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Icy Bluffs at Osage Hills

Hike Date: January 24, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Meador PostWe were blessed with two warm weekends in late January 2016, and Wendy and I were determined to do some hiking. A sunny and windy Sunday afternoon found us undulating westward along hilly Highway 60 west of Bartlesville to Osage Hills State Park for a three-mile hike.

I’ve hiked at the park over 30 times since July 2009, with many of those treks documented on Flickr. I had fun creating a trail map over the years, which is still featured on the state’s tourism website. For this outing, I opted to park at the old stone pump house [2012 photo] built by the CCC. While the three mountain bike trails originate there and are a welcome alternate hiking system, I was hoping we might find the nearby off-trail bluffs interesting. So we headed southwest around the field to the big metal shed, where a side trail (a dotted line on my trail map) leads over to the Lake/Tower Loop.

Trail Track

Wendy and I were surprised at how muddy and wet the trail was; we hadn’t experienced this much moisture over in Bartlesville. Thankfully that meant that when we clambered down into a gully between this side trail and the main lake loop trail, we found a frozen side stream. There was a nice frozen puddle below some lovely icicles.

Farther upstream there were layers of icicles clinging to the bluff, and Wendy posed amidst this winter wonderland to provide scale. At the head of the gully I shot a panorama of the icy bluff, frozen waterfall, and its pool from beneath a large overhang.

Wendy had fun ducking behind an icicle curtain, and plucked an ice sword for herself.

Panorama

Then we hiked past the park office to the campground for a pit stop at the bath house that is kept open through the winter. Ascending the hillside on the lake trail, we passed the CCC observation tower [2011 photoand climbed past the old amphitheater [2009 phototo the remains of the CCC camp. Recently I found some great photos of the camp online at Kyle Thoreson’s Crosstimber Naturalist website. That told me the old stone chimney at the camp [2011 photo] was once on the north wall of the officer’s quarters, as shown in a nice schematic and a historical photo. The display board at the camp site, which has been blank for years, ought to be refitted with blow-ups of these photos and diagrams and protective transparent covers.

Wendy got a nice shot of a fractured smoking mushroom along the trail. When we reached Lake Lookout, she spotted a frozen sheet of water flowing down a rock slab. She clambered down to search for more icicles and found them, snapping a photo of me atop the water feature.

We took the side trail down to the dam and visited the spillway, but there was too much flow from the lake for icicle formations. We walked along the Lake Lookout access road to complete our three mile hike at the old pump house. Wendy and I are both grateful to have the trails of Osage Hills only 30 minutes west of home, and the following weekend would find us journeying an hour north to revisit the trails at Elk City Lake up in Kansas.

Slideshow | Photo Mosaic

 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in day hike, photos

 

Winter Break 2015, Part 3: San Antonio

December 30, 2015 – January 2, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Meador PostOur penultimate stop for Winter Break 2015 was a return, after two years, to the River Walk area of San Antonio near the memorable Alamo. This time, instead of staying at a hotel east of I-30 and having to walk several blocks to reach the Alamo and the River Walk, we splurged on a second-floor room at the Emily Morgan Hotel, overlooking the north wall of the Alamo. I chose that venue for its prime location and architectural interest.

Emily Morgan & The Yellow Rose of Texas

The Emily Morgan, now a Hilton Doubletree hotel, is a 13-story flat-iron building. It is a major contributor to the shock that greeted me, like many others, upon first seeing the fabled Alamo. When I first visited San Antonio in 1984, I was expecting the Alamo to be an old fort/mission out in the desert, with images from the 1960 movie by John Wayne in my head. So I was flabbergasted to find the iconic building dwarfed by skyscrapers crowded around what is left of its footprint. The 13-story Emily Morgan building, with its front door 13 steps from the north edge of the Alamo, was built in the 1920s as a medical building. Back then it was filled with 400 doctors’ offices, a 50-bed hospital on the top floor, and a morgue with crematorium. It became a general office building in the 1970s and then a hotel in the 1980s. In 2012, $4.5 million was spent renovating it into a 177-room Doubletree by Hilton.

Emily Morgan is sometimes called the Yellow Rose of Texas

Emily Morgan is sometimes called the Yellow Rose of Texas

While the building had always caught my eye whenever I visited San Antonio, its name carried far more meaning for Wendy, a native Texan, than it did for this Okie. Emily Morgan is a misnomer for Emily D. West, a free black of mixed race who was born in Connecticut and contracted to work at a hotel at Morgan’s Point, Texas in 1836. She was captured by Mexican cavalrymen and was in the Mexican camp during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto. A myth arose that Santa Anna was caught unprepared by Sam Houston’s forces because he was preoccupied by a dalliance with Emily.

