Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lesser known places in the US

Honestly speaking when I was in India I thought I knew quite a big about the US, especially from a travellers perspective. But having come here and travelled 6 of the 50 states of this continent-sized country, I believe that this country too has several interesting landmarks worthy of visiting. There is not much in terms of ancient historical monuments or well preserved cultural heritage but the natural wealth of the country is simply immense. Given its size there are vast areas of sparse population which has enabled the government to creat national forests, sanctuaries, national parks etc.
But one thing is certain though US has five times India's land area and about a fifth of India's population, it is certainly a crowded country. Whichever road you may be travelling on, there will be several big fuel-guzzling cars passing you. Finding accommodation or even a camping spot in the wilderness during weekends is difficult. There is an over supply of housing which has lead to a massive real estate slump across the country triggering a near-recession kind of scenario, but still people don't seem to stay at home. They are always out on the road or visiting some place or the other.

Last weekend was a long one owing to it being the Memorial Day, a day on which America remembers its men and women who laid down their lives serving the nation. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it was enacted to honor Union soldiers who fought the American Civil War, then later after World War I the scope was expanded to cover all Americans killed in any war or military action. And we decided to head out of Flat Texas and visit some hill country in neighboring states of Oklahoma and Arkansas.

We chose to explore the Kiamichi Country in Oklahoma state, which was a thriving Native American settlement before the white people came, massacred them and took over their lands and forests. Anyway today there are no natives in this part of the country. Our plan was to visit the Ouchita National Forest which spans across both Oklahoma and Arkansas. The entire forest is criss-crossed by several well-marked hiking, bicycling and walking trails, the longest of which is about 192 miles.

Our plan was to drive across the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive and then camp at Cedar Lake. So we started our drive early in the morning and sped off on America's big roads towards Oklahoma, first on Tx-121 and then on US-75 and then I lost track of highways. After making enquiries we finally turned off the scenic drive and reached the banks of Cedar lake only to find that most of the lakeside campsites were taken. Luckily we found one in the farthest campsite and took it immediately ($10).

The undulating water body sprawls across 86 acres and is surrounded by pine and Oak covered hills. According to the national parks website the lake maintains its water level even during fierce droughts. The forest around the lake is infested with a diverse array of wildlife including, black bears, deer, rabbits, armadillo, raccoons, possum, etc. The lake itself is a great place to get a refreshing swim, fish, boat, kayak and just hang out.

Images of Cedar Lake and surroundings
Modern Campsites
Campsites in America are highly evolved and offer all the comforts of the city. Many people travel in airconditioned Recreational Vehicles which are hooked up to the power points at campsites and then set up a portable dish antenna and TV to watch their favourite shows. Others who don't own an RV bring in huge tents and camp furniture and set up their temporary home at the campsite. Every campsite has a barbecue pit, a fire place and two benches and a dining table. There are clean toilets and bathrooms within easy reach of the campgrounds, so output is not a problem here. The super rich even bring horses and ride through the forests on them.

We were not too well equipped for our camping. We carried enough food for two days a tent, some sleeping gear and reached there. We forgot to carry a torch and that was not much of a problem because we used the car's headlights to light up the dinner table.

I enjoyed a refreshing swim in the icy waters of Cedar lake. When I first entered the lake at the shallow end I felt it was rather dirty for American standards, instead of being azure the water was brown and murky. I reluctantly went over to the pier where people were diving, here the water was much clearer and inviting. I just jumped in and boy... was it cold??? refreshing in the hot afternoon sun. After enjoying in the water for about an hour we went for a long walk in the wilderness and retired into the tent for the night.

Coming SoonRoad Kill and Queen Wilhelmina State Forest, Arkansas.

No comments: