4 Reasons You Need to Visit Talihina This Fall
4 Reasons to Visit Talihina

4 Reasons You Need to Visit Talihina This Fall

By Amanda McCarty

Autumn is undeniably one of the most celebrated seasons, and it’s no mystery as to why. The cooling temperatures beckon us outdoors, and our lungs fill with the crisp breath of a new season that washes away the stale tang of summer.

Humming with the vibration of the change around us, every aspect of our lives seems to be aligned with this spirit of metamorphosis. Our wardrobes become layered with cozy flannels and oversized hoodies. Even our palates change as we seek out the warmth of spiced breads and pumpkin-flavored anything.

If this beautiful celebration of change and “letting go” could be perfectly encapsulated in an idealistic bubble, you’d find it in Talihina, Oklahoma. Talihina was made for fall. And if you’ve never had the chance to experience its picturesque views and cinematic scenery, I’ve got four reasons why you should make this your year:

1. The Views
Cruising through the Talimena National Scenic Byway is a must if you’re searching for ‘gram-worthy photo ops and back-roads vibes. Snaking its way through the Winding Stair and Rich Mountains, this unique area is one of the most sought-after places to view autumn foliage in all her majesty. The undulating landscape of peaks and valleys is suffused with tones of crimson, amber, goldenrod, ochre, tangerine and a myriad of other colors whose names have yet to be pinned down. Along the way, you’ll find charming historic towns with welcoming cafés and one-of-a-kind shops.

Many are under the misconception that you have to travel to the northern part of the country for views like these, but they’re much closer than you think — right here in southeastern Oklahoma.

2. The Trails
Maybe it’s our sense of wonder at the transitioning beauty around us, but there’s something about autumn that brings to life a spirit of exploration in us all. There’s no better place to explore the unknown than the hiking paths that furrow their way through the wilderness of the Ouachita National Forest.

Due to the mountainous topography, the difficulty ratings on these trails begin on the moderate side. But as long as you’ve got the proper gear, and maybe a little hiking experience under your belt, they’re well worth checking out. The Talimena State Park to Hells Hollow trail is a good icebreaker with 7.8 miles of rocky terrain perfect for birdwatching or bringing along your furry companion. The Ouachita Bohannon Trail ups the intensity, cutting 17 miles out-and-back into Buffalo Wallow Mountain and offering ample locations for backcountry camping along the way.

3. The Camping
Gathering with loved ones around the glow of the fire, fingers sticky with the melted remnants of s’mores. Sleeping beneath the comforting canopy of ancestral tree branches and shimmering starlight. Surviving off the land — or whatever you packed in the cooler. Camping was made for making memories.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “camper,” Talimena State Park has so many options, you just may find yourself converted to a life of dreamy stays in the wild — whatever your version of that may be. For those who prefer the comfort of a springy mattress in a climate-controlled environment, you’ll find 10 RV sites with 30-amp electric and water hookups. For the camping purist who doesn’t mind a little ash in their dinner (I call it “seasoning”), there are seven designated tent sites and even more options for backcountry camping.

4. The Events
Is there anything more enchanting than a festival in honor of our favorite season? Known locally as the event of the season, the Talihina Fall Foliage Festival is a must-see celebration that just keeps getting better every year.

Here, you’ll find a cornucopia of entertainment for the whole family including live music, unique shopping opportunities, craft exhibits, car shows, pony rides and a Wild West reenactment. There’s also a bountiful harvest of delicious food and hot, spiced beverages, and the Talimena National Scenic Byway lies nearby amidst the breathtaking scenery.

Connect with what matters

Connecting With What Matters

By Amanda McCarty

The fading sunlight of shorter days gives cool breath to the shadows as autumn whispers her impending arrival, and suddenly, camping season is upon us. Like many, I grew up camping and cultivated a love for it that will last my entire life. But have you ever sat and wondered precisely why we do this? Why do we abandon our possessions and comfortable, air-conditioned homes to sleep in the dirt?

When we camp, we give ourselves the space to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty we constantly take for granted. Gathered in a circle around the hypnotizing dance of fire, the conversations become more intimate as stories are told and laughter is shared. The songs of crickets keep tempo in the background as the perfume of woodsmoke lifts the chords of the guitar into the close, velvet sky. The stars seem to have multiplied and hang heavy in the night like pale sentinels over the wilderness.

Here, everything is connected. Everything has a purpose. Dead leaves, fallen to the ground in tones of amber, are given new life as kindling. A slender twig foraged from among the undergrowth becomes the perfect roasting utensil. Pants are the new napkin. The branches overhead become our refuge, and a level stretch of earth, spongy with rotting leaves and moss, becomes the perfect bed.

As the night plunges on into the wee hours, the fire is reduced to a steady glow of coals, pulsing amidst the ash like so many beating hearts. Dusty and worn, we retreat to our tents, blanketed with the comfort of the connections we’ve made — to the earth, ourselves and each other — and the memories we know we’ve created.

I believe these experiences awaken within us something wild — a primitive kernel of humanity we all carry at our core, buried beneath the layers of business casual, iced americanos, mortgage rates, credit card bills and all the other nonsense we’ve accumulated in our pursuit of civilization.

When we strip everything else away, we connect with the ancient wisdom of our ancestors — a wisdom that tells us gratitude is found in making do with less. Comfort is found in snuggling against the cold. Accomplishment is found in struggle. And joy is found in sharing these experiences with the ones we love.

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons:
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
– Walt Whitman

Beavers Bend State Park | Broken Bow, OK
I don’t think it’s possible to say enough good things about this particular section of Oklahoma. With a myriad of hiking and biking trails, fishing holes, kayaking opportunities and campgrounds amidst stunning scenery, it’s simply an outdoorsperson’s paradise.

This makes Beavers Bend the perfect place to camp, whether you enjoy roughing it tent-style, setting up your home-away-from-home on an RV pad or retreating to the comfort of a yurt along the cool banks of Mountain Fork River. This area also features an incredible selection of privately owned cabins for those who prefer to keep four walls and a roof between themselves and their outdoorsy experience.

Robbers Cave State Park | Wilburton, OK
The Robbers Cave area seems to have been designed with the heart of an adventurer in mind. From cave exploring and horseback riding to mini golf and waterslides, there’s excitement to be found in every corner of the park.

Here, you’ll find campsites for groups, tents, RVs and even sites with accommodations for horses. This is another great area to rent a cabin and also features a 20-room lodge available for larger groups.

Talimena State Park | Talihina, OK
Nestled among the slopes of the Winding Stair Mountains, Talimena State Park offers breathtaking views, whether you’re hiking through Ouachita National Forest, hitting the ATV trails or simply passing through.

This park has the usual offerings of tent and RV setups, but it’s also the perfect backpacking destination. Many of the trails are long, requiring multiple days to complete on foot, and the fairytale forest offers an enchanting place to relax for the night.

Rock Climbing

For the Love of the Climb

By Amanda McCarty

I was once a climber. As a child I would climb to what I referred to as the “tippy-top” branches and dangle upside-down by my knees. The sight of this would surely have sent my mom into the throes of a panic attack, but that’s just how life was when we were kids. We explored the world unsupervised and lived to tell the tales.

I would venture to guess we all started our lives as climbers. We climbed over fences to play with childhood neighbors. We climbed the outside of the playground equipment at McDonald’s, giving no thought to the posted signs warning us not to. We climbed over furniture when the floor was lava. We climbed through windows when playtime involved secrets that must be kept.

For those who grow to pursue rock climbing as adults, “the climb” takes on a new meaning. It becomes more about conquering the physical and mental challenges brought on — challenges unique to each climb. It’s tackling what shouldn’t be possible, and screaming, “I did it!” when the summit is reached. It’s seeing what you’re capable of and the feeling of accomplishment when your doubts are proven wrong. It’s connecting with that inner child who still loves a good climb. Not to mention, it’s a great workout — one you just can’t duplicate within the confines of a traditional gym.

I’d like to say I’m still a climber, but sadly that part of me was lost somewhere along the way. That said, I’m willing to bet there’s a climber still inside of me — and all of us — just waiting to be invited out to play.

With so many opportunities in southeastern Oklahoma, it’s a possibility that deserves to be explored.

Robbers Cave State Park | Wilburton, OK
With the massive amount of boulders and rock formations pushing their way up through the surrounding landscape, it’s no wonder Robbers Cave is one of the more popular sites for climbing in southeastern Oklahoma. Here, you’ll find nine routes from which to choose, with options for trad, top-rope and boulder climbs for all skill levels.

It’s also a great place to land when the climb is over, offering 26 cabins and multiple sites for both tent and RV camping. While you’re at Robbers Cave, be sure to explore the myriad of activities for further entertainment, including hiking and equestrian trails, mini golf, canoe rentals, cave tours, cane pole fishing and so much more.

McGee Creek National Scenic State Recreation Area | Atoka, OK
The area around McGee Creek is known for its bouldering opportunities, which is great if you don’t want to haul a bunch of gear into the forest. It’s just you and your determination keeping you gripped to the face of a rock that’s witnessed the coming and going of millions of generations.

It’s also a beautiful place to camp and features hiking and equestrian trails as well as boat rentals on the nearby McGee Creek Reservoir.

Crag Climb | Broken Bow, OK
If you’re looking for a great introduction into the sport of climbing, Crag Climb is the perfect place to begin. This state-of-the-art indoor climbing gym offers a safe environment to explore the basics of climbing, with access to members of the climbing community for training and advice. But it’s not just for beginners — Crag Climb offers courses from VB-V12 (beginner to expert) as well as climb packages, memberships, party packages and more.

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore everything Broken Bow has to offer while you’re in town. From fly fishing, mountain biking and hiking trails to wineries, ax throwing and the annual Bigfoot Festival, there are adventures for everyone just waiting to be had.

Lone kayaker

The Current of the Wilderness

By Amanda McCarty

As most in the south know, summers are best spent in the water. Maybe for you that’s spending the day skimming across the lake with a boatful of friends. Maybe it’s lounging by the pool with a good book and a cool drink. But if you’re anything like me, it means paddling your kayak down a river somewhere.

There’s nothing quite like setting off from a grassy bankside and surrendering your fate to wherever the water takes you. You become an explorer of sorts, on an expedition to discover the parts of the world we take for granted. The soft filtering of light through a canopy of trees arching gracefully overhead, the majestic beauty of the looming cliffside, the variegated patterns and swirls in the rock formations gliding by and the way green stains everything with the color of life. You become a captive audience to the menagerie of wildlife surrounding you – a family of ducks swimming past, the kaleidoscope of colors in their oil-slicked feathers, the luminous splash of a silvery fish breaking the water’s surface.

It doesn’t have to be all laid back and dreamy, though. Maybe you crave the thrill of the split-second decisions required to navigate more turbulent waters, maneuvering your way through narrow channels, the rush of being ruthlessly carried over jagged rocks and the pride in coming out the other side as more than just a survivor. If your style is more adrenaline junkie, there are certainly opportunities – often in the same river – requiring a more high-energy performance.

In the end, the adventure is what you make it. And Choctaw Country offers some of the most beautiful places to dive into the unknown and see where the current of the wilderness takes you.

Mountain Fork River | Broken Bow, OK

There’s no shortage of places to rent a kayak for the day in Beavers Bend State Park if you don’t have one of your own, and they’re usually relatively cheap. If you have the option (and you’re not doing anything too crazy), I recommend the sit-on-top kind, because they’re the easiest to get in and out of when you feel the urge to slip in the water to cool off. But you find what works best for you.

Beavers Bend River Floats is a great place to start if you’re just looking to dip your toe into the water, so to speak. After being shuttled to the drop-off point, it’s a peaceful trip downstream back to their shop and only takes about an hour. The best part, though, are the stunning views as Mountain Fork River cuts its way through the Kiamichi Mountains.

If you want to make a day of it, River Rats has options ranging from two and a half to six hours and offers a bit of excitement with Class II rapids and a three-foot waterfall. If you have your own kayak, they’ll even shuttle you to the drop-off point, for a small fee of course.

Kiamichi River | Antlers, OK

Sometimes, you just need a little more space to breathe, where you feel that the river is yours alone. The Kiamichi River delivers with a beautiful stretch of water between Clayton and Antlers that’s perfect for paddling away from the more touristy areas.

K River Campground is the go-to here for kayak and canoe rental, and they’ll shuttle you to wherever you want to put in upriver. There are a few gravel bars dispersed throughout the river if you want to camp out on the water. Or you can just make your way back to the campgrounds at K River, where they offer everything from tent and RV sites to tree houses and cabins.

Lake Eufaula | Eufaula, OK

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a river that you venture into. You can always kayak on the lake; but without the assistance of the river’s current, it’s best to go on a calm day when the water is relatively smooth. There’s nothing so exhausting as fighting choppy waves with nothing but a paddle and your upper body strength.

Lake Eufaula is a great place to set out, with the surrounding hilly landscape offering stunning views. There are also plenty of other activities to explore nearby, including numerous campgrounds and marinas with on-the-water restaurants and bars.

Take in the Views

Take in the Views

By Christian Toews
From the June 2022 Biskinik

As spring is ending and we start to see the first glimpse of summer in Choctaw Country, we are making the final leg of our three-part road trip through Southeastern Oklahoma. We visited large cities and small towns in the first part of our trip. We have already seen some of the best and most beautiful areas in Oklahoma – but we aren’t done yet. We will explore even more destinations worth adding to your list in this portion of our road trip. It doesn’t matter if you want to take a day trip or spend a few days in each location. There is plenty to see and experience at all of our stops.

We ended the last section of our road trip in Pocola, Oklahoma. We will travel southwest from Pocola and take a scenic drive to Talihina, Oklahoma. The drive from Pocola to Talihina is beautiful no matter what road you take, but the most scenic route would be along Highway 1. This highway is part of the Talimena National Scenic Byway and is one of the most spectacular places in Oklahoma. The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated this section of road as an official National Scenic Byway. Driving the entire scenic byway takes you across one of the highest mountain ranges between the Appalachians and the Rockies. The whole drive is 54 miles long one-way, so you will need most of the day to explore the byway if you plan to drive its entirety. Stopping at any sweeping vistas along the way is well worth your time. There are no services along the drive, so make sure you stop in Talihina and get some snacks and drinks before you head out.

Chamber of Commerce director, Vera Nelson, said that people come from all over the country and worldwide to visit the Talimena drive. “The most popular time to visit is in the fall, and we get people from all around the world who visit our area.” Nelson encouraged visitors to stop by the visitor center in Talihina and pick up a Talimena Scenic Byway guidebook. You can also visit the Talihina Chamber of commerce website to plan your trip.

Talihina is well known for the Talimena drive, but there are many other reasons to stop in this city from great coffee at My Crystal Chandelier Coffee House & Gift Shop or a historic place to spend the night at Hootie Creek Guest House. If you need to stop for gas and a snack, stop at the Choctaw Travel Plaza. Anything you need for your journey is right here.

From Talihina, we are going to travel west to McAlester, Oklahoma. This large city is well known for the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, where the majority of the bombs used by the United States military are manufactured. With many wineries, breweries, and restaurants, this is an entertaining stop on any road trip through the area. One of the most popular restaurants is Pete’s Place in Krebs, Oklahoma. Krebs borders McAlester and is worth the stop if you love good food. If you are looking for something quick, there have been many developments near the highway through McAlester, and there is a variety of fast food, coffee, and gas options.

Leaving McAlester, we are headed south to our final destination on our road trip. Our last stop has everything you need to stay for a few hours to a few days. Durant, Oklahoma, has become one of Oklahoma’s most popular tourist areas, and with good reason. Durant has something to offer everyone with multiple outdoor recreation options, a world-class resort hotel, and a vibrant downtown.

A few minutes drive from Durant will bring you to Lake Texoma. With approximately 1200 miles of shoreline, there are plenty of swim beaches, recreation areas, and things to do on and off the water. Many marinas in the area offer boat rentals, so you can get out and enjoy being on the water even if you are visiting. If you want to camp, there are plenty of options near Durant to camp close to the water.

After you play on the lake, head to Durant’s downtown. This is a wonderful place to visit a local coffee shop, brewery, restaurant, or shop for some unique treasures. Durant offers a farmers’ market and various other community events during the warmer months of the year. You can visit durant.org and see a calendar of community events to help you plan your stop in Durant.

Stargazing
Choctaw Nation Photo
Nothing says tropical escape quite like three beautiful acres and two pools: one family-friendly and fully equipped with two waterslides, and the other an exclusive, adult-only pool.

If you want a world-class, luxurious experience in the heart of southeastern Oklahoma, visit Choctaw Casino Resort – Durant. With 1,700 hotel rooms available at the AAA Four Diamond hotel, 16 restaurant options, and a variety of bars and lounges, it’s easy to enjoy yourself. Are you traveling with kids? Visit The District, where there is an arcade, six movie theaters, bowling and more. The food and entertainment options are almost limitless.

Visiting Choctaw Casino Resort – Durant in the warm months of the year is particularly appealing because of the newly opened resort pools. Aqua is a three-acre area of pools, cabanas, outdoor bars, and more. One family-friendly pool is fully equipped with two waterslides, and the other is an exclusive, adult-only pool. If you want a place of your own for the day, Aqua offers 50 luxurious poolside cabanas. For more information on Aqua or anything Choctaw Casino Resort offers, you can visit choctawcasinos.com.

Our road trip through southeastern Oklahoma has ended, but now is the time to let your adventure begin. Whether you follow the road trip exactly or create your own from our three-part series, you are sure to enjoy Choctaw Country.

Previous Road Trip Series Articles

Hit the open road and plan your next road trip in Choctaw Country: Part 2

Hit the Open Road

By Christian Toews
From the May 2022 Biskinik

In the first article of this series, we began our road trip around Choctaw Country. We visited Hugo, Idabel and Broken Bow, Oklahoma.

Since the last article, the trees have started to bloom, and everything has become greener with life.

The classic Oklahoma storms have also begun to arrive. But as the old saying goes, April’s showers bring May’s flowers. So, pack up the car and take a road trip through Choctaw Country to watch spring bloom across the southeastern part of Oklahoma.

We will begin the second part of our road trip in Honobia, Oklahoma.

From Broken Bow, where we stopped in the last article, head north to find the small community of Honobia.

While it might be a small town, it has a considerable reputation.

It is one of the hottest spots in the United States for Bigfoot sightings and tales.

Every year, Honobia hosts an annual Bigfoot festival.

Vendors, believers and even television shows gather at the festival to share new information, swap stories and celebrate this legendary creature.

According to honobiabigfoot.com, the 2022 bigfoot festival will take place on September 30 and October 1, 2022.

Shawna Cline owns the Honobia Creek Store & RV Park. She said over 5,000 people make their way to the area for the annual festival.

Cline has owned and operated the Honobia Creek Store with her husband, Chris, for 15 years. “I didn’t realize how many bigfoot believers there were. People come from all over the country and all around the world,” she said.

While the festival in the fall draws large crowds to Honobia, there are plenty of other reasons to visit. Oklahoma’s Little River runs through this area and is excellent for kayaking.

There are many trails to ride side-by-sides and ATVs. Rent a cabin, tent camp or bring your RV and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the great outdoors.

Stargazing
Photo by Christian Toews
Honobia, Oklahoma, is home to the Bigfoot Festival and crystal clear skies perfect for stargazing.

Another popular activity in this area is stargazing.

According to Cline, many people visit and stay to look at the stars. “There have been several people who have camped or brought their RV and took photos of the stars because you can see them so well,” she said. “We stop and look at the stars all the time. I didn’t realize how many people don’t get to do that.”

The Honobia Creek Store also offers a restaurant and a wide selection of merchandise.
One person left a review on Google saying:
“After three years, I had this burger again and it was as amazing as I remember. We stopped there yesterday and the staff is so friendly. The food is amazing.”

If you are looking for a unique outdoor experience, look no further than Honobia on your road trip.
For more information on Honobia Creek Store, check out the Store’s Facebook page.

Our next destination is beautiful Poteau, Oklahoma.

The drive from Honobia to Poteau is breathtaking. You will travel past some of the best scenic views in Oklahoma on your way.

Once you arrive, the options for activities and things to see are almost endless.

Grab a cuppa Joe at the Coffee Cup downtown, then head to Runestone Park in nearby Heavener, which has an artifact from some of the area’s earliest settlers. You can also check out Cavanal Hill, which is known as the “world’s highest hill” because it is barely shy of being classified as a mountain.

If you want to learn even more about the area’s history, you can visit the LeFlore County Museum at Hotel Lowry.

One of the most popular attractions in this area is the Poteau Balloon Fest.

You will be dazzled as the sky is filled with hot air balloons. Stay until the sun goes down, and you will see a truly unique hot air balloon experience where the balloon glows light up the sky. Poteau is a genuinely unique stop along our road trip through Choctaw Country.

To find out more about activities and attractions, you can visit poteau-ok.com.

The final stop on this leg of our road trip is a short drive from Poteau to the town of Pocola, Oklahoma.

This is the perfect location to stop for the night or enjoy some world-class cuisine. Pocola is home to one of the three Choctaw Casino & Resort locations.