Later this was amplified by mid-20th century claims that she fit the description of the girl in the blackface minstrel song The Yellow Rose of Texas. I was unaware of the song’s history, as I’d only heard it a few times, and then in the sanitized cowboy versions from Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, or Ernest Tubb. Mitch Miller’s version of the song, which portrayed it as a Confederate marching tune, was once quite popular. Personally, if I’m going to listen to a Texas song, I’d rather listen to Bob Wills’ western swing version of Deep in the Heart of Texasor clap along with Gene Autry on it; even Pee Wee Herman knew about that.

Neogothic Architecture of the Emily Morgan

The Emily Morgan hotel interested me more for its architecture than for the historical connotations of its name. The building is a very tall V, with rooms trailing back from the point, and we secured a second-floor room at the point, directly above the lobby. Thankfully, the very point itself was the bathroom, providing auditory insulation from the tourists on the streets below. It had a huge frosted window beside a bathtub which could produce “champagne” bubbles. In the living area we could look down from an arched window and see tourists snapping photos in the north yard of the Alamo.

The building’s Gothic Revival exterior features carvings and grotesques appropriate for its origins as a medical building. An old crone and a fellow holding his tongue and his head adorn the doorway, and there is a caduceus, the winged staff with entwined snakes, to symbolize the medical arts.

Alamo Plaza and Paseo del Rio

Alamo Plaza Christmas Tree

We were just steps from Alamo Plaza, so I stepped out one night to capture photos of the lights in the trees, the Emily Morgan rising up into the sky, and the beautiful Christmas tree, which came complete with boot spurs. I took the opportunity to snap some photos for folks struggling to compose family shots in front of the tree and the old mission. People are uniformly grateful when a friendly stranger offers to help out so everyone can be in the family shot.

We walked over to the Paseo del Rio, the River Walk, of course. Wendy took day and night shots from the Commerce Street bridge, happy to be up out of the crowds on the riverside sidewalks below. I delighted in lunch at the Casa Rio, my favorite stop in San Antonio, with its colorful sidewalk umbrellas, yummy food, and fun mariachi band. We also enjoyed the holiday lights from the Market Street bridge. San Antonio is a beautiful, and warm, place for Christmas.

Paseo del Rio on a holiday night

Briscoe Western Art Museum

The river taxis were too crowded with tourists for me to suggest we take their “Museum Reach” taxi service upriver to the San Antonio Museum of Art. I saved that for a future visit. But we did walk to the Briscoe Western Art Museum. Its three floors featured more recent works than what one finds at most western art museums in Oklahoma. That’s because it is relatively new, housed in an old Carnegie library that for years was the Hertzberg Circus Museum. Its opening evidently was troubled and long delayed, but we enjoyed it.

Wendy and I both promptly noticed Canyon Princess by Gerald Balciar, a smaller and darker cousin to the huge rendition of it gracing Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. I liked the diorama of the Battle of the Alamo, and the striking bronze The Line – Colonel Travis by James Muir. The image of Colonel Travis drawing a line in the sand, asking men to cross who were willing to die in a doomed defense of the Alamo, is a dramatic part of the Alamo legend. Much like the tale of Emily Morgan, there is no hard evidence this actually happened, but it is a memorable, if possibly fanciful, episode.

How Many More by Blair Buswell

The museum’s standout piece for both Wendy and me was Blair Buswell’s magnificent How Many More bronze of a Native American with his arms wrapped about himself, prepared to swing a tomahawk. The museum wisely put him at a height where he could gaze into our faces with an intense but weary look. “Look at that face!”, we both exclaimed. Wendy took a great shot of his visage with her iPhone, staring down the Indian warrior with her modern technology.

Fort Worth

Trip Map

All too soon it was time for us to head to Fort Worth for our reservation at the downtown Omni for New Year’s Eve. I chose to take the Hill Country route along Route 281 instead of I-35. Wendy and I enjoyed the scenery, but it was still a long drive north. By the time we reached the hubbub of the hotel overlooking the convention center and the railyard, we were too exhausted to contemplate our planned event at Bass Hall. Instead, we ordered up room service and had a quiet New Year’s Eve together. The next day we met seven of her relatives for lunch at Babe’s in Arlington and enjoyed a family-style meal. It was fun to meet folks I had only known through Facebook posts and Wendy’s remembrances. Then we drove north back home, with a full weekend to recuperate from our adventure before returning to work.

