Friday, October 16, 2009

Exploring the Copperhead Trail

Vintage 1925 Oklahoma state road map from ODOTHighway 20 was one of Oklahoma’s original state highways. A map from 1925 (right) shows Route 20 running from Claremore to the Arkansas state line, pretty much the same as today. Later it was extended west, through the Osage. Today OK-20 runs 144 miles from the western terminus just shy of Ralston, Oklahoma to the Oklahoma state line at Three Corners.

The stretch of OK-20 between Salina and Jay is known locally as Copperhead Trail. These twisties are legendary and attract motorcyclists from far and wide. The road, like its namesake, is twisty and has been known to bite the unsuspecting. No matter what you're driving- pay attention and watch your speed.


There are also numerous side roads along this route that are worth exploring if you have the time. We'll begin in Salina, at the junction where Highway 20 meets Highway 82...

Salina is on the shores of Lake Hudson. Long before the lake was built Salina was a trading post and Oklahoma’s first white settlement. Auguste Pierre Choteau, a trader from St. Louis, set up camp here and traded furs with the local Indians. But when we visit Salina today we usually trade at the Dairy Deal. Check out their sign and you can see who has a birthday coming up, and their malts are pretty darn good.

From the 20/82 junction we'll find our first side trip: Kenwood Road.
Head east from the junction and the road follows along a beautiful creek. Eventually you'll pass through the town of Kenwood, an old Cherokee town. If you continue east the road winds its way to OK-10/US-59. Alternatively you can turn north toward Upper Spavinaw- that turnoff is marked by a sign for the Spavinaw Wildlife Management Area.

If you continue eastbound on 20 from Salina you'll head north through gentle curves. A few miles outside of Salina the curves begin tightening up as you approach the ridge that runs along Spavinaw Creek. Watch your speed here, especially when you see an unusual warning sign- it marks a decreasing radius corner that has taken out more than few motorcycle riders.

Vintage postcard showing Spavinaw Lake.Eventually the twists and turns descend into the valley along the creek and passes the Spavinaw State Park. The park is a great spot to pull over and watch the water roll over the spillway. Tulsans might recognize the lake as the source of their drinking water. A concrete flowline runs from this dam to Lake Yahola in North Tulsa. When the dam was completed in 1924 it created the first man-made lake in northeastern Oklahoma, and made Spavinaw an instant resort destination.

Just past the town of Spavinaw highways 20 and 82 part company. Highway 20 continues east toward Jay, passing the tiny town of Eucha and State Highway 28. Jay is the county seat of Delaware County and the limestone block courthouse marks the center of town. You'll also see a road sign for OK-127, our next side trip: Zena Loop

The Zena Loop, or the roller coaster as we like to call it, is a 12 mile stretch of twists and turns that pass through the tiny community of Zena, Oklahoma. But watch your speed, the curves aren’t marked and there is absolutely no shoulder! At the end you can turn south and return to 20, or turn around and do it again!

OK-20 continues on past Jay toward Arkansas and Missouri. This final stretch of Oklahoma 20 runs along the Arkansas border for about 5 miles. This is the only state highway in the United States that shares the highway signs of two states: Arkansas 43 and Oklahoma 20.

Just in case that isn’t confusing enough, the next road sign you’ll see is Missouri 43. That marks the end of Oklahoma’s 20 at Three Corners. There’s an Ozark Historical Society marker here that marks the spot where Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma meet. Well worth a photo stop!

From here you can keep going for a few more minutes and be in Noel, Missouri- ready to tour Missouri’s highway 90. But that’s a story for another day!

Two Wheel Oklahoma

Learn more...

Will Rogers Memorial
Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce
Spavinaw State Park
Lakeview Lodge
Spavinaw Wildlife Management Area 
Eucha & Spavinaw Watersheds

1 comment:

Cathyb59 said...

Great review! I am a rider who moved back to Oklahoma after about 15 years in Texas. Thanks for providing useful, entertaining ride information.
Ride Safe,
Cathy Bumgarner
2002 Kawasaki Concours

It's a Travel Show

Two Wheel Oklahoma is a television travel show featuring the motorcycle rides of Brad Mathison and Rex Brown along the scenic highways and backroads of Oklahoma.

Each episode highlights a stretch of road or historic route and explores unique destinations along the way. Tune in three times a week on the Cox Channel.

We hope you'll come ride along.

Brad and Rex: co-hosts of Two Wheel Oklahoma