This resort is for those searching for a unique experience, where you can enjoy tacos and burgers or steak and shrimp. Enjoy entertainers and try your luck at the tables, this resort offers everything you need to make a road trip stop or a weekend getaway an unforgettable experience.

If you feel adventurous during your stay, you can step right outside Choctaw Country and visit Fort Smith, Arkansas, where there are even more entertainment and attraction options.

Pocola is the perfect place to stop along our road trip if you are looking for a luxury experience for any budget or interest.

To find out more about the Choctaw Casino & Resort in Pocola, you can visit choctawcasinos.com/pocola.

Be sure to join us again next month for the final portion of our road trip through Choctaw Country.

Plan your next Road Trip

Plan your next Road Trip

By Christian Toews
From the April 2022 Biskinik

When you think about taking a road trip, you probably think about driving across the United States. But what if you didn’t have to travel as far to have an incredible road trip experience? We are going on a road trip across Choctaw Country and visiting some well-known places, some lesser-known places and a few that you might discover for the first time.

Spring is the perfect time to pack up the car with friends, the kids, or your furry friend and hit the road. It doesn’t matter what you enjoy seeing along the way, Southeastern Oklahoma has what you are looking for. Within the Choctaw Nation’s borders are hidden gems that will get everyone excited.

We are going to begin our journey in the city of Hugo, Oklahoma. This destination has several unique experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. One of these experiences is Hugo Lake State Park. If you are car camping along your road trip, this is a perfect place to pitch your tent for the night.

This park is ideal for a day out in nature or a camping adventure, with hiking trails, fishing, swimming, and even hot showers and restroom facilities. Dustin Searles grew up in Hugo and said he enjoyed the outdoor spaces when he lived there. “There’s a lot of water around; you’re within driving distance of several lakes, and we would fish a lot and enjoy all the outdoor activities in and around Hugo,” he said. If you don’t want to camp, you can still enjoy everything Hugo Lake State Park offers by renting a cabin near the park. With several options listed on VRBO and Airbnb, this could be your next location for a weekend getaway or a stop along a road trip through Choctaw Country.

Hugo offers an assortment of local restaurants as well as fast food. Some of these local restaurants include Buffalo Grill, where their menu boasts everything from barbeque to burgers and even steak. Hugo hosts Mexican, Italian and a few popular chain restaurants such as Chili’s in nearby Grant, Oklahoma.

If you are looking for a more all-inclusive feel along your road trip, you should visit the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Grant, Oklahoma. This resort offers everything you need for a luxurious stay just a few miles from Hugo, Oklahoma. Choctaw Casino and Resort in Grant is worth the trip, with pools, bars and restaurants. So, whether you are passing through or planning to stay a few days, be sure and add this stop to your list.

Hugo also has many entertainment options, and the history of the town is fascinating. According to hugook.com, the city was founded in 1901 and named for the French novelist Victor Hugo. The town serves as winter quarters for some circus performers. It is adjacent to one of the oldest schools west of the Mississippi, Goodland Academy, founded in 1848.

Sunsets
Photo by Christian Toews
Sunsets are just better in Choctaw Country. Make sure to add watching the sunset to your list.

One of the unique entertainment options in Hugo is visiting The Endangered Ark Foundation. Their website states that the foundation “is a private non-profit dedicated to ensuring the future of Asian elephants in North America, providing a retirement ranch for circus elephants, and educating the public about this endangered species.” The Endangered Ark Foundation offers tours where you can meet the elephants, and who doesn’t want to meet an elephant? According to their website, they offer public tours of their facility on Fridays, Saturdays, and most Sundays. You can find more information and book a tour online at endangeredarkfoundation.org.

The next leg of our road trip takes us to Idabel, Oklahoma. This is a great place to stop at a Choctaw Travel Plaza to refuel and maybe grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants or fast-food options. While there, you will want to plan a stop at the Museum of The Red River. According to their website, this museum is the largest cultural institution in a 150-mile radius. The museum has many permanent art and artifact exhibits and houses a variety of temporary exhibitions. One of the most noteworthy artifacts in the museum is the cast skeleton of Acrocanthosaurus atokensis. According to the museum website, this giant dinosaur skeleton was discovered in McCurtain County and is the most complete skeleton ever recovered. You can learn more about this museum by visiting museumoftheredriver.org.

Our final stop on this leg of our road trip leads us just a short drive north of Idabel to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Nestled in the foothills of the Kiamichi Mountains, Broken Bow is a community of nearly five thousand people, according to the City of Broken Bow’s website. This area has become a popular tourist destination because of the beautiful scenery and available activities. That makes it a perfect spot for a stop along a road trip through Choctaw Country.

There are many lodging options around Broken Bow, from hotels and cabins to RV and camping spots. One of the most popular attractions in the area is Beavers Bend State Park. This park offers everything: mountain biking and hiking trails, fly fishing, ATV adventures, kayaking and canoeing, camping, swimming, a museum and so much more.

The town nearest Beavers Bend State Park is Hochatown. This area has become a popular tourist attraction with an almost unlimited number of cabins for rent, restaurants to enjoy, coffee shops, breweries, wineries, distilleries and other entertainment options. It doesn’t matter what you enjoy doing; you are sure to find something that interests you in the Broken Bow area.

To find out more information on any of these areas listed, you can visit choctawcountry.com. You can also find a comprehensive list of events and activities in southeast Oklahoma in the Pathfinder magazine linked on the Choctaw Country website and begin planning your spring or summer road trip today.

Off-roading

Where the Pavement Ends

By Amanda McCarty

Surviving the week can be a daunting task for anyone with an adventurous heart — especially as the endlessly blue June skies illuminate the blazing landscape of wildflowers and countless shades of green. We live for the freedom the weekend brings and the adventure that awaits beyond the city smoke and neon lights.

If you’re an off-roader, you understand the relief that comes as Friday releases the shackles of the workweek and you’re free to explore the world your way: on roads less traveled.

There are no lines here. No stop signs. No traffic jams, road rage or places to be. From riverbed to dusty dune, life beyond the pavement is lived by a different code. It’s a place where you’re free to pursue your childish curiosity and the rush of adrenaline that comes with ripping over rocks and hills on your ATV without a care in the world.

Whether you’re in a side-by-side or the lifted truck you’ve put all your spare time and money into, you build a relationship of trust and understanding with your vehicle. And as the unpaved arteries of the wilderness unfold the secrets of their paths under your tires, you’ll also build relationships with the people of this amazing community. People who share your passions and understand the love of sunburned hillsides and wind-torn hair. It’s a sacred community of pathfinders where knowledge is continuously exchanged, and answers are found to the questions Google can’t answer. These weekend explorers are the kind of friends you’ll keep for life.

Maybe you haven’t discovered your people yet, or the liberation that off-roading can bring. If you’re curious about this exciting way of life, or even if you’re just looking for some new places to explore, there are a few trails below to get you started. Whatever your passion, if you, too, have an adventurous heart, I challenge you to nurture your inner explorer. To seek out the road less traveled. To forever wander.

Bee Creek and Dyer Mountain Trail | Ouachita National Forest
About ten minutes north of Hochatown, the Bee Creek and Dyer Mountain Trail is just shy of 14 miles and offers scenic views and moderately challenging climbs. The trail winds through the terrain along the western edge of Broken Bow Lake and ends with a magical waterfall view near Cedar Creek Golf Course. It’s a great place to combine your love off-roading with other outdoor activities, with multiple stops for camping, hiking and swimming.

Pine Mountain Trails ATV Park | Rattan, OK
If you love rock-rambling in your ATV, Pine Mountain Trails ATV Park is the perfect getaway with over 1,700 acres laced with 70-plus miles of trail specifically designed for ATVs, side-by-sides and dirt bikes. If that sounds like more than you could possibly explore in one day, you’re right! Lucky for you, this ATV park also offers primitive camping and full hook-up RV sites with access to restrooms with showers as well as cabins for rent, so you can take all the time you need to get to know this corner of the Oklahoma wilderness. Be sure to ask about any special events that may be happening during your visit!

Big Fox Run Off-Road Park | Cameron, OK
On the eastern outskirts of Choctaw Country lies Big Fox Run, an ATV park with 400-plus miles of challenging terrain, including deep-water crossings, obstacle courses, mud pits and more. Guests are also welcome to bring their watercraft and explore the on-site lake or spend the night at one of the many campsites on the property. The park is open select weekends, so make sure you call ahead of time before heading out!

Treading for the Hills

Treading for the Hills

By Amanda McCarty

When it comes to hobbies with multiple benefits, mountain biking is one of those that ticks all the major boxes. Is it good for you? Check. Will you feel great while doing it? Check. Will it challenge you? Check. Is it a total body workout? Check. Most importantly, is it fun?

Absolutely.

From the moment you grip the handlebars, the distractions of the outside world seem to fade away, disappearing in a cloud of dust and mud in the wake of your tires. The landscape flies by in a torrent of greens, blues and browns—shadows cascading through your periphery. And then it happens: the meditative pull of the trail has taken over, and you’ve surrendered yourself to living by the moment.

Each trail offers its own challenges, demanding you take up the gauntlet. As you navigate the nuances of each twist and turn, your movements are decided in an instant—and yet, they aren’t decided at all. They happen, and you hope you have the skills to gracefully adapt.

Leaning into the tread-worn curves, squeezing the brake handles, flying through the high-speed burns. All of these decisions become second nature, bringing with them a finer appreciation for the smallest details. Your legs burn as they pump through the inclines, and you’re rewarded by the welcome relief of soaring downhill. The whir of spokes creates a melody along with the angry buzz of rubber gripping the terrain and the crunch of gravel underneath. A thrill of exhilaration floods your senses as your bike catches air after a sudden rise in the rocky path.

It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of ride, but in the end, it’s a journey well worth the adventure.

Lake View Lodge Trail | Beavers Bend State Park
Offering three different loops from which to choose, the Lake View Lodge Trail is like having three trails in one. If you’re fairly new to the world of mountain biking, or if your skill level is anything less than intermediate, Loop One is the perfect option with just under half a mile of moderate terrain. Looking for more of a challenge? Loops Two and Three bring more to the table with 1.75 miles and 4 miles of trail, respectively.

Carnasaw Nature Trail | McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area
When you’re ready to up your biking game, the Carnasaw Nature Trail allows you to spend a little more time honing your skills. Marked by rock formations and moderate inclines, this 6.7-mile loop offers a beautiful view of the rolling Oklahoma woodlands just outside Atoka. Just be sure to check in at the Ranger Station before hitting the trail.

Old Military Trail | Ouachita National Forest
With 11.5 miles of terrain and a 1,600-foot elevation gain, this out-and-back trail near Talihina is for those who are ready to really test their limits. If you’re craving an even greater challenge, the Old Military Trail meets up with Ouachita National Recreation Trail, offering a combined total of about 23 miles. True to Talihina’s reputation for gorgeous scenery, this trail delivers with its fairytale forest views, water attractions and gaps through the trees revealing peaceful slopes and valleys. This trail is not for the faint of heart and should only be approached by the experienced biker.

The Most Rewarding Trails in Choctaw Country

The Most Rewarding Trails in Choctaw Country

By Amanda McCarty

As the sharp winds of spring breathe life into the earth and the temperatures slowly rise, the pull to lose oneself in slopes of some wild hillside becomes irresistible. When the wilderness calls, a hiker must answer.

Stocking your pack with the necessary supplies. Shaking your boots free of the dusty remnants of the last adventure. The hunt for the trailhead. All these things stir a certain excitement and anticipation, vibrating one’s bones to life in a way of renewal, the way of spring. Nothing is so satisfying as the return to the wilderness.

Your first true breath of freedom is drawn as you step foot onto the trail. The forest envelops you in a protective shroud, closing off the outside world. Time flows differently here and nothing is taken for granted. The finest details of life become magnified as crucially important: The shiver of wings from the treetops as the birds mark your presence. The smell of damp earth. The soft crunch of dead leaves underfoot, like scattered paper bones. The feathered edges of moss catching the most vibrant green in the sunlight, blazing like tiny emerald flames against the tree bark. These are the stories of life we eternally carry, cherished as escapes later sought behind closed eyelids amidst the crowd.

As footsore and thirsty we may be by the end, departures are always made with reluctance. After all, the trail is home; the outside world by comparison is just a dull fantasy.

I’ve included a few of my favorites places to wander below. If you share that familiar ache to set your boots upon paths unknown, it is my sincere hope these trails lead you home.

I have been thinking more and more that I shall always be a lone wanderer of the wilderness. God, how the trail lures me. You cannot comprehend its resistless fascination for me. After all, the lone trail is best. I’ll never stop wandering.
– Everett Ruess

Beavers Bend State Park
Friends Trail Loop
The Friends Trail Loop is one of those trails that has something for everyone. It’s easy enough to bring the kids or your furry companion along yet interesting enough to keep the more adventurous entertained. There is some elevation gain of which to be mindful, but overall the trail is accessible to most. It’s also a great place to hit with a pair of trail runners – if you’re into that sort of thing.

The most spectacular leg of the loop brings you along the banks of Mountain Fork River, where the water rushes noisily over a landscape of jutting rocks, as if in a hurry to depart on a journey of its own. The landscape is marked by the force of the river’s expedition, its jagged path winding busily through the distant trees.

Skyline Trail
If you’re searching for the perfect day hike, Skyline Trail delivers with over nine miles of charted terrain. Marked with several steep climbs and a few water crossings, it’s a trail that keeps you on your toes. Surrounded by the dense forest of evergreens and oak, you’ll find no shortage of plant life to explore, and the breaks in the trees give way to the most stunning views of Mountain Fork River.

It’s worth noting this trail is not for the beginner hiker. Be sure to bring a few snacks and plenty of water before setting out on this one.

Robbers Cave State Park
Belle Starr Loop
The Belle Starr Loop is just short of two miles and offers the perfect combination of climbing and waterside views. Each step is made with purpose through a city of large stones, reminiscent of their monolithic cousins across the sea – smaller, of course, but just as ancient and humming with the tales they would tell if only they could speak. At times, the trail meets the banks of Coon Creek Lake, where a peaceful respite can be enjoyed as the water softly gurgles over the rocks. At others, the green waters of the creek can be glimpsed through the trees, silently slithering below.

The trail also features a slice of history in the form of an abandoned pump house, haunting with its gaping doorways and woodless stairs, but accessible to the courageous historian.

Robbers Cave Trail
Hiking through Robber’s Cave is like traveling back in time – if one applies a bit of imagination, of course. Known as a hideout for outlaws such as Jesse James, Belle Starr and Cole Younger, one can’t help but wonder whose footsteps came before. Venturing into the mouth of the infamous cave, their stories can almost be heard echoing from the slanting stone walls.

It’s not a lengthy trail, but it is one that should be travelled slowly and thoughtfully, as the nooks and crannies unfold in a curious maze of secret passageways between the stones. The trail constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps around the end of the 19th century is full of considerable climbs for the especially adventurous, but the modern trail offers a gentler alternative to the summit, where breathtaking views offer the perfect reward.

Talimena State Park
Ouachita Bohannon Trail
I haven’t actually visited this trail – yet. But it’s on my list of places to explore, and as one of the most beautiful trails in southeastern Oklahoma, I felt it deserved a spot in this list.

This 17-mile out-and-back trail winds around Buffalo Wallow Mountain and boasts sensational views of the surrounding mountainsides, known for their dazzling display of changing foliage and seasonal wildflowers. The Ouachita Bohannon Trail also welcomes backcountry campers, with ample locations for the venturesome hiker or those who simply wish to extend their stay in the wilderness just a little while longer.

Carlton Landing

Your Lakeside Neighborhood Getaway

By Amanda McCarty

Driving north into Oklahoma, the broad, flat landscape gives way to modest peaks and valleys. As the highway stumbles over rocks, deftly winding through the crevices of the foothills, soon enough you’ll find yourself in Carlton Landing — a lakeside haven for families in search of a magical getaway. Where the memories created become souvenirs to last a lifetime.

You’ll find no shortage of places to stay, but you won’t be roomed in a typical hotel. There are a multitude of charming houses from which to choose—beautiful homes with deep-set porches strung with fairy lights and pillowed porch swings. You’ll have a comfortable view of the surrounding parks, where the air is filled with the music of children’s laughter and the dull cadence of their feet as they run across the pavement.

The focus here is to unplug and get outside, and with plenty of local pools, playgrounds and nature trails, it’s a pursuit that comes as easily as breathing. You’ll even find making your way around town is better accomplished by walking. Many of the locals use golf carts, but bicycles can be rented at the Bike Shack if you prefer a quicker method of transportation. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, the Kayak Shack offers daily rentals for kayaks and paddle boards. Or you can join the local Boat Club and spend the day skimming across Lake Eufaula with the gentle pull of wind in your hair and the intoxicating warmth of the sun caressing your skin.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, slip into the screened-in porch of Mama Tig‘s to share a few dreamy slices of wood-fired pizza with the family. Or take the 15-minute drive to downtown Eufaula and indulge in the exquisite Southern cuisine at E’s Hideaway. Owned and operated by Chef Eric Sutherland and his wife Amanda, E’s offers an intimate dining experience surrounded by exposed brick and coppered ceilings.

If you’re looking for a venue that meets all your needs, The Meeting House has everything from your morning cup of joe to handcrafted cocktails and every meal that falls in between. Evenings can be spent next to the soft glow of the outdoor fireplace, and you’re welcome to throw on another log as you sit and sip under the tangle of tree branches and Edison lights. When the night finally comes to an end, it’s also the perfect place to rest, with three cozy rooms upstairs available for rent and the only place in town that offers single-night stays.

As if there weren’t already enough options for entertainment, the local events bring even more variety to the table of fun. The warmer months are filled with festivities, including the annual Easter egg hunt, movies under the stars and live music, bringing with them amazing food from local vendors and one-of-a-kind finds at the pop-up shops.

If you long for an escape from the buzz of the city and a leisurely return to slow living where you can reconnect with the people who matter most, Carlton Landing has all of this to offer and more. It’s a place of community, where every family—and everyone—is welcome. When it’s time to say “Goodbye,” you’ll find yourself promising, “See you soon.”

Cast your cares away

Cast Your Cares Away

By Christian Toews
From the Feb. 2022 Biskinik

Fishing for trout in a mountain stream nestled in beautiful scenery is the dream of many anglers. There is magic in a running river, casting your luck on the water, hoping for a bite. Oklahoma is home to several prime locations for trout fishing, and two of the best are located within the Choctaw Nation in southeast Oklahoma.

Trout fishing is unique from other types of fishing in this part of the country. Most fishing in Oklahoma is for species of fish endemic to the local lakes and streams, while the trout are stocked in several locations across Oklahoma.

Ken Cunningham is the Assistant Chief of Fisheries at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Across the state of Oklahoma, there are only two year-round trout fisheries in Oklahoma, and one of them is right here in Choctaw Country, according to Cunningham. According to Cunningham, trout stocked in the year-round fisheries are provided to mitigate the impact on the natural fish of the river and help maintain a sustainable ecosystem.

Cunningham said there are eight seasonal trout fisheries in Oklahoma, including five lakes and three rivers and streams. He said trout love cold water, so November through March is when trout are regularly stocked in these seasonal fisheries. One of the best places to fish for trout in the winter is along the Fourche Maline River at Robbers Cave State Park. This State Park is located just a few miles north of Wilburton, Oklahoma.

Robbers Cave was given its name because it was a former hideout for infamous outlaws Belle Starr and Jesse James. Given the beautiful scenery of this area, it’s no wonder that they chose this location (OK, maybe they chose it for its secluded nature, but that is still an excellent trait for a trout fishing destination).

This area is perfect for a fishing weekend with friends and family or a day trip alone. You can pack a lunch for the day or spend the weekend taking advantage of everything the area has to offer. Some of the other things to do in and around Robbers cave State Park include camping, hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.

Another premier trout fishing in Oklahoma is the Lower Mountain Fork River inside Beavers Bend State Park. This river has some of the best trout fishing in the country. Trout can be stocked here all year, so you will find trout no matter what time of year you want to visit this area.

Cast your cares away
Photo by Christian Toews
Choctaw Country is filled with breathtaking views and rivers and stream filled with trout during the season.

Many fly fishers come to this location because of the running water and large trout.

Chris Schatte with Beavers Bend Fly Fishing Guide Service said that he has fished all over the country, and this area has some of the best fly fishing in the country. It doesn’t matter how you like to fish; this area has something for you.

Joshua Richards owns Mountain Fork Outfitters and has been guiding fishing trips inside Beavers Bend State Park for years. Richards offers spin cast and Zebco style fishing and a fun time for everyone.

“I offer family fun and excitement. I make it simple and easy to where we catch the most amount of fish,” he said. Richards typically sees people catch larger fish during the colder months.

“Once it cools off, I’ve caught huge rainbow trout,” explained Richards. “Up to nine and ten pounds. They are huge.” Part of the appeal of the area is the scenery. According to Richards, the scenery is one of the reasons people come and fish.

“We have some of the best views. Everyone who comes to the area says that it’s some of the best views they have ever seen. It’s really a unique experience and unique place,” said Richards.
Whether you are an angler or not, you will enjoy this area with hiking trails that lead to breathtaking vistas and beautiful ATV trails.