A final panorama from this trip

It had been a long trip down to the Texas coast, but we were glad we had made the most of our Winter Break. The cold grip of winter would embrace us soon, leaving us pining for our Spring Break in mid-March.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

< Winter Break 2015, Part 2: Corpus Christi & Padre Island

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2016 in art, photos, travel

 

Winter Break 2015, Part 2: Corpus Christi & Padre Island

December 28-29, 2015 | SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Meador PostThe Omni

Over the decades I’ve stayed in a wide variety of hotel rooms: dirty and dreary, cheap and clean, elegant and expensive, and other combinations. For our winter break, I opted to book rooms for Wendy and me that were above standard grade but not over-the-top. So instead of the Best Western-style mid-range rooms I’ve usually booked for our vacations, I looked for properties with some outstanding locations or features and booked small suites rather than single rooms. Our favorite room for the trip turned out to be the King Executive Suite at the Omni in Corpus Christi, high above the shoreline of the bay with separate small balconies for the living area and the bedroom. Wendy kids me about my fondness for vistas, and the room provided a nice panoramic view to the north of the Harbor Bridge and the USS Lexington.

Corpus Christi View from the Omni

We arrived after sundown and were tired from the long and dull drive from Austin. So we had dinner at the hotel’s Glass Pavilion restaurant. We celebrated our arrival at the coast with seafood: I had a decent fish and chips, although it was nothing like what you can get on the pacific coast, while Wendy enjoyed most of her crab cake. I suppose we should have had shrimp if we really wanted local cuisine. We were amused by a couple near us who asked a nonplussed waiter snooty questions about the origins of the food. They really should have headed to the Republic of Texas restaurant on the top floor of the hotel for that kind of dining experience.

Up on the Bluff

The next day was bright but chilly, starting with yummy french toast, fancy syrup, and bacon from the friendly room service. Later we ventured out for lunch, walking alongside the bay to the aptly named Shoreline Sandwich Company a couple of blocks south. We discovered it was closed for renovations, but its sister location four blocks east was open. So we perambulated inland, climbing up to North Upper Broadway Street, which runs along the city’s bluff above the bay area. Our sandwiches were good, as was the people-watching.

Corpus Christi Cathedral

Back on Broadway, I noticed a cathedral a few blocks south, so we walked by for photos. The Corpus Christi Cathedral is an appealing edifice, with both a 97-foot bell tower and a 125-foot clock-and-bell tower which are each adorned with pretty glazed terra cotta domes. It was designed by C.L. Monnot of Oklahoma City, who designed a little version of it as Corpus Christi Catholic Church in my hometown.

Selena

Down by the Seawall

We then descended the bluff to walk along the shoreline, noting how various electrical boxes have been adorned with fun artworks. In the early 1990s, the city built eight beautiful gazebos along the seawall, called the Miradors del Mars, or sea watchers. There is also the Mirador de la Flor, or overlook of the flower, built to commemorate Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the Tejano singer who was killed in the city by a business partner back in 1995. A large white rose sculpture recalls her nickname “The Flower”, and she is represented by a life-size bronze statue, complete with bustier and microphone. The lower seaside section of the mirador has hand-painted floral tiles.

The Mirador de la Flor is at the entry of the People’s Street T-Head, which projects out into the bay with sailboats, stores, and restaurants. Wendy and I enjoyed the Laughing Gulls resting on the pilings, along with the varied accents of the mariners, which Wendy said sounded like Karl in Slingblade.

Laughing Gulls

Dinner was at Thai Spice. The couple operating the restaurant were very sweet, and we enjoyed our dishes, which were artfully cut and arranged.

Padre Island

The next day we checked out of the Omni and drove to the Padre Island National Seashore before we headed to San Antonio. Back in college I would hear students say they were “going to Padre” for Spring Break. Being repulsed rather than attracted by the crowded mayhem of wild beach parties, I didn’t pay much attention. So I was a bit puzzled by my first impression of Padre Island. It lacked the wide beaches and development I was expecting; only later did I realize “going to Padre” for Spring Break meant the town of South Padre Island, which is on the opposite end of the island from Corpus Christi. Since it is the world’s longest barrier island, it is almost a three hour drive from Corpus Christi to reach the party beaches down south. And you have to drive there on the mainland, as 70 miles of the island is undeveloped and protected.

Malachite Beach on Padre Island

Enjoying the seashore

The relative calm and lack of extensive development suited us just fine. We drove to the visitor’s center at Malaquite Beach, donning both beach shoes and jackets before we walked past the vegetation onto the long sandy beach. There Wendy delighted in scouring the shoreline for seaborne treasures. I enjoyed the immensity of the ocean before us, with its swells and crashing waves. Some willets entertained us as they dug for food in the sand, and occasional flocks of birds flew in formations overhead.

