RSS

Category Archives: photos

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

Pillar

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

 
Leave a comment

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

 
Leave a comment

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!”

Puh-leeze!

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

 
Leave a comment

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.

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

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Roaring River Wrap-Up

October 4, 2014

Wendy and I needed an escape from the stress of work. We had both been working into the night, week after week, to do all that needed doing in our teaching and school-related duties. We’d seen little of each other this work week, as I spent three days at workshops in Tulsa while she had special education training and meetings. So we were both anxious to get out on the trail for some much-needed exercise and stress relief.

Roaring River State Park in Missouri is where I fell in love with hiking, and its Saturday forecast called for sunny weather with a high around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect! In April 2013 we hiked two miles there on the most impressive short trails: Deer Leap and Devil’s Kitchen. A year later, we walked a 4.5-mile loop on the Firetower Trail. That left three trails Wendy had not experienced, and I knew how to link them so I could readily meet or exceed her demand for a real work-out. So we left Bartlesville around 9:30 on Saturday morning, heading out for what would be a 5.85-mile hike along the Pibern, Eagle’s Nest, and Springhouse Trails.

Trail Track (click image for slideshow)

We reached the park’s Emory Melton Inn by 12:30 p.m. A fun new addition to the Inn were some huge lounging bears. Wendy and I enjoyed our now-traditional lunch beside the windows overlooking the forested knobs of the countryside. I had a French Dip while Wendy had a Frisco Melt. The food was good, but we were feeling it as we clambered down the hillside to the park store for trail drinks and then walked across the very narrow Highway F bridge across Dry Hollow to Campground 1. We walked west through the campground to the south trailhead of the Pibern Trail near the entrance to the Paradise Valley RV Park off Dry Hollow.

Pibern Trail

Wendy on the Pibern Trail

The Pibern Trail was built by the CCC in the 1930s as they were harvesting construction material. It climbs up the western slope above Campground 1 to track northward below a tall bluff carved by the usually-dry rocky streambed that tracks northward all of the way alongside Campground 1 and onward toward Cassville. Back in December 2011 I bushwhacked way up that streambed clear out of the park.

Wendy posed on a small bridge, and we followed the trail northward along the bluff. A short side trail led to a small cleft in the bluff, and some trees had distinct fungal growths. The trail climbed to approach some of the most impressive sections of bluff before turning about.

All along this hike, Wendy was searching for rocks with embedded crystals, recalling the beautiful find she made back in April on the trail near Onyx Cave a few miles away from Roaring River. She found a rock with some nice crystal ribbons and a rock with a screw-shaped fossil imprint.

Bluffs on the Pibern Trail

The trail turns back south at an area of tilted and fallen slabs which I call TumbleTown, descending steeply beside a waterway to reach the rocky streambed below. Wendy took a snapshot of me in front of TumbleTown, and I did the same for a couple who had made the arduous ascent to reach us.

Streambed at north end of the Pibern Trail

Down in the rocky streambed, I took a panorama with my new iPhone 6, which I’d been using for some of the snapshots along the trail. The trail briefly followed the streambed before re-asserting itself on slightly higher ground to the west for a beautiful walk through the trees. We were singing as we walked along the sunlight-dappled path.

We passed a tree with several bumps and a birdhouse, and reached the north end of the trail at the very end of the road for Campground 1. I don’t like the long walk along the asphalt road beside the campsites, preferring to just follow the dry but very rocky and bumpy streambed. That provides nice views of the carved and forested bluff as you traverse rocky and leafy ledges and sculpted bedding planes, but you need good hiking boots for that option.

Walking the streambed

We passed a tree with much of its rootball exposed; it probably won’t survive the next flood. We passed under the low bridge into Paradise Valley, where some kids were playing in the streambed. One asked knowingly if we’d just finished the trail. Wendy and I then walked up Dry Hollow to the park store. The old walkway across Dry Hollow was destroyed in a flood, and the south streambank is too steep to climb. So we had to again cross on the pitiful Highway F bridge. Missouri should prioritize replacing that very narrow bridge, which is barely wide enough for campers and trailers and is dangerous for pedestrians.

