Friday, April 20, 2018

In the Mountains of Oklahoma--Cedar Lake

After three days at Beavers Bend State Park, we are once again on the road. We made our last trip over the dam, for a view of Broken Bow Lake. Even though we've spent all of our time on the river, there is a great big lake out there to explore on another trip.

Traveling in the state where we lived most of our lives should feel familiar, but this southeastern corner of Oklahoma is like a whole different world. There are forests and mountains, rather than pastures and plains. Instead of sharing the road with ranch pickups towing cattle trailers, we are seeing a steady stream of lumber trucks.

Mark never got to use the cruise control today, because we were either pushing to get up a mountain or braking to get down. The Garmin showed elevation changes that went from 800 feet to 2000 feet to 700 feet to 1600 feet to 800 feet to . . . This was not a good diesel mileage day. We saw lots of roads that warned about upcoming curves with serious speed restrictions.

Tilting over on our side off a mountain didn't seem like a good alternative from going too fast.

We are driving through the Ouachita National Forest, and we needed some help to get the pronunciation right. We learned that it is /Wash-i-tah/ National Forest. We also drove through the Winding Staircase National Recreation Area. The pines look healthy here, and the hardwoods are just now putting on their tiny spring leaves. This drive would be beautiful in the fall.

Denisa enjoys taking pictures of perplexing road signs. We didn't photograph the first ten signs, but after they continued for thirty miles, we finally did it. We might mention that we did in fact have a center stripe the entire thirty miles that we were warned of "no center stripe."

We read the highway signs giving direction to our next destination. The signs prompted us to turn down the New Cedar Lake Road that the GPS didn't know about. On the screen it looks like our motor home is just driving through the national forest without a road.

About an hour and a half down the road, we pulled into Cedar Lake Forest Service campground. We got one of the non-reservable sites right on the water in the middle of a pine forest. I think we're going to like it here at Sandy Beach campground!

We have electric and water hook-ups, but we are sad to see we have absolutely no AT&T phone service here. In the three years on the road, this is only the second place we can recall with no signal at all. After getting the motor home set up, we went on a hike around the lake. It's a three-mile hike with some great views of Cedar Lake.

A spring hike in the forest means wildflowers. We won't bore you with all the usuals, but we had never seen one like this before.

It was a beautiful weather day on a nice hike beside a mountain lake. We are glad to see that we have moved far enough north to be rid of the mosquitoes that plagued us in Texas.

The creek running into the lake was a mysterious blue/green color. We're not sure why, but it looks like the glacier-fed lakes we saw up north.

Even though we had no AT&T signal at the campground, we found that half-way around the lake we had enough cell phone service to send and receive text messages. We sent a few messages before we headed on down the trail. We are really in the middle of nowhere at Cedar Lake.

It seemed like a great place for wildlife, but the only wild things we spotted were some brown moths that seemed to be feeding on the equally brown soil on the trail.

After our three-mile circle around the lake, we enjoyed a lovely evening at the campground. With no wind and pleasant temperatures, we probably should have put our kayak on the mirror-like water on Cedar Lake.

With views like this, we're very happy here at Cedar Lake campground in the middle of the Winding Stairs National Recreation Area of the Ouachita National Forest. It's nice to live here in the mountains of Oklahoma for a little while.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Waters of Beavers Bend State Park

When we tell some people that we were raised in Beaver, Oklahoma, they smile and get a dreamy look in their eyes as they recall it. That's when we know they are probably recalling a different part of Oklahoma with a more famous area that has a similar name. Most people would assume that Beavers Bend State Park would be close to Beaver, Oklahoma. But in fact, they are polar opposites in most ways. The town of Beaver is in the northwest part of the state; while Beavers Bend Park is in the southeast. Beaver town is in the middle of flat plains where trees only grow beside creeks or houses; Beavers Bend Park is in the middle of the rolling hills where trees grow everywhere. The town of Beaver is dry and brown and suffering through a drought; while Beavers Bend is lush and green from too much rain. So even though we lived in Oklahoma all of our lives, we had never made the 8-hour drive from the town of Beaver to Beavers Bend State Park.

The state park is situated along the Mountain Fork River. In fact, our camping site has a great view of the river. That's a pretty nice spot to do some computer work.

We are surrounded by trees, and one of them has an interesting knot hole. Just like that knot hole indicates, we love our camp site!

We had been enjoying our views of the river, but we also took a tour to see the rest of Beavers Bend State Park. Plenty of people were fly-fishing in this section. But we noticed the best fisherman was the blue heron that is in the foreground.