Only a few miles from the best fishing spots, Hochatown, Oklahoma, offers excellent restaurants, breweries and activities. Many people come out and fish for part of the day and then enjoy some downtime exploring everything the area offers.

To fish in these locations, tribal members must follow the newly updated Choctaw Nation Fish, Game and Animals Code. Tribal members are still subject to special restrictions such as hunting/fishing in wildlife management areas. For more information, visit choctawnation.com/huntingandfishing.

Non-tribal members will need a State of Oklahoma fishing license, and you must follow all the trout fishing guidelines. These regulations are found on the Oklahoma Wildlife Department’s website.

For more information about Mountain Fork Outfitters, you can visit mountainforkoutfitters.com.
If you’re interested in fly fishing, you can learn more and book a guided trip at beaversbendflyfishingguideservice.com.

Maybe you are a lifelong angler who wants to fish in a new location, or perhaps you want to try trout fishing for the first time. Either way, trout fishing can be a great family experience, a fun time with friends, or some quality alone time out in nature.

Now is a great time to fish for trout, so don’t let the colder weather discourage you from getting out and enjoying the incredible fishing that southeast Oklahoma has to offer.

Trout Fishing

Trout Fishing Tips & Tricks

Whether you’re fishing for sport or for fun, Choctaw Country is offering a few trout fishing tips and tricks. With our knowledge from baits to behaviors, you’ll be prepared for a great day on the water in Choctaw Country!

Rods & Reels

You’ll need a good fishing rod to catch trout. Most fishing rods fall under three categories: spinning, fly and casting rods. Be sure to match the correct rod to the right reel. Spinning rods work best for catching trout. If you’re in need of a rod or reel, stop on by Man Candy Baits in Cartwright, OK. No matter if you’re a fishing enthusiast in need of some top-quality equipment or a first timer looking to get into it, Man Candy Baits friendly staff knows more than a thing or two about fishing.

Baits & Lures

Picking the best baits and lures is important for any trout fishing day on the lake. Below are three of our top picks when fishing throughout Choctaw Country.
Quiver Spoon: Very light allowing you to work with the current and allows it to flutter slowly toward the bottom of the lake or stream.
Tasmanian Devils: Great for casting in stream. They create fish attracting vibrations in the water.
Little Nipper: The bright feathers add a bright splash of color while continuously moving in the water to provide more action to your lake day.

Stay Stealth

One of the worst things a fisher can do is alert fish of their presence. It’s important to stay stealth in the water and to work from stream edges when possible. Also, use the natural streams coverage for concealment and to avoid sudden movements.

Beware of the Current

Stream current is very important to trout fishing. The current is what brings food to trout, which means they will always hold their noses facing up the current. It’s important to cast upstream and retrieve your bait with the current.

Every day on the water in Choctaw Country can be different. The above tips and tricks are a general guideline to assist you on your day on the water. For more activities throughout Choctaw Country visit our events page. Remember to use #ChoctawCountry to share your trout fishing experiences. Happy fishing!

Couples Getaway

Couples Getaway

By Christian Toews
From the Jan. 2022 Biskinik

With the holiday season behind us, it’s the perfect time to slow down and relax with your partner or a friend. A weekend away from the hustle and bustle might be what you need to start this new year right.

Choctaw Country has exactly what you need for a relaxing weekend, no matter what that looks like to you. If you want entertainment, escape from the world, or a unique getaway, southeast Oklahoma has you covered.

Durant is home to a newly opened 21-story luxury Sky Tower Hotel. This tower is part of Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant and is the perfect place to unwind with your partner if you want to live in the lap of luxury. Not only are the rooms immaculate, but excellent restaurants are just a short walk away. If you want to get even deeper into relaxation, book a couples massage and spa day at the world-class spa, see the latest releases at The District Cinema, go bowling, or sit down and have a few cocktails in one of the luxury lounge areas. With this many options for entertainment and relaxation in the same place, you don’t need to bring anything other than your favorite person. For more information on amenities and booking, visit choctawcasinos.com.

Perhaps you are looking for a more outdoorsy adventure where you break away from flashy entertainment and enjoy some peace and quiet in nature. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, look no further than Hochatown, Oklahoma, and the surrounding area. Hochatown sits just a few miles from Broken Bow and borders Beavers Bend State Park. The area has a seemingly endless number of cabins available for rent and more are being built every year. Some of these cabins are extremely well furnished with a hot tub, fire pit and other amenities. This area is the perfect location for cozying up with your partner to read books, see wildlife, get away from your routines, and enjoy nature.

Jim and Valerie Tarpley have visited this area many times. They said they often use this area as a retreat. “We love going to Beaver’s Bend and that area. It has become a yearly tradition for our family towards the late summer and early fall. The destination often is where we aim for an anniversary trip. The pines, hills, trails, rivers and lakes offer plenty of seclusion and escape to nature. There is a wide array of outdoor recreation as well,” said Jim.

This area is unique to Oklahoma. With towering pine trees and large rolling hills with vista views, it’s a far cry from the waving wheat plains covering other parts of the state. The Tarpley’s said they appreciate that aspect of the area. “Being from North Texas, we recommend it as a quick getaway destination. After a picturesque, under two-hour drive, you don’t have to spend all day traveling. Once there, the change in the terrain and landscape fosters a sense of traveling much further,” said Jim.

Maybe it’s time for you and your significant other to break away from the routine and sample what this part of Oklahoma has to offer. Many of these cabins are listed on Airbnb or VRBO, and a quick google search will point you to cabin rentals or more information on the area.

If you are looking for something in between both options, you should consider Carlton Landing on Lake Eufaula in Pittsburg County. This destination is on the other side of Southeast Oklahoma but has its own unique beauty. Carlton Landing is an idyllic lakeside community that boasts many rentals available for visitors looking to get away. This is the perfect combination of luxury and amenities within walking distance. With a pizza parlor and a pub-like restaurant called The Meeting House built right into the community, you don’t have to look far for amenities. Why not watch the sunset on the lake and then head to get a drink, spend some time in the hot tub, or take a walk along the lakeshore? Carlton Landing is a great option if you are looking to get away from the norm and start your new year right. If you want to find out more information or book a rental, visit carltonlanding.com.

Hochatown Saloon

A Weekend to Remember

Sometimes, a weekend getaway is all you need to have a memorable and rejuvenating experience. Whether you’re traveling from afar, or just need a little staycation – we’ve got something special for every couple in Choctaw Country.

The Spa: Durant, OK
A busy week can really take it out of you. Relax your mind, body and spirit at The Spa at Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant. The Spa service menu has a deluxe collection of massages, facials and body treatments. The space boasts nine treatment rooms, including two extravagant couples’ suites with an Ultra whirlpool soaking tub for two and a couple’s rain shower. Then, recharge for the night in any of our 1,700 hotel rooms in our AAA Four Diamond hotel.

Hochatown Saloon: Broken Bow, OK
Don’t settle for the usual night out in Broken Bow, Okla. Hochatown Saloon is a country and western themed restaurant and nightclub. With live music, cold drinks, delicious food and a great atmosphere, Hochatown Saloon is the place to be on Fridays in January! Hochatown Saloon is located at 28 Old Hochatown Rd, Broken Bow, Okla.

Ricochet: Friday, January 7
Ricochet’s distinctive musical style and intricate harmonies earned them the recognition as one of the most popular vocal groups in country music. The band continues to create great country music, sung with the distinctive harmonies that are their hallmark. Top hits include, “What Do I Know,” “Daddy’s Money” and more! Tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased here.

Cody Canada & The Departed: Friday, January 14
Three bandmates and fourteen songs that blur the lines between hard-edged country, rock & roll and all the gritty sounds in between, Cody Canada & The Departed have dominated the red dirt country scene for more than a decade. Top hits include, “Lipstick,” “Sam Hain” and more! Tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased here.

Both concerts start at 10 p.m. and tickets start at $20

Robbers Cave
Robbers Cave

Robbers Cave: Wilburton, OK
Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton, Okla. is the perfect getaway for any adventurous couple. With an abundance of outdoor fun, Robbers Cave State Park will keep you entertained throughout the weekend.

Robbers Cave State Park offers a variety of activities including cave tours, guided hikes, ATV riding and more! Take advantage of the park’s steep cliffs while learning the art of rappelling, or venture off into the adjacent wildlife management area, featuring 3,800 acres of forested hunting ground. Lodging includes 26 cabins and a 20-room lodge, two group camps, three RV campgrounds and numerous tent camping sites.

Whether you seek outdoor adventure, an exciting night out or a relaxing getaway, we’ve got your next couples getaway covered! For more activities throughout Choctaw Country visit, choctawcountry.com/events. Remember to use #ChoctawCountry to share your photos of your weekend getaways.

Holiday Activities in Choctaw Country

Holiday Activities

Southeast Oklahoma might not be known for winter sporting events but don’t worry, there is still fun to be had in Choctaw Country when the cold season arrives. From dazzling light displays to holiday strolls, here are three of our favorite winter activities to do this December throughout Choctaw Country!

Christmas in the Park | Tushkahoma, Ok
The historic grounds of the Choctaw Nation Capitol will be transformed again into a winter wonderland that sparkles in the night. Christmas in the Park is a drive through a holiday light display like no other in southeast Oklahoma. The tour is free and open to the public from dusk to 9 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Eve.

Holly Jolly Stroll | Talihina, Ok
Enjoy an evening of celebration in historic downtown Talihina, Okla., as they host the second annual Holly Jolly Stroll on Thursday, December 9. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. celebrate the holiday season as downtown businesses stay open late and serve hot cocoa, apple cider, cookies and other treats you can enjoy while shopping and listening to music! A tree lighting ceremony will follow, along with a surprise visit from Santa.

Lights on the Island | Poteau, Ok
With over 300 light displays that cover the entire island at Lake Wister State Park, Lights on the Island in Poteau, Okla., is a special treat with some unique lighted decorations! From dinosaurs to a 30-foot-tall Statue of Liberty and more, the annual drive thru display will be held each night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. until Saturday, December 25.

Make your winter vacation memorable in Choctaw Country with seasonal lights, shopping and more! Whether you’re spending time with friends or family, there’s always something to do in Choctaw Country. For more activities visit, choctawcountry.com/events/. Remember to use #ChoctawCountry to share your photos of your winter activities.

Christmas in the Park

Dazzling Lights and Coffee Shop Delights

By Christian Toews
From the Dec. 2021 Biskinik

The holiday season always brings some much-needed downtime. Many people use this time to relax and spend time with family and friends. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has many unique and beautiful places to spend some time this Christmas season.

Choctaw Country is a diverse landscape with friendly and welcoming people living in all parts of the Choctaw Nation. People travel from all over the United States to take in the wonder that the area offers.

Choctaw Country has several perfect destinations for you to celebrate the holiday season. So, grab your friends and family, see the dazzling light displays, grab a cup of excellent coffee or both.

One of the main attractions during Christmas time is Christmas in the Park hosted by the Choctaw Nation. Christmas in the Park takes place at the Choctaw capitol grounds at Tvshka Homma.

The capitol grounds sit in a valley surrounded by the area’s stunning tree-covered hills. Each year, these hills transform into a vibrant display of fall colors. If you’re lucky, you might even see these colors in December.

Christmas in the Park will be open from December 3 to December 31 this year. Hot chocolate will be available on Friday and Saturday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the weekends of December 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18. This drive-thru light display is a perfect way to spend an evening with your family or friends this holiday season.

Coffee

While you’re in the area, stop by My Crystal Chandelier Coffee House & Gift Shop in Talihina. This coffee shop is a great place to stop on your way or after viewing Christmas lights. Letha Tipps owns and operates the coffee shop, and she said that she wanted to bring premium coffee to the southeast Oklahoma area.

She opened the doors in October of 2020 and said the tourists who come to see the Talimena Drive or other attractions in the area helped her get the business off the ground.

Now that she has been in business for a year, Tipps says she has a large group of regulars from the local community.

My Crystal Chandelier Coffee House & Gift Shop serves Topeca Coffee. Tipps says she chose to serve Topeca, in part because it’s a local brand to Oklahoma.

“Not only is it a premium product, but it’s also out of Oklahoma, and we believe in supporting as local as we can,” she explained.

Tipps invites everyone to stop by and give the coffee a try.

“Stop in and experience the difference. In our geographical area, we are providing something that hasn’t existed by providing premium coffee and excellent service,” said Tipps.

If you travel northeast of Talihina this holiday season, you’ll find another popular holiday attraction – Lights on the Island at Wister Lake State Park in Wister, Oklahoma.

Located on Quarry Island within the park, this light display attracts people from across the country.

Lights on the Island is surrounded by water which provides a unique Christmas light display experience. This drive-through light display has something for everyone and is open nightly from November 12 through December 25, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

If you are looking for delicious coffee near Lights on the Island, look no further than The Coffee Cup in Poteau. This unique coffee shop serves various specialty coffee drinks and uses premium beans from Onyx Coffee roasters out of Bentonville, Arkansas. The Coffee Cup is the perfect place to visit before or after your trip to see the Christmas lights in Wister.

We wish you a safe and happy holiday from all of us in Choctaw Country.

Choctaw Cultural Center

Immerse Yourself in Choctaw Culture

By Kendra Germany-Wall
From the Nov. 2021 Biskinik

Fall is the perfect time for a road trip, and Choctaw Country is the perfect backdrop for a fun-filled weekend getaway. There are so many fun things to do in the area this fall, truly something for everyone. If you consider yourself a foodie, Choctaw Country is home to some of the state’s best culinary hotspots, breweries, and wineries.

If learning more about Choctaw culture and history piques your interest, consider adding the Choctaw Cultural Center to your list of road trip destinations. This breathing, living experience is a must see, especially during Native American Heritage Month. The award-winning Choctaw Cultural Center, located in Calera, invites you to immerse yourself in the story of the Choctaw people through 14,000 years of history.

The building spans over 100,000 square feet and houses two exhibit halls, an auditorium, a children’s play area, as well as a café and gift store. On a daily basis, guests can immerse themselves in Choctaw history and culture through tours, classes, and workshops, participate in a game of stickball or try out social dancing.

From the moment you walk through the door, you are sure to be amazed by the beauty and ambiance of this remarkable place. Everything down to the tiniest details has been crafted with the Choctaw people in mind. The diamond and basketweave textures throughout the main lobby reflect essential elements of Choctaw tradition. Even the stone used for the floor around the Central Fire was quarried locally in Stigler.

As you make your way through the immersive permanent exhibit, you may even recognize some familiar faces. Living Choctaw tribal members are reflected in the life casts throughout the landscapes. These life casts, created from 3-D scans and plaster casts of tribal members, lend an even higher level of authenticity to the exhibits. These exhibitions bring technology and tradition together to tell the story of the Choctaw people.

The Luksi Activity Center was created with the young (and young at heart) in mind. Featuring two different styles of Choctaw dwellings, a log slide and a giant Luksi (turtle) where children can sit and hear traditional stories, this area is sure to become a favorite spot to learn about the Choctaw culture through play.

Just outside of the main building, step back in time to the Choctaw Living Village. In this spacious outdoor section of the Center, you will see demonstrations of traditional Choctaw crafts, dances, stickball and gardening techniques. You can also take a stroll around the magnificent ceremonial mound, modeled after Nanih Waiya, the Mother Mound, located in the Choctaw homelands of modern-day Mississippi.

The Choctaw Cultural Center also offers a variety of learning experiences for guests of all ages. Immersive experiences and cultural interactions are sure to become special memories. There is something for everyone from cultural art forms, social dancing, and learning how to make your own traditional meal. Guests can participate in various lessons, workshops, programs and demonstrations throughout the Choctaw Cultural Center. The facility also houses multiple classrooms, including a teaching kitchen and a pottery room.

Classes offered include Chahta 101, which highlights the history, government, culture and language of the Choctaw people. Another class offered is Chahta Anumpa, which seeks to promote the pronunciation of the Choctaw language and general understanding of words within the Choctaw Cultural Center. Each class runs for approximately 20 minutes.

More in-depth workshops, approximately an hour-long, are also offered at the Choctaw Cultural Center. Workshops recommended for those 12 and under are offered on Thursdays and Saturdays. Workshops for those 12 and over are offered on Fridays and Saturdays. New classes and workshops are added every month. School/group visits are also available upon request. For more information or to reserve a school/group visit, call 833-708-9582 or visit choctawculturalcenter.com.

The Choctaw Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring, preserving, and showcasing the culture and history of the Choctaw people, bringing the Chahta spirit of faith, family and culture to life. Today is the day to start planning your visit. The Choctaw Cultural Center is located at 1919 Hina Hanta Way Calera, OK 74730. The entrance is located off Choctaw Road, west of the intersection of Choctaw Road and Highway 69/75 in Durant. Guests of all ages are welcome.

Admission is complimentary for Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma tribal members. General admission for adults is $12. Discounts are available for children, veterans, senior citizens and college students. Hours: Wednesday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Closed: Monday and Tuesday. For more information, visit choctawculturalcenter.com.

Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum

Celebrate Native American History

November is Native American Heritage month and what better time to dive deeper into Native American history and culture this by visiting or taking part in one of several cultural opportunities below!

LeFlore County Museum | Poteau
Featuring more than 25 rooms full of artifacts and two revolving exhibit rooms, the LeFlore County Museum offers a Veteran’s Room with artifacts from the Civil War all the way up to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Additionally, you can study artifacts from the Spiro Mound Indians as well as runestones from areas such as Poteau, Shawnee and Warner. Discover what the LeFlore County Museum has to offer Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Choctaw Cultural Center | Calera
The Choctaw Cultural Center offers a variety of learning experiences for guests of all ages to enjoy an immersive experiences and cultural interactions. From cultural art forms, social dancing to learning how to make your own traditional meal, there is something for everyone! To learn more on all the activities and special events Choctaw Cultural Center has going on this November visit, choctawculturalcenter.com

The Choctaw Nation Cultural Center is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Learn about the language of the ancestors
Learn about the language of the ancestors who walked the “Trail of Tears” and take part in virtual online classes. The Choctaw Nation Language Community classes are taught free of charge. To learn more visit, choctawschool.com

Choctaw Capitol Museum | Tuskahoma
At the historic capitol grounds of the Choctaw Nation stands the original Council House where the Choctaw government operated from 1884-1907. Visitors can browse through the Trail of Tears exhibit and learn about the rich history and culture of the Choctaw people, including family life, art, military service and much more. Be sure to visit the special memorial exhibit honoring the Choctaw Code Talkers and check out the many unique sculptures and statues on the Capitol Grounds.

This November Choctaw Country hopes you to take some time to learn and share the rich culture of the Choctaw people Wear a piece of traditional clothing or jewelry, tell a story about your heritage, or simply wear a Choctaw t-shirt. Hurry up, Slow Down and embrace Native American culture in Choctaw Country.

Fall Fun

Fall Fun

By Christian Toews
From the Oct. 2021 Biskinik

Southeastern Oklahoma is a great place to visit all year long, but Oklahoma’s fall has a unique appeal. With mild temperatures, changing leaves and outdoor adventures, there are more reasons to visit Choctaw Country during this season than you can count. Let’s look at some activities and places to see this fall.

One of the most exciting places to visit is Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma. This state park has a lot to offer, from hiking, camping, fishing and rock climbing to storied history. The state park gets its name from the outlaws who used the cave and surrounding area as hideouts.

One of the best ways to experience what it was like during that time is a horseback ride through the park. Fall is the perfect time to take a ride with Robbers Cave Stables. This guided horseback riding business is located inside the state park and offers an experience for everyone.

You can find the perfect experience to enjoy this park on horseback, from day rides to overnight camping trips. Codyjames Cook is the stable’s manager and son of the founder, who started the business ten years ago. According to Cook, they offer an experience for everyone, and it’s a great way to get away from the busyness of life. “You can really disconnect from everything out here. There are a lot of hiking trails and a lot of places that you can get to where the view is incredible,” he said.

Robbers Cave Stables offer many lengths of day rides. According to Cook, from a short 15-minute ride to hours exploring the landscape, there is a ride for every age group or time limit. If you want an even more immersive experience of cowboy life, you can book an overnight camping trip.

“We provide camping trips for outdoor lovers who want to sleep under the stars like a real cowboy,” their website explains. “This is a lovely escape from the big city for your family, which helps lower stress and become more social with each other. Whether you want to challenge yourself with a new experience or enhance your typical camping trip, our ranch is the place to do it.”

According to their website, you can “Ride through the historic trails that the outlaws of the past once rode. Here, you’ll sleep in an old, covered wagon while eating a cowboy steak dinner. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that bring us the most joy, and that’s what we are all about here at Robbers Cave Stables.” For more information and for booking a ride, visit robberscavestables.com.

Southeast of Robber Cave State Park, you’ll find another breathtaking Oklahoma State Park.

Beavers Bend State Park offers a unique beauty only found in the eastern part of Oklahoma. There are many things to do, like fly fishing, hiking, swimming, canoeing or kayaking, ATV riding and so much more. For many, a horseback ride is a perfect way to spend a fall afternoon.