Murder Hill

Wendy had told me she wanted a workout on this trip, and boy-howdy, I had one ready for her. The climbs along the Pibern Trail are nothing compared to the long steep climb alongside Highway F up the hill leading south out of the park towards Seligman. My family has always called it Seligman Hill, but if you walk it, it is Murder Hill.

Elevation Profile

As we climbed and climbed toward the top, Wendy commented, “I’ll only hate you for a little while.” We finally reached the top, which has a trailhead for the Eagle’s Nest Trail. We were grateful to be leaving the highway and very glad our climb was complete.

We walked along and down the ridgeline, past the completely overgrown homestead of Miss Jeanne Wallace, the Mountain Maid, which one can only identify from the lilac bushes and yucca still growing in the area. We followed the upper part of the trail loop, which has a pretty winding section in the trees, before descending alongside Roaring River to return to the Emory Melton Inn. Wendy got a shot of some nice red leaves.

Eagle’s Nest Trail

The Last Trail

Wendy’s goal for the day was to hike six miles, and we had done a bit under 5.5 miles by that point. So I took her along the park’s newest trail, the short but steep Springhouse trail just south of the Inn. That means Wendy has now been on every trail in the park, hiking everything except for the lower part of the loop on the Eagle’s Nest Trail and a small connector between the Deer Leap and Firetower Trails.

It was a steep climb to the small trail loop. As we completed the loop and turned at a fork in the trail, Wendy laughingly said she was so very thankful when we turned left and down, rather than right and up. That last hike had brought our mileage up to 5.85 miles, which our calves and hamstrings said was quite enough for the day.

We freshened up and drove to Monett, where TripAdvisor led us to The Family Room Steakhouse, where we each enjoyed a tasty KC Strip with shrimp. The homemade mashed potatoes were peppery but yummy. The green beans, however, were noticeably spicy. Wendy commented on that to the friendly waiter, who found out that the cook had accidentally used cayenne pepper. The waiter provided a free slice of chocolate meringue pie to cool us off. It was a great way to end our day trip, and I’m sure we’ll return to that restaurant in the future, since The Rib in Cassville is long gone.

I’m no fisherman and I lost my interest in camping long ago, but the trails at Roaring River make it a favorite retreat for Wendy and me. We are so glad autumn has arrived, bringing with it the prospect of many more day hikes.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 5, 2014 in day hike, photos, travel

 

Back on the Trails

September 14, 2014

Osage Hills Thistle (click for Osage Hills slideshow)

A week into September 2014 the summer weather abated, allowing Wendy and me to venture out for our first hike since our vacation in New Mexico in early July. On a Sunday morning we headed west out of town to Osage Hills to hike four miles around the Bugle Loop on the Tower/Lake, Cabin, and Falls trails. We admired colorful thistle on the Tower trail and an intricate spiderweb above Lookout Lake. We lunched trailside on my favorite hiking meal, a QuikTrip turkey & swiss sandwich on berry wheat bread, before walking down to the Sand Creek falls. The water was running high from recent rains, and an extended family was enjoying the flow.

The next Sunday we drove to Owasso to have lunch at El Fogon, which was the top-rated Owasso restaurant on TripAdvisor. Wendy enjoyed her carnitas with corn tortillas while I dined on my typical order of steak fajitas. Then we drove east to the 120-acre Conservation Education Reserve at Rogers State University. I had visited it five years earlier, but back in 2009 I did not track my route. Before we left town to drive to Owasso, I’d done an extensive web search for a detailed map of the reserve, eventually tracking down a nice online GPS map created by students at the local vo-tech; I had exported and saved that map to guide our hike.

RSU Day Hike (click image for RSU Reserve slideshow)

This time the tracker was running as we entered the gate near the Terra Lab to circumnavigate the reserve on its Butterfly Loop, Southwest Trail, Wetland Loop, and Weather Trail for a total walk of 2.75 miles.

