Today I took advantage of a spurt of warmer weather, after a very cold week, to hike at Elk City State Park. It is located just west of Independence, KS and is about an hour north of Bartlesville. I haven’t hiked there in about 15 years, and last fully completed a trail there almost 30 years ago, back when my father’s family held summer reunions amidst its frequently flooded campsites. As a child I loved to clamber along the Green Thumb Nature Trail, which I remembered as a challenging slog with some very steep hills, somewhat steeper than most of the hills at Roaring River State Park in Missouri where we usually hiked. My mother recalls how my Aunt Mildred would take the mile-long trail with me time and again, saying she didn’t mind since I always showed her something new on each walk.
About 15 years ago a friend and I drove up to Elk City to hike, but we didn’t hike a full trail. But today, in very late autumn, I knew any underbrush would be gone and it should be good hiking since there is now a 2.75 mile Table Mound Trail, adjacent to the mile-long Green Thumb loop, which travels north up the east shore of Elk City Lake to an overlook. Table Mound has been designated as National Recreation Trail, which sounded promising.
I set out after lunch as the sun began to punch its way through overcast skies and the temperature was reaching the low 50s. Arriving at the park, I paid my $3.70 day use fee and parked at the trail head. The Green Thumb loop was not particularly photogenic this time of year, but I had fun recalling different aspects of it. I traversed two 30-to-40 foot wooden pedestrian bridges across some creeks and puffed my way uphill, warming right up so that I could shed my coat. I had traded in my usual Tilley hat for a knit cap today, given the nippy temperatures.
Completing the Green Thumb loop without one picture taken, I set off north along the Table Mound Trail. It began along an old roadway above the eastern shore of the lake, and it wasn’t long until I came to a nice overlook providing a panoramic view southwest across the lake. The trail then bobbed along the forested hillside, traversing three creeks and one old stone fence. After crossing Table Mound Road, it got more interesting with vertical rock walls, boulder fields, and large stacked rocks. I loved how the trail wound under one large slab, held up by an Atlas among rocks. There were some nice short side spurs with views out toward the lake.
But the rocks were slick in places, and once I did take a tumble, crashing a leg and my little backpack into the unyielding rocks. But the trail was so rough I couldn’t find a flat spot to lie back and whimper. Every so often I would hear the muffled boom of hunters’ distant gunfire, so I pretended they were after me and that got me going again in no time.
Soon the trail snuggled its way through a narrow crack in the twenty foot high bluff and eventually I clambered up onto Table Mound, noticing my breath made visible against the rocks in the chilly air. Flat as its name implies, it provides a nice panoramic view of fields to the north. A denuded tree created a striking screen across one part of the view, and a dead tree along the trail provided a close-up look of its decaying core, with a green tinge of moss.
Both Table Mound Road and the far better trail lead to a parking area and memorial overlook pavilion atop the mound, but the view there focuses on the riprap dam and isn’t nearly as impressive as the panorama on the north end. There is a 2/3 mile Post Oak Nature Trail atop Table Mound, which I walked along a bit to check the lake view, which was obscured by trees, and quickly abandoned as it was past four o’clock and I knew by five-thirty it would be growing dark. So I descended the bluff and wound my way through the rocks, admiring how the topmost table rock projected out in spots. After a quick self-portrait in the setting sun, I returned to the final overlook near the south trailhead and snapped the dusky purple sky and lake.
By then I was quite grateful for my knit cap, pulling it low over my tingling earlobes. I zipped back to Bartlesville for some warm pizza at Mazzio’s and no doubt puzzled some people with the weird pattern the knit cap had left across my balding pate…I guess I had tugged it down pretty hard! We’ve only one week of autumn left, so I don’t know if the weather will allow me to squeeze in another day hike this season. But if it should hit some sunny 50s again, I’ll be ready.