Wendy had only been to an ocean once before when she briefly visited a foggy beach in Galveston, so this was a special treat for her. We did not stay but for an hour or so, and she said she could have stayed out there for days searching for unfamiliar treasures. But we had to get to San Antonio, so I steered us to Corpus Christi for a late lunch at Five Guys Burgers, which we both enjoy. I assured Wendy that she will again get to explore beaches on our summer honeymoon in the Pacific Northwest.

The drive to San Antonio was through afternoon mist and rain, with us arriving in the crowded downtown area at nightfall, slowly threading through slow pedestrian and car traffic to the Emily Morgan Hotel adjacent to the Alamo. Our stay there is the subject of the next post.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

Winter Break 2015, Part 3: San Antonio >

Winter Break 2015, Part 1: A Trek to the Coast

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2016 in photos, travel, video

 

Winter Break 2015, Part 1: A Trek to the Coast

December 24-27, 2015 | SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Meador PostThe trek south to Corpus Christi via Checotah, Oklahoma City, and Austin

Trading a Lake for a Gulf

Wendy and I waited out the first days of Winter Break 2015, declining to make hotel reservations until several days before we had to head out for Christmas visits with relatives. This allowed the weather forecasts to tighten up enough to steer us clear of our tentatively planned retreat to a favorite resort, Sugar Ridge on Beaver Lake in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas. A strong El Niño pattern would be bringing days of rain to the region, in what would eventually develop into widespread flooding to end the wettest year in our young state’s history. I’m used to the showers of the Ozark woods, but they are not much fun in December; we both prefer water below and beside us to having it come down from above.

I knew that Wendy would not want to take a literal flight to escape the widespread precipitation; she was already trepidatious about our jetting to the Pacific Northwest for our honeymoon next summer. So I determined we should drive south, far south, to the Texas Gulf Coast, even though it meant that after Christmas in Oklahoma City we’d be facing a ten hour drive southward instead of four hours eastward. Two years prior we had enjoyed a Winter Break in San Antonio, liking our stay there so much that we had abandoned plans to drive onward from there to Corpus Christi. It was the time to retrieve that ambition.

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Our Trek to reach the Gulf Coast

Christmas Traditions

The trip necessarily began with Christmastime visits to our parents. We visited Wendy’s mother first, enjoying lunch at the 69 Diner in Checotah. Christmas Eve found us snuggled in at our favorite hotel in Oklahoma City, maintaining our tradition of reading short stories to each other for the occasion. I selected Oscar Wilde’s Nightingale and the Rose to read to my partner, who dearly loves those flowering bushes. Wendy selected Dorothy Parker’s The Waltz for me, with its amusing contrast of inner and outer voices.

Christmas Day featured meals with my parents, with Wendy and me spending mid-afternoon on a one-mile walk at Bluff Creek Park below the north side of the Lake Hefner dam.

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A hike at Bluff Creek

Stormy Southward Trek

The day we embarked for the coast was brooding and wet, as forecasted. We rolled southward down Interstate 35 past the slumping slopes of the Arbuckles, winding through Fort Worth, thankfully avoiding the tornadoes that would later sweep through the metro area. Our closest call was a series of loud tornado warnings from our iPhones as we hurriedly made our way past Itasca, successfully dodging a storm cell that was bearing down on the interstate. We then relaxed with some tasty burgers at Dave’s Burger Barn in Waco.

Interstate traffic had been quite heavy throughout our trip, but it reached stop-and-go levels south of Waco as we approached Temple. The stress was sufficient to convince me to divert onto the far more placid, if less direct, route 95 to the east. We were amused to find ourselves driving through Granger, Texas (I checked, but there is no Wendy, Texas…yet. It’s a big state with a long future ahead of it.) It was too dark and too late for us to gawk much, and we finally diverted west again to secure a room in Austin before we faced the drive onward to the coast.

Austin Interlude

We have friends in Austin who kindly took us out for dinner and fellowship two years earlier, so the next morning we considered trying to meet up with them. But the exhausting drive the day before and the prospect of hours more of travel to reach the coast, along with the proximity to Christmas, convinced us otherwise. We decided that we were better company with each other than becoming disheveled intruders into what might well be holiday family time. We did relax a bit with lunch at Bucca di Beppo, with its amusingly irreverent atmosphere. They fortuitously played our song as we waited for our food, cementing their status with us as a romantic interlude.

