We got a late start around 10:15 am but we were finally on our way to Oklahoma and the Oachita range and the famous Horse Heaven Ranch. From the descriptions on line we were fully expecting to find a full camp–that is why we got reservations so far in advance–having heard about the amazing surrounding trails and given its location likely cooler temps. The roads from Mena, Arkansas heading west were very curvy and narrow and the small towns seemed to have been lost in time, tremendous poverty, broken down double wides, rusty piles of trash everywhere and vacant lots. We finally came to the correct mile marker and saw to our amazement that the signpost for the ranch was completely broken down and parts of the signage scattered about….was this really the place? We pulled in and drove past the “gate” and down a dusty narrow road to the “office” to check in….there weren’t many people around, where were all the horse trailers? As it turned out, we were the only patrons and it was explained to us by our very friendly host that “no one comes at this time of year, it’s just too hot”–a word to the wise….how come we weren’t warned about this when I called back in May? But who could have predicted such a heat wave? Our host “Elfie”, offered us whatever camp site we wanted, so we tried to find the most level and shaded spot.
We got our horses situated with pails of water, hooked up some electric fans and proceeded into the “rustic” town of Talihina for groceries. We discovered that the only internet service was at the local library, which on a Sunday was closed, but luckily we were able to sit outside in 100 degrees and start this blog!
Then, we drove to the famous “Rock House Restaurant” which we had been told served the best steaks in Oklahoma! Could the driveway into the restaurant be this long?
The food was great, however, we were most taken in by the unusual atmosphere. First, we were seated outside, only to discover that horses could walk right up to your table!
This was cool! Or was it? The flies were horrendous, crawling all over us, it was time to retreat to safety inside. That’s a fly on the ice bucket!
Our waitress Katelin, who we got to know, will we ever see her again? Maybe she will come to Montana someday!
Katelin found us a spot even though they were booked…..can you imagine? Here in the middle of absolute nowhere? We were given a tour of the bustling kitchen, met the chef from Maryland, -he said the crab cakes were to die for—out here in the middle of the country. Well, the food was terrific and did make reservations for the following night.
Satiated, we drove back at nightfall, brushed and fed the horses, made sure they had enough water and were very grateful for the electrical hook up that allowed for AC all night long. Maybe we will ride if the temps drop. We were very impressed with this horse motel—32 RV hookup campsites, nicely laid out, each with water, sewer and electric on a cement level pad and each had separate pipe stalls for horses, and lots of shade. However, the clothes washing facility was not what I expected.
We should mention another “Unforgettable Character” we had the privilege to meet along our horse journey. Her name is Elfie and she was our host at Horse Heaven Ranch in Talihina, Oklahoma. She had been working there for over 12 years. She was so proud of her dog she had trained to lead her horse. Never had seen anything like it. A 1200 pound beast being led by a small 40 pound dog–simply astounding with the lead rope in the dog’s mouth.
Every Sunday, Elfie spends her “free time” visiting her “adopted people” at the local Veterans Home–there outside the town. She described the center as a beautiful place, situated above a narrow isolated road with views of the surrounding Oachita Hills–she spoke of her favorite “Mama Doris”–a 94 year old WWII WAVE who lives there and who she “adopted” several years ago. Ellie is Mama Doris’ faithful and only companion. She has also befriended a cancer victim, a lonely, angry man who she manages to cheer up, the only time during the week he laughs, she reveals. She calls them all, these isolated, forgotten veterans “her people”. “They risked their lives for our country, this is the least I can do for them” she uttered matter-of-factly”–but for me her acts of grace and love resounded profoundly and left me feeling utterly amazed…..utterly humbled.