Overcast Day at Kight Hill

December 13, 2014

It was an overcast and somewhat dreary day, but Wendy and I needed a hike to help us recover from a burdensome week at work. We did not have the energy nor time to venture far, but I didn’t feel like re-treading the trails at Osage Hills or up at Elk City. So we drove 45 minutes southeast to Lake Oologah for my second visit, and her first, to Kight Hill.

The Will Rogers Country Centennial Horse Trail provides up to 18 miles of equestrian pathway along the south shore of Lake Oologah. The south end has a couple of miles of trail out on a hilly peninsula projecting into the lake. Websites and maps incorrectly refer to it as Kite Hill, not realizing it is actually named after H. Tom Kight, the Claremore legislator who sponsored the establishment of the Oklahoma Military Academy, now Rogers State University.

Kight Hill (click image for slideshow)

We parked at the end of the side road by the Outpost Mobile Home Park and trod the rather boring mile-long straight-away to the peninsula. The trail was slightly soft from an earlier light rain, but not too muddy despite the churning from horse hooves. We’d seen a herd of horse trailers at the official trailhead nearby.

Equestrians (and dogs)

So it was no surprise that we encountered a group of riders, who greeted us. The leader complimented us on our protection against hunters: I was wearing a bright orange knit hat and Wendy was in a bright orange vest. Deer gun season ended last weekend, but I figured some scofflaws might be a threat. After the riders departed, Wendy spotted a shotgun shell on the trail, and toward the end of our hike we would hear repeated shotgun blasts nearby.

The churned mud and horse manure impeded my enjoyment of Kight Hill, but I was glad to be out on a trail with frequent views of the lake. I spotted some rocks projecting out of the lake just before the trail turned away southward. The sky was finally showing some strips of blue amidst the clouds.

Lake Oologah

On the west part of the hill trail we could plainly hear the distant roar of the power plant, while on the south part the plaintive wail of train whistles and rumble of the rails of the many trains which intersect Claremore called out across the darkening afternoon sky.

We saw several snapped trees along the trail, with stairsteps of fungi decomposing them. When the main trail finished circumnavigating the hillside and climbed up top, I took a fork that led us away from the upper loop I had trod three years earlier. Soon I recognized Trail H, which I’d used for a steep descent on the earlier hike. This time my MotionX GPS app’s satellite map reassured me that the main path would eventually loop back down and Wendy and I took that longer, but still steep, way down.

We ended our trip with a tasty meal at the nearby Hammett House in Claremore, where I enjoyed a small steak and Wendy thoroughly enjoyed her seared pork loin with honey mustard glaze and cranberry relish. It had not been a good day for photographs, but at least we were back on the trails as we headed into finals week and then a much-needed Winter Break.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

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Posted by on December 14, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


Thankful for Quartz Mountain and the Wichitas

November 27-29, 2014

Trip to SW Oklahoma (click map for slideshow)

Warm and sunny days on Thanksgiving Break 2014 allowed Wendy and me to take short hikes around Baldy Point at Quartz Mountain and The Narrows in the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma.

On Thanksgiving Day we drove down to Oklahoma City to visit my parents before heading on down to the Quartz Mountain Resort for a couple of days, following up our previous visit in June 2013. Wendy had asked to return to what I consider the best of the state resorts. We enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the lodge’s Sundance Cafe that evening, although, of course, it couldn’t compete with my mother’s home cooking earlier in the day.

Quartz Mountain’s Future in Doubt

Quartz Mountain Lodge

I’m sad to see the resort is enduring a state feasibility study in this time of ill-advised income tax cuts and business tax breaks. Wendy and I can attest to how schools have suffered mightily because of the shortsighted fiscal policies of our legislators and governor, which have put immense stress on all state services. The rich folks who get almost all of the benefits from state income tax cuts can afford fancy private resorts, but the rest of us rely heavily upon state lodges and state parks, which are especially important to day hikers like me. The severe drought has only made things worse for Quartz Mountain, with Lake Altus barely above its conservation pool level and dead as a fishery. If you’ve stayed at Quartz Mountain Resort and would like to keep it operating, take the survey to help with the feasibility study.