Having decided to continue to avoid the interstate for the drive to Corpus Christi, we needed to head eastward. That provided the opportunity to route ourselves along Mount Bonnell in Austin and make a brief stop to enjoy the expansive views, both north and south, of the Colorado River from the small park up top.

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The Colorado River viewed from Mount Bonnell

I could zoom in with my camera on some of the structures at the University of Texas a few miles southeast from the Mount, and there was a distant view of the skyscrapers of downtown Austin.

We heard varied accents from the brave souls who joined us on the chilly and windy crest. We were glad we had stumbled on the more gradual western trail climb to the top, rather than tackling the long flight of stone steps on the east, which we used for a rapid descent.

Our Journey to the Body of Christ

We then headed southeast on Austin’s highways for our journey to Corpus Christi, which is named after the Feast Day of the Body of Christ. At one point, Wendy suggested we turn onto Route 183, but I vetoed that and stuck with Route 130 for a bit longer, with the rejoinder, “Yeah, but look at the speed limit!” Part of that route has a limit of 85 miles per hour; Texans tend to think big.

We did finally leave 130 behind, at Lockhart, where we were struck by the imposing and beautiful edifice of the Caldwell County Courthouse. It peeked out over downtown at us and demanded that we pull in at the town square and gawk at its creamy limestone, red sandstone, and Second Empire profile.

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Caldwell County Courthouse in Lockhart, TX

The remainder of the drive to the coast was rather monotonous, but I was happy to trade an interstate packed with aggressive Texans for a relaxed drive through small oil towns along sleepy roads.

We traveled southeast from Beeville to reach the long 183 bridge between the Corpus Christi and Nueces Bays at sunset. The colorfully lit Harbor Bridge welcomed us into Corpus Christi, where we would spend a couple of days in a lovely room at the Omni hotel on the bayfront.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

Winter Break 2015, Part 2: Corpus Christi & Padre Island >

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

Oxley’s North Woods

Trip Date: December 21, 2015; SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC
Post by Granger

Meador PostI spent the first Monday of Winter Break doing some Christmas shopping in Tulsa, but the warm and sunny weather also lured me onto the trails. I’ve walked the trails at Redbud Valley, Turkey Mountain, and the main area of the Oxley Nature Center many times. But I was far less familiar with the separate North Woods section of the Oxley Nature Center, leading me to take a 2.3 mile hike in the woods bordered by Bird Creek, Flat Rock Creek, and Lake Yahola.

Mohawk Park

I drove to north Tulsa’s Mohawk Park. The North Woods Unit trailhead is a short drive west from the Oxley Nature Center’s main entrance. It is on a dike northeast of Lake Yahola, the artificial lake for the Mohawk Water Treatment Plant which is fed water from the Spavinaw Water Project.

Trail Track

Tree Fungi

The Oxbow Lake Trail, which evidently was once called the Beaver Lodge Trail, led between Nelson’s Oxbow and Coot Pond, quickly reaching a turnoff for the Sierra Club Trail. I took that turnoff and followed the new trail north along the east side of Nelson’s Oxbow Lake. The North Woods are a mature oak and hickory forest, and the trails were often completely covered in acorns, along with other nuts. I would pay a price for all of those oak trees – the next day my neck was itching and I found I had received multiple bites from the dreaded oak mites that have been very active in 2015.

The trail wriggled through the woods and terminated at a long flowline cut through the woods. There I turned northwest and followed the flowline to the trailhead for the North Woods Loop Trail. I trekked counterclockwise along the trail, following the north shoreline of Nelson’s Oxbow, noting that a tree tilted over into the water would be great for turtles, although none were evident. Some fallen logs featured large, whitefunnel-shaped fungi, while others sported colorful fungal fans.

Fungal fans

Sunset over Lake Yahola

The trail looped along the south shore of Bird Creek and then followed part of the east side of Flat Rock Creek before heading south back to the flowline. From there I took the Oxbow Lake Trail, which I had turned off earlier, and followed it past Mallard Lake back to Coot Pond. Mallard Lake lived up to its name, with ducks quacking at me and some taking flight when I passed. When I reached the dike, I took the opportunity to climb the side of Lake Yahola to shoot the sunset.

This was a short hike, frequently punctuated not only by bird calls but also by booms from the Tulsa Gun Club located at the opposite end of Mohawk Park and the occasional overhead roar of a small plane from the nearby airport. But I thoroughly enjoyed trading the crazy hustle and dangerous traffic of Christmastime in Tulsa for an isolated stroll through the woods. Wendy and I hope to share a final hike or two in 2015 when we head south to Texas between Christmas and New Years.

SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel

 

Renovated Royalty on the Talimena Drive

November 22-24, 2015   SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Meador PostOur school district shifted to a full week off for Thanksgiving this year. That squeezed my students’ time to cover the material we must complete before the final exam in a few weeks, but it did provide the opportunity for a mini-vacation ahead of Thanksgiving dinner with my folks. Wendy and I chose to spend a couple of days at the recently re-opened Queen Wilhelmina Lodge on the eastern end of the Talimena Skyline Drive.

The Third Revision of the Third Lodge

We would be staying in the third revision of the third lodge built on this site atop Rich Mountain. The first lodge was built in 1898 by the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad. It was named after Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, reflecting how the railroad’s major investors were from Holland. The railroad went into receivership the next year and was sold to become the Kansas City Southern, which still operates the rail line in the valley on the north side of Rich Mountain. The railroad gave up the newly built inn, which operated under different owners until closing in 1910. It fell into ruin, only briefly and partially resurrected in the early 1940s to house a summer music school. In 1957 the site became part of the new Queen Wilhelmina State Park, and the state slowly rebuilt the lodge, using some of the original remaining stonework. The new lodge was completed in 1963 and operated until it burned in 1973. The lodge was rebuilt in 1975, remodeled to some extent in 1981, and that aging structure was the one I stayed in when I hiked the trails there in January 2011.

Lodges at Queen Wilhelmina

I can recall how there was no elevator serving the second floor where my room was located, the room was small and old, while the dining room was quite pleasant. The lodge closed in February 2012 and did not re-open until June 2015 after a $9.6 million renovation and expansion. The project was troubled, with long delays and a change in contractors, but the lodge now has an elevator, much larger windows, insulated walls, and grew from 26,300 to 36,500 square feet to expand both the size and number of the guest rooms, add on a new public hearth room and upstairs meeting room on the south side, and remodel the lobby, gift shop, public restrooms, and registration desk. The cost of the project increased to allow for a full re-working of the kitchen as well. But the old high stone chimneys are gone, even though there was a fire of real logs always burning in the hearth room’s new fireplace.

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Trip Map

Deciding to Revisit the Queen

For several years I’d been checking repeatedly online to see if the lodge had re-opened, wondering why it was taking years to complete the renovations. Wendy and I enjoyed our stay at beautiful Mount Magazine in June, atop the highest peak in Arkansas. So, when I found the lodge atop the second-highest peak in the state had finally re-opened, we decided that would be our retreat for the start of our break. Having stayed at both concessions, our conclusion is that we’d rather return to Mount Magazine for a future stay, since its spacious and sumptuous lodge is better situated for a dramatic view of the valley below, and its park features more interesting trails. But we still enjoyed our stay atop Rich Mountain.

Our journey began on a Sunday morning, timed so that we could have lunch at the Mazzio’s in Poteau and still arrive at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in time for a tour of its Wonder House, which is located near the lodge. Our spirits lifted along with our car as we climbed the Ouachitas. Having grown up in the flat cross timbers of northwest Oklahoma City and spent many a youthful vacation in a family cabin in the Ozarks, venturing into the mountains always cheers me up. Fittingly, we noted a Kansas City Southern train carrying a large load of coal through the valley below Rich Mountain as we approached our destination; the mountaintop legacy from that rail venture lives on.

Wonder House

Wonder House Porch

We arrived in time for the tour of the Wonder House, a weird combination of two small rock buildings built in the Great Depression by Carlos Hill. He drove up Rich Mountain on a Harley Davidson motorcycle in the early 1930s, living in the area to study at Commonwealth College. He married a local girl, Mary Lance, and they lived on the mountain in a home just east of what would become the Wonder House. Carlos built the first part of the Wonder House as a small rustic cottage for sale. He sold it to oil man C.E. Foster from Muskogee, who paid Carlos and his brother-in-law Phil Lance to add the second structure, which was subdivided into different levels for bedrooms, kitchen, bath, and so forth. The weird structures acquired the Wonder House moniker when they became a souvenir shop in the 1960s.

I’d pondered these sealed-up oddities on my first visit to the park in 2011, wondering what the interiors might look like, given the signage proclaiming that together they housed nine levels, a 21-foot-long bed, and ice-free stairs. Melissa, our tour guide, opened the front building up and let us look around its single room, which had displays about the park and its history. She told us how the exterior stairs to the attic bedroom wrap around the chimney, helping to keep them free of ice in the winter. But our group was not allowed to venture to the cramped upstairs to ponder the 21-foot-long bed where three children once slept head-to-toe. Only children could find that prospect enticing.

