WATCH: Rich Mountain can be a prime location for viewing fall colors

Although it is unknown how impressive the peak of fall foliage will be in the Ouachitas during the weeks to come, this photo, taken a few years back, is an indication of how vibrant the view from Rich Mountain can appear during the fall season. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record
Although it is unknown how impressive the peak of fall foliage will be in the Ouachitas during the weeks to come, this photo, taken a few years back, is an indication of how vibrant the view from Rich Mountain can appear during the fall season. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record

Outdoor writer and photographer Corbet Deary is featured regularly in The Sentinel-Record. Today, Deary takes readers on a journey to Rich Mountain.

This is that magical time of the year when Arkansas' forests transform into a wonderland of vibrant colors. Of course, each year is different. And there are a number of circumstances that must fall together at the perfect time to produce the most vibrant colors.

That all being said, I'm not sure exactly how vibrant the upcoming weeks might be. The past few falls have been somewhat drab, in my opinion. But I can also recall years when the forest canopy was amazingly bright and colorful.

I'm hoping we are on the brink of a showy transformation. But even if this fall turns out to be less than hoped for, there will still be some color out there. That in mind, I'm anticipating the opportunity to strike out and capture the fall of 2020 in the weeks to come.

As an outdoor photographer, I have happened upon specific locations throughout the years, which have become my go-to places during the color change.

These particular locations are bountiful with hardwoods and are often situated where one can see for miles into the distance. And of course, they notoriously produce some of most vibrant colors in comparison to other locations throughout the state.

Many of these spots are situated atop mountainous terrain. That being said, wind is sometimes an issue, and occasionally leaves the trees atop the peak barren of foliage. But the canopy on the distant hillsides and lower-level ranges are still attached and painting the landscape with vibrant hues of reds, yellows and oranges.

Many travel to the Ozarks of north Arkansas to see fall foliage and I, too, gravitate toward a few locations in that particular region of the state.

But that's no indication that our neck of the woods is barren of color. In fact, I can think of several locations in the heart of the Ouachitas that lend to incredible fall foliage viewing opportunities that are equally as impressive as the jagged mountains nestled in the northern parts of the state.

And it just so happens that Rich Mountain is one such location. Situated in extreme western Arkansas, this mountain towers above the neighboring ridges. The road leading to atop and following the ridgeline lends to deep valleys surrounded by distant mountains.

One of Arkansas' state parks is perched atop the mountain, and the Ouachita National Trail System also meanders across its steep and jagged substrate. The mountain also sports an interesting history, lending to yet another reason to strike out and explore what it has to offer during the most colorful time of the year.

Rich Mountain is a very popular destination and is easy to find. In fact, the winding journey to the mountaintop promises to be scenic as well.

From Hot Springs, travel west on Highway 70 for about 40 miles, to Pencil Bluff and turn left onto Highway 88. Remain on Highway 88 for about 31 miles and turn left onto Highway 71 at Mena. Go 1.7 miles and take a right onto Mena Street at the state park sign.

Remain on Mena Street and it will enter the national forest and begin a winding journey to atop the mountain within a mile or so. In fact, we'll be making a steep and crooked ascent along the Talimena Scenic Byway for the next 13 miles, before it finally tops out just about the time it reaches the state park.

Although the view from the road is magnificent, the one chosen as the designated driver will likely spend a great deal of their focus on the road, and rightfully so. However, there are several vistas along the way where one can pull into a parking area and take in the breathtaking scenery.

The Blue Haze Vista will provide the first opportunity to stop and enjoy a distant view. A distant Fourche Mountain lurks in the horizon. The Acorn Vista is situated a short distance up the road, and lends to yet another view in the same direction.

The Round Mountain Vista awaits farther up this steep and winding journey and is situated on the opposing side of the highway. Those stopping at this spot will catch a great view of Shut-in Valley, where no man-made structures will be visible. Round Top Mountain will also be in view to the far left.

The Kansas City Southern Railway parallels Highway 270 in the valley separating the Eagleton Vista And Black Fork Mountain. The Grandview Vista is the next in line and provides folks with the widest panoramic view awaiting those who travel this route, as it looks over the Mountain Fork River Valley.

I am most fond of the next stopping point, as a spur road leads to the Rich Mountain Tower. This fire tower has been restored and still stands. A restroom and picnic tables are on the premises, as well.

Shortly after heading on up the mountain, one can stop and take a look from Lake Wilhelmina Vista.

Peering in a southward direction, one can see the distant 300-acre reservoir lurking in the valley.

After taking in this particular stop, one can look forward to traveling a short distance to where the road finally straightens, just about the time it makes its way alongside Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

This facility is certainly worth a stop, as it offers plenty to keep one occupied. An incredible view can be seen from the state park's vista, and those who feel compelled to get out and do some exploring might consider taking in one of the trails. And let's not forget that the restaurant serves some tasty dishes.

The highway continues in the direction of the Oklahoma line and runs alongside a parking area shortly thereafter, that those with an interest in history will likely find this stop of interest.

It is suggested that in the neighborhood of one dozen families resided along an 8- to 10-mile stretch atop the mountain in the late 1800s. And Pioneer Cemetery was their final resting place.

There are only 23 graves at this site, nestled and secluded a short distance from the parking area, one of which has a tombstone with a legible inscription. The exact date of the first burial at this cemetery is unknown. But it is recorded that the land was deeded for a church, school and cemetery in 1890. Although the cemetery was most important more than 100 years ago, the last burial at this particular location transpired in 1949.

OK, let's strike out a little farther to yet another location of historic value. The Choctaw Nation/State Line Historic Marker is on the right-hand side where Arkansas officially ends and Oklahoma begins.

According to an interpretive sign at the parking area, this is where the 1877 survey marker designated the boundary between Arkansas and the Choctaw Nations.

This line was actually surveyed in 1825. However, it was determined, during a resurvey in 1857, that the old line was not accurate and deprived the Choctaw Nation of some of their land.

The highway continues along the ridgeline for several miles prior to making a descent, lending to more scenic views along the way. Yep, this route is worthy of consideration during any season of the year. And as the peak of fall foliage nears, it is definitely a location I anticipate visiting in the weeks to come.

The winding journey to atop Rich Mountain can prove beautiful during the fall season. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record
The winding journey to atop Rich Mountain can prove beautiful during the fall season. - Photo by Corbet Deary of The Sentinel-Record

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