We found out the corp of engineers was opening up the dam gates today to release more water from Broken Bow Lake. So the rangers were warning the fishermen, who quickly got out of the water when the sirens sounded. We took this picture before the gates opened, just to document what the usual 140 CFS (cubic foot per second) flow looked like. The water on the left is just a puddle, but the river is the ribbon on the far right.

We must be easily entertained, as we sat beside that bridge just to watch the water rise. The place we stood for the first picture was soon under water, but we shot this photo to compare the very same spot on the river now with the 800 CFS flow. The river was far wider, and those fishermen were very glad for the warning. The water now covered the entire picture, rather than just the narrow ribbon on the right.

While most of the state park is on the river, another section surrounds Broken Bow Lake. We stopped over the dam to see the opened gate that was responsible for that increased flow of water.

Broken Bow Lake has a lodge and more campgrounds in the section of the state park outside of Hotchatown, Oklahoma. It was a little drizzly, but we got in a hike close to the lodge where the dogwoods are blooming. We are so excited that the mosquitoes haven't gotten this far north, and we had a wonderfully-bugless hike today. The dogwoods are blooming in the mountains of eastern Oklahoma.

Just like most of the lakes we have been visiting, Broken Bow has flooded its normal shores this spring. We probably wouldn't have understood these yellow lines on the trees high above the water. But we have seen that the floating yellow pollen from the trees will leave that "chalk line" for some time.

Beavers Bend State Park is named for the winding Mountain Fork River that bends around the park. Even though the forecast called for more rain, we found a morning to put our kayak on the river. Because of that big bow in the river, we can float for a couple miles between two bridges that are only a half mile apart. So we dropped off the boat and got it ready, and left Denisa and the boat here at the put-in spot. She took a picture down the river, hoping those gray rain clouds wouldn't foil our plans today.

Meanwhile, Mark drove the car back to the take-out spot. He left the car there, and rode his bike the half-mile back to where Denisa and the boat were waiting. It was an easy self-shuttle opportunity because of the bend at Beavers Bend. We were soon on the water, enjoying an easy float and a little wildlife along the way. We saw red birds . . .

and blue birds.

The walls beside the water got steeper, and we even got a few rays of sunshine.

This section of the river can get very crowded in the summer, so the wildlife gets used to people. That's probably why this turtle let us get so close today.

In fact, he completely snubbed us and looked a little bored with just one boat on the water.

The red bud trees are getting close to the end of their blooming season, and the buds are covering the surface of the water in some places.

We saw a young eagle in the air, but couldn't get a good picture before he flew over the ridge. But this osprey was more cooperative. We first saw him on a branch beside the river.

It's hard to catch a photo when a bird decides to take off. In the silhouette against the gray sky, we could see those long talons that allow these birds to swoop into the water and bring out a fish.

It was a delightful float down the river. Even with that 800 CFS flow, we could paddle against the current to have longer on the river. Those gray clouds stayed with us the entire trip, but they didn't dump any rain on us.

We also saw some birds that we weren't familiar with. This curiously big-headed duck was cruising the river, and diving for food. We found out this is a hooded merganser.

We stretched our two-mile float out as long as possible before we finally got off the river where the car was waiting at the canoe rental place. That company will provide the boat and/or shuttle for customers without, but we had the water to ourselves today.

This is our last day at Beavers Bend State Park, and we'll be leaving soon. We've seen signs all over the park that say, "Don't leave your Mark on the park." So Denisa will be sure to take her Mark with her when she leaves.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Beavers Bend State Park

Before we leave our camping spot at De Queen Lake, we should report that the water level is going down. When we first arrived, we took this picture of a chair swing on shore that isn't getting used right now with the seat still resting in the water.

Two days later, that same chair is almost high and dry. So there is strong evidence that the water is receding. We also have to point out the curious yellow chalk marks going around the trees and the metal posts supporting the chair. We now know that isn't chalk, but rather pollen lines that we see on most of the trees at the edge of the water.

De Queen has an unusual check-out policy. While most campgrounds want you out of your site by noon, campers can stay here until 5 p.m. So we did just that. After our kayak trip back against the wind, we spent some time resting, took showers, fixed a nice meal, and left the campground at 4:30 p.m. That worked perfect for us because we were heading to a town just 30 miles away where we are boondocking overnight.

Boondocking worked for us for several reasons. 1) Generators need to be exercised every month or so, and we were behind on getting that done. 2) We wanted to go to a state park next, and Saturday is a terrible time to try to find a camping spot. But Sunday afternoon, when all the weekenders have gone home is a great time to get a great site. 3) At our boondocking site in downtown Broken Bow, Oklahoma, we were within walking distance of McDonald's for breakfast, Walmart for supplies, Pizza Hut for lunch, and Sunday morning church at Victory Life Church. So we fulfilled all our checklist. Then we headed out of Broken Bow on Sunday afternoon, towards our new destination at Beavers Bend State Park.

After only a few days in Arkansas, we have crossed state lines again, and we are now in Oklahoma. Denisa completely forgot her duties of taking a state line sign, but we've seen this one many times in our lives. We are inching our way towards Oklahoma City and our youngest son's bridal shower in a couple weeks. For now, we have read great things about Beavers Bend State Park, so we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It's a confusing park with two entrances. Because Oklahoma doesn't charge guests to enter state parks, there is no central gate house to give directions or answer questions (and take your entrance fee). We finally found a place to unhook the car and scout out a camping spot. As Denisa drove the car behind, she took a picture of the narrow road Mark had to drive to get to our site in the Acorn campground. The tall trees beside the road are just putting on their new spring leaves.

We got set up in our site with great views of the Mountain Fork River. That narrow road drive was certainly worth it. We're going to like it here!

We headed to the visitor center to get some trail information. They have a very nice museum and gift shop, and out front is a larger-than-life wood carving. This statue was carved by Peter Toth in 1979 from a 450-year-old bald cypress tree. This isn't Mr. Toth's only attempt at carving. He has one masterpiece in each of the fifty states, a nation-wide tribute to Native Americans.

We took a close-up of the face, just to show some of the detail.  Those wrinkles have weathered well for the forty years since it was carved.

Since we had walked a mile to the visitor center, we checked our new trail map to see if there was another route back to our campground. It would be longer and more difficult, but we were up for a hike that first took us along this little creek.

Our little creek had some elevation change, and we enjoyed the waterfalls along our trail.

Mark was spending time at these little waterfalls, as he was trying a new photo filter on his phone.

This is an example of the pictures we have been taking of moving water.

But this filter changes the water into a smooth surface for a whole different effect.

Our little creek became wider and deeper, and we were sad to see that the trail continued on the other side. No bridges on the trail, so we were left to find our own way across. We were glad to see a fallen log over the water some distance away. That's no problem for an agile hiker with good balance like Mark. He didn't even mind stopping in the middle at the highest point to take a picture.

The other hiker in the group, however, is not as well-balanced. After falling off a bridge on her bicycle a few days ago, she is taking the sure way across the log. It's slower, but she arrived on the other side without falling in the water.

Our trip through the woods took us beside wildflowers, so of course Denisa had to take pictures of this clustered bloom of wild verbena.

We had never seen these white wildflowers, with slender petals going in all directions. They look like little fireworks on a stem.

We were several miles into our hike when we came to yet another water crossing. The water was deeper and moving faster here, and the fallen log was much smaller. Just to make it trickier, it was wet and slick. This was going to be tricky even for an agile hiker.

Denisa was taking pictures just because she was pretty sure she was going to catch Mark falling in the water this time. When the log rolled under his weight, he made a leap back to our side of the creek. Somehow he managed to land on another log without even getting his feet wet.

Mark finally found a steadying pole to help him. Even though it was too short, he used it to help walk all the way across that slippery log. The muddy bottom of the creek and current made moving that stick difficult, but he made it look easy.

Now he has to figure out how to get that other hiker across! It's tough for Denisa just to get off the bank onto that slippery log. It's too close to the water surface to try the scooting technique from the last log. This could get soggy!

Mark finally threw another log over the water to act as a foot rest. It was too short to withstand any weight, and it was actually floating in the water. But it gave a surface to keep Denisa's feet out of the water so she could try the side-wise scoot method across. It wasn't pretty or fast, but she finally made it to the other side.

We didn't know what we were going to do if we hit another water crossing. Mark wasn't sure if he could get Denisa over a new crossing, and he sure didn't want to try to get her back over the last two if we had to back-track. So we continued onward. We didn't realize we were going on a mountain hike when we left the visitor center, but we found plenty of elevation change here at Beavers Bend State Park.

Denisa might not be very good at crossing bridges, but she is good at spotting pretty wildflowers. She had to take a picture of this two-color violet blooming in the forest.

There were also growths of fungus on fallen logs that make an interesting picture.

When we got to this low water dam, we were both glad we didn't have to cross the water. After seven miles, we are getting close to our campground. This is the Mountain Fork River that runs right in front of our motor home.

One final rock scramble past a waterfall, and we were home! We've just arrived, but we are already having a good time in Beavers Bend State Park. Welcome home to Oklahoma!