Baldy Point

Baldy Pt. Hike

On Friday morning we had breakfast at the lodge restaurant and then were ready for a day hike. We had already hiked the trails around the lodge on our previous visit, so I drove us westward to Baldy Point, which I’d hiked back in December 2010. This time Wendy and I would almost completely circumnavigate the hill, which rises over 260 feet above the surrounding farm fields. We would ascend on its gentler northern slopes, rather than the steep southern side which attracts rock climbers.

Southern face of Baldy Point


This time I could not locate the Summit Trail at first; it was faint and overgrown. So we started out on the broad trail along the southern base of the hill, which leads through cedar and mesquite trees with frequent openings to the southern face. Where I see a crack in the rock, a climber sees a challenge. As usual, I was more focused on large features and vistas, with Wendy discovering berries, odd-looking plants, and crystalline rocks as we rounded the hill onto the Cedar Creek Trail. Most of the trail signs have been wiped clean by time and neglect, and the Cedar Creek area has been literally burned out in the drought.

Burned-over Cedar Valley

The burned trees meant we were not tempted to walk the Cedar Valley Trail, and the Black Jack Pass Trail was closed due to hunting. So we ascended the northern slope of the hill, onto unfenced private property, for a sweeping view of the valley below and the fields and granite hills to the west. We descended and walked east to the area’s other trailhead before returning west through the mesquite forest.

Buffalo Gourd

I finally located the Summit Trail’s faint path, and we made our way around the west end of the summit. Wendy had remarked earlier how she’d love to pitch golf balls from the slopes and was laughing when she found a golf ball along the trail. She also spotted a buffalo gourd, which she cracked open on a tree to examine its fibrous interior. At the time we had no idea what the gourd was, but my mother’s guidance and Wendy’s exhaustive internet research identified the plant and its uses.

Prickly pear cacti spilled from a huge boulder as we ascended the western slope, where Wendy was feeling adventurous and crawled through gaps in the rocks. I found a pivot rock, and we turned back once it was clear we’d nearly made it back around the hill. Our 2.7 mile hike thus included two forays a couple of hundred feet up the slopes.

Baldy Point Summit

Lake Altus Dam

From on high we’d seen the Lake Altus Dam, so we drove over to see it and the lake. Then we returned to the lodge to relax, taking a walk along the Twin Peaks Trail before dinner. Afterward, Wendy got a kick out of Suzanne Klotz’s The Dancer of Illusion mixed media work on a corridor wall, and we later encountered a half-dozen deer on a walk around the lodge buildings.

The Manchurian Candidate

Angela Lansbury knocks it out of the park in The Manchurian Candidate

We ended the day with me treating Wendy to the classic 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate on the DVD player I’d brought and hooked into the lodge television. It is a disturbing and unusual film, with Angela Lansbury giving the performance of her career as the domineering mother. Her intensity is truly frightening when the film makes its big reveal. It is hard to believe she was only three years older than the actor portraying her son, let alone that this is the same actress who played Miss Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks and was Jessica Fletcher for 20 years. Wendy and I loved how director John Frankenheimer captured her twitching cheek on the stage in Madison Square Garden as she awaits the climactic shot.

The Narrows

Cotton fields

The next morning, after a final breakfast at the lodge, we drove eastward through Kiowa county. Wendy had been fascinated by the cotton fields in the area, and we stopped by a huge bale near Roosevelt so she could get a close look and feel. My mother and her siblings picked a great deal of cotton back in the day, as did members of Wendy’s family. The mechanical picker has thankfully brought an end to that hard labor, but the economies of scale consolidated the small cotton farms.

Prairie Dog

We were headed to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to hike. The oaks in the refuge still had some autumn colors, and we first stopped at the refuge’s Prairie Dog town, watching the dogs watch us and listening to their high-pitched barks. There have been at least six colonies of Blacktail Prarie Dogs at the refuge over the years. One of my favorite photographs is a snapshot I took of wildflowers at one of those colonies back in 1989.

The highlight of our day was a hike 1.3 miles out and back on The Narrows, a short but rigorous trail along West Cache Creek.