The butterfly garden was buzzing with bumblebees. Wendy got a shot of the fish and a frog in the pond, and a bloom. We were then driven onto the Butterfly Loop by the approach of grandparents with grandchildren.

Bumblebee

A glade with benches featured a trailside tree which had been fully consumed by bagworms. The trail wound around the southeast portion of the reserve, with another group of hikers in close pursuit. We lost them when we turned off onto the Southwest Trail, which had a profusion of yellow blooms.

Southwest Trail

A muddy pond had a turtle swimming along with only its eyes and snout protruding from the water. A meadow had sumac, while the wetlands featured small cattails and plenty of bugs. The big pond featured a windmill and extensive plant growth in the water teeming with tiny fish. A couple of dragonflies flew by and settled down, intent on, er, coupling.

Dragonfly Couple

It was a nice but still rather warm walk; I’m eagerly awaiting even cooler weather for future outings.

Click here for a slideshow from the Conservation Education Reserve

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Down in the Salt Mine

September 2, 2014

Labor Day weekend 2014 found Wendy and me 650 feet below Hutchinson, Kansas, touring part of a salt mine. It was the highlight of our first out-of-town trip in my new 2014.5 Toyota Camry XLE, which replaced Princess, my 2001 Toyota Camry LE.

Trip to Strataca (click map for slideshow)

Princess replaced by Silver Fox

Silver Fox

I was sad to have to let Princess go, as she was the best car I ever had. But with over 236,000 miles on her and repairs this month exceeding her bluebook value, it was time for me to move on. I drained the car fund I’ve been building for four years and, with some help from my always-generous parents, traded Princess in for Silver Fox. Yes, the new car is silver instead of white, and I picked that name since the car reflects my mid-life desire for some flashy luxuries, such as leather heated seats and a moonroof.

The most useful new luxury is linking my iPhone wirelessly to the car’s sound system via Bluetooth. That is more convenient than the wired option I installed in my old car back in February 2012, since the phone automatically links with the car when I get close to it, allowing me to control the music on the car’s dashboard touchscreen and conduct hands-on-the-wheel phone calls. I like the latter feature, since avoidance of visual-manual interactions with a phone when driving improves safety. The car has its own voice recognition system, but even after completing its voice training, I found the iPhone’s Siri to be far more accurate in interpreting my commands. I still keep my iPhone mounted high on the dash with a holder that attaches to an air vent, since I still rely upon its TomTom GPS app for navigation, and Toyota doesn’t yet have Apple CarPlay.

Oh, and another nice feature of Silver Fox is the ease with which it passes slower vehicles on two-lane highways. Its 4-cylinder engine produces 178 horsepower versus the 136 hp engine in Princess, while still getting highway gas mileage in the upper 30s. I could get even more power and mileage in the hybrid model, but it is more expensive, and the battery pack’s longevity seemed ill-suited to my typical decade-plus of active car use before trading in for a newer model.

Hutchinson by way of Wichita

Silver Fox transported Wendy and me 184 miles northwest from Bartlesville to visit Strataca, the underground museum in an exhausted part of the Hutchinson Salt Company’s mine below Hutchinson, Kansas. We stopped along the way for lunch in Wichita. The first two restaurants we tried were too crowded or closed, so we wound up at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. We’d heard about this chain but never been in one before. Our food took awhile to be prepared, but was delicious.

Strataca Entrance

We arrived in Hutchinson after 1 p.m. I drove around town to show Wendy the Cosmosphere, which we planned to visit the following day. I’d been there previously and would have shared it on this trip with Wendy, but she was catching a cold as we headed out, and that, along with plenty of homework for both of us, meant that we cut our trip short the following day and saved the Cosmosphere for a future return trip.

But neither homework nor head colds kept us from being transported 650 feet down to the huge salt mine below Hutchinson. Our first stop at Strataca was around 1:30 p.m. to purchase tickets. Strong winds of over 30 miles per hour pelted us with sand as we made our way from the parking lot, so I was glad the earliest we could descend was 3:20 p.m. That gave us time to do some shopping, and, upon our return, to strategically park my new car to avoid most of the blowing sand.

