Thursday, May 28, 2020

Walking the history of Tahlequah, Oklahoma

After arriving at Cherokee Landing state park in record breaking cold weather, we "enjoyed" another day of rain and record breaking cold the next day. We're still camping under the beautiful tall pine trees at our campground, but the view out our front window looked much like this all day.

These are days to catch up on projects, cook, write blogs. . . and also make a trip to the nearby town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Since we are in Cherokee county, we learned that this strange town name came from the Cherokee phrase "Tah-Ah-Le-Quah" meaning "two are enough." It seems that there were supposed to be three agents present to select the Cherokee capitol site. When only two showed up, they picked this site and declared "two are enough" to give Tahlequah a special place in Cherokee history. We kept our rain jackets on as we started a two-mile walk down the Tahlequah History Trail.

We followed an on-line map to help us find all the points of interest in this interesting little city. We were disappointed that the sign boards found on the trail were blank, but we found out that this is the Franklin Castle.

Northeastern State University's campus is on the history trail, including this plaza that featured a larger-than-life statue of Sequoyah. He is best known for developing the alphabet for the Cherokee language. If you think keeping up with 26 letters is tough, try learning Cherokee with its 85 different symbols.

The Cherokees had to relocate from their lands in the southeastern United States, in a 1,000-mile forced march that is now called the Trail of Tears. The trail ended here in Tahlequah, where we know that two guys determined this would be the Cherokee capitol. It was here that they built their capitol building . . .

and their jail house . . .

and their girls' seminary. We walked through history as we found all three structures on the trail that runs through town. They were all built in the 1800's and all were closed because of the Covid-19 shut downs. So we could only take pictures from the outside.

While many of the focal points of the historic trail were very old, some were very new. We took a picture of Mark standing beside the larger-than-life statue, "The Monument to Forgiveness." It was gifted to NSU in 2016 to honor Tahlequah as the end of the Trail of Tears.

We finished our tour of Tahlequah with a splurge of take-out pizza from a local cafe. Specializing in pizza rather than chicken, Sam & Ella's Chicken Palace got great reviews. Try saying "Sam & Ella" fast a couple times and you'll figure out the Chicken Palace owners have a good sense of humor.

While we were walking trails in the rain, some of our camping neighbors were busy fishing. We walked by their camp site to see their catch of the day. They had already cleaned at least half of the fish they caught that morning. Denisa was impressed with the size and quantity of half of their harvest, so she asked to take a picture. She put her ultra-stylish croc shoes in the picture just to show the  size of the fish that were pulled out of Lake Tenkiller.

Besides the usual geese that hang out on the shore of Lake Tenkiller, we saw this unusual duck several times during our visit at Cherokee Landing State Park.

With his red mask and his striped red-white-and-black beak, he looks like some character out of a marvel comic book.

But he seems to be a bit of a pet at this state park. We're guessing that he is used to getting hand-outs since he usually walks toward us instead of away from us. We're wondering if he would just walk right up our motor home steps if given the chance.

The rain and chilly weather didn't seem to dampen the spirit of the duck, and we think we can take a lesson from him. We seem to be able to find something to do even if the weather doesn't always cooperate with our original agenda. The rain gave us a chance to pause and learn a little as we walked the history of Tahlequah.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A record-lowest-high-temperature kind of day

We left our one-night camping spot at Natural Falls State Park, and headed south once again. But its unusually cool this morning. In fact, the forecast says that we should break the record for having the lowest high temperature for this date. Brrrrr! We had a one-hour drive, that took us along Scenic Highway 10. Through that big motor home windshield we could see landmarks like Hanging Rock, and we could get an occasional glimpse of the Illinois River.

This highway isn't the ideal motor home route. You know it is a narrow winding road when you see arrows on the right telling you to stay left, and arrows on the left instructing you to stay right.