Narrows Trail

West Cache Creek

We found a record number of cars at the Boulder Camp trailhead, and I took us down the trail’s right fork along the low route before we made the steep ascent for a view of the narrow channel below, the vista to the north and lovely cliffs to the east, and the Narrows to the south.

Eastern cliff above The Narrows

Hikers on Eagle Mountain

We heard a group of repellers celebrating their successful ascent farther down the creek and could see fellow hikers high above the chasm up on Eagle Mountain.

A nearby hiker gave scale to the view south. We descended partway down the hill for the views and then turned back, since Wendy was not inclined to bushwhack down The Narrows as I did back in 2010, reaching the junction with Panther Creek.

We happily returned along the trail, soon passed by an energetic Army guy running along the rough trail while carrying a heavy load of rappelling ropes. Later we encountered a large Asian American family which had scampering kids and teens out front, followed by the parents, one of whom was belting out Motown’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough on a boom box, with a clumsy teenager who bounced her way among us, and at last the polite elders in the back. It was quite a show!

Fall Colors in the Wichitas

We enjoyed dinner with my folks in Oklahoma City before returning to Bartlesville. It was great to get away from our mutual school workloads for a few days before facing the hectic final weeks of the semester. We’ve both been so overwhelmed by schoolwork, with big projects still working their way down the pipeline, that I suspect our Winter Break will feature a few nearby get-aways rather than one long trip.

Click here for a slideshow from this trip


Posted by on November 30, 2014 in day hike, movie, photos, travel


He Won’t Miss Us, But We Will Miss Him

November 15, 2014
Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell

Back when I was little, I would watch The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which aired from 1969 to 1972. I’d have my toy guitar slung around my neck and pretend to play and sing along with him. While my mother listed Johnny Cash as one of my favorite television shows in my application to attend kindergarten (along with Captain Kangaroo and HoHo the Clown), I remember Glen Campbell’s performances better than Johnny’s. Glen had that sweet and cheerful persona, big grin, and striking hair. I consciously imitated that hairdo; it would take premature baldness to put an end to my long bangs.

Glen’s singing and guitar playing was a highlight for me as a little boy, although I begged my mother for years to take piano lessons rather than wanting to learn to play a guitar. I finally started those piano lessons at age four, wanted to be a piano teacher through my elementary school years, and earned seven National and five International Piano Guild pins before I left home for college. I neglect my grand piano these days, but have bought over 13,000 songs over the years; listening to music is one of the greatest pleasures of my life and hardly a day goes by without me indulging in it.

Glen and his guitar

Glen and his guitar

Glen Campbell also fell in love with music as one of many children of an Arkansas sharecropper family which was impoverished in material goods but rich in music. Glen’s father bought him a $5 guitar at Sears when Glen was four years old. Glen became an accomplished public performer, dropping out of school when he was 16 to seek a musical career out west. He was one of the Los Angeles, CA session musicians termed The Wrecking Crew, playing on over 600 tracks for artists from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson for six months.

In 1967, Glen’s solo career skyrocketed. He racked up an amazing four Grammys, with his performance of John Hartford‘s Gentle on My Mind winning two in the country & western categories and Jimmy Webb‘s By the Time I Get to Phoenix winning two in pop. In later years he won more Grammys and other music awards. Hits you might recognize include:

I especially like his live performance of Classical Gas.

Glen’s personal life was tumultuous, with four marriages, affairs, and alcohol and cocaine abuse. But he found lasting happiness after 1982 with Kim Woollen, who was a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. She has stuck by him through rough times, and is now seeing him through the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s disease.

I’d heard about Glen’s announcement of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis a few years back and heard he had a goodbye tour. Here’s a farewell piece from CBS in February 2012:

Contrast Glen’s unprecedented decision to continue to perform even amidst his worsening Alzheimer’s to the recent passing of the beloved Tom Magliozzi. Tom and his brother Ray, Click and Clack to us fans, mysteriously quit recording new episodes of their Car Talk radio show a few years back. Only with Tom’s death did we learn he quit because of Alzheimer’s. I’m so very glad that Glen could be so public about his problem as he faded away; only with the tremendous support of his family and friends, and a Teleprompter, could he keep performing so long.

