Archives for posts with tag: Mountain Fork River

A friend once told me to watch for the “Magic Moments” when I traveled, meaning the treasures you stumble onto while you’re winding along your planned route. Here’s a little one I had near Broken Bow, OK.

Having worked in a big museum for over seven years, until I retired last fall, I’m well aware of what goes on behind the scenes of exhibitions and collections. I also have a great appreciation for the little museums that are sometimes passed by without a second thought, the ones that you never think you “have to see” while you’re in the area. Outside of Broken Bow, in southeastern Oklahoma near the Mountain Fork River, is the Gardner Mansion Museum. I saw the signs, read about it in the tourist websites, but almost missed it and that would have been a shame. What drew me in was the sign about the 2,000 year old Cypress tree on the grounds. I’ve seen lots of old houses and mansions, so I might have skipped it but for the tree.

I called first and got no answer, but saw the gate open while passing by. You can’t see the house from the highway so you go through the farm gates and up the road. When you reach the house, you see a sign to honk for help. I’m sure we had been seen because there was a truck headed our way as we parked the car.


An elderly man and a younger man, probably his grandson, got out of the truck and we paid our admission fee. This was definitely a smaller staff than the museum where I had worked.


We walked to the house…


and he unlocked the door, walking to a chair where he sat down on the glassed in porch. There was a display of dinosaur bones and beautiful huge hunks of quartz. The information by each one said it was found in the area. When we started asking questions, our guide opened up and told us his history as well as shared his knowledge of the treasures we were seeing.

The Gardner Mansion was the home of Jefferson Gardner, a much beloved chief of the Choctaw Nation. He had built his home on this site in 1881, completing it in 1884, on this site that was part of the Trail of Tears for his nation. In 1922, the Stiles family had purchased the property and have maintained and preserved it for three generations. We were visiting with Mr. Stiles himself, the current curator of this museum. He told us stories of the Choctaw and of the dinosaur bones he had found as a child on the property. One had been found just recently. He explained to me how you get the quartz out of the ground, showing off a piece about a foot or more across that a long time friend had found and given him right before he died.

After a bit, I guess we passed muster, so we were taken into the main house. I’m not sure if you get past the porch if he doesn’t trust you. He unlocked the door and we entered the main areas where there were more artifacts to see. In the kitchen, I found lots of old utensils and dishes of the era. In the living room, he showed us a model of the house and photos of Chief Gardner and others, telling stories of the indians as we looked around. Here’s Mr. Stiles showing us some items, including the hand-carved staircase and other Choctaw craftsmanship used in the home…


Once again, I guess we asked the right questions, because we were taken upstairs. There was a treasure trove of indian artifacts including ancient tools, arrowheads, and natural items from the land. I stupidly didn’t see the signs in front of me saying no pictures, so I took a few. Later, I apologized to him, but he said it was ok. He didn’t want too many getting out because the items are quite valuable. Not like he has a security force there, so I understood and won’t pass those along. Here’s some of the hornet nests he’s collected during his life (he’s been on the property since he was 5)…


He showed us some ancient tools he’d recently found. The cows kick up the ground and these kinds of antiquities rise to the surface. Really a remarkable collection.

After we left the house, we drove to see the 2,000 year old Cypress. He showed us a picture of it with a man dwarfed by the trunk, much like the Sequoias in California. Unfortunately, the tree had fallen last year. Trees die, as Mr. Stiles said. We went to see it anyway, although it turned out there wasn’t much left. Nature was reclaiming its own.


The area had other large Cypress and you could picture the Choctaw trudging through the land, searching for the place where they could stop and live their lives in peace. Very ethereal back in the woods, along the water.


On the way back to the house, we stopped to snap a picture of the cemetery. Mr. Stiles and his grandson had chores to do, so we didn’t want to keep them. Wouldn’t you love to know the stories of those buried here?


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If you’re ever in this remote area, stop and visit the Stiles family. Or find another magic moment along the way, wherever you’re traveling. It makes your trip so much richer…

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Being a true Okie girl and proud of it doesn’t mean I’m an expert on our beautiful state. Like most people I know, I don’t always visit the places closest to me. I know people who’ve lived in California for most of their lives and never been to Yosemite, which is hard to imagine. We take things and people close to us for granted. It’s like the old saying that an expert is someone from 50 miles away. If we do venture out of our hometowns, it’s usually to the nearest lake or to the bigger city or to see relatives. Exploring is going out of state, out of the country. And look at all we miss…

I’ve been to all but a handful of our 50 states and I’ve traveled out of the country to various places. Each has its own beauty, history, enchanting stories, individual people. Each is unique in its own way. I treasure my time everywhere but I’m always glad to get home. In our family, we used to sing “Oklahoma” as we crossed the state line. Home is home, even if it’s not where you grew up.