You can see many types of wildlife and experience one of the most beautiful parts of Oklahoma.

Beavers Bend Depot & Trail Rides is conveniently located inside Beavers Bend State Park and offers many rides a day.

According to their Facebook page, “Guided trail rides are offered starting at the top of each hour. The ride will take you through 2 1/2 miles of scenic Beavers Bend State Park Game Reserve. Expect to see some of the native wildlife such as white tail deer, squirrel, fox, etc. The ride lasts approximately 45 minutes, but please allow at least an hour to complete the ride.” If you want more information on these rides, check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/trainandstables.


Platter Flats Pumpkin Patch offers a variety of activities for every age to enjoy this fall.

If horseback riding isn’t your thing, there are many other options for fall activities in Choctaw Country. Maybe you are looking to celebrate fall by carving a pumpkin, going on a hayride or taking some fall family photos. If so, Platter Flats Pumpkin Patch is the place for you. Located just a few miles southwest of Durant, Oklahoma, this pumpkin patch offers more than just pumpkins. Brandi Burkhalter and her husband, Guy, opened the pumpkin patch last year.

“There are a lot of activities for the kids. We have a bounce pillow, hayride, hay slide, hay tower, a corn bin, duck races, a petting zoo, a barrel train ride, a corn maze and more. We have a food trailer this year where we will be serving food. We have several areas for adults to relax and enjoy the fall weather. It’s really a fun place for the whole family,” Brandi explained. According to Brandi, they have many people who come and take fall family photos on their property as well. “We set up several photo areas with decorations, or some photographers will go out into our sunflower field and use that,” she said.

Perhaps you are staying at the newly opened Choctaw Casino & Resort’s Sky Tower and want to add a fun family activity to your weekend. Maybe you want to spend an evening with your family enjoying the fall weather. Platter Flats Pumpkin Patch is the perfect place to celebrate the fall season. You can find more information and see upcoming activities by visiting Platter Flats Pumpkin Patch on Facebook.

There are so many ways to enjoy the fall season in Choctaw Country. No matter what your interest is, Southeastern Oklahoma will not disappoint you.

Fall Food Favorites

Fall Food Favorites

As the leaves start to change and the heat begins to cool the types of food that you indulge in change as well. With that in mind, we’ve put together a few of our favorite dishes from culinary hotspots in Choctaw Country.

Fruit Pies/Cobblers
Maamaw B’s Kitchen is a one-of-a-kind bakery in Heavener, Okla. specializing in cakes and desserts, and nothing says autumn is here like a fruit pie or cobbler! Whether it’s filled with apples, cranberries or any other kind of fruit, Maamaw B’s Kitchen offers an extra touch of sweetness to any dessert. Open Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. offers a wide variety of baked goods from baked breads, cakes, cookies, pies and more!

Apple Cobbler

Try this recipe at home!

Apple Cobbler

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 cups floor
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup apples
  • 2 cups boiling water

Directions

  • Cream 1 cup sugar and butter.
  • Add flour, baking powder, salt and milk. Mix well and pour into baking pan.
  • Pour the apple over batter and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  • Pour the boiling water over the top.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes until golden brown.
  • Can be served hot or cold.

At Sacred Grounds in Antlers, Okla. they use only fresh ground beans to make a wide array of delicious fall beverages from their smooth Morning Blend drip coffee to gourmet espresso drinks. You have the option of ordering a hot Latte or Cappuccino made with steamed milk and espresso. Fall flavor favorites include Mocha, Caramel, and Pumpkin Spice. Open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. specializes in coffee, sandwiches, soups, and burgers.

Chili/Soup/Stew
Our favorite part of fall is warm, hearty and comforting chili, stew or soup. At CJ’s Café in Valliant, Okla. they have soup, chili and stew ranging from smooth and creamy to hearty and meaty, chicken noodle and more! Open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. offers a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner for locals and travelers alike!

Jams
Kayterra Farms in Durant, Okla. has wonderful jams and delicious seasonal butters that are hand crafted in their kitchen. Kayterra Farms jams offers seasonal flavors from warm pecan pie, sassy strawberry jalapeño and more so there’s something for everyone! They are the perfect for spicing up a cheeseboard or a loaf of bread.

Try this recipe at home!

Blackberry Brie with Caramelized Pecans

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 round of brie
  • 1/3 cup Kayterra Farms Blackberry Jam
  • 1 tsp finely chopped jalapeño pepper

Directions

  • Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Stir in pecans and sugar. Continue cooking until sugar is melted and nuts are caramelized.
  • Immediately spread nuts onto aluminum foil and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Slice top off brie with knife and discard top.
  • Place brie onto serving plate and microwave 30-45 seconds or until brie is slightly melted.
  • Combine jam and jalapeño in bowl. Top warm brie with mixture. Sprinkle with nuts and
    serve.

With Autumn fast approaching, now is the perfect time to indulge in delicious fall favorites. Here in Choctaw Country, we’ve got you covered from pies, soups, coffee and more! Hurry up and slow down, because as the leaves begin to change, so will your appetite!

Talimena Scenic Byway

Plan your Fall Foliage Adventure

By Christian Toews
From the Sept. 2021 Biskinik

A cool breeze is in the air, sunshine is plentiful and the mountains are covered in brilliant fall colors. Where can you find this picturesque experience? Right here in Oklahoma. The eastern part of the state is home to views that rival Colorado and New England when it comes to putting on a show in the fall.

The fall foliage typically peaks in Oklahoma around Halloween and stretches into early November. During this time, the state is ablaze with yellows, reds and oranges in popular fall foliage hotspots such as Poteau, the Talimena Scenic Drive and Broken Bow.

The area with the most options for viewing the beautiful colors is near Talihina, Oklahoma. One of the end cities of the Talimena Scenic Byway, this Oklahoma town is not what you expect when you think of Oklahoma’s typical prairies and plains. Talihina sits in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains that extend into Arkansas. These mountains host amazing views all year, but there is something special about seeing them light up with colors in the fall. One of the most attractive features is a winding 54-mile scenic drive through the Ouachita Mountains known as The Talimena Scenic Byway. This roadway winds along the crest of the Mountains through the Ouachita National Forest from Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas. With many scenic vistas to stop and enjoy, many people will spend an entire day on the drive enjoying the views. If you’re planning to do this, be sure to pack a lunch or stop and get some snacks because there are no services along most of the drive.

If you’re planning a trip to Talihina, why not stop by for the annual fall festival? Vera Nelson is the Talihina Chamber of Commerce director and has organized the Fall Festival since it began. November 6, 2021, will be the 33rd year of the festival. The event features arts and crafts, live music, a car show, food booths, and special entertainment. She said somewhere around three thousand people visit the festival each year and come from all over the world. Nelson encourages everyone to drive up into the mountains and see the fall foliage up close when they attend the festival. According to Nelson, one of the best ways to get more information and enjoy the scenic drive is to stop by the visitor center in Talihina and pick up a Talimena Scenic Byway guidebook. You can also visit www.talimenascenicdrive.com and the Talihina Chamber of Commerce website for more information in planning your trip.

Traveling south of Talihina, you’ll find Broken Bow, Oklahoma. This area of Oklahoma is perfect for viewing the changing leaves in the fall. Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding area have many places to drive, hike, ATV and camp, making this location an excellent option for spending time in the fall. You could ATV up to a sweeping vista above Broken Bow Lake or hike to one of the many incredible views inside Beavers Bend State Park. For more information on Beavers Bend State Park, visit visitmccurtaincounty.com and plan your trip today!

If you travel northeast from Talihina, you will find the city of Poteau. This city is home to the world’s highest hill at 1999 feet above the surrounding area. This hill is an excellent place to pack a picnic and look at the fall foliage from a unique vantage point. Poteau offers many fall activities to enjoy. On September 24 and 25, Poteau holds the annual Old Frisco Trail Fall Festival. This festival includes food vendors, music, a 5k Glow Run, a half marathon and a 15k run. You can find out more information about the fall festival in Poteau by visiting www.poteauchamber.com.

No matter which of these locations you decide to view, the changing leaves this fall, you are sure to develop a new appreciation for the brilliant colors and amazing views that Oklahoma has to offer.

Downtown Durant

Elevate your Experience

By Christian Toews
From the Aug. 2021 Biskinik

Durant, Oklahoma, “The Magnolia Capital of Oklahoma,” has much more to offer than magnolia trees. Durant boasts a unique combination of small-town charm and luxurious amenities. Holding the title of the largest city in Choctaw Country, it is the home to Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the Headquarters of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. From outdoor activities, excellent food and shopping, the Choctaw Casino Resort, and the Choctaw Cultural Center, you are sure to find something great to eat, somewhere amazing to stay, and something fun to do.

Just 90 minutes north of Dallas, Texas, on highway 75, Durant sits close to the Red River, which feeds Lake Texoma. The lake is one of the largest in the state of Oklahoma and offers numerous recreational activities. From fishing, boat rentals, horse trails, kayaking, swimming, and restaurants on the water’s edge, Lake Texoma has something to offer for everyone. You can find out more information about what Lake Texoma State Park holds at www.laketexoma.com.

Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant has plenty of ways to relax and recharge if you are craving a luxurious getaway. This world-class resort has a relaxing spa, Jacuzzis, pools with cabanas and swim-up bars, excellent restaurants and a concert venue that brings some of the biggest names in entertainment to Durant. Now is the perfect time to visit the newly expanded property, which features a new 21-story luxury Sky Tower Hotel, an expanded gaming experience, elevated amenities, restaurants, lounges, and entertainment options. If you want more information on what Choctaw Casino Resort has to offer, you can visit choctawcasinos.com.

Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant expansion
The new 21-story Sky Tower features 1,000 luxury rooms (traditional king and double beds) and suites, plus hospitality suites. Guestrooms feature modern decor, lavish bedding and spa-like amenities.

There are many new and exciting things in Durant, and the Choctaw Cultural Center is no exception. With over 100,000 square feet of immersive exhibitions, a vast Living Village, classrooms, a theater, a café and retail, the Cultural Center is a fascinating experience. According to its website, the Choctaw Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring, preserving, and showcasing the culture and history of the Choctaw people. The exhibits are immersive and told from the Choctaw perspective – honoring the physical and spiritual journey of the Choctaw people. This makes it an excellent place for kids and adults to explore and learn about the Choctaw people. For more information about The Choctaw Cultural Center, you can visit choctawculturalcenter.com.

Durant has a robust and growing downtown with shopping, unique art, museums and more. Kara Byrd is the Executive Director of Imagine Durant. Byrd says that Durant has a lot to offer.

“There’s truly something for everyone. From the fascinating history to uncover at Fort Washita and Three Valley Museum to the great theatre to be discovered at the Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival and Durant’s emerging South Ninth Avenue Arts District,” said Byrd.

According to Byrd, local artists have painted several of the murals around downtown. These photo-worthy locations are a unique addition to your time spent in Downtown Durant.

In addition to art and culture, downtown has unique restaurants and treats. Pick up some pastries and ice-cream at Caked Up, build-your-own pizza at Craft Pies or grab a drink at the Old Icehouse. All of these downtown destinations are conveniently located for visitors.

If it’s shopping you want, Durant has you covered with several boutique options to find that perfect outfit. Pink Door Boutique, Bliss Boutique, Cactus Gypsies and the Trippie Hippie Co. all have a unique and ever-changing selection of fashion.

Byrd invites everyone to come to visit the area.

“Durant is the best of both worlds! We offer the charm of small-town life, with the bright lights and amenities of a bigger city. There’s something for everyone in Durant,” explained Byrd.

With all that Durant offers, now is the time to plan your next trip to this unique Choctaw Country destination. If you would like more information on Durant and the surrounding area, visit www.discoverdurant.com.


With all the excitement from the new Sky Tower at Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant and the Choctaw Cultural Center, take a break and stop in one of several breweries and wineries Bryan County has to offer! Below is a list of some of our favorite local spots for you to check out!

Lost Street Brewing Company

See What’s Brewing

Harbinger’s Craft Beer
Harbinger Beer Company brings the finest handcrafted beers to Southeast Oklahoma and North Texas! Stop in to try Opera House Coffee inspired Stout; a stout brew with unmodified cold brew coffee from Opera House Coffee in Durant, Okla., or Cat City Kolsch, a German Kolsch style ale brewed in Caddo, Okla.

Lost Street Brewing Company
Durant’s newest brewery, offers a rotating selection of small-batch brews, with a variety of flavors and styles that are sure to suit any palate. Try the Three Valley’s Pale Ale, inspired by the Red River Valley, Blue River Valley and Washita River Valley; all of which run through Bryan County.

Where to Wine Down

Blue River Valley Winery
Have a seat in their exclusive tasting room and receive a cheese plate to pair with your wine selection. Try locally made favorites – from chardonnay and white zinfandel to Rio Rosa sweet blackberry lemon, Bissa Sipokni elderberry and more!

Crystal Creek Winery
Did you know some wines are made from fruits other than grapes! Head to Crystal Creek Winery in Mead, Okla. for samples of locally made wines crafted from apricot, blackberry, elderberry and many more!

In Durant, Okla., there’s no shortage of things to do! Whether you’re looking for the hustle and bustle of the casino floor, the history and culture at the Cultural Center or just want to relax and enjoy a fantastic atmosphere while at a local brewery or winery, we’ve got you covered. Hurry up and Slow Down – there’s so much to do here, a weekend almost isn’t enough time to do it all!

Choctaw Country holds the perfect spot for your next kayak or canoe adventure

Water Sport Adventures

By Christian Toews
From the July 2021 Biskinik

It’s an iconic image of the outdoor experience: a kayak glides across a glassy stretch of water, its bow knifing through the water and its wake stretching out behind. Imagine a canoe cutting through the river rapids on a warm summer morning.

Choctaw Country holds the perfect spot for your next kayak or canoe adventure.

According to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board‘s website, Oklahoma has approximately 1,401 square miles of water area in its lakes and ponds and about 167,600 miles of rivers/streams.

Much of this water is located within or bordering the Choctaw Nation. Oklahoma’s largest lake in surface area is Eufaula, at 105,000 acres. This lake sits within the borders of the Choctaw Nation and offers a huge expanse of water to explore by kayak or canoe. Lake Texoma is the second largest, with an impressive 88,000 acres. Lake Texoma sits on the border of Choctaw Country but close enough to visit if you are in Durant. Maybe you want to stay at the third-largest gaming resort in the world and pop down to Lake Texoma to enjoy a sunset by kayak. You can do both by visiting the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma.

Kayaking or canoeing on a lake or pond can be a great way to explore without hiking around the shoreline. Having a small boat is also a unique way to go fishing. Many people enjoy taking their kayak or canoe and fishing otherwise inaccessible parts of a lake, river or pond.

Trey Hedrick is an avid fisherman and kayaker. He enjoys fishing from a kayak. “The kayak is a great fishing experience. It gives you access to different areas than fishing from the bank and is a relaxing way to spend time on the water,” said Hedrick. He also commented on a recent river kayaking trip he enjoyed. “We had such a good time floating on the river and being able to have good conversation and enjoy the river and the water. If you have never taken a river trip, I highly recommend it,” he said.

One of the best and most popular places to canoe and kayak in the Choctaw Nation is the Broken Bow, Oklahoma area. It doesn’t matter what type of water you want to be on; this area has it all, from the fast-flowing rapids of the upper and lower Mountain Fork River to the tranquil waters inside Beavers Bend State Park. Many kayak and canoe rental locations in and around Broken Bow offer float trips in the area, and people travel from all over the area to escape the ordinary and enjoy one of Oklahoma’s most beautiful areas.

Broken Bow Lake is another fantastic location to take a canoe out on the water or kayak to a new location. This lake covers 14,000 acres and has 180 miles of shoreline, so there is plenty of room to explore. Whether you bring your own canoe or kayak or you rent one when you are there, don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy this lake.

It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner to paddling or an experienced kayaker. Choctaw Country has something to offer anyone who wants to escape the summer heat and get on the water. For more information on area lakes and rivers, browse our website and explore the many options inside the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Kayaking

Kayaking and Canoeing Guide

Kayaks and canoes are among the most useful types of water equipment on the market. You can use them for touring, sports, exploration, whitewater adventure and more. In Choctaw Country we have numerous options to experience the water, but before you step in, here are some basics to know before adventuring out.

Kayaks

Know your river language. Understanding the lingo is an important part to any sport. Below are just a few common kayaking terms that will be helpful for those who are new to the river.

  • Blade: The broad part at the end of a paddle
  • Bow: The forward end of the kayak
  • PFD: Personal Flotation Device or lifejacket. Wear it!

Find your perfect kayak. Who knew there would be different kayaks for different types of travel? Below is a quick overview of different kayaks you may use dependent on your needs.

  • Sit-on-top kayaks: Sit-on-kayaks are a great choice for nervous paddlers and for warmer waters. They are usually wider and have more stability for first time/beginner kayakers.
  • Touring kayaks: Touring kayaks give you more control in rougher waters. They are generally a little shorter than most kayaks and are easier to maneuver when both handling and transporting.
  • Recreational kayaks: Recreational kayaks are suitable for the casual paddler interested in traveling on lakes and slow-moving streams. They are perfect for the kayaker who wants to paddle slowly and take in the scenery.

Check the forecast. Make sure to check all weather conditions. A little drizzle isn’t too much of a concern, though heavy rain when you kayak will make it unstable. Also, several days of heavy rain can make more turbulent waters.

Canoes

Know your hand signals. Hand signals and gestures are useful to help both canoers and kayakers to communicate with each other. River can be quite noisy and distracting, below are a few simple signals to be mindful of:

  • Help/Emergency: Wave your paddle side to side
  • Stop: Hold the paddle horizontally above your head.
  • All Clear: Hold the paddle vertically straight up to signal ahead of you is “all clear”

Dress for water temperatures, not air temperatures. Even on the hottest of days, the water is cooler. Dress accordingly for the off chance you might flip out. A light long-sleeved shirt, water shorts and shoes. Sun is reflective off the water – so make sure to wear sunscreen, sunglasses or a brimmed hat to help with sun protection.

Practice getting back in your canoe. Flipping over in a canoe is not ideal, but it happens, and everyone should be prepared. The trickiest part is both paddlers have to do the same moves at the same time when re-entering the canoe. Push on both sides of the canoe. While lifting your body outside of the water, place as much of your torso on the side of the canoe as possible.

Trying something new can be both exciting and scary. Whether you’re an expert or beginner, there’s something both simplistic and exciting about canoeing or kayaking in Choctaw Country. Hurry up and slow down-adventure awaits!

ATV Safety Tips for Trail Riding

ATV Safety Tips

Get off the beaten path and get some mud on those tires! All you offroaders know exactly what we’re talking about! The terrains and scenery in Choctaw Country are like no other, but one of the most important rules when on an ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) is following safety guidelines.

Go wild on your ATV but first, read a few safety measures and make sure you’re protected:

  • Always wear a helmet, googles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves.
  • Never ride on paved roads unless necessary and done safely and permitted by law. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.
  • Never carry a passenger on a single ride ATV and no more than one passenger on an ATV designed for two people.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Bumps and mud are fun, but when you hit something unexpectedly you can get bounced right off your ride. Be mindful of your riding path and other vehicles.
  • Don’t ride beyond your abilities. Showing off and performing stunts and tricks you’re not trained to do is dangerous. Stick to simply riding the trails.
  • Pre-riding inspection. Check your tires and controls, make sure all connections and cables are intact and inspect the chain for worn links and proper lubrication before every ride.

Whether you’re getting the quad ready for the weekend or just tagging along for a ride, keep in mind that riding an ATV, while exciting, can also be dangerous. Be safe, have fun and check out our top spots for off-roading here. Hurry up, slow down and experience the beauty southeastern Oklahoma has to offer from an ATV!

Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path

By Christian Toews
From the June 2021 Biskinik

Are you looking for an outside-the-box adventure that is sure to thrill? Look no further than experiencing southeastern Oklahoma in an off-road vehicle. All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and the larger Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) are a fun and unique way to access remote parts of Choctaw Country. These off-road vehicles allow you to explore areas that your traditional vehicle can’t handle, and it’s a different experience—climbing over rocks, traversing muddy spots, or making your way up steep inclines. These vehicles offer a chance to experience a little more of the unknown.

You might not know that one of the largest ATV and UTV retailers in North America is right here in Choctaw Country. Antlers Motorsports in Antlers, Oklahoma, offers everything ATV and UTV related. Jeff Lucas is an employee at Antlers Motorsports and an off-road vehicle enthusiast. He said that sales of ATVs and UTVs have increased drastically over the past year.

“Right now, we are low on ATV and UTV inventory because we are selling so many that they are sold before they even make it off the truck,” said Lucas.

According to Lucas, there is an off-road vehicle for every type of rider.

“You can find something no matter what type of riding you enjoy,” he explained.

Maybe you want to get in a side-by-side UTV with your family and drive up to a scenic location and have a picnic, or you like to get muddy on a high-powered four-wheeler. Perhaps you want a UTV that will allow you to access places that a traditional vehicle can’t take you. The off-road industry has a vehicle for everyone to enjoy.