But I’ll be frank with you; I did not give Glen’s condition or his farewell tour much thought until this weekend. His dark years and backsliding led me to view his farewell with cynicism. As always with me, there is nothing like music to tear away the hard crust and open me up to love once again. Tears washed away my bitterness about him this week when I heard Glen’s heartbreaking final song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You.

I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end

You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you
Not gonna miss you

I’m never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You’re never gonna see it in my eyes
It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry

I’m never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains

I’m not gonna miss you

There is such a brutal and daring truth in those lyrics. He recorded it in January 2013; as I write this post in November 2014 Glen is living in a Alzheimer’s care facility. He has lost most of his ability to speak and can no longer play his guitar. One of his daughters, Ashley, was quoted:

The other day when I went to visit him, I walked into the room and his face lit up. He walked over to me and gave me a big hug, and whispered in my ear, ‘I remember you.’ I didn’t want to ever let go.

I don’t want to let him go, either. There is documentary film now in release, I’ll Be Me, about his final tour. He was using a teleprompter to recall the lyrics, but he could still sing and play quite well.

The release of Glen’s final song and the documentary about his farewell tour will help me remember the joy Glen brought to my life, even if he can’t.


Posted by on November 15, 2014 in music, video


Fall Above the Fields at Elk City

November 8, 2014

The skies were sunny and the temperature in the mid 50s when Wendy and I drove an hour north to Elk City Lake for a fall hike above the fields up on Table Mound. I had recalled how beautiful the mound looked back on a solo hike in November 2011, so three years later we assembled three miles of hiking from portions of three different trails: Table Mound, Post Oak, and Eagle Rock. Throughout our hike we were on the prowl for evidence of xanthophyll, carotenes, and anthocyanin: the yellow, orange, and red leaves of autumn.

Table Mound Hiking (click image for slideshow)

Table Mound bulks up above the Elk River and the lake, a rocky protrusion which has attracted quarry menhikers, and bikers. We began this day hike on my favorite section of the many miles of trails at Elk City Lake: the north end of the Table Mound Trail. It starts at the scenic overlook high above the dam and runs north along the western rim of the mound. Just below is the lower section of the trail, and the trees down there protrude upward at the edge of the bluff so that the upper trail is at canopy-level, providing nice views of the high leaves. At the end of the mound there are lovely views of the fields to the north, including the Old Fashion Baptist Church nestled up against a wooded slope about a mile away. I always stop and shoot a panorama up there.

View north from Table Mound


The trail then makes a steep descent through a slit in the top to circle around the base of the bluff, where huge chunks of rock have broken away and slid down the slope. I leaned against the pillar of stone which supports one large overhanging slab, playfully checking that it would not topple; if it did, I’d sure find out the hard way!

We enjoyed the bluff and the autumn leaves along the trail. Where the Table Mound Trail falls away from the bluff, it is only yards from the Post Oak Nature Trail, which runs along the top of the mound. We jumped trails, and I led us up a dim and unofficial side track to a promontory providing a view of the eastern shore of the lake.

Eastern Shore

On the Post Oak Trail there were large red and orange leaves; Wendy collected some particularly large specimens. She later arranged them along with a piece of copy paper which illustrates their size. We circled back to the overlook and then drove down to the dam to hike part of the Eagle Rock Mountain Bike Trail. This was the only trail at the lake which Wendy had not yet hiked, and even I have not hiked all of it; I finally found an online map of its various loops only after we completed our hike.

The small parking area on top of the eastern end of the dam was marked closed, so we drove down to the outlet spillway. Wendy loved the colors arrayed across the side of the mound. At the trailhead we found three boys having fun rolling down the slope of the dam. One eagerly asked if we were hiking the trail and told us how it was pretty hard, but he admitted he had bushwhacked a bit, so maybe that made it harder. I did that myself back in May 2012, when I deviated from the Hillside loop to climb my way to the top of the mound. This time I’d see a new section of trail for the first time in years at Elk City, since Wendy and I completed the Hillside loop.