We are taking this highway because we made plans to float the Illinois River. To float a river, you need two vehicles--one parked at the put-in spot, and another parked at the take-out spot. We have two vehicles, even though you might say that the motor home is a rather bulky shuttle vehicle. To use it, we need a large and level parking lot that isn't too crowded, and that's often hard to find along winding rivers. But we had done our research and figured out a way to set up that shuttle so we could float down the Illinois River today. We had called the Grand River Dam Authority office to find out that we could drop off the car at the Peavine Public Access area.

We would have room to drop off the car, then turn the motor home around at Peavine and head back up-river to the campground at Round Hollow Public Access Area. There is one camping spot with electricity at Round Hollow, or plenty of other places to park the motor home and spend the night without electricity as well. We had already planned to just boondock camp here since we need to exercise our generator anyway.

It took a while to figure out this plan for a free 9-mile float trip on the Illinois River. We include all the details in our blog because we hope to get to use that plan one day. But it's not going to work today. Today we have rain and temperatures in the 40s. Even if it's free, it's just not worth it to float nine miles down a river in the rain when it's that cold. So we ditched the free river float idea, and went to plan B. That's exploring another Oklahoma state park. Welcome to our camp site at Cherokee Landing State Park!

Instead of camping along the Illinois River, we are on the north side of Lake Tenkiller. This lake is famous in Oklahoma for its clear water. In fact, scuba divers from all over the state come here to train and dive in this clear water--but probably not today. With a high temperature in the low 50s, we did break the record for the lowest high temperature for this day in northeast Oklahoma. That is a record that was set over 100 years ago!

With those cool temperatures, we wore jackets to explore more of our new state park. When we made our reservation, we were surprised to see that two of the larger campgrounds were closed. We could still see the logs and debris that was the result of the flooding from last summer that closed many of the camp sites here at Cherokee Landing state park.

In the middle of that closed campground we found a lone swing set with nice views of the lake. After months of seeing playgrounds roped off with caution tape, Denisa is enjoying a good swing and a nice view. Bonus!

On a chilly evening in an almost empty campground, we noticed smoke coming up in the fire ring next to us. It looks like our neighbors didn't know that the embers were still glowing when they left their camp site. We found that by adding a little firewood we could quickly have a nice camp fire.

There's a widely-known camping rule that stipulates that a nice camp fire means that we must roast marshmallows! We didn't have any graham crackers and chocolate, so we invented a new campfire dessert--a bakery chocolate chip cookie, smeared with a toasted marshmallow and topped with freshly shelled pecans. That's a good way to end a record-breaking-lowest-high-temperature kind of day.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Naturally Blessed by Nature at Natural Falls State Park

After three days with a full-hook-up site so we could do all our laundry, we're once again on our quest of camping at some Oklahoma state parks that are new-to-us. We headed an hour down the road to our reserved site at Natural Falls State Park. We were glad to find an opening for a Sunday night at this popular park. We were not glad to find that spot was already reserved for the next night. So this will be an unusual one-day stop for us. That means we had to be in a hurry to get on the trails!

We headed straight down the hill from our campground to start our first hike on the Fox Den Trail. It features some interesting rock formations and caves. It's a rugged trail, so it wasn't hard to keep our social distance from other hikers even on a beautiful weekend afternoon. The majority of park visitors won't get this far on a trail that is rated as difficult.

Signs at the park requested that hikers stay on the trail, and you can see that Denisa is doing that.

If a hiker needed any incentive to follow that rule, you could just look down at Denisa's feet to get it. We saw a bumper crop of poison ivy throughout this park. Those "leaves of three" in that characteristic mitten-shape make it easy to spot.

This Fox Den trail loops around to join with some of the trails on the other side of the park. But it takes a water crossing to get there. Mark is looking over the slippery possibilities to try to make the best plan to get his wife across that water without getting her feet wet.

He found a sturdy post, and used it as a hand rail to help Denisa across the water. He has such good balance that he could stand on the slippery rocks, move and stabilize the post, and take a selfie at the same time. Denisa--not so much.

Showcasing that agile balance, he shimmied up a tree branch in front of the man-made dam on the stream. We're calling this view "the unnatural falls" here at Natural Falls State Park.