Back to the salt mine

We then waited in the above-ground lobby for our group’s descent on the elevator, reading posted quotations. One from Isak Dinesen appealed to me:

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.

The museum occupies a tiny portion of the immense salt mine. The active area is mined by the Hutchinson Salt Company, a successor to the original Carey Salt Mine of 1923. They mine over 500,000 tons of rock salt annually, primarily for use in de-icing roads. The Carey mine has grown to over 980 acres, with inactive areas leased to Underground Vaults & Storage. They store various items in leased space roughly equivalent to 35 football fields encased in solid stone, more than 45 stories below ground. The entire played-out portion of the mine, however, is equivalent to almost 740 football fields, stretching miles in each direction. If linked end-to-end, the mined rooms would stretch over 150 miles. The temperature is a steady 68 degrees year-round, although large fans have to be used to circulate air brought down through the shaft. Abandoned areas of the mine are closed off so that they don’t have to waste energy moving air around in those spaces.

Down we go

Wendy before a wall of rock salt

Throughout our visit we had to wear hard hats along with small rebreather kits strapped at waist level. The roof of the mine can peel, although they inspect the public area daily and knock down any loose bits. The trip down took 90 seconds in a newer double-level elevator that was constructed by the underground storage company and the county historical society. The original 1923 shaft is still in use by the mining company. We stepped out into a long wide tunnel through the rock salt, lit by roof-mounted lights.

The museum is a big U formed out of several of the interconnected rooms in the mine. The tour is self-paced, with displays in each room showing the various types of mining technology used here since 1923. Since it is so laborious to get mining equipment down the small shaft, it is never hauled back up and out. That meant we had examples of the original equipment to see, along with short video clips explaining how the equipment was used.

We examined display cases and passed fellow tourists taking selfies; the underground museum is equipped with WiFi, so you can keep in touch with the world above even with 45 stories of rocks above your head. Wendy and I took turns posing by the mine’s walls of rock salt, which include occasional pure salt veins formed by water flow.

Down in the salt mine

Different eras of mining technology

Salt saw

The mine originally relied on rails laid on the floors to move its electrical machinery and to haul the workers and mine materials. We passed an old train that transported workers and saw how they use large saws to undercut a fresh face. This provides a nice level floor and allows the rock to collapse when it is blasted loose. Deep holes are drilled into the face, and explosives are inserted. In the old days they used dynamite, and there were lots of empty dynamite boxes in the mine, but today they use ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. The chunks of rock salt used to be shoveled by hand into train bins to be hauled to a crusher and lifted. The blasting saved some effort, but workers still had to manually shovel tons of rock.

Eventually they abandoned the use of rails, switching to diesel vehicles. On display were an old car and a pickup which had been dismantled and brought down the shaft, and then reassembled and welded back together. My favorite was a 1940 tractor which got stuck in a farm shelterbelt back in 1958 and abandoned. In 1994 a mine supervisor bought it for $60 and had workers cut it loose from tree that had grown up through it. They disassembled it and brought it down into the mine, put it back together and cleaned the carburetor, and put it to use. Since Star Trek: Voyager was popular at the time, they named the tractor after the eponymous ship in that show, and even labelled its battery holder as the warp core.

Voyager tractor and its warp core

The mine today uses front-end loaders running on bio-diesel to scoop up blasted rock salt into a crusher. The crushed rock spills out onto an extremely long conveyor belt for transport to the original shaft.

Front-end loader and conveyor belt

Storage

Dean Cain’s Superman suit

A fun area of the museum displays the history of the storage facility. I laughed at the incongruity of the 1959 Miss Salt Queen contestants. The mine was originally mostly six feet high, but the storage areas were raised to 10 feet. Today they use big cutters to lift the ceilings for storage areas, and this creates firmer ceilings and beautiful patterns in the rock salt. The much-appreciated bathroom facility they added in 2012 has walls which show the difference between the lower blasted mine area and the cut upper section.