Autumn on the side

We walked through the tall grass around the north end of the mound to reach the Elk River, where a series of concrete pyramids closes off an old road which leads onto private property. There is a metal beam and a section of curved pipe embedded in some of them; what they were originally used for, I have no idea, but a lot of quarrying and concrete work has been done on the mound over the decades. The bike trail turns back and ascends the mound there, and this time we followed its zig-zag path eastward back along the side of the mound to the tall grass area, passing some of the big chunks of rock which had tumbled their way down from above.

Table Mound at Sunset

It was the golden hour as we exited the trail, driving away from the mound as the sun set behind the hills to the west. We stopped to enjoy the western sky as the day ended. We are blessed to have the trails of Elk City Lake and Osage Hills so close to home. Hopefully we’ll enjoy some more fall foliage in the weeks to come before we head to Quartz Mountain for a few days over Thanksgiving Break.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

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Posted by on November 9, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


Haunting Tahlequah

November 1, 2014

Tahlequah Trip (click map for slideshow)

For over a year Wendy has wanted to take me to Tahlequah in the autumn to see the fall colors and experience the Northeastern State University (NSU) campus where she and many other of my fellow educators earned their teaching degrees. A “ghost tour” of the old Seminary Hall on the campus prompted us to visit on All Saints’ Day. The previous day we wore commencement caps and gowns for Halloween at the high school; Wendy wore a BHS graduate ensemble, while I was decked out in my master’s degree academic dress.

We enjoyed the trip, although the fall colors were only starting to show. Our first stop, just south of Tahlequah in Park Hill, was the site of the original Cherokee Female Seminary. Established in 1851, it was the first institute of higher learning exclusively for women in the United States west of the Mississippi River. The site is now the Cherokee Heritage Center, and some day Wendy and I shall return to enjoy its exhibits, including Diligwa, a recreation of a 1710 Cherokee village. But NSU was our primary target for the day, so we just examined the three columns which survived the seminary fire on Easter Day 1877. That fire would lead to the building of the larger new seminary six miles north, which was completed on Easter Day 1879 and is the origin for Northeastern State University. The bricks for both buildings were formed from clay from the sites and cooked in on-site kilns.

Columns of the original Cherokee Female Seminary

I loved the profusion of trees on the grounds and enjoyed our subsequent drive south on the east side of Lake Tenkiller. I have been to Tenkiller several times to hike portions of the Ankle Express Trail in Greenleaf State Park and Camp Gruber, but in 2010 found the Gum Springs Nature Trail had been abandoned. Wendy and I need to return to Tenkiller and try out the short Standing Rock Nature Trail north of the Carlisle Cove Area, the Buzzard Roost Trail at Cato Creek Landing, and Overlook Nature Trail at the Tenkiller Dam Overlook.

One of Wendy’s former jobs was performing telephone tech support and going out on computer service calls for Intellex. That took her to various towns around Tahlequah, including Keys, Cookson, and Ft. Gibson, which we drove through on this trip.

We drove south past Cookson before turning around to return north and head to the NSU campus. We parked near Seminary Hall, which we would return to hours later for the ghost tour, and walked down to Beta Pond, an area on the south edge of campus. It is in need of clean-up and better landscaping, but the sound of Tahlequah Creek was soothing, and I liked the shot I took of Wendy on a bridge above the creek. In the background of that shot is a small dugout which prompted some merriment from me. Tour guide Wendy was pointing out the NSU President’s home, which was in the background, but in the foreground was that dugout, and I commented that he really needed to move up.

Wendy at NSU

Nearby were two reconstructed columns, one from the original male seminary and the other from the original female seminary site we had visited earlier. In the background of the shot is today’s Seminary Hall. At the ghost tour that night, our guide would relate stories that if you walk between the columns the ghost girls of the seminary will follow you home or, if you are a student at NSU, you won’t graduate. Wendy and I bravely walked between the columns, but thus far no ghost girls have appeared at Meador Manor or her apartment.

Seminary Hall

We walked over to Seminary Hall, but it was locked. The venerable building was completely remodeled in 1994 and 1995, as related in a campus history by Dr. Brad Agnew. He was Wendy’s history professor and also taught her AP US History teacher at Okmulgee High, Randy Hutchinson. Dr. Agnew speaks about seminary hall in an online video interview. Wendy enjoyed the story of a wild cat attacking a cabin at the site of what would later be Seminary Hall relayed by Beth Herrington in one of her interviews.