Wonder House Diagram

Eventually our guide let us into the second building, but I found it quite underwhelming. Its various levels were tiny and built of cheap wood. No one wanted to spend too much time inside, finding the stone work on the exterior of the building and its multitude of windows more interesting. Later I found the property’s documentation for the National Register of Historic Places, which told me that there were once narrow openings between the various levels to allow occupants to pass items from one to another, and there was once an interior ladder in the first building for its bedroom attic. Given the bizarre design and limited functionality of the buildings, I’m not surprised that only one other of Carlos Hill’s houses survives. Melissa said it sits east of the lodge in the employee area and is in need of repairs.

Wendy and I walked around the area, finding remains of stone walls down the hill east of the house, their purpose unknown. Wendy noticed some intriguing frost flowers on some plant stems along our path, and examined the layering of the frost crystal sheets.

First Day at the Renovated Lodge

We drove over to the nearby lodge and relaxed in its spacious hearth room, which has many different tables and settings for small groups of visitors. I enjoyed perusing a binder with photos and articles about the park’s early history and bought a booklet about history of Rich Mountain authored by Bradley H. Holleman. We checked into our room, which had large windows along with a spacious shower in the bathroom. The WiFi had improved since my stay in 2011, with multiple access points along the corridor ceiling, but the internet service was still rather slow. Anything we could get was welcome, however, since cellular service in our room was weak and intermittent.

Wendy was not thrilled by the room’s Keurig coffee maker, and she’d forgotten to pack the old portable coffee pot my father had given her. So we drove down the mountainside into Mena to buy a cheap coffee maker at the Wal-Mart Supercenter and enjoyed a good dinner at The Branding Iron, topping off our chicken fried chicken entrees with some chocolate cream pie.

Lover’s Leap and the Rainbow Forest

We had a late breakfast in the lodge cafe the next day. While the breakfast buffet did have traditional cooked items and was better than some hotel breakfasts I’ve suffered through in recent months, we decided we would order off the breakfast menu the following day so that we could enjoy hot and fresh food. Once the weather warmed sufficiently, with the nippy wind of the day before having died down, we set out on the Lover’s Leap trail for a 1.1 mile loop around the east end of the summit.

Lover’s Leap Trail Track

Granger on the trail

This summer I bought a hoodie in Santa Fe, and the chilly weather finally made it feasible for me to wear it on our hike. That prompted a fellow hiker to remark, “Beautiful city!” Wendy would certainly agree, adding, “Great green chile!” I’m excited that we’ll have our summer honeymoon in the Pacific Northwest, but I’m certain that we’ll spend many summer vacations in Santa Fe.

The trail led down the mountainside from the lodge. Through the trees, I could glimpse rainbow hues across the forested valley below. Oranges and red in nearby deciduous trees gave way to green pines and then to the hazy blue mountains beyond. I eagerly sought a clear view for my camera.

Wendy on the trail

We admired the stone work of the 1996 trail crew, which forded one of the rock glaciers which moves as a mass instead of rock over rock, preventing the growth of vegetation. Wendy posed for me, and then we climbed our way up and around to the stony projection of Lover’s Leap. The platform there provided a sweeping view of the Rainbow Forest below.

The view from Lover’s Leap

The Southern Belle

We then made our way back up to the lodge, with Wendy noticing the spiny red stems of the brambles surrounding us. Up top, the Southern Belle miniature train passed by, its passengers waving at us as they made their way along its 1.5 mile loop. The little train on its 16-gauge tracks has been a part of the park since 1960.

Relaxing with Hitch

Wendy and I had dinner at the lodge, with me enjoying my cheeseburger, augmented by some of the bacon off Wendy’s chicken sandwich. Then we retired to our room, where I hooked up the big flatscreen monitor to the DVD player I’d brought with me so that we could watch Hitchcock’s Family Plot

The next morning, we enjoyed pancakes and French toast with bacon in the lodge cafe, checked out of our room, and headed home.

Talimena Drive

We wondered what autumn colors might be left along the Talimena Skyline Drive, or Talimena Scenic Byway as it is called these days. It stretches for 54 miles along the crest of Rich Mountain westward from Mena, AR on into Oklahoma before ducking over to follow the crest of Winding Stair Mountain on westward, following old truck roads built by the CCC in the 1930s. I’ve driven the route many times over the past 30 years, with fall being my favorite time of year to brave the winding path. Sometimes the route is dangerously foggy as clouds descend to shroud the mountain tops, but this day was bright and sunny, although quite hazy to the south.