Now we are on the most popular side of the park, and the number of hikers picked up dramatically on the Dripping Springs Trail. When we looked down at the line to get to the park's namesake--the Natural Falls--we saw a long line of people meeting another long line of hikers coming out from the falls viewing platform area. That's when we headed the opposite direction and out of the park.

It's not possible to social distance in this environment. Those signs at the front of the state park were obviously worthless on this beautiful weekend when everyone wanted a look at the natural falls.

We saw the long line of cars still waiting to enter the park, and noticed that all the parking lots were now full. This is one of the few Oklahoma state parks that charges an admission fee. All these cars in line are willing to pay $5 to visit the Natural Falls.

Even though we planned to spend the entire day at Natural Falls, we made a change of plans to exit from all these crazy crowds. So we drove the car a few miles east across the Arkansas border for lunch. We picked up take-out food at the Thai Kitchen in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and looked for a good social-distancing place to eat it. Thanks to the local State Farm office for placing that nice picnic table under the trees close to their office.

We read about a new kayak park a few miles outside of town, and decided that might be interesting. It was very interesting to see that three police cars, two fire trucks, and an ambulance arrived right behind us.

We soon found out that three people had just been pulled out of the water. The swirling water right behind Mark is the focal point of this kayak park, but it can trap people underwater. Mark spoke to the guy wearing wet dress pants and long sleeve shirt that had jumped into the water to help with the rescue--without thinking about his wardrobe.

We waited around the kayak park for a while until we actually got to see some kayaks coming down the rapids.

Now it's time to head back to Natural Falls, hoping that the crowds have gone home. With the sun now low in the sky, it was a great time for a social distancing walk to the falls. We got our first glance from the upper view point.

It was great to have the natural falls all to ourselves! By some standards this 77-foot waterfall isn't an impressive spectacle. But in a plains state without mountains, people will even line up during a pandemic to see this. We were glad that we had the luxury of camping here so we could see it after the day visitors had gone home.

We still had enough daylight to hike the 1.3-mile Ghost Coon trail all by ourselves. With a trail name like that, we were struggling to find a white raccoon while we were hiking. But we came to find that the Ghost Coon was a character in the book, "Where the Red Fern Grows." We remember that book from our childhood, and found it interesting to learn that key scenes of the 1974 movie were filmed in this park. On this trail we didn't find the Ghost Coon, but we did find a field of wild irises in bloom.

This state park also has a formal garden, that featured other yellow irises. It wasn't the most manicured of gardens, but we're guessing that man-power has been reduced in parks during the last couple months.

On our tour of Oklahoma state parks, we have discovered that some parks use on-demand pricing. So we were charged $33 on this popular evening at this popular site for a water and 30-amp electric site. At that price, we probably wouldn't have stayed a second night even if it was available. That price is over our usual camping budget. We were glad to have one night in the campground, and we felt we had seen it all by the time we watched the sun set from the now-empty Natural Falls State Park.

It was another good day of wandering God's wonders here in another Oklahoma state park. Naturally, we feel blessed by nature at Natural Falls State Park.

Friday, May 22, 2020

State Park Smorgasbord--Disney, Little Blue, Cherokee, Riverview, and Spavinaw

We had a beautiful weather day to do some exploring while we were staying at Pine Island Resort. So we took off on a Saturday morning on a drive to see several of the state parks that we didn't even know existed before now. Just 19 miles away, we found ourselves in Disney, Oklahoma, on the south end of Grand Lake O' the Cherokee. We've seen this lake from many different angles already, so we didn't even stop for a picture of the lake today. We were more interested in what was happening on the other side of the dam.

There were no signs pointing the way, but we tried walking down a steep gravel road beside the bridge. We soon found ourselves in the middle of the Disney Off-Road Terrain park.

On this blue-sky Saturday, we had to be careful to avoid all the vehicles that were testing their tires and driving prowess on this rugged terrain.

Perched on a steep hill protected with scrub trees, we felt safe that none of the off-road vehicles would be driving in our direction. But we were clearly mistaken in the abilities of these cars.

We would assume that any vehicle approaching a 90-degree rock wall twice its height would turn around and go the other direction.