UTV fun

According to Lucas, there are many great places to ride an ATV or UTV in southeast Oklahoma. Two of the most popular locations are Pine Mountain ATV Park in Rattan, Oklahoma, and Billy Creek Recreation Area near Talihina, Oklahoma.

Pine Mountain offers over 1,700 acres of wooded trails, rock formations, creeks, and campgrounds in the Kiamichi Mountains.

Billy Creek Recreation Area has many trails to explore and even connects to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which is 225 miles, according to USDA.gov.

Another area that many people explore on ATVs and UTVs is the Hochatown, Oklahoma area. Russell and Carrie Adams own Captain’s Hideaway Powersports Rentals. They offer Jeep and UTV rentals from their location near Hochatown. Carrie said that exploring the area in a UTV is a great way to see things you wouldn’t usually see.

“We encourage people to go into the trails and see a part of Broken Bow that’s off the beaten path. It’s a great way to get out and see wildlife and scenery that you won’t see any other way,” she said.

Carrie also mentioned that it could be an excellent way to spend some quality family time away from electronics and experience the outdoors. She said that Captain’s Hideaway Powersports Rentals offers maps and guides for anyone who wants to explore the area in their own off-road vehicle. You can find more information, including availability and pricing, at their website.

You might be a seasoned off-road enthusiast, or maybe you have never felt the adrenaline rush of powering down a trail in a UTV. No matter what your skill level or interest, Choctaw Country has something to offer you. Get muddy, enjoy some family time, and explore some of southeastern Oklahoma’s beautiful country.

Hiking and Biking Code of Conduct

Hiking and Biking Code of Conduct

Hiking and biking is a favorite activity for many, and in Choctaw Country there are waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and stunning views. We’ve put together five simple Do’s and Don’t’s to help make your experience in Choctaw Country one to remember.

DO

  • Wear Waterproof/Breathable Materials: Meaning, materials that will block rain and wind, but will also let you sweat. Nylon or polyester are two materials used mainly for lightweight and ultra-light rain clothing. Suitable for intensive outdoor activities such as hiking and biking.

DON’T

  • Disturb the Natural Surroundings: As the saying goes, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footsteps.” Taking home mementos can destroy the natural habitat for the animals and plants in Choctaw Country and ruin the enjoyment for generations to come. Instead, bring a camera and share your memories and photos with us using hashtag #ChoctawCountry to be featured on our social pages.

trail biking

DO

  • Bring Essentials: Whether you’re hiking or biking you need to feel secure when on rough ground. Your shoes should fit snug, but not tight and offer room to wiggle your toes. In addition, bring along these basic essentials: compass, insect repellent, sunscreen, sunglasses and a small first aid kit.

DON’T

  • Hog the Trail: Most trails are multi-use. Alert other riders and hikers as you approach, especially if you’re approaching from behind. If you need to pass, slow down, ring a bell or verbally announce yourself. Use extra caution when around horses and be aware when riding/hiking trails have poor sight lines and blind corners.

hiking

DO

  • Pick a Suitable Trail: Choctaw Country offers a vast variety of trails that range from easy to strenuous. Most of our trails are very scenic with streams, waterfalls and wildlife around every corner, so you won’t miss a thing regardless of the trail. Click here for some of the best trails to step back into nature and recharge your mind, soul and spirit.

Whether you prefer a short walk or a multi-mile-long rugged hike or bike, the trails of Choctaw Country offer breathtaking views for everyone. Hurry up and slow down, and enjoy one of several Choctaw Country trails where you can get “lost” in the best way.

Explore the Great Outdoors

Explore the Great Outdoors

By Christian Toews
From the May 2021 Biskinik

The weather is warming up, spring is in the air and there is no better time to enjoy the roads and trails around Choctaw Country.

The popularity of outdoor recreation has increased dramatically over the last year. COVID-19 had many adverse effects on our culture, but one of the positives is that many people have begun to take their health more seriously. Many people have picked up outdoor exercise such as cycling and hiking, with gyms closing or limiting access.

According to a New York Times article, the rise in bicycle sales, along with the pandemic, has led to a global shortage of bikes. Many customers are still waiting on bikes they ordered last year.

Thankfully, hiking shoes are plentiful, and bikes have recently become easier to find. While not everything will return to normal, hopefully, many of our good habits will remain.

Cycling or hiking in Choctaw Country is an excellent option for outdoor activities that are fun for the whole family.

Hiking can be a great way to get or stay in shape.

One of the best spots for hiking in southeast Oklahoma is the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. Located along Oklahoma Hwy. 1 or the Talimena Scenic Drive, this recreation area offers camping, cabins, fishing, horse riding, hunting, picnicking, and hiking.

The Oklahoma portion of the Ouachita trail begins here, and many distance options are available from Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. The Ouachita Trail is a 226.3-mile trail that extends from Talihina, Oklahoma, to near Little Rock, Arkansas.

The trail has smaller sections for people who don’t want to hike the entire route. A few loops connect to adjacent fire roads and trails that will lead you back to the trailhead at Winding Stair. A good resource for locating and looking at these trails is www.alltrails.com.

Dusty Hill, a trail runner and hiker from Texas, says his favorite part of the Ouachita trail is the views along the way.

Hill said he would recommend the trail to any level of hiker.

“It’s not terribly difficult, though there are some long climbs and some technical areas as far as running the trail. Just bring plenty of water or a way to purify water,” said Hill.

A good pair of trainers will work for this hike, but many people prefer hiking boots. Be sure to bring tick repellent and dress for the conditions if you plan to hike in this area.

The Talihina area also has some of the area’s best roads for cycling. Cyclists come from all over the country to ride near Talihina because of the challenging elevation and incredible views.

Benjamin Benson, a Choctaw tribal member and cyclist, says he would recommend the area to any cyclist who wants a challenge.

“There are not too many big climbs around Oklahoma, so it’s a good place to visit. Plus, the roads through there (the Talimena Drive) are quite smooth,” said Benson.

He said that he loves the challenge and the scenery of riding in the Talihina area.

“When you climb to the top of one of the climbs and just stop and look. Kind of makes all the suffering worth it,” he said.

Many cyclists choose to ride part of the Talimena scenic drive for the views, but there are also excellent paved and gravel roads around the area to enjoy.

A great resource for discovering routes around this area is the “heatmap” from Strava.com. This tool allows you to see where people ride and helps you plan a cycling route of your own. You can find this tool at www.strava.com/heatmap.

Beavers Bend State Park and the adjacent Hochatown State Park are also popular cycling and hiking locations in Choctaw Country.

This area has a lot to offer. You can hike trails, ride mountain bikes, enjoy road cycling and even ride gravel roads on your gravel bike. Whatever type of cycling or hiking you’re into, this area has you covered.

Don’t have a bike? Not a problem when you visit Hochatown. Sabra Blankenship is the owner of Flawless Wellness Spa, which offers mountain bike rentals.

According to Blankenship, her 16-year-old son, Kylen Myers, used his savings to purchase 16 mountain bikes and launched a mountain bike rental business last year. Kylen takes care of all the maintenance on the bikes himself.

“We started this business because we want people to be able to take care of themselves and stay active. We strive to help people reach the goal of wellness,” she said.

They now have adult and children’s bikes available for rent.

Blankenship said that business has steadily increased, and they hope to purchase more bikes soon to serve even more customers.

You can find more information about the spa and mountain bike rentals at flawlesswellnessspa.com.

The hiking in Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding areas will not disappoint.

There are multiple trail options for every level of hiker. One of the most popular hikes is called the “Skyline Trail” that begins inside Beavers Bend State Park. Nearly eight miles long, this trail has challenging terrain and incredible views. You can find all of the trails in this area at www.alltrails.com.

If you want to get out and do some new roads or trails on a bike, or if you’re going to take a family hike, Choctaw Country has an option for you.

Beaver's Bend Brewery

Pints and Plates

Is there anything better than achieving that perfect balance of your favorite beverage with a great snack or meal? Our palates can identify five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory.

Here in Choctaw Country, you can dabble in all the tastes and be able to make great choices no matter what’s on your plate or in your glass!

Vojai’s Winery – Broken Bow, OK
Get uncorked at Vojai’s Winery and enjoy the fruity flavors of their signature Rainmaker wine. We all know wine and cheese pairings are ageless companions. But remember, the wine should always be sweeter than the food. A few great choices to go with xx wine is pepper jack, Brie and Muenster. Add some smoked prosciutto, nuts, crackers or sliced bread and you’ve got yourself the ultimate charcuterie board!

Beaver’s Bend Brewery – Broken Bow, OK
There’s nothing better than a cold beer and hot dog. The Blond Beaver Ale is a light blonde ale with a touch of hops that separate it from traditional American lagers and ales. The sweet maltiness and low caramel notes work well with the fatty richness of a hot dog.

Be sure to check out Beaver’s Bend Brewery’s other delicious brews at several area restaurants throughout McCurtain County. Plus, taproom guests can purchase refillable growlers and bottles to share with friends and family!

Hochatown Distilling Company

Hochatown Distilling Co. – Hochatown, OK
As summer approaches, bourbon and barbecue can be an essential part to any backyard summer experience. Hochatown Distilling Company Single Barrel Straight Bourbon contains the familiar blend of caramel, vanilla, oak and roasted almond notes layered on sweet aromatics with a nice rye spice finish for a one-of-a kind flavor. This makes it the perfect pairing partner for smoky and fatty meats. As for barbecue, you can pretty much smoke or grill favorites ranging from brisket, ribs or pulled pork.

Whether you’re into breweries, wineries or distilleries, tap into all the flavors Choctaw Country has to offer! Hurry up and slow down, it’s always 5’o clock somewhere.

Hochatown Distilling Company

Craft Beverages

By Christian Toews
From the April 2021 Biskinik

Spring is a great time to enjoy some of Oklahoma’s craft beer, wineries or distilleries. This industry has been steadily growing across Oklahoma, and Choctaw Country is no exception. In 2018 Oklahoma modernized its alcohol laws allowing craft beer to become more of a staple. These changes also lifted some restrictions on wineries and distilleries.

Let’s begin by looking at craft beer. If you are near Durant, Oklahoma, you are in luck. There is a brewery just a few minutes north that is hopping. Pun intended.

Drew Harbin is the Harbinger Beer Company owner. He and his wife Kayla had the dream of opening a brewery for years, he said. They finally made that dream a reality when they purchased a building in downtown Caddo in 2017. They completely renovated the space, adding an 1800 square feet brewery and taproom, according to Harbin.

He said that he wants the brewery to help revive the downtown area.

“It’s been really cool to see downtown Caddo come alive again. I’m really glad we can be a part of the revitalization,” Harbin said.

According to Harbin, another goal is to tie in some of the area’s history to the brewery. He said that they named several of their beers after features and the history of the local area.

Harbinger Beer Company
Photo by Christian Toews
Drew Harbin enjoys one of his craft beers inside Harbinger Beer Company. Drew founded the brewery with his wife Kayla in 2017.

Drew said that when you come to the brewery, you get a very personal experience.

Drew and Kayla run the brewery themselves. This allows you to hear about the process of creating specific beers and learn what goes into brewing great beer.

You can find the hours, upcoming events, and more on their website at harbingerbeer.com or their Facebook page.

Drew said he recently began a podcast called “Behind the Brewhouse” if you want to get to know more about Drew.

Harbin says, between bringing food trucks to the brewery and live music, there is always something going on at Harbinger Beer Company.

If you travel to the Southeastern side of the Choctaw Nation, you will find tall pine trees, mountains and rivers. Nestled in this beautiful scenery is Hochatown, Oklahoma.

This town sits at the entrance to one of Oklahoma’s most beautiful attractions, Beavers Bend State Park. Hochatown is home to Hochatown Distilling Company, currently the only distillery in the Choctaw Nation, according to Hichell McDaniel.

McDaniel is one of Hochatown Distilling Company’s four owners, and says the distillery opened six years ago.

McDaniel says that because bourbon can take years to age, many new distilleries will purchase bourbon from another distillery and put their label on it. This allows the distillery to begin making a profit right away. However, Hochatown Distilling Company chose to not release any product until they felt like their bourbon was ready.

McDaniel said they were fortunate enough to have other businesses to help offset the cost while they perfected their bourbon. He noted that all of the bourbons they release now are about three and a half years old.

McDaniel noted the difference between a large distillery and a small distillery, saying that you can enjoy a more personal experience at a small distillery.

“We spend quite a bit of time with folks. We show them all the equipment and talk about the process. We give them an understanding of what’s happening and then do a sampling toward the end. People seem to enjoy that very much. That more personalized touch just makes for a better experience,” he explained.

McDaniel said that it could be challenging to get bourbon distributed in Oklahoma, but they feel that they are now getting recognized for their hard work.

“Six years in and we feel pretty good about where we are,” McDaniel said. “It took us a while to while for us to get distributors to pay attention to us because we didn’t have a route to sell our product.”

Their bourbon is now sold in many places across Oklahoma. Including the 1832 Steakhouse located inside the Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant, Oklahoma. Hochatown Distilling Company also collaborated with Mounting Fork Brewing in Hochatown to create a barrel-aged beer, according to McDaniel.

If you would like to learn more about Hochatown Distilling Company or find tour information, visit hochatowndistilling.com.

Blue River Valley Winery
Photo by Christian Toews
Blue River Valley Winery is a small boutique winery located near Durant, Oklahoma, on the beautiful Blue River. This Choctaw tribal member-owned business has been serving up a wide variety of wines since 2015.

Heading back over to the southwestern side of the Choctaw Nation, located on a beautiful property not far from highway 75 north of Durant sits Blue River Valley Winery. As you can tell from the name, the winery’s front porch looks out over Oklahoma’s Blue River valley.

Established in 2015, Blue River Valley Winery is a small establishment with a wide variety of wines. No matter what your preference, you will surely find a bottle that you love.

Hillary and Diane Dean are the winery owners and said that the winery location is exceptional.

“We have donkeys that everybody really loves and geese that are friendly. It’s a very rural setting out here with a beautiful view of the Blue River. People from the Dallas area come out here and say, “This is so beautiful,” said Diane.

Hillary went on to say that they pour a lot of love into the winery.

“Diane and I both had careers that we retired from before we opened the winery. The winery is not a job. It’s a passion. It’s something we both really enjoy doing and people pick up on that when they come to visit,” he said.

The Deans said that customers come from all over the country and even worldwide, which makes the business fun and exciting.

“You just never know who is going to walk through the door. You meet so many new people,” said Diane.

Hillary said that he started home brewing beer 26 years ago and that lead him to handcrafted wine.

“We were visiting Diane’s relatives in Georgia, and I had the opportunity to try some handcrafted peach wine, and that was amazing. I came back and started making wine and didn’t look back,” he said.

Once he began making wine, it stayed a hobby until November of 2015, when they opened the winery, Hillary explained.

Now in their sixth year of business, they have 22 varieties of wine and the reviews on their Facebook page indicating they are well-loved by everyone who visits the winery.

If you would like more information about Blue River Valley Winery, you can visit bluerivervalleywinery.com.

Whether you are a craft beer drinker, a bourbon connoisseur, or love a glass of local wine, The Choctaw Nation has something to offer you. It’s warming up outside, and now is the perfect time to spend an evening at one of Oklahoma’s finest wineries, breweries, or distilleries, right here in Choctaw Country.

Grab a cup of coffee

Grab a Cup of Coffee

By Christian Toews
From the March 2021 Biskinik

Nothing says good morning like a cup of coffee. Everyone has a favorite way to enjoy this delicious beverage. A hot cup before work or a warm latte on a snowy day, there is no doubt that Americans love coffee – or at least its caffeine. With the popularity of gourmet coffee, we have come a long way from the cans of Folgers in our grandparent’s cabinets. We now have coffee shops that provide espresso and specialty brews. Some of the country’s best coffee shops are right here in Choctaw Country.

Coffee is popular among Americans. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), Americans are drinking more coffee than ever. The NCA website states that seven in ten Americans drink coffee every week, and 62% of Americans drink coffee every day. That means that if you are reading this right now, the odds are that you have had a cup of coffee today.

According to the NCA website, the majority of the coffee sold in America are premium beans and espresso-based beverages rather than traditional coffee. Nearly 60% of coffee served in the United States is gourmet (brewed from premium beans). It’s clear that we love specialty coffee.

Good coffee starts with good coffee beans, according to Tammie Johnson, who owns The Coffee Cup in Poteau, Oklahoma. “We source our beans from great local roasters. My main source that I’ve been using for years is Onyx out of northwest Arkansas. They are one of the top coffee roasters in the United States, but they are also known all over the world,” she said.

She said that the difference between using premium coffee beans and a typical cup of coffee is noticeable. “I would compare to a garden-fresh tomato vs. a store-bought tomato,” she said.

Opera House Coffee
Ana Rivera serves a muffin at Opera House Coffee in Durant, Oklahoma.

Shaun and Ami Rawlings, who own Opera House Coffee in Durant, Oklahoma, said that many variables create a good coffee cup. “It’s the details that make it,” said Ami.

“Coffee is mostly water, so you have to have great water. You can make bad coffee with good water, but you’ll never make good coffee with bad water,” Shaun added. “All of our water is ran through a carbon filter, then water softener, and then we have a reverse osmosis system. There should be nothing in the water. The water should just be a blank slate and then let the coffee do its work,” he continued.

If you love coffee, there is good news for you. A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that among older adults, those who drank coffee (caffeinated or decaf) had a lower risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and other medical complications than non-coffee drinkers. In the study, scientists concluded that two or more cups of coffee per day equated to a 10% reduction in overall death for men and a 15% reduction in overall death for women when compared with non-coffee drinkers. Researchers say there is a strong association between drinking coffee and living longer.

While the intricacies of making coffee and the health benefits are interesting, most of us love sitting in a coffee shop and enjoying our coffee because of the environment. Tammie Johnson said that her favorite aspect of owning a coffee shop is the atmosphere and the platform for bringing people together. “Having people connect, using this place for work, reading or studying, or just meeting up with people. That’s the best part,” she said.

Shaun and Ami said one of the benefits of going to a locally owned coffee shop is the community and relationships you build. “Here (at Opera House Coffee) being a small town and a big space, you’re building a relationship with the people your meeting, the employees, and you’re always seeing friends that come by,” said Shaun. “I think it’s kind of a neutral zone too. Here people feel comfortable to have meetings and just feel at ease,” said Ami.

One customer at Opera house said that he uses this space to be creative. Jimmy Tran is a freelance videographer and goes to Opera House Coffee to work. “It’s like a little escape for me, creatively. I feel like, especially in mainstream media, coffee shops have become synonymous with creativity. Whether that’s real or not, there’s something about writing, editing, hanging out at a coffee shop that feels vintage yet new, and it just gets the creative flow going,” said Tran.

It doesn’t matter if you are a lifelong native to the area or just passing through. If you are looking for a good cup of coffee and a warm, friendly environment, look no further than right here in Oklahoma. The ten and a half counties of the Choctaw Nation has some great coffee stops featuring specialty coffee. No matter what part of Choctaw Country you are in, coffee is never far away.

Latte Lingo

Latte Lingo

Do you speak coffee? If not, you’re in luck, because we do! Right here in Southeastern Oklahoma, are 10 of the best coffee hot spots to enjoy, and we’re here to help you decipher just what to order. Below is our glossary of common coffee terms and the places to get them!

  1. Red Eye at Sacred Grounds in Antlers, OK
    Red eye coffee is a regular cup of drip coffee with an added shot of espresso in it. Some coffee enthusiasts refer to it as the best of both worlds: coffee and espresso!
  2. Americano at Adam and Eve Coffee in Broken Bow, OK
    Add hot water to your espresso and you have an Americano. Need a drink to wake you up in the morning or an afternoon pick me up? For a special treat, order an Americano with three pumps vanilla and your favorite milk of choice.
  3. Dirty Chai at Okie Girls Coffee & Ice Cream in Broken Bow, OK
    A chai latte is black tea infused with cinnamon, clove and other warming spices. Combine this with steamed milk and top with foam and you’ve got the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. What makes this drink dirty? Adding a shot of espresso.
  4. Nitro Coffee at Blakes Coffee Shop in Durant, OK
    When nitrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, is added to coffee, you get nitro coffee. Like a typical cold brew, nitrogen infused coffee is very smooth and low in acidity. For a nutty taste, try a pump of toffee nut syrup!
  5. Iced Breve at Hot Shots in Durant, OK
    Breve is an espresso-based drink made with steamed half-and-half instead of milk. This produces a very creamy foam. Amplify your order by getting a white chocolate mocha breve or a caramel macchiato breve!
  6. Cortado at Opera House in Durant, OK
    A cortado is an espresso with an equal amount of steamed milk. The steamed milk is just enough to mellow out bitterness of the espresso. Think of it as an espresso ice cream without all the sugar.
  7. Affogato at Hochatown Coffee Central in Hochatown, OK
    An affogato is your perfect go-to summer drink. A scoop of ice-cream with a single or double shot of espresso. Nothing says sweet like a creamy vanilla taste to a bold and dark flavored drink.
  8. London Fog at Punkins Coffee in Idabel, OK
    A London fog is a grey tea latte infused with hints of sweetness and steamed milk. Add some vanilla extract and elevate the drink one step further.
  9. Frappe at Harbor Mountain Coffee House in McAlester, OK
    A frappe is an iced beverage that has been blended and makes a tasty, foamy and refreshing drink. Often served with whipped cream and toppings. Sweeten up your frappe by adding Oreos, caramel, mocha and more!
  10. Hand Pour at The Coffee Cup in Poteau, OK
    A hand pour or hand-drip coffee is a technique that uses a standard coffee drip where water is “poured over” ground coffee. The advantage to hand pour coffee is that the water slowly passes through the grounds, extracting a more rich flavor.

