekend free right as the fall colors were exploding in Oklahoma. I decided to take a relaxing tour of one of my favorite areas, southeastern Oklahoma. But this time instead of riding my motorcycle – my favorite form of transportation – I would take my bright yellow Toyota FJ Cruiser. It would allow me to take a bit more camera gear, even though in hindsight I didn’t use most of what I brought.
I had been busy all summer taking photos for customers and projects, working both in studio and on location for a variety of customers. This trip was all about taking pictures that “I” wanted. I really didn’t have a photo project in mind, I just took pictures of things that interested me. This included both beautiful vista’s as well as run down homes, details such as no trespassing signs, old buildings, empty streets, just whatever I found interesting along my journey. Normally I include people in my photography. For this trip I was more interested in solitude and didn’t spend all that much time interacting with others. Instead I spent time fishing, camping, and taking pictures of the quiet places I liked to visit.
After a late afternoon departure from work, I hit I-40 and the Indian Nation Turnpike for the 2.5 hour trip to one of my favorite, secret camping spots – Clayton Lake State Park. Arriving at sunset, Gary, the park manager, greeted me by name as I set up my tent. He knows me well from the past ten years I have hosted a statewide off-road dual sport motorcycle ride based at the park. Since I had plenty of photos of the park and it was just getting dark, I skipped taking photos here and instead set my iPhone alarm for 5 am so that I could get up early, brew some coffee, break camp and be out in the wilderness as the sun came up over the eastern mountains.
Daylight saw me deep in the Kiamichi mountains south of Nashoba. Since this was prime hunting territory and it was deer bow season, I chose to wear camo gear and blaze orange vest – primarily so that some unhappy hunter couldn’t shoot me and claim he thought I was a deer. Having ridden this area on my bike many times, I stuck to main trails and worked my way cross-country to Pickens. This is a regular lunch stop during our dual sport motorcycle rides. There is not much in Pickens – a church, a tiny post office, and a run down convenience store with bare shelves and no gas. I have been to Pickens many times and I wanted to explore the area south and east of Pickens a bit more, since normally on our motorcycle trips, we are ready to head back to Clayton after lunch and I never seem to have the opportunity to explore south.
There is only one store in Pickens – with nearly empty shelves and sometimes available gasoline. Public restrooms? Forget it, you go out back.
Most of the homes around Pickens – and much of southeast Oklahoma – look about like this. There are some nicer homes but that is the exception, not the rule.
Traveling through southeast Oklahoma I saw a variety of signs, mostly nailed to the nearest tree.
Little River dominates the landscape between Clayton, Nashoba, Antlers and Broken Bow. (There is more than one river in Oklahoma named “Little River”. The other one is in central Oklahoma and is dammed to form Thunderbird Lake.) The only “town” along the river is Honobia, which can barely be called a town. More like a school district. There are a limited number of bridges across Little River, so traffic is funneled to these bridges and much of the rest of the river is inaccessible except on foot. I knew about a spot called “Devil’s Backbone” which overlooks the Little River and wanted to get a picture from that spot. A rocky, difficult logging road leads to Devil’s Backbone, but the view is worth the struggle. This year the record Oklahoma drought left the river with little water flow, but there were still nice spots for fishing and camping.
The view of the Little River from Devil’s Backbone.
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There was no water flowing in the Little River as a result of the record Oklahoma drought.
An old log home on the road between Cloudy and Pickens.
It had been years since I have been to Battiest, so decided to stop by for a late afternoon snack. Not much in Battiest except the school and a small Choctaw Indian health clinic, and one gas station. Good food here and a great place to stop for lunch.
The only retail store in Battiest, OK. Great place to stop for lunch or a quick snack.
These horses near Nashoba were working hard to find fresh grass. Most pastures are grazed down to nubs.
Another view of the low water in the Little River. There were a few small fish in the still existing pools, but I had no luck catching them.
After spending most of my day exploring the logging roads southeast of Pickens, I finally made it to US Highway 279 and headed north to the small town of Smithville. Of course I couldn’t stay on a major highway long and soon found myself exploring the dirt roads around this tiny town close to the Arkansas border.
An old rusting bridge over a tributary to the Mountain Fork River south of Smithville.
Again the water flow was limited all across southeast Oklahoma.
The end of the day saw me near Talahina. I was up early again the next morning to photograph the landmark Talimena Drive. Unfortunately it was cloudy, cold and rainy so traffic was light, but the views were stunning as usual.
Fall colors were splashed all across the Talimena Drive.
Preferring dirt roads to pavement, I found myself exploring an old logging trail that wound down the north face of the Talimena Drive. This trail became so rough and rocky that I had to shift my FJ Cruiser into 4WD low range for the first time ever, and keep it there for several miles of rugged road. Cool.
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The fall color was in full view on the north side of the Talimena Drive.
It was finally time to point the nose of my FJ west towards home. I drive the back roads as much as possible, stopping to capture pictures along the way.
A cow grazing south of Wilburton, OK.
A horse chooses to eat hay over the green weeds in this pasture near Henryetta.
These boats were sitting in an empty field west of Henryetta, far from water. Is this the new “Redneck Yacht Club?
Along with the beauty, you unfortunately see many scenes such as this, right alongside the highway in Okemah.