This driver didn't make it on the first attempt, and had to roll back down . . .

but we watched in amazement as he somehow crawled straight up that rock wall on the second attempt.

It was quite a show as we saw these specially rigged jeeps make it up and over some incredible rock structures!

We had stumbled onto a front row seat of a show that we didn't even know existed before today.

A further walk over the white rocks took us to another unknown section of the state park--Little Blue. People were swimming and fishing, and enjoying the shade of the rock cave below us.

It's hard to appreciate the size and steepness of these rock formations . . .

until we zoomed out to see the people inside the cave and a jeep on top.

We discovered another section of the Disney All-Terrain Park with a viewpoint close to the dam bridge. There are signs that warn that the area must be evacuated immediately if the dam's flood gates are opened. It doesn't look like that has happened in quite some time.

A trickle of water was escaping from the dam, and that made a wet highway for the smaller four-wheelers to splash to the top of the rocks in this section.

After a delicious barbecue brisket lunch at a local food truck, we were on the road to our next state park of the day--the Cherokee State Park Area. This view along the river was taken at the properly named Riverview area of this state park.

We took a picture of the nice campground at Riverview, just to remind ourselves that this would be a great place to stay next time we're in this part of the state.

The last stop on this marathon state park day was Spavinaw Lake State Park. Denisa climbed the steps up to the dam for the bird's eye view of the lake. She saw only two fishing boats on this calm water. We're finding that our old state map is out-of-date. Some of the state parks on our map are now ran by other agencies. Spavinaw is the second park we have found that is now owned by the city of Tulsa.

The water from Lake Spavinaw is pouring over the dam in a solid sheet of white into the river below.

That chilly water is making a nice current that a few hardy souls are floating down.

Even though we spent a week camping on Grand Lake, we never put our kayak on the water there. That's because almost all the edges of the lake are filled with houses and private boat docks. That doesn't sound like a fun kayak environment to us. But we couldn't see even one house built on Spavinaw Lake, so we headed into one of the coves across the lake.

We started seeing wildlife almost as soon as we got into the cove. It's a "bonus picture" when we could get a big heron and two turtles in the same frame.

This gander was putting on quite a show for his goose.



It looked like she was trying hard to not even notice all his antics.

We have been chasing bright blue birds that we have spotted a dozen different times in the last two days. These bright little birds are flighty, and we never could catch a picture. We have to be content to call them our un-pictured "blue-bird-of-happiness." So instead, we have a picture of this unnamed bird that we have to be content to call "calmer-bird-that-made-Denisa-happy-because-he-would-pose-for-pictures." (That name seems to be a little lengthy to catch on with the general public.)

We found a blackjack tree that was draped over the edge of the water, and it was in full bloom. We had an old blackjack tree in the back yard of the first house we bought, and Denisa has always loved the sweet smells of those flowers. So Mark guided her right under those blooms for a nice whiff.

She attached a couple of those flower-ladened twigs to the front of the boat to make this an aromatic kayak ride. Denisa thought she was going to have to remove those flowers when she found out that the resident bumblebees were also attracted to that smell and tried to hitch a ride with us.

The cove was a good mile long, and as we neared the end we could see a couple deer standing in the shallow water in the shadows.

Between the low light and the far distance, we couldn't get a crisp picture. But when we looked at the photos later, we saw that several wood ducks were also hiding in that shadowy water. Those beautiful emerald-headed ducks are worth adding a blurry picture.

Spavinaw Lake must have the perfect conditions for shoreline flowers, because we found several areas of these beautiful wild yellow irises.

The sun was low in the sky by the time we headed back across the lake to our car. We took one more picture of a heron balanced on a log, watching for his last meal of the day.

We had a great day of exploring some new-to-us Oklahoma state parks. We found some nice campgrounds that would make great places to stop the next time we're in the area. It was a successful food day as well. We enjoyed the chopped brisket we had for lunch so much, that we circled back through the town of Disney to buy some more from the local food truck. From watching jeep stunts to wildlife sightings, it was another good day of wandering God's wonders!