Here in Choctaw County, we’ll keep you caffeinated whether you’re a cold-brew connoisseur or latte lover. Hurry up and slow down, because we have the brew for you!

Carlton Landing

Carlton Landing

By Christian Toews
From the Feb. 2021 Biskinik

Imagine a beautiful park right outside your front door. You are watching a breathtaking sunset over the lake from your porch, cozied up with loved ones in a luxury lakeside villa. Great food and activities are all within walking distance. That may sound like a destination in Italy or France, but you can actually enjoy all of that right here in Oklahoma.

While taking a vacation to Europe might be out of the question right now, you do not need to leave the country, or the state for that matter, to enjoy an idyllic getaway. Located on Lake Eufaula in Pittsburg County is the resort town of Carlton Landing. The Choctaw Nation’s northern territory holds many unique places, and Lake Eufaula is no exception.

Lake Eufaula holds the title of Oklahoma’s largest lake. According to the official Oklahoma Travel and Tourism website, TravelOK.com, the lake covers 105,500 surface acres with 800 miles of shoreline.

According to the website, Carlton Landing was developed by Grant and Jen Humphreys.

For more than 15 years, Grant and Jen Humphreys had vacationed in and around Seaside, Florida. Seaside’s charm, convenience and sense of community were unlike anything they had found in Oklahoma. Still, an extended stay was needed to justify the 16-hour drive or airline tickets necessary to get there.

One day, as Grant was driving through land he had recently purchased on Lake Eufaula, he thought aloud, “What if we created a Seaside-like community right here on the lake and close to home?”

With that thought, the vision for Carlton Landing was born.

This beautifully developed shorefront community has been established for almost a decade now. While most homes in Carlton Landing are residents who want lakefront property or a vacation home on the lake, there are also many rental properties available for vacationers from around the country.

Carlton Landing
According to Sarah Tunnell, because the homes and rental properties in Carlton Landing are built with their driveways in the back of the house, your front door opens onto a green space. This makes it very safe for children.

Sarah Tunnell is the Director of Marketing for Carlton Landing and the Director of the Carlton Landing Foundation. She says they currently have around 300 homes in Carlton Landing, with 60 vacation rental properties.

There are many ways to enjoy your time at Carlton Landing. With parks, nature trails, pools, hot tubs, kayak rentals and more, there is never a lack of things to do.

If getting cozy inside is more of your style, various luxury properties are available to rent for the weekend or longer.

According to Tunnell, one of the main things people love about the community is the development’s thoughtfulness.

“Carlton Landing is designed for people rather than cars. Everything is designed for walkability. Kids can run out the front door straight onto a green space,” she said.

This convenience and abundance of open areas make it ideal for everyone to enjoy.

There are two main restaurants within the town. One is a top-notch pizza parlor with outdoor seating. The other restaurant is called The Meeting House and serves food and drinks for all age groups. These are both great places to relax and unwind after enjoying the lake, trails, parks and pools.

Carlton Landing

Once a month during the winter and every Saturday during the warmer months, Carlton Landing invites local vendors to set up pop-up shops. These include food vendors, boutiques, fresh veggies, other locally grown product and more.

If that isn’t enough to entice you to stop by sometime, Carlton Landing also hosts many community events throughout the year, such as movie nights out in a park, floral workshops and even concerts. All these events are open to residents, guests and the public.

You might be thinking about getting away for a weekend or looking for the perfect spot to build that summer house. Either way, Carlton Landing is an excellent choice. Without traveling far, you can experience the luxuries of lakefront property in a picturesque setting.

When asked what she would tell someone who was considering renting there, Tunnell said, “I’d say give it a try. There are so many people who have found it to be their happy place.”

If you would like more information about Carlton Landing, you can visit carltonlanding.com. To find out more about Lake Eufaula and the surrounding area, you can visit www.travelok.com.

Turn today's catch into a flavorful meal

Get Hooked on Trout

The Mountain Fork River located near Broken Bow, Okla., is prime territory for trout fishing as it’s swimming with trout year-round. The river’s constant flow and cool waters are an ideal place to catch brown and rainbow trout.

One of the exciting aspects of catching and eating trout is the variety of flavors available, as trout taste different depending on its environment. So, let’s take the plunge and get to cooking!

Smoked

First step in smoking fish is brining! This recipe calls for three simple ingredients: water, brown sugar and kosher salt. This simple brine gives the fish a rich, sweet element by enhancing the flavor of the trout without being too overpowering.

Start by adding 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (coarse grain) and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. You can also add in aromatics or flavor in the form of fresh herbs or fresh garlic and onions. Place the trout in the brine and set it in the refrigerator and brine for about 15 – 20 minutes. If you’ve got a thicker filet of steelhead trout, brine for 30-40 minutes.

Once your trout has finished brining, it’s ready to smoke. Preheat your smoker to 180 degrees F. Smoke the trout fillets for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F.

At this point, your trout should be cooked throughout and should flake easily. It can be plated and eaten with veggies, rice or even placed onto of a cracker or crusty bread with cream cheese.

Grilled

A simple garlic and herb infused marinate combined with wine vinegar acts as both a basting liquid and a sauce for the fish. The trout skin protects the flesh and turns an appealing golden-brown during grilling.

In a small saucepan, combine oil, garlic, sage and rosemary. Cook over moderately low heat until the garlic just starts to brown. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper.

Put the trout fillets in a medium glass dish or pan. Sprinkle the fish with the remaining. Add half of the oil-and-vinegar mixture and turn to coat.

Grill the fish skin-side down for 2 minutes. Turn and cook another 2 minutes. To serve, whisk the remaining oil-and-vinegar mixture and pour it over the hot fish.

Whether you prefer to wade out into the river with a fly rod, or fry it up in the kitchen, the fish around southeastern Oklahoma never disappoints. Hurry up and slow down and discover what’s biting around McCurtain County.

Trout Fishing

Trout Fishing

By Christian Toews
From the Jan. 2021 Biskinik

If you ask any fisherman, the sport holds more than catching fish. There is something peaceful and refreshing about the entire process. The company or the solitude. Time spent in nature’s glory. The excitement of catching a new personal record fish. Although fishing can seem simple, there are many reasons people get hooked on the sport.

People have enjoyed fishing for centuries. Although there are many ways to catch fish, one of the most challenging and rewarding ways is fly-fishing. This method involves a specific type of lure called a fly. The fly is attached to a very long line and rod. The goal is to impersonate a small insect and trick the fish into biting the fly. The fisherman (also known as an angler) will cast his line over his head in a beautiful rhythmic motion that will imitate an insect flying and landing on the water. Even if you don’t fish, watching someone fly fish is a mesmerizing experience.

Watching the fly go back and forth over the angler’s head and then finally rest on the water and flow downstream. The angler decides what fly to use and how to make his gear mimic an insect. Most anglers will agree, catching a fish is simply a bonus to being on the water and practicing your skills.

While you can fly fish on lakes and ponds, most fly-fishing is done in streams and rivers. If you are familiar with fly fishing, your initial thoughts might go toward Montana, Idaho or Alaska. But as many people are discovering, world-class fly fishing is right here in Oklahoma. In the far southeastern corner of the state, just a 30 minute drive from the Arkansas border, sits one of Oklahoma’s hidden fly-fishing gems.

Beavers Bend State Park holds twelve miles of excellent fishing. The Lower Mountain Fork River offers year-round trout fishing in a beautiful location. The river runs through the Ouachita Mountains, and even driving through Beavers Bend State Park to get to the river is gorgeous.

Trout Fishing at Lower Mountain Fork River
Jeff Preddy fly fishes in the fog of a cold morning in Beavers Bend State Park. Anglers are traveling to Southeastern Oklahoma to discover the world-class fly fishing that the lakes and rivers of the area have to offer.

Jeff Preddy is a fly fishing guide on the Lower Mountain Fork River. Fishing is in his blood. Jeff’s father is an outfitter and a guide, and he grew up fishing and hunting. Preddy has guided fishing trips across the country and said the Lower Mountain Fork River is one of his favorite spots to fish because it’s a challenging river.

“I have fished all over the united states, several big saltwater fisheries, and The Lower Mountain Fork is the toughest river I have ever fished. It tests you as an angler,” said Preddy.

Although he has fished with all kinds of equipment, Preddy said that fly fishing is unique and challenging as a sport.

“I feel that it (fly-fishing) really is an art. You have an abnormally long fishing rod; you have a different line setup than any other type of line there is, you have a reel that’s not like any type of convention reel. To learn the cast, it takes an extreme amount of patients. To learn the timing takes an extreme amount of patients. I have been fly-fishing for ten years, and I am still learning how to improve my cast,” He said.

Many people love fly-fishing, not only for the challenge but also for spending time on the river and enjoying nature. Preddy said that this is one of his favorite fishing aspects, and he finds the river to be relaxing.

“You’re standing in the river. Listening to the sounds of the river, you’re watching nature at its finest,” explained Preddy. “You’ll see deer cross; beavers swim through, ducks, you have a ton of outdoor activity surrounding you. There is nothing more therapeutic to me than standing in a river and listening to nature.”

Maybe you want to fish for trout for the first time, or perhaps you’re a long-time fly-fisherman who wants to try the Lower Mountain Fork. Either way, hiring a guide is a practical way to get familiar with the area and learn a thing or two. Preddy said that hiring a guide is a great idea no matter where you choose to go fish.

“It helps in several ways. A guide already has the proper gear; they are paying attention to the weather, paying attention to the river; they are going to know what flies are in season. A guide is already going to have all that stuff figured out. If you don’t come in with a guide and without doing your homework, you’re guessing. We take the guesswork out of your day,” stated Preddy. “I have been fishing my whole life; if I’m going somewhere I’m not familiar with, I will hire a guide,” he continued.

Fishing might seem like a summer sport, but winter is one of the best times to fish for trout. Preddy explained that during the warmer months, the trout would find the cooler water deeper in the river, but you have a better chance of catching large fish during the winter months.

“You get into your larger fish during the winter months because they will get up in ankle-deep water and hangout and sunbathe,” said Preddy.

Whether you are a beginner, experienced angler, or anything in between, Beavers Bend State Park in Southeastern Oklahoma has something to offer you. If you are looking for beautiful scenery and big trout, now is a great time to visit and try your luck on the water.

If you would like more information about the Lower Mountain Fork River, from water level to regulations, visit wildlifedepartment.com/fishing/wheretofish/southeast/lower-mountain-fork. If you would like to learn more about Beavers Bend Fly Fishing Guide Service, You can visit their website at beaversbendflyfishingguideservice.com.

Small Business Holiday Gift Guide

Small Business Holiday Gift Guide

With the pandemic’s effect still taking its toll on small businesses this holiday season, we’d like to reinforce the importance of shopping small. In our search for surprisingly cool gifts to feature, we discovered that some of the best gifts can come in small(business) packages.

Featured are five cutest small shops in Southeast Oklahoma where we’ve got you covered from jams, wreaths, metal décor and more. Let us guide you through the very best holiday gifts that Choctaw Country has to offer!

Kayterra Farms, LLC Durant, OK
The best part about Christmas is eating yourself into a food coma. So why not do it in a healthy manner? Kayterra Farms is committed to creating and producing foods that you can feel good about feeding you family. They have wonderful jams and delicious seasonal butters that are hand crafted in their kitchen. They’ve recently even expanded into a new line, pickled products!

When you buy from Kayterra Farms, you are purchasing a quality product with less sugar, more fruit and an all-natural product from pure cane sugar. With flavors from blackberry, warm pecan pie, sassy strawberry jalapeño and more there’s something for everyone!

Jams are a perfect holiday gifts for your foodie friends and family. They are the perfect for spicing up a cheeseboard or a loaf of bread.

TuffRoots LLC Idabel, OK
‘Tis the season to share the long-lasting authenticity of a TuffRoots handmade leather product. From wallets to shaving bags, you simply can’t go wrong with a classic leather gift.

What makes TuffRoots leather so unique is their high-quality products coupled with affordable prices. Using full grain leather, the strongest and most durable leather available, to create stunning products that only get better with age.

ArclightCNC Red Oak, OK
ArclightCNC produces unique and personalized custom coat of arms, family crests, trophies, home decor, and custom parts with their CNC plasma machine at affordable prices.

ArclightCNC custom designed art pieces are perfect to hang on the walls of nurseys, living rooms, patios, RVs and more!

Products are always cut from quality steel and powder coating services to prevent oxidation so your personalized artwork will last more than a lifetime!

Little Country Flowers and Gifts Wilburton, OK
Transform your front door for the season with a handmade wreath. Little Country Flowers and Gifts offers a variety of wreaths on grapevine, deco mesh and burlap that easily brightens up your home.

A variety of beautiful, custom wreaths for all seasons, Little Country Flowers and Gifts wreaths can be customized for you with your favorite colors, monogram, ribbons, team, theme and more!

Besides your front door, hang it above the fireplace or on a living room wall to spice up any room.

Paint and Chardonnay

Paint and Chardonnay Broken Bow, OK
Gift an experience this holiday season! Everyone can embrace their inner artist at Paint and Chardonnay as they offer fun, unique ways to spend time with friends and family and feel inspired.

Paint and Chardonnay offers paint and sip events with the options to paint on a variety of surfaces including canvas, glass, wood pallets, wood trays and more! Whether you’re a beginner or expert painter, Paint and Chardonnay has a variety of paintings to paint. From animals, scenic views, florals and the option to submit requests to paint.

For the month of December, Paint and Chardonnay is offering 10% off any painting. Be sure to mention #ChoctawCountry and book your reservation today!

Let’s support our local small businesses this holiday season by purchasing beautiful gifts from independent businesses based in Choctaw Country. Hurry up and slow down, the holidays are fast approaching!

Holiday Lights and Sights

Holiday Lights and Sights

By Christian Toews
From the Dec. 2020 Biskinik

The holiday season is in full swing, and now is the perfect time to explore some of the most beautiful places and activities in Oklahoma. Spending time with family and friends is what the holidays are all about. While this year might be a little different because of COVID 19, don’t let a virus stop you from safely enjoying the holiday sights that southeastern Oklahoma has to offer.

When was the last time you made some hot chocolate, grabbed a thermos, and went somewhere spectacular to drink it? Maybe you and that special someone want to spend some quality time. Perhaps you and your spouse need to go on a date night. Or maybe you want to pack up the whole family and enjoy an evening out of the house. Southeastern Oklahoma is the perfect place to enjoy the holidays.

Let’s begin in the beautiful city of Poteau, Oklahoma. Nestled in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, Poteau is a unique destination. One of the most popular attractions in the area is Cavanal Hill. Here, you can catch a great view of the Ouachita Mountains and the Poteau Valley from the top. Dubbed “the world’s highest hill,” Cavanal Hill sits at just one foot shy of being designated as a mountain. While it may technically be a hill, the view is well worth the climb or drive. Once you reach the top, you can see for miles on a clear day. This fantastic view attracts visitors from all over the country.

Talimena Scenic Drive
Photo by Christian Toews
The striking beauty of the Talimena Scenic drive can be seen year-round, but the fall is a favorite.

Because you can drive or hike to the top, Cavanal Hill is the perfect place to spend some quality time with your loved ones, hot cocoa in hand, enjoying the scenery. No matter what time of year you visit, this view is sure to stun, but the holiday season offers some exceptional views as the leaves change.

Just a few short miles from Poteau, you will find Lake Wister State Park. Lake Wister is known for its beautiful scenery and unique island. This island allows you to experience the beauty of the area surrounded by water on three sides. Every year, the Poteau Chamber of Commerce and volunteers host a Christmas light display called Lights on the Island.

This impressive light display features over 300 displays in the ¾-mile drive. The displays are surrounded by Lake Wister’s water on three sides, providing a darker area for displays.

“One of our most popular displays is the three giant dinosaurs towering over 15ft high setting on the water’s edge of the lower Northside. The display takes visitors through a huge lighted tunnel, a candle lite forest with many animated displays throughout. One of the most unique displays is the 30ft Statue of Liberty with the American Flag setting just below the hill,” said Karen Wages, CEO of the Poteau Chamber of Commerce.

Lights on the Island

Lights on the Island

Lights on the Island
Submitted Photos
Some of the light displays that can be seen at the Lights on the Island show. The show has over 300 displays.

Christmas light displays are fun for the whole family and a great way to enjoy the holiday season. Lights on the Island will be open Nov. 17 through Dec. 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., according to the Poteau Chamber of Commerce. You can find more information about Lights on the Island at poteauchamber.com/lightdisplay. So, put on that Christmas playlist and treat your loved ones to a dazzling display on the lake. Oklahoma has so many amazing views to offer. Let’s head over to Talihina. If you have never visited this quaint town, you’re missing out on some of Oklahoma’s most spectacular landscapes. The city of Talihina sits in the Kiamichi Valley between the Kiamichi and Winding Stair Mountains. Surrounded by mountains, historic Talihina is a unique contrast from other parts of Oklahoma.

One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Talimena National Scenic Byway. This 54-mile highway winds through the Ouachita National Forest from Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas. The highway is popular with motorists, bikers, and even cyclists. The drive offers spectacular views and incredible vistas to sit and take in the majestic Oklahoma scenery. The holiday season is a great time to enjoy these views with your loved ones. If you can get out before the trees lose their leaves, you will see a fantastic display of colors from the Ouachita National Forest.

Our last stop on our list is Tvshka Homma, Oklahoma. Located only 20 miles southwest of Talihina, Tvshka Homma offers a great way to enjoy the holiday season. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma provides a Christmas light display that everyone can enjoy. This year’s Christmas in the Park will feature Christmas displays ranging from Native American to traditional. Hot chocolate and Christmas ornaments will be given on Fridays and Saturdays when you visit the display to top it all off. Find out more information about the Choctaw Nation’s Christmas in the Park.

While southeastern Oklahoma has countless amazing views and things to do during the holidays, this list will get you started on some great ideas for spending quality time with your family during this season. Whether you enjoy a spectacular view or an impressive light display, the holiday season is a magical time in southeastern Oklahoma.

Glamping

Glamping

For many, the desire to spend free time in the great outdoors is an adventure. When you have some time to plan a vacation the details of how you may choose to do it however can range far and wide. Which raises the question, are you a camper or glamper?

Camping is considered stripping life down to the bare essentials. Many would say it’s a backpack, tent, some simple rations and a sleeping bag.

Glamping, short for glamorous camping, has become a very popular outdoor recreation recently. If your essentials list contains things like, a real mattress, running water and a toilet these “luxuries” bridge the gap for you from traditional camping to the comforts of home in the great outdoors.

Choctaw Country has a collection of cottages, cabins, lodges and treehouses that will encourage you to travel, no matter what your outdoor preference. Below are some examples of such opportunities:

Cottages

Created for sweethearts and families, River’s Edge Cottages in Watson, Okla. have easy access to the Mountain Fork River, many of them perched right above it, with breathtaking views of the clear blue-green water.

The gorgeous secluded setting offers plenty of indoor luxury and outdoor fun for families and couples who need an escape from the distractions of the daily grind.

Cabins

The perfect weekend getaway for a Beavers Bend or Broken Bow cabin rental is waiting for you in Broken Bow, OK.

Walk through Bear Mountain Lodging’s cabins and discover different spectacular views of majestic mountains, beautiful bluffs and a rippling river.

Bear Mountain Lodging has it all! From the winding road up the mountain to the stunning views of beautiful Broken Bow Lake. Sitting on a three-acre plot on the mountaintop these cabins allow you to experience both the breathtaking view as well as the gentle sounds of the Mountain Fork River flowing below.

Lodges

The Choctaw Hunting Lodge in Blanco, Okla. is situated on 44,000 privately-owned acres and has a 7-bedroom lodge making it the ultimate outdoor experience on Native American soil for trophy whitetail hunts. Guests have access to amenities such as, outdoor fire pits, horseshoe pits and a volleyball court.

Treehouses

Calico Heights located in Stigler, Okla., nestles along the shores of Lake Eufaula, convenient to fishing, kayaking, or canoeing. Enjoy a view of the lake from one of seven tree house bungalows.

Designed for year-round rental, these treehouse cabins are fully furnished and offer popular amenities. Amongst the trees on a 12-acre ridge, multiple floors plans are available with distinct interior designs that create an adorable uniqueness to every unit. Located just minutes from town, yet secluded and private on a fated property.

No matter what the season or what type of camping you prefer, Choctaw Country is a place to hurry up and slow down.