Out in front of Seminary Hall is Centennial Plaza, celebrating the founding of Northeastern State Normal School in 1909 when the two-year-old state of Oklahoma purchased the Cherokee Female Seminary (the building we would tour that night) for the training of teachers. The campus became Northeastern State Teachers’ College in 1921. By the 1950s it had become Northeastern State College with a more comprehensive program, and became Northeastern Oklahoma State University in 1974 and settled on Northeastern State University in 1985. The plaza features a statue of Sequoyah by Dan Horsechief, which was created at Pawhuska’s Bronze Horse Foundry, where John D. Free sculpted The Bruin for the school where I work. Free’s foundry burned in 2012, but it has been re-established at the Pawhuska Armory.

Wendy was repeatedly surprised by the many changes in Tahlequah since she was a student there, from the various restaurants where she had worked to new campus buildings. Decades ago she took a nice snapshot of autumn trees along a sidewalk and identified the spot as out in front of today’s Centennial Plaza, beyond the old archway sign. Happily, two rows of young trees have been planted so that future students can enjoy their fall colors.

Next, we drove a bit around campus and then headed north on highway 10 along the western edge of the scenic Illinois River. Some day we plan to turn off this stretch to hike the trails at the Nature Conservancy’s J.T. Nickel Preserve, but our only stop on this first foray was a walk down a ramp at No Head Hollow to see the river. We drove north along 10 all the way to the town of Kansas, Oklahoma. Along the way we made brief drive-throughs of some of the river access points, knowing that some day we may join some school colleagues on a float trip along the Illinois River, which Wendy frequently visited while attending NSU.

Spooky Seminary Hall

By the time we returned to Tahlequah, it was dinner time. We had pizza downtown just south of campus at Sam & Ella’s Chicken Palace. Given the name, I was careful not to order any eggs. Carrie Underwood, the American Idol singer, once worked there.

Seminary Hall was illumined in red lights as we joined the first tour group of the night to explore the dark corridors of its three floors and hear silly stories and learn a few tidbits about A. Florence Wilson, who led the seminary’s program of acculturation for Cherokee women from 1875 until 1901.

The guide told us Miss Wilson lost her fiancé in the Civil War and consequently always dressed entirely in black, and disliked men. Her ghost guards the stairs leading up to the dormitory floors to keep men out, and men who venture up there supposedly are nauseated and uncomfortable. Other than the lingering after-effects of eating too much at Chopsticks in Tulsa for lunch, I felt fine during our tour.

The guide claimed the rooms where Miss Wilson lived are haunted by her, causing male professors stationed in the modern offices there to seek other accommodations, leaving them for the use of their female colleagues.

We also saw, despite the poor lighting, glimpses of the mural on the second floor landing created by three of the Kiowa Five group of painters in the Great Depression. The guide reported the painters were spooked by sounds of running and laughing children when they painted at night (to avoid day classes), splattering their paint about.

The various tales were silly but fun. Wendy and I had hoped for more history, but thankfully there are good online articles. Back outside in the cold, the moon was peeking out between the clouds as we drove home, determined to return to Tahlequah for future hikes and exploration along Tenkiller Ferry Lake and the Illinois River.

Click here for a slideshow from this day trip

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Posted by on November 2, 2014 in photos, travel


My Po Toe

October 17-19, 2014

Off to Poteau (click map for slideshow)

Wendy and I spent the first day of Fall Break 2014 relaxing, although she was more productive than I was, since she worked on her triptych inspired by the exterior of the Kimo theater in Albuquerque from our visit there in early July. On Friday afternoon we drove south to Poteau for a two-night stay focused on a hike on the Winding Stairs Trail in the Albert Pike area a couple of hours southeast of there in the Ouachitas of southeastern Arkansas.

I’ve been to Poteau many times since I began my day hikes in earnest over five years ago. The etymology is French for “post”, although this was the first time I heard a terrible story about the origin of its name. Wendy was laughing as she shared:

Poteau and the Poteau River got their name from an old Indian who stumped his toe and exclaimed, “MY PO TOE!”


