This story begins a few weeks ago. Stephanie picked up a hardtop travel case for our minivan at our church’s garage sale. We had been talking about getting one for years and when she found one for a great price, we jumped on it.
This meant, of course, that I got to learn how to install something new. So the night before our departure, Miles (13yo) and I spent some time in the driveway attaching the Yakima Rocketbox to our van. It turned out pretty good, I think.
We hit the road at 9:00 this morning. Our destination was Beavers Bend State Park, located at Broken Bow Lake in extreme southeast Oklahoma.
One hour and untold scoldings of the child passengers later, we pulled into the Love’s Country Store where the Muskogee Turnpike and I-40 meet in eastern Oklahoma. 60 seconds later, we were joined by my parents, KK & PK, and my brother, Scott, who drove over from Chandler.
We had noticed several cars on the highway with rooftop travel cases, but none seemed to be as large as the one on top of our van. After I pointed out another vehicle with a softtop travel bag strapped to their roof, Mallory said we had the Rocketbox because we were extremists. Good point, Mallory.
From our rendezvous point, we hit the road for our first stop of the trip – the Spiro Mounds, near Spiro, Oklahoma. I can still remember my high school Oklahoma history teacher telling us about the Spiro Mounds. I wouldn’t want him to know that I waited until my 40s to visit.
The Spiro Mounds are, as you may guess, mounds of dirt created by Native Americans. These Indians were believed to be Caddo, and lived in this area from about A.D. 800 to A.D. 1450.
As you pull into the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center, you immediately see the largest of the mounds at the site. We started in the Visitors Center and looked at their exhibits, and even watched an old slideshow movie that had to have been created in the 70s.
The gentleman who was working in the Visitors Center was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. You could sure tell he enjoyed what he was doing.
We took the walking tour of the lower mounds and decided that was good enough for us. It was really starting to warm up and the fact we were following another tourist who was keeping cool by walking under her umbrella didn’t help any.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch under the huge tree in front of the Archeological Center. If there is one thing our family has got a handle on, it is how to picnic.
After lunch, we hit the road for our next stop, in Heavener, Oklahoma. But at the one stop sign in Spiro, Stephanie, myself, Mallory (11yo) and Marissa (8yo) performed a Chinese fire drill. This was the first time we have ever done this, but that didn’t stop us from getting cheers from a passing car. I’d like to think we left Spiro in better shape than we found it.
We rolled into Heavener looking for the Heavener Runestone Park. This park is significant because it contains a runestone – a rock with an ancient inscription on it that was purportedly written by Vikings.
The town of Heavener does a great job of using signs to get you to the park. The only complaint we had was that the route they provided takes you right through the ghetto of Heavener. There has got to be a nicer part of town to route your guests through than what is currently in place.
The park sits atop a very tall hill. When we arrived, we drove to the extreme top and got out to look around. The view was tremendous. We could see for miles and miles, and watched with joy as a wall of rain made its way toward our location. (Joy because most of Oklahoma is in an extreme drought, and we haven’t seen rain in ages.)
We checked in at the park office and the exceedingly friendly lady running the place made sure she transferred all of her knowledge to us before we set out on our walk. To view the runestone, you walked down a great rock trail. We assumed the trail was made by the WPA or CCC, but it turns out it was made in the past 40 years.
While walking to the runestone, the rain made it to us. We got drenched but it was fantastic. That rain smelled so good.
The runestone was in a protected structure. Not so much for protection from the elements, but protection from people. The structure was dark, so we did not have the best viewing experience, but it was definitely still possible to see the inscription in the stone.
The theory is that Vikings traveled from Scandanavia, down the eastern seaboard, around Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. From there, they traveled up the Mississippi River and then into the tributary of the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River flows about 3 miles from where the Heavener Runestone is located.
We learned that the longboats the Vikings sailed in could float in as little as 3 feet of water, which made the boats ideal for using in rivers.
This visit from the Vikings is speculated to have occurred between 600 A.D. and 800 A.D. What is fascinating to me is that there have been runestones found in other areas in Oklahoma as well. Shawnee and Poteau both have had similar runestones found there.
Who knows if the inscription was written by Vikings. But it is an interesting theory, and one that the Heavener community has embraced. The junior college in a neighboring town recently changed the name of their mascot to the Vikings as a result of the runestone.
With the runestone visit complete, we were now ready to set our sights on Beavers Bend. To get from Heavener to Beavers Bend, we drove through the Ouachita Mountains. Driving through this area makes you forget you are still in Oklahoma.
The Ouachita Mountains are one of the few mountain ranges in the United States that run east and west, instead of the more traditional north and south. And apparently, the Ouachita Mountains used to be at the same elevation as the Rocky Mountains, but due to the age of the Ouachitas, the tops have eroded away.
When we arrived at Beavers Bend, our first order of business was dropping off the boat at the marina. My sister-in-law, Erin’s, parents have a boat they are letting us borrow on this trip. Scott did a magnificent job of getting the boat started, and driving it from the boat dock, to the slip where we would store it for the next few days.
Next, the moment we had all been waiting for – checking into our rent house. This house was big enough for the entire traveling party to stay at. And it was a beautiful house.
Our first evening was spent getting settled and grilling hamburgers. We topped off the evening with a birthday cake for Marissa, who turned 8 last weekend. Cake and ice cream make a great exclamation point for our day.