This mine is the largest single storage facility for movie and television film internationally, thanks to its consistent 68 degree temperature and 35-40% humidity. A display illustrated the storage racks, and they had several movie costumes on display, including the Mr. Freeze costume and infamous “nipple” Batman suit from the 1997 movie Batman & Robin. I was a fan of Lois & Clark back in the 1990s, so I enjoyed seeing a Superman costume worn by Dean Cain.

Wendy with Dorothy II from Twister

Old animation drawings are also stored in the mine, and it was neat to look at original Bugs Bunny and Sylvester drawings. I was already familiar with data records storage in salt mines, since my mother worked for a savings and loan in Oklahoma City which stored records in a mine near Kansas City. The mine storage areas hold a variety of stored data records, and Wendy was impressed by the huge old IBM System 38 computer on display. Above it was a nice display of evolving data storage technologies, reminding me of my recent post about my own digital storage changes. It was amusing to see that the big IBM computer tape reels we used to always see spinning back and forth in old movies only held about 140 megabytes of data. My desktop computer currently has instant access to over 35,000 times that much local storage.

We came across the Dorothy II prop from the Twister movie; we’d seen the Dorothy I and other similar props in the Oklahoma History Museum last November. I enjoyed seeing old 35 mm film movie editing equipment used to view, cut, and splice films back in the days before digital editing.

Train and tram rides

We had purchased tickets allowing us to ride an electric train for a narrated 15-minute ride through parts of the mine dating to the 1940s and 1950s. We saw how they used to plug up spent areas with old dynamite boxes to control air circulation. There were areas where the floor had heaved up or a part of the roof had collapsed, and some of the old mine rails and cars. The mine is ever-so-slowly closing up under the pressure of the overlying rock; a study by the nuclear energy folks showed it might seal up in 36,000 years. The slow buckling of the mine was part of the reason why protesters successfully fought against having the salt mines used for nuclear waste storage, worried that waste might eventually be introduced into the overlying aquifer. That aquifer was a barrier to the construction of the shaft we took down into the mine; they punched through it by freezing the surrounding area during the drilling before lining that portion with concrete to keep the water out.

Other “remnants” of mining we saw along our excursion included a trash pile and portable toilet; they really do leave stuff down in the mine! We then took a tram for a “dark ride” through parts of the mine without electric lighting, but the low light levels and steady motion meant that the only shot I got was of an abandoned old car.

Heading up and out

As we left the mine, I posed with a pickaxe, and then we boarded the elevator for the ascent. Back outside, I looked at the small electric train engine once used for switching services at the Carey Salt Mine’s evaporation plant and mine. The wind was still strong and dust-laden as we drove back to Wichita, passing through large clouds of dust reminding us that this area was part of the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Dust storm outside of Hutchinson

Along the Arkansas in Wichita

We spent the night at the historic Drury Plaza Broadview Hotel along the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita. We were on the 8th floor in a nice spacious high-ceiling room with a great west view of the river. Wendy got a great shot of the sunset before we headed out to eat.

View of the Arkansas from the hotel

Wichita’s Old Town district seemed the best bet for finding some nightlife on the Sunday night before Labor Day, and we enjoyed pizzas at the Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom.

Spangles for lunch

The next morning Wendy’s cold had worsened, and so we opted to head home after lunch rather than drive back to Hutchinson’s Cosmosphere. Our first attempts for Labor Day lunch failed, since family restaurants were understandably closed, so we wound up at one of the many Spangles joints around town. Outside there was an old Chevy plunging out over the building’s entrance, and inside we found a Mustang Mach I, Phillips 66 signage, and good burgers.

We enjoyed our trip and look forward to returning to Wichita and Hutchinson in the future, but although we certainly enjoyed our tour at Strataca, we won’t have to go “back to the salt mine.”

Click here for a slideshow from this trip

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 2, 2014 in photos, travel

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 207 other followers

%d bloggers like this: