I enjoyed my fall break of 2009, although I spent more time driving than hiking.
Drive One – Working at BHS
Thursday was my shortest driving day of the break by far, all of it in town! I simply drove to Eggbert’s for breakfast and then spent the day wiring and rewiring classrooms at the high school, taking my lunch break at good old Pies and Such. We are steadily working toward the goal of equipping each and every classroom with a ceiling projector hooked up to both a computer and a VCR/DVD player by 2011. I was fixing wiring snafus left behind by various contractors. ‘Tis a pity it is taking so long to get all of the classrooms up to snuff, but better late than never.
Drive Two – Miami and Grove (slideshow available)
Day two was a day trip to Miami and Grove to some locations I found in my 7th edition of Off the Beaten Path: Oklahoma. The first stop was the splendid Coleman Theater in Miami along historic route 66, a vaudeville theater and movie palace that has operated steadily since its opening in 1929. George L. Coleman, Sr., a local mining magnate, built this structure with its Spanish Colonial Revival exterior and Louis XV interior. He lavished about $600,000 on the theater.
Performers like Will Rogers, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Cary Grant graced its stage, but the theater had hit hard times by the time the Coleman family donated it to the City of Miami in 1989. Since then the community has worked steadily to restore and renovate the structure, using only private donations and no corporate sponsors. They’ve fixed the beautiful statue in the mahogany paneled lobby, regilded some moldings with gold leaf, repainted elsewhere, and installed reproduction seats, although to accommodate today’s larger bottoms the seating capacity dropped from 1600 to about 1100! They’ve restored the two-ton brass and crystal chandelier which can be lit in a wide variety of patterns and colors. The Wurlitzer pipe organ, which had been sold to an evangelist for use in revivals, was repurchased from an organ collector and restored. One of the stained glass ceiling lights was recovered from a Tulsa bar after the owner agreed to accept a reproduction in its stead. Even the ropes for the stage’s fly system were donated when a tourist whose family owned a rope company back east came through and recognized the need.
Tours are provided by volunteer docents from 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday-Friday and from 10 am to noon on Saturdays. They’ve equipped the Wurlitzer with a recorder and player and the guide ran it through a thunderous rendition of Phantom of the Opera and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It was magnificent! I also enjoyed how the rear of the theater has a “crying room” for upset children. The theater is still in operation – I’m sorely tempted to drive over some day to take in a silent movie with pipe organ accompaniment.
After leaving the theater I had a dipped cone at Miami’s Ku Ku Drive-In. This sole survivor of a chain that peaked at over 200 drive-ins across the midwest in the 1960s is owned and operated by Eugene Waylan, who has cooked at the place for over 40 years and owned it since the early 1970s.
I then drove over to Grove, crossed the Sailboat Bridge, and toured Lendonwood Gardens. I’d noticed it before when driving to Har-Ber Village and decided to see what it looked like even though it could hardly be a showplace in mid-October. A tame rabbit was chewing his way through the place while I took snapshots of flowers, roses, a caterpillar, the koi pond, and the Angel of Hope statue. Then I drove back to Bartlesville for dinner.
Drive Three – Arcadia (slideshow available)
Day three started with a drive down to Oklahoma City to see my parents. We stuck with my Route 66 theme from the day before by driving out north to Edmond for yummy burgers and fries at Johnnie’s and then drove east on historic route 66 to visit Arcadia’s Pops 66 store and the famous Round Barn. Pops opened a couple of years ago and is always busy. Out front is a 66-foot high pop bottle sculpture that glows with neon colors at night. The store has a popular restaurant, but I’ve never been willing to endure the wait. I scanned the wall of coolers full of unusual sodas, but this time could not find my favorite Cherry Moxie. So I settled for some Coca-Colas and Dr. Peppers made with real sugar instead of the usual corn syrup. I took us out back to the grassy seating area where we snapped shots of me enjoying The Real Thing and Mom’s Dr. Pepper vs. Dad’s Coke.
