Friday, April 29, 2016

Crowning Queen Willy

One view from the Talimena Scenic Drive
Last year on our trip to see the Crystal Bridges Museum, we traveled down the Talimena Scenic Drive but couldn’t stay at the Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge because it was under renovation. This year we remedied that situation. The lodge is actually in Queen Wilhelmina State park which is crossed by the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive and the 225-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail. Designated a National Scenic Byway, Talimena Scenic Drive runs along the crests of Rich and Winding Stair mountains within the Ouachita National Forest; it also links Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail connects Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas and Talimena State Park in Oklahoma; 192 miles of the trail are within the national forest. The scenery, alone, is ample reason to stay in the lodge; however recent upgrades have made this place lovelier than ever.

Queen Wilhelmina State Park was named for Queen Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria of the Netherlands (August 31, 1880 – November 28, 1962), the longest reining Dutch
Top: Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge
Bottom: View from a first floor room
monarch (1890 to 1948). Princess Wilhelmina was the only child of King William III and his second wife, Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont. When her father died in 1890, the then 10-year-old Wilhelmina became queen with her mother serving as regent. During World War I, Queen Wilhelmina made frequent inspections of the troops to determine if they were well trained and properly equipped; she did not approve of governmental demands to cut military budgets. At the beginning of World War II, the Netherlands was neutral, but Queen Wilhelmina remained wary of the German leadership. This concern was well founded since she had to evacuate to the United Kingdom when Germany invaded her country. Once in Britain, Queen Wilhelmina immediately set up a chain of command and began broadcasting radio messages to her people still in the Netherlands. While she was disliked by the Dutch government, the Queen was very popular and respected among the leaders of the world due to her experience and knowledge as head of a government. Her Prime Minister, Dirk Jan de Geer, actually sided with Germany, thus Queen Wilhelmina had him removed from his position; in the Netherlands, Queen Wilhelmina’s photograph was used as a sign of resistance against Germany. Although she abdicated her throne in favor of her daughter, Juliana, in 1948, Her Royal Highness traveled around the Netherlands in 1953 when the country was ravaged by the North Sea flood, providing encouragement and motivation to the Dutch people during the rebuilding process.

Although Queen Wilhelmina had vacationed in parts of America, she did not visit Arkansas
Top: Wonder House
Bottom: Engine 360
or Oklahoma; so why is there a Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge? As with the creation of many small towns throughout the US, the railroads had a hand in the establishment of the lodge. The original hotel was built by the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad for their passengers, and since many of the railroad's investors were Dutch, the lodge was named to honor Queen Wilhelmina. The Wilhelmina Inn opened in June 1898 just before Queen Wilhelmina’s coronation in September of that year.  Soon nicknamed the ‘Castle in the Sky’, it has been rebuilt several times since its inception. The original inn fell into disrepair, and was permanently closed in 1910; however with the increased interest in tourism after World War II, Queen Wilhelmina State Park was founded and a new lodge eventually constructed in 1963. Ten years later, a kitchen fire destroyed the lodge; it was again rebuilt, still using some of the original rock work.  Now Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge is the headquarters of one of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism's eight mountain parks. On the park grounds is the Wonder House; from the outside, it appears to be a simple two-story dwelling but inside it’s a different story. This nine- level house, built by Carlos Hill and Phil Lance in 1931, was a vacation cabin for C.E. Foster, an Oklahoma oil man. A short stroll up the hill takes you to Engine 360, a reminder of the area’s history; of course, we had to climb into the cab and play with the machinery. Although we could have wandered the trails near the lodge, we spent most of our time enjoying the scenic vistas from the rocking chairs on the porch. For information about the rating system I use for lodging, restaurants, and activities, see Reading the Reviews.

One entry to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail

Where we stayed:
Four and one-half carrots

Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge (3877 AR-88, Mena, AR 71953, 479-394-2863) is one
Top L to R: Accessible bathroom, bedroom
Bottom L to R: Coffee bar, regular bedroom, bathroom
of my favorite places to stay. Although they are still struggling with their online reservation system, a quick phone call connects you with a friendly staff member who can answer all of your questions. The new rooms are great; there is even an up-to-date coffee bar provided, along with a small refrigerator. Bathrooms are spacious and all (I think) have walk-in showers with seats. There are now fully accessible rooms and an elevator. All of the furnishings are new and very comfortable. Views from the lounge and dining room, as well as all of the guest rooms, are excellent. Internet speed is moderate to slow; it is free, as is parking. Room rates are reasonable.

What we ate:
Two and one-half carrots
Queen's Restaurant (3877 AR-88, Mena, AR 71953, 479-394-2863) was disappointing after all the improvements to the lodge. Meals could be ordered from the menu or selected from 
Top L to R: Parfait, Duke's Breakfast
Middle L to R: Menu, Duke's Breakfast, Rich Mountain
Cheese Burger
Bottom L to R: Reuben, Chicken Tenders
the buffet. If you ordered from the menu, service was amazingly slow. At dinner we thought that we had simply gotten an inefficient waiter, but we had a similar wait at breakfast so evidently the kitchen is the problem. The food was good, but not outstanding; it appears that the chicken strips, fried potatoes, and sweet potato fries are pre-packaged. The restaurant never seemed busy; perhaps it was because we were not there during tourist season. Dave had bacon, eggs and grits for breakfast, and chicken strips with sweet potato fries for dinner. Vince had bacon, ham and grits for breakfast, and a Reuben sandwich with fried potatoes for dinner. Both Dave and Vince liked thought their breakfasts were good. Dave said that his chicken strips were just okay; Vince found his sandwich tasty but the meat tough. I had a yogurt parfait for breakfast, and a bacon cheese burger with potatoes for dinner. The one dish we all really liked was the potatoes; they were a thick-cut swirl that had been double fried. I could have eaten several plates of this side dish.

Sunset viewed from the lodge

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