When I saw the weather forecast for this weekend, which called for sunny skies and sixty+ degree temperatures, I knew a road trip was necessary. I haven’t done much since traveling in the New Year and I was itching to put some more miles on the odometer. Samantha had to work a show for the Tulsa World, so it was just me and the Mustang yesterday. Which, in some ways, was fitting considering it’s the four year anniversary of Dad’s passing.
I woke before dawn. Although I get up earlier than I used to naturally these days, waking up at 6:00 AM is never easy. However, when I have a full day’s travel itinerary, it’s definitely easier. I backed out of the driveway at 6:30, got some coffee, and headed south on Highway 75. My first destination was nearly three hours away; I spent that time watching the sunrise and listening to new music. I didn’t divert from the interstate until I was nearly at my first destination, as highway travel is very linear. I took a slight detour through the towns of Caddo and Achille before arriving at the Red River and the Carpenter’s Bluff Bridge crossing.
The bridge was built in 1910 as a railroad bridge for MO&G and stayed that way for fifty years, at which time it was converted for automobile use. It’s built high across the river due to flood concerns and includes a wooden walkway to one side, as it was also used as a tollway for wagons, horses, and pedestrians. It’s a one-way bridge today(thanks to the railroad width) and cars were stop-and-go most of the time I was wandering around with my camera. In fact, I was surprised at the amount of traffic that used this rural passage. The wagon shelf was in disrepair, so I didn’t venture that far out. When I drove to the Texas side of the bridge, they had an actual gate and STOP sign on the walkway so foolish people like me wouldn’t get hurt. There was also a nice little historical marker and evidence that a little town once existed on the river bank. Now, though, the area is mostly pasture. The bridge is one of the most impressive I’ve been able to see up close and was worth the drive for sure.
My next stop was the town of Hugo, Oklahoma. Billed as ‘Circus City USA’ it was the winter home for several traveling circus acts. A friend on Instagram had posted a photo from their town cemetery, which had a section specifically for circus performers; I had to see it for myself. Sure enough, right in the middle of the Mount Olivet Cemetery is a plot marked as “Showman’s Rest”. There were ornate grave markers for trapeze artists, clowns, animal trainers, and all manner of other performers. Several of the little elephant statues that designated the circus area had grown mossy, adding to the mood of the place, and overall the area was very well kept. Many grave markers went back decades and others were placed as recent as last year. There was even a grave stone that looked like a little tent. One of the showmen’s epitaph read ‘The man with more friends than Santa Claus’. Although I’ve never been a fan of the circus overall, it was easy to feel the camaraderie and community in this interesting little corner.
I continued east to the Wheelock Mission Church near Millerton, OK. It was built in 1846 and is the oldest surviving church building in the state and in the Choctaw nation. The founder actually translated the New Testament into the Choctaw language there. The small church sits alone in the countryside next to a dirt road. In fact, until I rounded the corner and saw it I wondered if Google Maps was taking me for a ride. It’s pretty well kept and the grounds are tended, which includes a small cemetery. The Wheelock Academy (which was founded as a girls seminary in 1842) was nearby, but it was gated off. Still, seeing the little church was pretty neat. If I had driven past without knowing the history of the place, I probably wouldn’t have stopped to take a closer look.
My last stop took me north to Le Flore County, and on my way I drove through the Ouachita National Forest. This was entirely unexpected, as my original map took me a different direction. In fact, when I saw the signage saying I was entering the protected forest area I didn’t pay it much mind. However, when I started driving among the tall trees and up through the Ouachita Mountains I was awed. Small towns popped up here and there advertising cabin rentals and weekend getaways, and I was reminded of my trip through Colorado a few years ago. I couldn’t believe I was still in Oklahoma. I stopped near a river and sat quietly, listening to the water go by. I also stopped at the Three Sticks monument to look out over the landscape and breathed the fresh air. It was glorious. Driving the Mustang around the curvy mountain roads was exceedingly enjoyable, though I had to nervously navigate around several Wide Load transports coming the opposite direction. Glad I wasn’t driving those big rigs around the hairpin turns.
After my forest excursion, I arrived at the former Eastern Oklahoma Tuberculosis Sanitorium in Talihina, which was converted to a veteran’s care facility in the seventies. It’s on the edge of the forest and sits atop a hill that has a stunning view of the distant mountains. I wandered around one of the original brick buildings that was used back in the TB days and tried not to be creeped out by my imagination. I could easily see turn-of-the-century folks sitting in wicker chairs, enjoying the air and the view, but slowly succumbing to their disease. Newer buildings had been constructed and were in use and the older ones had fallen into disrepair. It’s the kind of place that is pretty much tailor-made for haunting. I didn’t dawdle very long, not just because of the creep factor but the grounds are still actively used; I didn’t want to be shooed off by the Department of Veterans Affairs people.
Although I had one more stop on my map, daylight was fading. I decided to leave Fort Gibson for another day and headed home. I watched the sun set and felt satisfied with my 500 mile journey. I need to take several more trips soon, as there is a block of historic buildings in Oklahoma City that are scheduled to be demolished for new development, including the old Union Bus Depot. Additionally, there’s a truss bridge in War Eagle Arkansas that is under debate for replacement. I hope I can wait for spring for that one, but if not…let’s hope we have some more mild weekends soon.