Anyway, I’m sort of retired and want to see all I’ve missed and overlooked in the world around me…at least as much as I can. I’d always wanted to see more of the southeast corner of Oklahoma, intrigued by photos of cypress trees, having seen the lush forests, so I started digging around on the internet. Broken Bow Lake is supposed to be gorgeous with Beaver’s Bend State Park at the southern end, so that’s where I started. While looking for places to stay, I found there were places on the river…who doesn’t love a river or creek running by?

South and east from Tulsa is a beautiful drive, especially in the spring when we’ve had a lot of rain and everything in the countryside is lush and green. The Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers were blooming along the highway, spreading across fields in some places. You begin to forget whatever you had been focusing on at home…just enjoying the view. The further south you go, the lusher it gets. You’re also headed for the area called Little Dixie due to the southerners who moved there after the Civil War. I didn’t see any Confederate flags, but there were signs that make you smile…



Oklahoma is a conservative state, to say the least, although there are plenty of opinions to go around on any political issue. I wasn’t here for politics, just to enjoy the beauty. The road stretched before my friend and me as I tried to capture some of what I was enjoying through my dashboard pictures. You’ll get the idea, even with windshield glare and bug splatters…


For those who don’t know Oklahoma, we have hills and valleys, pine forests, blackjack oaks with their twisted strong limbs, greenery everywhere. That’s just one of the many ecosystems in our state, which has more than any other. If you only picture tallgrass prairie or the plains or the flatness of western Oklahoma, then you have a limited view. I just learned that the Kiamichi Mountains in southeast Oklahoma, mountains probably named by the French traders and not the Indians as you would think, are older than the Rockies, which is why they are smaller, smoother. The Rockies are jagged and younger. But that’s another geology lesson…

This trip, we didn’t take the Talimena Scenic Drive, a gorgeous loop drive between Oklahoma and Arkansas, although I’ve been before and will go again. We were in the Ouachita National Forest (promounced Wash-i-ta), making me so grateful for the National Parks System which protects and manages our natural resources. We started to see the pine trees, the pine forests, and signs of logging in the area to provide for the paper industry.




It’s a fer piece to get to where were going, as we say around here. We really don’t say that, but I like the phrase. It was a 3 1/2 hour drive. We took the loop through Beaver’s Bend State Park, stopping to see the Broken Bow Lake, one of Oklahoma’s many.


The park was beautiful with creeks and activities, campgrounds and beautiful cabins to rent. I can only anticipate the activity as summer begins…we ventured on south to Mountain Fork River and the cabin we had rented. It was a pleasant experience from the time I first found it. A call to the owners, a deposit on a credit card. That was it. Off the highway, down the roads, down country roads…


When we arrived, we stopped at their home, greeted by smiling dogs, gave them cash for the balance and went on down the road. Not a form to fill out or anything. Just folks.

The cabin was delightful. We had picked the one closest to the water and it was perfect. I’d pictured something more rustic, but it was lovely…could sleep 1-6 easily. One of the reasons this one had stood out was the fact that there were boats included in the reasonable price. We could have and might have gone on a longer float trip, but there were canoes, kayaks and flatbottom boats right there for us to use. Just pick one out and go…no hassle, no making reservations, nothing. Easy…


One surprise was how much cane or bamboo was around our cabin and the area. I thought they must have brought it in, but it has been there for a long time I found out later. The great treat was the cypress trees all around. I thought there might be a few, but they were everywhere along the river. I fell in love with them, just like I did the giant Sequoias in California. It was like being transported to another place, a quiet place…I snapped pictures right from the area around the cabin…




…ending with this gorgeous picture right beside us, taken as a film began to cover the water at the end of the afternoon, right before sunset…


An early morning boat ride, taking the flat bottom boat with the trolling motor, which let me take pictures more easily if I didn’t have to paddle, was tranquil and lovely.



…enjoying the cane and cypress, cool and lush in the morning…


…smelling the honeysuckle that covered the trees from the middle of the river…


Up river, we could have taken a wilder float trip with white water fun, but this was a nice morning start with reflections in the water to calm the soul…


At the end, looping around the islands that were in front of our cabin, we looked both ways on the river…




and turned at the tattered flag that waved us back to our landing.



You can tell by the photos that the weather was changing from the bright clear skies of the day before. Ugly storms were predicted, so we went into Broken Bow and then did some other exploring…another blog…before coming back in time to watch the horror of the tornado that hit Moore, OK that day. The weather changed and rain came in, rustling the cane and cypress around us. The trip was cut a little short as we took another route home the next day to drive through the least of the storms we could. It was all beautiful and peaceful, a lovely adventure into southeastern Oklahoma to places I had only heard about and wanted to visit. I can’t do the beauty of the area justice…there’s just so much.

It’s time we should all make and take…time to explore around us. There is so much history, so much natural wonder. It perks your brain to learn new things, warms your heart and restores your soul, brings you peace within. And, it’s great fun! I recommend you find adventure…sooner than later…