Camping and Backpacking

Camping and Backpacking

By Christian Toews
From the Nov. 2020 Biskinik

The cold air of the morning, the smell of smoke lingers, the sound of the zipper as you emerge from your sleeping bag. Maybe this brings back some of your best camping memories, or perhaps you have never experienced a morning like this. Waking up after sleeping in the great outdoors can be a refreshing experience.

Camping is a popular activity in southeastern Oklahoma. Some families go camping to reconnect and revitalize their relationships away from all the distractions at home. Some people go camping to escape their busy every-day life. Others want to get close to the ways our ancestors lived. No matter your reason for going, camping is a truly unique way to break away from routine and experience the great outdoors.

It turns out that setting up a tent and sleeping under the stars has many benefits too. One of these benefits is improved sleep cycles. In a study by Kenneth Wright at the University of Colorado Boulder, Wright set out to see how participants’ circadian rhythms were affected when they were exposed to only natural light. He sent them on a week-long camping trip and measured levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for telling our bodies when it’s time for bed and helps set a person’s internal clock. Wright found that people’s internal clocks were off by two hours in our modern environment with abundant electronics and artificial light. This isn’t a good thing because a lack of sleep has been associated with many health problems. Wright was able to show that the participant’s melatonin levels, and their internal clock, were able to recalibrate after only a week of camping in nature.

Weekend backpacking
Many people use short escapes into the wilderness as a way to reconnect, away from the distractions of home.

Another benefit of camping is reduced stress. That is something we all want. Our lives have become so busy that we forget to slow down and enjoy the world around us.

In a study published earlier this year, an interdisciplinary team from Cornell University was able to show that as little as 10 minutes in nature can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress. Imagine what a weekend in the great outdoors can do for you.

The night sky has become lost to most people who live in a city. Light pollution has choked out the stars in much of the country. You may see a few stars at night in your neighborhood, but a single streetlight can make it difficult to see the night sky in all of its glory. Oklahoma’s southeastern region still retains some of the darkest skies in the country. This is just another reason to get outside at night and look up at the unpolluted skies. On a clear night, you might even catch a glimpse of the milky way.

With beautiful scenery, diverse wildlife and plenty of terrain options to choose from, southeastern Oklahoma has some of the midwest’s best camping spots. Whether you enjoy camping near a lake, a river or near mountains, this region has it all.

Setting up tent
Adrianna Mandt setting up her tent.

Talimena State Park is the entrance to the Talimena National Scenic Byway. This winding paved road through the Winding Stair Mountains is known for dazzling spring and fall displays of foliage. Visitors from all over the country come to experience this scenic drive. Talimena State Park offers camping spots, hiking trails throughout the Ouachita National Forest, Dirt Bike and ATV trails and more. With its breathtaking mountaintop views and steep hikes, you might not feel like you’re in Oklahoma.

South of Talihina, another great camping spot, attracts campers year-round. Beaver’s Bend State Park near Broken Bow, Oklahoma, has spectacular lakeside camping spots and more wooded camping areas if that’s what you prefer. Beavers Bend is unique and offers hiking and mountain biking trails, world-class fly fishing on the Mountain Fork River, excellent angling in Broken Bow Lake, and many great restaurants and activities just minutes from the State Park. This area has become a vacation destination for many people who want to escape the big city’s hustle and bustle while still offering many restaurants and activities to enjoy. Beaver’s Bend, and the surrounding area, provide secluded and peaceful areas only minutes from great food, drinks and nightlife. It is truly one of Oklahoma’s hidden gems.

Campfire
Adrianna Mandt and Stephen Graham enjoy a weekend backpacking and camping.

There are other unique places to camp in this region near Durant, Atoka, McAlester, Poteau and Hugo, to name a few. Oklahoma is a diverse and exciting landscape that everyone should explore.

With the many benefits camping has to offer, the beautiful locations, and outdoor activities, there are many great reasons to plan your next trip to southeastern Oklahoma. Fall temperatures are here, and the holiday season is quickly approaching. Now is a great time to spend some time outdoors with your family and friends. Who knows, you might improve your health while you’re at it.

Backpacking in Choctaw Country

Explore Oklahoma History

Explore Oklahoma History

By Christian Toews
From the Oct. 2020 Biskinik

Museums give us a valuable glimpse into the past. They ensure the understanding and appreciation of various groups and cultures. With the invention of online catalogs and photo galleries, museums might seem like an outdated institution. But museums offer something that you cannot get from reading about or looking at an ancient artifact. Seeing something in person is quite different from seeing it on the pages of a book or a computer screen.

Museums across Southeastern Oklahoma offer a wide variety of displays that everyone will enjoy. One of these museums is the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, Oklahoma. This 58,000 square-feet museum showcases southeastern Oklahoma’s rich and diverse history. Their artifacts show us that this land has been home to many different and interesting people for generations.

The Museum of the Red River has acquired a wide variety of materials and artifacts. According to the museum’s director, Henry Moy, the museum initially focused on preserving material culture from local native American groups. However, that focus quickly grew beyond southeast Oklahoma. While they still focus heavily on the area and indigenous groups, the museum’s collection has grown to include art from around the world.

Moy said that the museum was founded in 1974 by the Herron family. When the development of the area began to escalate, many archeological projects uncovered ancient objects. These artifacts were being sent to larger cities because there was no place for them to be stored and viewed in southeastern Oklahoma. That is when the Herron family, along with a very large advisory committee, stepped in to preserve the history and culture that was being discovered, Moy said.

Quintus Herron, who founded the museum was a Choctaw Tribal member. His son Donald Herron now operates the Herron foundation that supports the museum. Donald said the museum’s mission is to provide a place where native artifacts can be taken care of and viewed.

Museum of the Red River
Jeremy Gauna inspects one of the many unique artifacts at the Museum of the Red River.

One of the museum’s most popular attractions is the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, said Moy. According to the museum’s website, this was one of North America’s largest predators and looked very similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex.

What makes this exhibit so unique is that the complete skeleton of the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis was unearthed less than twenty miles from the museum by amateur paleontologists Cephis Hall and Sid Love in 1983. The nearly 40 feet long cast of the original bones is a must-see.

Other exhibits in the museum include a large collection of Native American baskets, hundreds of stone tools and points, and pottery from the earliest people in the area.

According to Donald Herron, the museum also offers workshops on traditional basket making and other programs to inspire a love of art and natural science. More on these programs and exhibits can be found online at museumoftheredriver.org.

Admission to the museum remains completely free. Donald Herron said that they are able to keep admission free due to the Herron Foundation and private donors. The museum also offers memberships and other support opportunities. You can find out more about how to contribute to the museum on their website.

The Museum of the Red River is located a short drive from Beavers Bend State Park. Inside the park is a museum called The Forest Heritage Center. This is another place to learn more about the history of southeastern Oklahoma.

If you want to experience even more southeastern Oklahoma history, there are several museums in the surrounding area. The Fort Towson Historical Museum is filled with local and historical memorabilia donated by residents of the area. In Durant, Oklahoma, you will find the Three Valley Museum. It houses a collection of artifacts regarding the history of Bryan County.

Museums offer us the unique experience of stepping back in time to preserved history. Sure, you can read about the history of the area, but there is nothing quite like seeing and learning from actual pieces of history. The next time you are planning a visit to southeast Oklahoma, don’t forget to make a stop at one of these museums and learn what shaped this part of Oklahoma.

Get hooked on fishing

Get Hooked on Fishing

By Christian Toews
From the Sept. 2020 Biskinik

The lake gently lapping against the shore in the morning. The plop of a lure hitting a calm pond. The sound of a reel whirling out when you set a hook. Fishing is relaxing and exciting at the same time. No matter what type of fishing you enjoy, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has something to offer. From fly fishing in Broken Bow to bass fishing on a scenic lake, this area will surprise you with its options.

The sport of fishing is very popular, according to the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. In the U.S., 50 million people ages 6 and up went fishing in 2019. That means 17% of the U.S. population cast a lure at least once. While some of this was saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing was the majority of fishing across the U.S. at 81%.

Fishing is no longer the boys’ club it was once thought to be. Over one-third of participants in 2019 were women, according to Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. This gap between men and women participating in the sport continues to shrink every year.

Even colleges are recognizing the popularity of fishing. Many schools are now offering scholarships for bass fishing. While bass fishing is not currently recognized as an NCAA sport, colleges across the country have teams and compete in multiple tournaments each year.

You would be hard-pressed to find a place that has deeper fishing roots than southeastern Oklahoma. While some might think of Oklahoma as a dusty and dry state, the dust bowl days are a thing of the past. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma has nearly 1.2 million acres of impounded water. The state has twenty-three thousand miles of rivers and streams and seventy-three reservoirs larger than five hundred acres, containing a combined total of 660,000 acres. Many of these rivers and lakes are connected to the Ouachita and Ozark mountain ranges of southeastern Oklahoma. These two ranges provide watershed and beauty to the area. You can discover more details about great fishing locations withing the Choctaw Nation by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation‘s website.

McGee Creek Reservoir
Jon James uses his bass boat to fish the best locations on McGee Creek Reservoir in McGee Creek State Park. The Reservoir, located near Atoka, Oklahoma, has 64 miles of shoreline where fishermen will find an abundance of large and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, perch, crappie and sunfish.

Jon James is an angler who grew up in Oklahoma and lives near Atoka, Oklahoma. He was involved in the professional fishing industry for 10 years and has fished most of the top fishing spots across the united states. He says there is something special about fishing in southeastern Oklahoma. “I’ve fished all over the country, and there is a reason I came back to this area. A lot of it has to do with the lakes here,” he said. James said he primarily fishes for bass. He said that you can fish for a large variety of fish in the lakes in the Choctaw Nation and surrounding area. The diversity in fishing options in southeastern Oklahoma is one of the reasons he enjoys fishing there.

“I love the diversity we have here. You have so many lakes, and they all have something unique to offer,” said James.

Oklahoma has more to offer than fishing lakes and ponds. Broken Bow, Oklahoma, offers world-class fly fishing. Chris Schatte is a guide with Beavers Bend Fly Fishing. He has been fly fishing since he was very young.

“My grandfather bought me a bamboo fly rod for a Christmas when I was eight, and I used it for years and years,” stated Schatte.

When asked about how fly fishing in Broken Bow compares to other locations across the country, Schatte noted, “The thing about fly fishing here is the river fishes year-round. Our river is very diverse in the way it flows. It is a fast Colorado style river in parts to a wide Virginia style river in others. Ankle deep water to deep pools.”

According to Schatte, fly fishing is a unique style of fishing because the angler is actively involved in the process. He says that people new to fly fishing should expect to have a lot of fun while learning and improving in the sport.

In case you need more reasons to go fishing, there are several health benefits to the sport. Fishing can keep you physically fit. While fishing itself isn’t necessarily going to burn many calories, often, the best fishing spots take a bit of hiking or paddling to get to. Fishing has also been associated with lowering stress. Most anglers agree that fishing is very relaxing and a good way to spend time with friends and family. A 2009 Harvard Medical School study conducted by a team of researchers drawn from the University of Southern Maine, the University of Utah and the VA in Salt Lake City, found that military veterans had significant reductions in stress and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improvements in sleep quality after participating in a fly-fishing retreat.

Eating fish has many health benefits. According to The Mayo Clinic, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may decrease blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke and heart failure. Enjoying some grilled trout after a long day on the river is an excellent way to end the day.

Whether you want to fish for striper in Lake Texoma near Durant, bass in McGee Creek Lake, trout in Broken Bow, or maybe you want to try your luck at all of it. Southeastern Oklahoma is truly a fishing destination.

The next time you are planning a family trip or a weekend getaway with your friends, consider fishing in one of the many rivers, streams, lakes or ponds found with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the surrounding area.

Trails for Running and Hiking

Trails for Running and Hiking

By Christian Toews
From the Aug. 2020 Biskinik

Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding area is known for many outdoor activities. Whether it’s fly fishing one the Mountain Fork River, taking a boat out on Broken Bow Lake, or driving to one of many scenic lookouts, this area of Oklahoma has something for everyone. Hochatown, Oklahoma borders the state park and attracts visitors from all over the country with its luxury cabins and restaurants.

One of the lesser known features of this area is the extensive trail system. There are over 22 miles of trail between two main locations. Both of these locations have trail options for experienced or occasional hikers. Whether you want to go out on a one-mile hike, or spend all day on the trails, both the Hochatown and Beavers Bend portions of Beavers Bend State Park have options for you.

Hiking these trails, you will see amazing scenery and stunning wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see white tailed deer grazing or a bald eagle flying overhead. This is truly some of the most beautiful country in America.

This trail system is broken into two main areas. The first is within the Beavers Bend portion of the state park. This area has approximately 12 miles of trail. The second area is located near the Lakeview Lodge in the Hochatown portion of the state park and has another 10 miles of trail available for use.

There are a few different trailheads for the Beavers Bend trails. A comprehensive map can be found at the Forest Heritage Center and Museum located in the park. You can also find a trail map online at www.forestry.ok.gov/hiking-trails-in-beavers-bend-state-park.

Lakeview Lodge trail
Sara Adams runs along the Lakeview Lodge trail in the Hochatown section of Beavers Bend State Park.

There is a single trailhead for the Hochatown portion of the trails that makes it easy to access. The trailhead is located just outside of the Lakeview Lodge and features a map of the available trails. While both of these locations are great for hiking, the Hochatown trails also allow biking. More detailed descriptions and maps of both of these trails can be found on alltrails.com. Simply search for Beavers Bend State Park when you visit the site.

Kendall Carter is an Ada, Oklahoma resident who has hiked the Skyline trail in Beavers Bend State Park. “These trails feel like you’ve left Oklahoma without having to drive five plus hours. It’s the best part of Oklahoma in my opinion and I will definitely go back,” he said.

Another activity that has gained popularity in recent years is trail running. Many runners who typically run on the road, find trail running to be a new challenge. “I love the feeling of running on trails. You have to pay attention to where your foot is landing; it makes the time fly by. I also like the challenge of running up steep climbs and feeling like I got a really good workout in,” said Sara Adams, a runner who has spent time on these trails. With multiple loops and distances, the trails in Beavers Bend State Park offer variety and are great for trail running.

Whether you’re hiking with family, or looking for a challenging trail run, this Oklahoma state park has a trail for you. The next time you need to get away to a breathtaking location, look no further than the southeastern part of Oklahoma. If you would like more information about the different amenities within Beavers Bend State Park, visit www.travelok.com.

Rocks Worth the Climb

Rocks Worth the Climb

By Christian Toews
From the July 2020 Biskinik

The sport of rock climbing has gained in popularity in recent years. With indoor climbing gyms opening across the nation, more people are being exposed to the sport.

According to the Climbing Business Journal, the commercial climbing industry grew at a rate of 6.9% in 2016, 10% in 2017, and 11.8% in 2018. Rock climbing’s recent surge in popularity is reflected in the decision to add the sport to the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

Sarah Toews climbing at Robbers Cave State Park
Sarah Toews makes a complicated move while bouldering in Robbers Cave State Park.

Indoor climbing gyms have become popular in part because they offer the experience of climbing without dealing with the elements of the outdoors, but most climbers will agree, there is nothing like climbing on real rocks outside.

If you don’t live in Oklahoma or haven’t explored some of the state, you might be surprised that people are climbing here. While the majority of the state is made up of prairies and plains, Oklahoma has some areas that are great for climbing, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma holds two of the best places to climb within the state.

Ryan Jumper at Robbers Cave State Park
Ryan Jumper looks at his landing spot as Sarah Toews makes sure he doesn’t fall after landing.

Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma is known for being an excellent place to explore the outdoors, take in amazing views, and it’s also a destination for rock climbers. With its huge sandstone rock faces, many climbers love to “top rope” in this area. Top roping offers the rock-climbing experience with all the rewards but minimal risks.

Top roping, simply put, is climbing a rock face with the climbing rope always anchored above you. Much like an indoor gym, you have someone who belays the climber. The belayer takes the slack out of the rope above the climber and then lowers the climber to the ground when they have completed the route. If you fall, you only fall a short distance, minimizing the risk of injury. Top roping is good for beginners but requires a lot of gear. You need harnesses, ropes, helmets, and other gear, depending on the rocks.

Ryan Jumper climbs at Robbers Cave State Park
Ryan Jumper climbs a low overhang in Robbers Cave State Park.

Another popular style of climbing is “Bouldering.” Bouldering is rock climbing stripped down to its raw essentials. Leaving behind ropes and harnesses, bouldering only requires climbing shoes and a bag of chalk over safety mats or “crash pads” as climbers call them. The challenge is to climb short but tricky bouldering “problems” (a route or sequence of moves) using balance, technique, strength and brain power.

Bouldering is a very popular option in climbing because of its simplicity, safety, and the ability to hang out with other climbers while challenging yourself. “I love bouldering because it’s challenging but relatively simple. You just need a crash pad, your shoes, and a few friends. My favorite part of bouldering is the problem-solving aspect. The route is short, but a simple change in your foot position can either make or break your success,” Said Rachel Toews. Toews is a Durant, Oklahoma resident and avid climber.

McGee Creek State Park
Sarah Toews tops out after completing a route in McGee Creek State Park.

A second bouldering location within the Choctaw Nation is Mcgee Creek State Park near Atoka, Oklahoma. This state park is located on the southwest edge of the Ouachita Mountain Range. Dallas, Texas locals first started developing here in the early 2000s, and many of the classic climbing routes have long been established. Much of this information hasn’t been published or made public but a guidebook is currently in development and in its final stages that will include McGee Creek bouldering, according to mountainproject.com. McGee Creek State Park offers many outdoor recreation opportunities including water activities, camping, hiking and fishing in addition to rock climbing.

Rachel Toews climbs at Robbers Cave State Park
Rachel Toews climbs above her crash pad in Robbers Cave State Park.

Both of these rock-climbing locations are listed on mountainproject.com. This website (and mobile app) is the definitive guide to rock climbing routes and locations. With over 220,000 routes listed, you can find climbing locations across the United States and around the world. If you would like more information on climbing at Mcgee Creek or Robbers Cave state parks, you can visit this website to find precise information on climbing routes, difficulty level, and location of each route. If you do make it out to one of these locations, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment when climbing and follow all safety practices within the State park.

Maybe you are an experienced climber who would like to try some new routes, or you have always wanted to get into the sport; either way, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has something for you to discover and enjoy.

Starlight, star bright

Starlight, Star Bright

By Christian Toews
From the June 2020 Biskinik

When was the last time you looked up at the stars? Not just a glance up to remember they exist, but when you paused and had a long, contemplative look at the stars? For most people it has probably been a while. With the speed of our lives these days, we barely have time to pause and eat, much less be introspective. For our ancestors, stargazing was a regular occurrence. Early texts from around the world reveal that people spent a lot of time searching the stars for meaning, inspiration, comfort and beauty. The Bible even tells the story of shepherds following a star to the location where they found Jesus.

Our modern relationship with the night sky is a bit less dramatic. Many of us have seen the stars, but perhaps not to the extent our forefathers saw them. With the invention of the lightbulb, our relationship with the night sky became, well, dim. Sure, we are more productive because we have been able to work later into the night. We’ve had more fun because we no longer have to rely on daylight to play sports and games. But has all of this convenience come at a cost to our relationship with nature?

Oklahoma might be the last place on your mind when you think of stargazing. In Texas they sing, “The stars at night are big and bright,” and in Oklahoma we sing, “Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” But there is much more to Oklahoma than plains and wind.

Within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma lie some of the best dark skies in the eastern half of the United States. Between Nashoba and Smithville there is a stretch of Oklahoma that is almost untouched by light pollution.

Sunrise meets the night sky just outside of Nashoba, Okla
The first colors of sunrise on the horizon meet the night sky just outside of Nashoba, Okla. Dark skies provide unique opportunity in Southeastern Okla.

John Bortle worked to develop a way to map and classify how well the sky can be seen on a clear moonless night. The Bortle scale ranges from 1 (pristine, dark skies with less than 1% of the brightness of the sky coming from the ground) to 9 (more than 2700% of the sky’s total brightness coming from the ground). According to skyandtelescope.com, where the Bortle scale was first published, the most heavily light-polluted areas like New York, Rome, Paris and Chicago might reduce what you can see to only the brightest 10-or-20 stars, even on a pristine, clear night. The area in Oklahoma including Nashoba and Smithville is classified as level 2 skies on the Bortle scale. That means, on a clear and moonless night, the summer Milky Way is highly structured to the unaided eye.

Light pollution doesn’t only make stargazing difficult. It also has an impact on the ecosystems around us. According to the International Dark Sky Association, a natural night sky signals when to eat, sleep, hunt, migrate and even when to reproduce for many animals. It is estimated that half of all life on earth start their “daily” activities at sundown.

Humans are also affected by light pollution. In a recent Harvard study, it was noted that even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. “A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect,” noted Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher.

According to the International Dark Sky Association, exposure to blue light at night is particularly harmful, and more lights are trending toward blue. Most LEDs used for outdoor lighting, as well as computer screens, TVs and other electronic displays create abundant blue light.

As the natural day and night rhythm continues to be interrupted by artificial light, one of the most unfortunate effects of this interruption is that there are so many people who have never seen certain stars, constellations or even the Milky Way, our own galaxy.