Poteau Balloon Festival

Balloon Glow

I did manage to surprise Wendy, who knew we were going to stay in Poteau but had no idea their annual Balloon Festival was going on. We drove straight to a lot adjacent to the fairgrounds and paid $5 for our wristbands. A couple of balloons were taking off as we walked in, with two more inflating. A long line of folks had formed, all of them waiting for the balloons to begin bounding up and down on tethers, carrying thrill-seekers up into the air. Later we would see the line had dwindled and tried to pay $10 each for a ride, but it was growing too dark for the lifts, so we had to forego that. The darkness, however, brought the balloon glow, with six balloons’ burners making them blink brightly in the night.

As we entered the festival, on one side of the road a huge monster truck, the Mean Machine, was bouncing riders about a field.

Farther along, a small carnival was underway, and we could see and hear a motocross rally over in the grandstand. Wendy and I walked over to the motocross, attracted by a cyclist doing high leaps across the field using big ramps. I was hoping to use my new iPhone 6’s Slo-Mo feature to video the high jumps, but they were done with those by the time we reached the stands, so I had to settle for slo-mo of kids popping wheelies and their leader doing low jumps off one end of the big ramp.

As we looked out over the carnival from the grandstand, Wendy confessed she had never been on a carnival ride, other than perhaps the train at Bartlesville’s Kiddie Park. I grinned broadly, pointing out different rides we might try. The tame ones she might consider included a dragon roller coaster, Tornado whirling ride, and the Tropical Swinger. That last one was her first choice, after which we braved the Tornado.

We had a lot of fun at the little festival, but worked up an appetite. We drove downtown to Warehouse Willy’s, where the wait was long, and our tummies were growling before we dined. My ribeye steak was excellent.

Winding Stairs Trail

On Saturday we fueled up the car, passing by what Wendy termed a downtown Dementor along the way. It scared us so much we drove 120 miles southeast into the Cossatot Mountains of Arkansas to reach the Albert Pike Recreation Area’s Winding Stairs Trail. I hiked that trail four years ago, noting the tremendous beauty of the Little Missouri River after fording it a couple of miles from the trailhead. I hoped we might be able to reach that area on this trip, but knew it was a long ways in, and the water level on the Little Missouri might block us, given that Wendy had not ever forded a river before. It turned out the water was up enough that we turned back at that ford for this trip.

Winding Stairs Trail Track (click image for slideshow)

We travelled south from Poteau, passing Heavener and the Talimena Skyline Drive before turning east to run along the south edge of the Ouachitas before turning north to reach the Cossatot Mountains. The roads in Arkansas to the trailhead were nearly deserted, as was the locked-up Albert Pike day use area, but we found about two dozen vehicles parked at the trailhead located a couple of miles up the steep and winding gravel road from the day use area. Not far from the trailhead, Wendy pointed out a tree limb beside the trail that resembled a striking snake.

Blaylock Creek Ford

Four years onward from the disastrous flood of June 2010, the Forest Service has almost abandoned Albert Pike as litigation over the deaths there continues. That includes not rebuilding the much-needed bridge over Blaylock Creek. The water was up, and I deeply regretted forgetting to bring our trekking poles along on the trip. Wendy and I found some downed branches we used for poles, but neither of us was successful in negotiating the rocks across the creek without dunking our boots and pant legs. On the far side, Wendy stripped off her boots and wrung out her socks, but I just squished along.

Above the Little Missouri

About 3/4 mile from the trailhead, we had to make a steep ascent and descent over a 3/10 mile stretch. The trail then levelled out, with us passing a large white mushroom with which Wendy practiced her putting skills, whacking at it with a long stick. The Little Missouri became visible far below us to the east, and I posed in my wet boots and pants.

Wendy was on the hunt for rocks with crystals throughout our hike and spotted a set of mushrooms with a millipede on top. I was preoccupied, as usual, with vistas, enjoying the long views above the Little Missouri as the trail turned and slowly descended. As we approached the river ford, across the shimmering water I spied a couple of fishermen.

