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.
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 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.
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 Broomsticksand 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.