A New York Times article described a 1994 earthquake that shook the Los Angeles area around 4:30 in the morning. The quake was very strong and knocked out the power to the area. Naturally, people gathered outside their homes during the quake and residents reportedly called various emergency centers to report a mysterious cloud overhead. The cloud was the Milky Way galaxy which had been obscured from view by the artificial lights.

While we cannot shut off the city lights across the country, we can escape to areas with less light pollution to show ourselves and our children the beauty above us.

Babak Tafreshi is an astrophotographer and science journalist whose work has been featured in National Geographic as well as many other publications. When talking about light pollution, he offered some hope, saying, “Truly dark skies are possible to experience thanks to a growing number of preserved dark sky places and a rising branch of ecotourism called astrotourism, which is emerging in areas with existing ecotourism infrastructure, with natural dark skies, that are far from cities and major light pollution sources.”

As Tafreshi mentioned, ecotourism is a big factor in preserving untouched landscapes around the world, as well as right here in Oklahoma. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.”

Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum & Cultural Center
The Choctaw Nation Capitol Museum & Cultural Center with a stary sky located in Tuskahoma, Okla.

Tourism is a huge industry, and many places in Oklahoma see visitors from around the world. Ecotourism advocates for conscious, sustainable travel to these areas. In other words, to leave them in a similar state to what our ancestors saw. Astrotourism asks us as a society to be conscious of our impact on the night sky. We can preserve areas of the country where people can escape the city lights and see the natural night sky in all its glory. “A truly dark night sky can change someone’s life forever,” said Tafreshi.

The area between Nashoba and Smithville is one of the best places to view the Milky Way, but it’s not the only place to see great views of the night sky within the Choctaw Nation. McGee Creek State Park and the area surrounding it just outside of Atoka have fantastic night sky viewing. While this area is a level 3 on the Bortle scale, it is shielded from surrounding city light by the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. This makes the stargazing wonderful.

If you travel around 90 miles northeast of McGee Creek, you’ll find Robbers Cave State Park. This park is famous for the cave that was used as a hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr. A level 3 on the Bortle scale, the park is also a great place to see the night sky.

Both McGee Creek State Park and Robbers Cave State Park offer camping and recreational activities. They are great locations to camp, stargaze and connect with our natural world.

Let’s face it – our lives are busy and bright. They are full of screen time at work and at home. It has become easier to be in the same room with someone and not be present. To be in the same city, state, country, world and galaxy and take it all for granted. We are surrounded by a never-ending universe, and we can still catch a glimpse of infinity by looking up at night. So, plan a trip. Whether that trip is to your backyard, down the street, Robbers Cave or across the country. Don’t miss the opportunity to sit on your tailgate, a blanket, or a grassy field and look up at the stars.

If you are interested in seeing where the darkest skies are located in Oklahoma, visit lightpollutionmap.info. This allows you to search near your location to see where the best stargazing areas are for you.

Did You See That

Did You See That?

By Christian Toews
From the May 2020 Biskinik

Bigfoot. Some say this creature is only a figment of our imagination, a legend created by misidentifying an animal or naming a shadow. Other people wholeheartedly believe in the existence of an unidentified species living throughout North America and possibly in other locations around the world.

According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), sightings of Bigfoot in North America go back as far as 400 years. While the sightings happen in different locations and have slightly different descriptions, many of them claim the same basic features. Bigfoot is almost always described as a very tall, hairy, creature resembling a primate walking on two feet. Another distinct feature are his big feet which leave footprints often discovered in remote areas.

The eastern part of Oklahoma is a hotbed for Bigfoot activity, especially in and around the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark National Forest. While the majority of sightings in North America happen in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, according to BFRO, Oklahoma has had over 100 reported sightings. The Ouachita and Ozarks cross the Oklahoma border into Arkansas and there have been over 100 sightings in the Natural State as well.

The Mid-American Bigfoot Research Center (MABRC) is an organization with the goal of proving Bigfoot’s existence and to educate the public on Bigfoot, according to D.W. Lee, Executive Director and founder of the organization. The MABRC has turned into a global organization with members all over North America and even as far as Australia and New Zealand, Lee said.

Lee is an army veteran and Cherokee tribal member who lives near Stilwell, Oklahoma. He says the majority of Bigfoot activity in Oklahoma takes place within the Choctaw and Cherokee Nations. He attributes this to the dense forests, rivers, and large, undeveloped parts of these areas.

Every year in Stilwell, Oklahoma, the MABRC hosts the Bigfoot Symposium. This is a gathering of Bigfoot experts and enthusiasts alike. The event is an opportunity for people who might be interested in Bigfoot to learn more. It also provides an opportunity for researchers to share evidence and collaborate on investigation, said Lee.

The difficulty in researching a creature whose existence has yet to be proven is sifting through all of the hoaxes, Lee explained. He said the MABRC is focused on the science of Bigfoot and doesn’t really focus on the sensational side of Bigfoot. “We like to try to educate the public about the true information that’s out there. You have so many TV shows that are putting garbage out there and nobody knows for sure what is real and what’s not real,” he said.

One thing is for sure, if you visit anywhere in the southeastern region of Oklahoma, you will see Bigfoot. At least on a sign or a souvenir t-shirt.

Bigfoot has become part of the culture in places like Broken Bow, Hochatown, and Honobia. Honobia’s relationship with Bigfoot runs so deep that they hold one of the largest Bigfoot festivals in this part of the country. Every fall, people from all over the world gather to attend the Honobia Bigfoot Festival.

Bigfoot Map

Jolly Winsor is the president of the Honobia Bigfoot Organization, the group responsible for organizing the annual Bigfoot festival. “There have been stories about the Bigfoot in this area for many years with numerous sightings and encounters,” said Winsor.

“This area has had several researchers that have come to look and observe the Bigfoot. We have had TV programs come and do shows here. We also have a group that conducts Bigfoot expeditions throughout the year here,” Winsor said in an interview with the Ada News.

While some gather to share Bigfoot stories and research they have conducted, many people attend the festival for the novelty. With food, music and vendors, there is something for everyone. The festival now attracts around 5,000 people every year, according to Winsor.

While you are not guaranteed to actually see Bigfoot in the wild at the festival, you are sure to have a good time.

If you travel southeast from Honobia, you’ll find the towns of Broken Bow and Hochatown. These towns are located near Beavers Bend State Park. This area is another part of Oklahoma that has multiple sightings of Bigfoot according to BFRO.

Dian Jordan is a local cabin owner. She also holds a PhD in sociology and is an online professor of sociology at the University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa, TX.

Jordan said that her family has been in the area for generations and she remembers hearing stories about Bigfoot as long as she can remember. She bought her first cabin in Hochatown in 1999. She said many people who have stayed in her properties report strange things around the area. “We’ve had campers in the cabins all the time that talked about hearing noises and seeing strange things in the woods,” she said.

Jordan said she has never seen Bigfoot, but she believes he could be out there. “Bigfoot is bigger, stronger and more forest wise than we are. The Choctaw Nation is full of difficult terrain. Bigfoot loves this area,” she said.

Janet Cress is the owner of a store in Hochatown called Janet’s Treasure Chest. You can find an entire section of her store dedicated to Bigfoot. “We have bigfoot shirts, stickers, pens, just about anything you can think of,” she said.

Cress said she grew up in Hochatown and stories of Bigfoot have always been around. “As long as I can remember, there has always been the story about Bigfoot. It’s something that has always been here,” she said.

She went on to say that people come in her store all the time and share stories about seeing Bigfoot. There was a sighting on Broken Bow Lake that was talked about all around the area in 2019, she said.

The Choctaw Nation area in Southeastern Oklahoma has grown more popular in recent years. People are traveling from surrounding cities and states to visit the pristine country it has to offer. From trout fishing on the rivers to hiking in the mountains, Oklahoma has some truly unique gems to uncover. So, the next time you are in this area, keep an eye out, you never know what you will find.

Get Taken Back by Our Museums

Get Taken Back by Our Museums

One of the most overlooked treasures within tourism tends to be the rich history and inspiration available at the local museums. In fact, Choctaw Country is loaded with many historical destinations and sites which not only give visitors a greater appreciation for the legends and myths within, but make southeastern Oklahoma one of the most unique areas in the U.S. Discover all of the museums in areas you plan to visit, and map-out your next journey.

Museum of the Red River / Idabel

How much admission would you pay to see a life-sized, 40-foot-long skeletal representation of Acrocanthosaurus atokensis — one of the fiercest meat-eating dinosaurs ever to walk the earth? Couple that with an archaeological Study Area which showcases numerous authentic Caddo ceramics ranging as far back as the Mississippian phase (A.D. 700 – 1500) all the way up to modern day examples of native artwork – how much would you pay to see all that? Put away your wallets, as admission to the Museum of the Red River is always free.

Hugo Frisco Depot Museum / Hugo

An actual railroad depot built in 1914 which serviced the area for fifty years, The Hugo Frisco Depot is now an entertaining and impressive railroad museum. Here, you can enjoy a miniature circus, study the intricacies of their model railroad, explore a Southwestern Bell switching center, and lots more. Dine in the depot’s converted baggage rooms in the renovated Harvey House Restaurant. It’s a fun, interesting, and unique experience that will leave lasting memories.

Wildlife Heritage Center / Antlers

For those with a passion for wildlife, the 3,100 square foot Wildlife Heritage Center Museum is the place for you. Located between two existing Whitetail and Fallow deer exhibits just across from “Little Peoples Park,” you’ll find a multitude of exhibits and artifacts on display with friendly, helpful, and highly educated volunteers eager to answer all of your questions. Pet and feed the local whitetail deer, and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy for yourself while the kids take advantage of the great playgrounds.

Fort Towson Historic Site and Museum / Fort Towson

Established in 1824 to guard the southern boundary of the United States, Fort Towson also served as an access point for Texas-bound travelers including Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and Stephen F. Austin. The fort served as a dispersal point for Choctaw and Chickasaw natives who survived the dreaded “Trail of Tears.” Here, visitors can see what remains of the historic buildings and experience the state-of-the-art exhibits which take adults and kids alike through the site’s incredible history.

Berry Picking

Berry Picking

Remember when you were a kid and found a wild berry bush? You’d pick as many as you could and carry them home in hopes Mom might make a fresh cobbler or pie. The berries were so much fresher and tastier than the stuff from the store. Now you can relive that memory in Choctaw Country by visiting one of our many berry-picking farms, and even bring your own kids to make memories for themselves. And if you never got to pick your own berries as a kid, well – here’s your big chance!

Barrow Berries / Checotah

A gorgeous blackberry and blueberry farm with several varieties of thornless berries. Pick your own berries right off the bushes or purchase pre-picked fresh, or bring a cooler and take them home frozen. Ripening season, picking times and updates available on Facebook. Open Memorial Day weekend through August, depending on weather.

Bridal Path Farms at Lukfata Creek / Broken Bow

Offering a variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as honey, farm fresh eggs and seasonal cut flowers. Take a walk on the Jelly- making Trails to find plums, apples, pears, figs, muscadine grapes, raspberries, blackberries and even jalapeños. Pick your own or pick up a basket or bouquet of pre-picked fruit. Fun day camps and workshops available, along with homemade soaps, quilts and other hand-crafted treasures.

Creekside Berry Farm / Red Oak

A family-owned and operated business, Creekside offers several varieties of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and vegetables whenever they’re in-season. Located 15 miles from the west end of the Talimena Drive, and one mile west of LeFlore.

Grandpa’s Berry Patch / Wilburton

Roll up your sleeves and get to picking with Grandpa. Pick all the blackberries and blueberries you want. Rather not pick them yourself? Grandpa sells pre-picked berries for you to take home. While there, make sure you visit the Grandpa’s Berry Patch Volunteer Fire Department’s 1949 Seagrave fire truck!

Maple Creek Berry Farm / Poteau

If you’re looking to spend the day selecting the juiciest, plumpest blueberries in a breathtaking hillside setting, head straight for Maple Creek Berry Farm. Buckets and take-home containers are provided for the berries you picked. Think of it as berry-picking therapy for the soul…and the stomach!

Wild Things Farm / Pocola

Want something more to do than just pick berries? You’re looking for Wild Things Farm! It’s 90 acres of fun with two ponds and a large pavilion for group activities. Come out and pick your own strawberries, blueberries and fresh veggies, then take a fun stroll through the seasonal corn maze. Afterward, visit with the farm animals and check out the games, hayrides, fishing, and our new train! Group tours, family reunions and meeting facilities are all available upon request.

Top Six Places to Fish

Top Six Places to Fish

Ever heard one of those “fish story” tales – how your friend once caught a monster the size of Titanic out of a lake the size of a puddle? Well, truth be told – you really don’t need a lot of water to catch a huge fish. As such, we’ve created a handy-dandy list for you of all the small-yet-fantastic fishing holes in Choctaw Country. Don’t forget to start spreading the tales once you land your first whopper!

Six of the smallest lakes with the biggest fish in southern Oklahoma:

McGee Creek
Bass, Crappie, Catfish
Shoreline: 80.3 mi
Area: 3,709 ac
Sardis Lake
Bass, Catfish, Crappie, Walleye
Surface area: 14,360 ac
Shore length: 117 mi
Lake McAlester
Bass, Catfish, Crappie
Shoreline: 21.2 mi
Area: 1,521 ac
Hugo Lake
Crappie, Bass
Shoreline: 98.6 mi
Area: 11,592 ac
Pine Creek
Crappie, Bass
Shoreline: 103.7 mi
Area: 3,750 ac
Robert S. Kerr (Kerr Lake)
Sauger, Walleye, Bass, Catfish
Shoreline: 278 mi
Area: 43,800 ac
*According to State record holders, Kerr Lake is home to the state record for both Sauger (5.31lbs) and Walleye (12.81lbs.)

Oklahoma Fishing Trail
Designed to highlight the best of Oklahoma fishing. It’s organized into six loops, one for each region of the state. Within each loop is an all-around lake and several locations selected for one or two standout species.

  View

McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area

Outdoors Around Antlers/Atoka/McGee Creek State Park

Tired of living like a city slicker? Not to worry – your bond with Mother Nature is right down the road.

Book the perfect spot at McGee Creek State Park that fits your personal connection with nature. And make sure you make some s’mores the first night!

Cabbage Rock

Then, slide over to Atoka to grab some delicious food at El Adobe Mexican Restaurant before heading over to the Atoka Museum, Civil War Cemetery & Visitor Center. There, you’ll learn about all the amazing historical people from around the area. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during a race, make sure to swing by Atoka Motorsport Park to watch the dirt fly.

Once you’ve done Atoka, head toward Antlers. Upon arriving, stop into High Street Pizza – a small pizza spot that will satisfy your taste buds, your stomach and your wallet! Then, mosey over to the Wildlife Heritage Center, where you can reconnect with local wildlife and pick up a list of trails in Oklahoma. Check out their hunting exhibit and, if you’re extra quiet – just maybe – you’ll catch a glimpse of the deer in Deer Park.

Antlers Deer Park

Ready to get out and hike some trails? There are plenty to choose from near McGee Creek State Park. Make sure to bring a fishing pole along, as you’ve got a great chance to catch one of the biggest fish you’ve ever told a story about!

Hiking Trails

Hiking Trails

Let’s face it: while treadmills are convenient, nothing really beats a long, beautiful walk through the glory of nature. When you’re ready for the hike of a lifetime, Choctaw Country is where you want to be. Get your cardio in amongst trails of every kind, for every kind of person – whether you like to run, bike, or simply walk a trail where you can get “lost” in a wonderful way.

Hiking

If you’re looking to get the full experience when hiking, staying at your favorite trails’ park is a must. Each of our state parks have miles upon miles of trails to travel. Heavener Runestone Park is a great spot to not only travel, but also to get a good view of history. Then, if that doesn’t satisfy your hiking needs, you can always wander to over Broken Bow – where you’ll find trails that turn into even more trails!

Hiking

Don’t forget about McGee Creek, with some trails that go for miles at a time, challenging even the most experienced hiker. But don’t let that intimidate you – remember, there are trails to match every level! Even if you take the easiest route and hike the small trails, the beauty of the parks is unrivaled by any other area around.

Fly Fishing in Broken Bow

Adventure/Thrill-Seeking Around Broken Bow

Broken Bow is famous for miles around for its incredible cabins and all the beautiful scenery in this wonderful town. Stay in any style of cabin – with all the amenities you prefer, or just rent a simple cabin to fall asleep amidst the peaceful sounds of nature. Start the next day off with a hearty breakfast at any one of Broken Bow’s many eating establishments to get you through the incredible adventures you’ll have that day!

Now that you’re here, unleash your inner-adrenaline junkie and head straight for Rugaru Adventures! And once you’ve conquered land – venture into another world below the water’s surface by scuba diving in Broken Bow Lake. When you’re ready to wind-down a bit, stop by the Hochatown Petting Zoo for some hands-on up-close-and-personal time with some amazing animals. And we hope you brought your fishing pole from Atoka! Broken Bow sports some of the best fishing spots for miles around.

Finally – it’s time to eat! Lucky for you, the Broken Bow area offers plenty of amazing restaurants, like Grateful Head Pizza, Abendigo’s Grill & Patio, and Rock Bottom Boyz BBQ. But don’t limit yourself to these places – feel free to get out there and discover an incredible restaurant on your own!

Travelling with some who don’t have as big a “wild side” as you? We’ve got ’em covered. Remind them of all the breweries in the surrounding areas they can visit. Sometimes, just kicking back and relaxing with something cold, foamy and delicious while the others get their “rush” is a very good thing.

McAlester-area

McAlester-area

Make sure you rise early and fill your belly – it’s going to be a busy day! Start off by getting the energy you’ll need by getting breakfast at Heavenly Delights Bakery. There, you can fill-up on biscuits, croissants, or maybe something a little sweeter … we won’t tell!

Next, let’s head out to the city with not one, but TWO downtowns for some morning shopping! Make sure you check out McAlester’s Choctaw Avenue for the newest trendy fashions, then venture over to Old Town for antiquing, browsing historical sites, and more!

Pete's Place

Getting hungry again? We’ve got you covered. Let’s head over for lunch in your own private dining room at Pete’s Place, in Krebs. Pete’s and several more Italian favorites are why Krebs is referred to as “Oklahoma’s Little Italy.” Once you’re full again, make sure to pick up some fantastic Italian merchandise at Lovera’s Market.

To finish up the day – decide whether you’d like to check out one of McAlester’s Museums, like the Masonic Temple or the Tannehill Museum – or if a gorgeous hike is more your cup of tea, head to Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton.

Robbers Cave

The Spa at Choctaw Casino and Resort

Girl’s Day in Durant

Hey guys, there’s LOTS of stuff for you to do in Durant! And while you’re busy doing that, here’s what the ladies will be up to:

First, get your strength up for a fun day with a hearty breakfast at Butterfields Buffet or the Grand Café, located in the Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant! There are so many options, you may spend more time deciding than eating!

Once you’re full and ready, head out for some incredible shopping in Downtown Durant. When you bring this stuff home, everyone will want to know where you got it – but it’s your little secret!

Let’s face it – shopping is a lot of work! So make sure to refuel your stomach by having an amazing lunch at one of the Local bites, like Main Street BBQ, Roadhouse, or Roma’s.

Full of energy again? Good! ‘Cause it’s time for more shopping at The Shops at Choctaw Casino and Resort! Find clothing, shoes, accessories, gifts – pretty much whatever you’re looking for!

Tired yet? Then head over to The Spa at Choctaw Casino and Resort for a relaxing massage, makeover, and Mani/Pedi!

Concert at The Grand Theater

Now that you look incredible, it’s time for a night nut with the girls! Head to dinner at 1832 Steakhouse for some of the best food in the area, followed by a great concert at The Grand Theater!

And then, of course – there’s always the casino! Hit, stay, play all day!

LeFlore County

LeFlore County

We recommend starting your adventure at Spiro Mounds, where our friend, Dennis the Archaeologist, will breathe life into the mysterious people of Spiro Mounds. It’s wise to plan a couple of hours to take-in all the indoor exhibits, see all the amazing sites, and walk the interpretive trails along the mounds.

Spiro Mounds

Next, make the short drive to Southern Belle, in Heavener. It’s a lunch you’ll never forget. You’ll enjoy some mouth-watering food and soak-in the fantastic view, all from the comfort of Southern Belle’s retired, refurbished train car. The amount of sheer joy the car now brings to diners handily explains why Southern Belle was lovingly dubbed, “America’s Sweetheart.”

Southern Belle

Then, venture out to Heavener Runestone State Park. (What better way to burn-off some of that delicious lunch you just ate?!) Enjoy the incredible views the nature trails have to offer on your way to the Heavener Runestone — said to have been carved by ancient Vikings. Hear the history, see the artifacts, and enjoy your visit!

Heavener Runestone

Finally, head over to Poteau and start your drive up Cavanal Hill. Measuring 1,999 feet – a mere foot shy of being a “mountain” – Cavanal has earned the title of the “World’s Highest Hill.” The view from the top is always breathtaking, but fall colors and sunsets are the icing on the cake.