The Little Missouri

Wendy and I were hungry by the time we reached the river ford, so we clambered along to a side stream where four years earlier I had noted how the cut rocks looked like stacked blocks. It was wetter this time, with a larger stream of water running down the rock steps. We ate lunch, and upstream I found a nice waterfall and pool. I shot a slo-mo video of the falls with my iPhone and admired the long corkscrew root of a tree embedded in the side of the wall.

Meanwhile, Wendy had been finding rocks with embedded shiny mineral deposits. After our trip, she cleaned the rocks, and I got shots of them.

After our lunch, we could have forded the Little Missouri, but the water was so deep that we would have had to take off our boots and socks. So we turned back, enjoying the views up the Little Missouri as we went back up the hillside.

Wet ford across the Little Missouri

At one of several trailside campsites I found a side trail leading down to the water. The bedding planes were tilted entirely vertical there, exposing many layers of sedimentary rock we could easily break off. They made wonderful skipping stones; I could get six or more skips out of some of them.

Skipping stones

Wendy spotted some more sparkling mineral deposits and later along the trail spotted some mushrooms growing inside a rotting log.

We managed to immerse our boots again when fording Blaylock Creek, prompting Wendy to haul a few big rocks from the shore out into the stream to try and build some stepping stones for later hikers. I assisted a bit, and then we squished our way back to the car. We were grateful to shuck our soaked boots and socks.

I decided to take a different route back to Poteau, allowing Trixie the GPS Navigatrix to lead us along gravel forest roads north out of Albert Pike. She led us far off to the east for some reason, which meant a long slow drive, but it was scenic with one high glimpse of mountains beyond.

We finally rolled into Poteau to change clothes and clean up before a late dinner at Mazzio’s. Our long hike made the pizza quite tasty.

Cavanal Mountain Hill

Cavanal Hill in 2010

The local chamber of commerce bills Cavanal Hill on the outskirts of Poteau as the world’s highest hill, claiming that at 1,999 feet it is just a foot short of mountain status. That is a bit of marketing hooey, but I do like how Cavanal bulks up outside of town, and I remember well how clouds above it four years ago made it resemble a smoking volcano.

Surprisingly, I’d never driven up the hill despite visiting Poteau many times. So the morning after our big hike Wendy and I wound our way up Witteville Drive, named after the old coal mining operation on Cavanal in the early 1900s. The first road up the hill was built by a Poteau man, Sam Sorrels, following about the same six-mile route as the present Witteville Drive. Back in the day, Mr. Sorrels walked and showed the bulldozer operator where he wanted the road built.

The top of Cavanal Hill is now festooned with broadcast antennas, but there is a shelter park amidst them which offers a panoramic view southeast over the town. I laughed at the shoes someone had tossed over a high wire, and Wendy and I exchanged photos with another couple in front of a rock heralding the hill’s supposed height.

Atop Cavanal Hill

The drive back down the hill provided a lovely panorama north and east.

Panorama from Cavanal Hill

We drove back to Bartlesville, where I inserted some boot dryers my mother gave me into Wendy’s boots and laid both pairs of boots out to dry in the backyard, complemented by roses from the bushes Wendy had planted by my patio. We enjoyed our latest outing to southeast Oklahoma and southwest Arkansas and look forward to many happy returns.

Drying Out

Click here for a slideshow from this trip

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Posted by on October 26, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel, video


A Break on the Red Loop

October 12, 2014

My weekend was virtually consumed by the composition of complex documents to help the district’s teachers with new state appraisal requirements. But Wendy and I took a break on Sunday afternoon to enjoy the 3.26 mile Red Bike Loop at Osage Hills State Park.

Wendy on the trail (click image for slideshow)

We passed the new Osage Trail blazes which redirected the route westward. Wendy noticed an unusual growth high up on one of the trees, and I asked her to pose to provide scale. A flower she picked had a little critter on board, and when we reached the grotto pool we took a break. I was drinking water instead of my usual trail Fanta, enjoying the rippling little pools of water as a thin stream poured across the rocks.

Uphill climb

One of the original red metal Osage Trail markers was still in place and we wound our way up the hillside. On the downslope, Wendy noticed several bunches of small mushrooms.


I am very grateful that Fall Break has arrived, and Wendy and I will head out on Friday for Poteau for some hiking in southeastern Oklahoma and/or southwestern Arkansas.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel


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