Sunset Point Vista on the Talimena Scenic Byway

The haze meant our best views were to the west and north, with autumnal hues mixing with the green pines and blue hills. Emerald Vista was particularly beautiful on this trip. Wendy and I picked out different views of the same tree in the foreground of our respective shots. I enjoyed signage which noted how the land below had once been so thoroughly deforested by lumber companies that it was sold off to the government as nearly worthless; now that reforested land is a treasure for the eyes, reminding us how a long-term investment in conservation and restoration can re-create what has been destroyed.

Emerald Vista

Elbert Little, Jr. studied several forest sites in southeast Oklahoma over a 60 year period and described the burned out and cutover woods he first witnessed in 1930 as “almost worthless for any purpose, and it would be some time before it was of any value.” By the 1980s, when Little revisited the area, he wrote that he then wished he owned some of it. “The progress in management of southeastern Oklahoma’s forest lands is far greater than anyone would have predicted a half century ago,” he wrote. “The changes, mostly beneficial, are beyond anyone’s imaginations or dreams.”

Highway 82

Highway 82

North Across Two Mountain Ranges

I decided to take an unfamiliar route from the western end of the drive. Instead of heading northeast back toward Poteau, I steered southwest through Talihina, where we laughed at the name of Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner. We then took Highway 82 north across Winding Stair Mountain to Red Oak. The route was scenic, but the road as winding and difficult as I would expect. Red Oak had an odd purple color scheme on its public works, which Wendy figured out reflected its school colors.

Then we were surprised by the 13 mile stretch of highway 82 leading north from Red Oak across the Sans Bois mountains, east of Robbers Cave, up to Lequire. This section was wide, with multiple lanes and sweeping curves on massive amounts of fill. This unusually modern section of road was not built until the 1990s and is a beautiful drive that seems to belong in another state instead of Oklahoma, with its notoriously poor roads. I don’t know if that highway brought the economic development its promoters hoped, but we certainly appreciated it.

We enjoyed a delicious early dinner at the Oliveto Italian Bistro in south Tulsa and then made our way home. The trip was a blessing, and I give thanks this week for the mountains of southeast Oklahoma and western Arkansas, as well as for the lady I get to share them with.

SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel, video

 

Return to Chandler Park

HIKE DATE: October 25, 2015; SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

Meador PostIn late October, circumstances prevented Wendy and me from going out on our typical Friday evening date, and we were unable to attend a former student’s marriage reception. But we were able to reunite on Saturday afternoon for a return to Chandler Park in west Tulsa to explore more of the trails along its bluff above the Arkansas River. We ended up walking a total of 2.1 miles along the bluff and then through the park’s frisbee golf course along its south perimeter.

We parked at the Lost City trailhead and descended from the top of the bluff to return to the various rough trails connecting rock outcroppings along the bluff. It was great to be out for a walk, and I deliberately led us down the bluff away from the main path to roam amidst the eroded rock walls, forking along new pathways.

Rock Face

Some graffiti gave a literal meaning to rock face. Wendy posed on its nose, and we speculated that if someone added spectacles these could be our own eyes of oculist T.J. Eckleburg looking over the valley of the Arkansas rather than the valley of ashes. The somewhat dark analogy was reinforced when we discovered that the eyes looked down toward a trail where I found a bag of white powder and a pamphlet on substance abuse services. Wendy was suitably amused, mentioning how they reminded her of the syringe we found in the vacant lot in Russellville back in June. Our travels don’t solely focus on romantic surroundings.

Arkansas River

Bluff

We went down the bluff far enough to get a clear view of the sandy bed of the Arkansas River and the Highway 97 bridge across it. We climbed back up to the rock walls of the Lost City and admired an unusual plant. A short bluff had grass growing on top and spray paint heiroglyphics on its face. Wendy spotted a small hole in a rock wall’s projection, and we had fun setting up a shot of her looking through it. Another wall of the Lost City included a low niche.

Eye see you

We reached the end of the trails and doubled back along the loop at the west end to explore the trail segments there before ascending to the Community Center. We enjoyed a break at a nearby picnic table before threading our way around the park lagoon and past the ball fields entrance to explore the north perimeter of the park.

I was curious if there might be any social trails on that side down to its bluff, but we just found a few very short and overgrown loop trails along the sides of the park’s long frisbee golf course, where several parties were out enjoying that pastime. I got a shot of some long and droopy red leaves of autumn and enjoyed the contrast between the steep and wild trails of the bluff and the very tame picnic forest up top.

SLIDESHOW | MOSAIC

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2015 in day hike, photos, travel

 
 
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