Then we drove into Arcadia and toured the Round Barn, which dates back to 1898. It was neglected for years and the 60′ diameter roof finally collapsed back in 1988. But a retired building contractor and the Over the Hill Gang, a group of retirees, restored it over the next four years. Today the first floor is a gift shop with oddball hand-lettered displays around the sides, while the second floor is a big open space where you can admire the basket-style roof design.
That afternoon, after dropping my folks off back in Oklahoma City, I decided I had to get some sort of long walk in. Back in high school a quarter-century ago I would sometimes go “parking” along the canal linking Lake Hefner and Lake Holdhercloser, er, I mean Overholser. Back then I had stumbled across the beginnings of the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge, which is an undeveloped parcel along the North Canadian River. The web claimed it had some trails, so I was off.
I parked on the east side near 50th street at a parking area that is still under development. An old unpaved road runs north there along the river all the way over to the new Kilpatrick Turnpike. I ambled along it, listening to another Hercule Poirot mystery, and took a few unmarked side trails to get a better glimpse of the river. But recent rains had left much of the floodplain too muddy for my taste, so I mainly stuck to the river road. I was hoping it would have a pedestrian bridge across the North Canadian so I could return along the west edge of the refuge, but no such luck. Instead I had to simply reverse course back to the parking area.
I then followed a bike trail past the Bethany athletic fields down to, you guessed it, old route 66 once again. I snapped some shots of the old bridge across the North Canadian, which runs along the north edge of Lake Overholser. Its rusting superstructure now only bears the added weight of passing pedestrians.
A couple was enjoying the lake, setting up for a picnic at dusk. I drove on down south past my old high school to the Lake Overholser dam. The 1919 dam building looked almost grand in the light from the setting sun, and I was glad to note they tried to spruce up the aging dam back in 2004 with some spray-on concrete, although some of it is already spalling.
Drive Four – Lakes of Disappointment
Day four meant fall break was almost over, and I needed to drive back to Bartlesville. Thinking I would get some more hiking in, I asked the web for trails along the route back home and opted for the Sand Plum trail, which stretches about 15 miles along the north shore of Keystone Lake near Prue. Exiting the Turner Turnpike at Bristow, I drove up through Mannford south of the lake along some nice highways. The highway 151 crossing over the Arkansas River towards Prue was closed, however, so I had to divert several miles east and cross on highway 97 in Sand Springs. The Prue Road north of highway 64/412 rapidly deteriorated into a narrow patchy mess that reminded of how horrible highway 75 north of Bartlesville used to be in my youth. This did not bode well.
Pulling into Walnut Creek State Park, I was struck by how empty it was. All of the campsites had their restrooms closed for the winter and I only spotted two campers in the entire place. I finally located the Sand Plum Trail, which only had an equestrian marker. The trail was not too badly churned by horses and there weren’t too many “contributions” from those animals, but the trail itself was somewhat neglected and overgrown. The west part of the trail petered out into a brambly mess. Daunted but still willing, I then tried following the trail to the east, but again it was in poor shape and the lake views were anything but spectacular. One prick too many from the brambles convinced me I’d be better off elsewhere.
So I decamped and followed my iPhone’s Google map northeast along county roads over to Skiatook Lake. I’d only been out here once before. A trip to a boat ramp revealed a short nature trail created by a local Boy Scout troop – the trail was short and easy and really only featured some signage which I didn’t want to read. That makes three Oklahoma lakes I’ve visited this fall hoping for a good day hike only to be disappointed by shoddy maintenance. Don’t bother hiking at Oologah, the north side of Keystone, or the parts I saw of Skiatook. (I later found there is some sort of nature trail at Skiatook’s Tall Chief Cove, but details are sparse.) Almost all of the trails I’ve found are poorly maintained and only fit for a rider on horseback. Makes me appreciate the trails at Osage Hills, even though they too are allowed to become overgrown in the summer. The trails at Roaring River are so much better!
Deciding that I’d just have to settle for a drive rather than a hike, I took my trusty Camry over the Skiatook dam. That big earthen structure wasn’t at all photogenic, but I did like the view from the heights south of the dam. It was then a short drive south into Tulsa, along roads recently improved by the Osage Nation, which has been working on a Cross Timbers development on the lake. My fall break concluded with dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse and then a quick zip back up to Bartlesville.