Kerr, Tenkiller, and Greenleaf Trails

Click image for slideshow

A cool but sunny May day was perfect for some hiking along lakes in east central Oklahoma.  I took the now-familiar route down the Muskogee Turnpike to Sallisaw, this time turning south there instead of heading east into Arkansas.  I drove to the dam on the Robert S. Kerr Reservoir in quest of the Short Mountain Trail.

I’d read a review of this trail online, which mentioned that it offered some nice views of the reservoir below, although the trail became confused up top.  The description reminded me of the maze of trails at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain.  It seemed the trail should ascend the mountain near the dam and cut across the top to descend on the far side to the Short Mountain Cove recreation area.  But, as is too often the case with Corps of Engineers Lakes, this trail was neglected and lacked any blazes or signage.

I did manage to find the trailhead at the south end of the dam and made a steep climb up the mountainside to the top, where as promised I found a high open view of the reservoir with several turkey vultures wheeling overhead.  The heavily eroded bluffs were interesting, resembling quarries.  One large flat stone area with a good view of the reservoir and dam had several recent graffiti spray-painted on its surface professing young love.  And some strategically placed rocks down below proclaimed this was a spot for youth to tarry, although I could only capture those sentiments on my iPhone’s lousy camera since I had left the SD memory card for my Lumix camera at home, and the pitiful built-in memory only let me take a few snaps before it was filled.

The overgrown and treacherous trail I had taken to the top was clearly not the route taken by those unseen youngsters, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled onto a service road that was their means of access.  I followed it a short way, but with no more views in the offing, and having squashed a tick found crawling on my forearm, I decided it was time for lunch and a run by a store for some insect repellent and a memory card.  So I clambered down, keeping my eyes open for snakes amidst the rocks and leaves.  When I reached the more open trail at the base of the mountain, I let my guard down, so I was surprised by a large snake at the trailhead.  I was sufficiently spooked that I just jumped over it and ran onward, not stopping for a photograph.

I drove into Sallisaw, notable for Blue Ribbon Downs, the oldest horse racing track in the state, which closed for good in November 2009.  In its heyday it was the only game in the state, but today there are dozens of casinos in the area and horse racing is no longer profitable.

Sallisaw’s street system is quite cumbersome and I was unimpressed by the restaurants on offer.  So I just grabbed a greasy meal at its Long John Silver’s and made a run to the Wal-Mart for my missing supplies.  Then it was back down I-40 and then northward to Lake Tenkiller State Park.  I’ve heard for years about how the clear waters of Tenkiller were prized by scuba divers, although poultry pollution has now clouded them.  There was supposed to be a Gum Springs Nature Trail at one campground.  But I arrived to find that campground abandoned for budgetary reasons…today was not my lucky day.  Sure enough, the trail sign was still there but the trail itself was lost and overgrown.  I managed to tease out some of it, but it was not a very rewarding bushwhack.

So I grumpily settled for the asphalt multi-purpose trail threading its way through the main park area, which was not even as scenic as Bartlesville’s own Pathfinder Parkway, what with bluff views blocked by foliage and strewn with warnings and no trespassing signs.  I might have been better off heading northeast up the lake’s eastern shoreline to the Standing Rock area, which supposedly has a good trail.  But having been burned twice in one day by abandoned trails, I decided to end my day trip with a visit to one I knew was kept in operation at nearby Greenleaf State Park.

One of the oldest parks in the state, Greenleaf has the very long Ankle Express Trail that was constructed in 1978 by an Oklahoma City hiking group and is still maintained.  I decided to explore the first part of that trail to see if it would be worth a return trip for a lengthy hike on its south loop, which promises to last six hours or more.  After wandering through the park proper and snapping shots of goslings and the lake, I decided to drive to a trailhead across the dam to save time.

The road to that trailhead was a long-abandoned and heavily eroded asphalt highway.  Dodging road craters, I found the road becoming too unfriendly for my taste.  So I wiggled around and drove back up a bit to a wide spot and parked.  Then I walked back down the nasty road toward the lake, eventually finding the trail and some sturdy pickups which had braved what was left of the pavement.  The sorry state of the access road had me worried, but happily this trail was in good shape, winding around the southern end of the lake away from the state park.

I had wondered why the trail from the state park was shown taking a long detour over the shoulderless highway bridge rather than crossing the dam.  But when I found the dam that was explained.  Part of it is a very narrow concrete wall with water spilling over the top – no trail could negotiate that!

I encountered several hikers, including one scout troop, as well as a mountain biker as I hiked to the head of a deep inlet.  There I found a wooden swinging bridge across the inlet, and posed on it.  The combination of a nice warm sun and weary feet led me to lie down on the warm wooden slats, taking a photo of my outstretched feet.  It was time to head back to Tulsa for dinner with friends, so I reversed course, snapping photos of the eroded bluffs and admiring a few pretty flowers on the way with a macro shot or two.  I concluded my photos with a dead tree lying atop the lush undergrowth, underexposing the shot for mood.

As I climbed the road back to my car, I noticed a small animal on the road ahead.  It was too large for a house cat but did not move like a dog.  Then I spotted its high pointed ears and realized I was seeing a bobcat in the wild.  Unfortunately the sound of the velcro clasp on my camera case spooked it, so I didn’t get the wildlife shot I was hoping for.

I’ll be back to Greenleaf some day to hike the South Loop of the Ankle Express Trail, but I’m now quite leery of most so-called trails at the state’s lakes.  Many have been abandoned and I hate driving for hours only to find an overgrown mess at the end of the road.  I expect I’ll head down the Muskogee Turnpike some more this year, but will then head on eastward into Arkansas, where there are more better-maintained forest trails.

Click here for a slideshow from today’s hikes

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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3 Responses to Kerr, Tenkiller, and Greenleaf Trails

  1. Lynne says:

    You have an eye for beauty.

    Several years ago we went to Greenleaf SP. A man there lived all year long in a tent with some propane. He maintained the trails. The man was a former engineer. He was happy.


  2. Pingback: The Refreshing Greenleaf Hiking Trail « MEADOR.ORG

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