When I awoke on the second day of winter, I decided a hot breakfast was needed to get me through a long day of hiking at Robbers Cave State Park. So I ignored the continental offerings at the Days Inn and went down the road to the Denny’s. The food was not good – tomorrow I’ll probably try Angel’s Diner instead, since I’ll need pampering before the 4.5 hour drive to Quartz Mountain.
After escaping the Denny’s it was a 50-minute drive over to Robbers Cave State Park. I ignored the north end of the park where the cave itself may be found and where I hiked over 8 miles back on December 5. Instead I turned west and then south at the main entrance and drove to Deep Ford Campground at the south end. I parked there and took a low-water crossing across Fourche Maline Creek, with Princess parked upstream beyond a low-water dam.
A fallen sign announced I was on the San Bois Mountains Hiking Trail, which would run northward along the mountains on the park’s western edge, passing first Lake Carlton and then Lake Wayne Wallace. The wide and well-maintained trail climbed 150 feet to the top of the mountain, passing through the short rocky bluffs below the summit.
The trail ran along the ridge and then descended to the south shore of Lake Carlton, offering a splendid panorama. The lake was built in 1937 by the CCC and is named for Carlton Weaver, who donated the 120 acre area around the cave site to the Boy Scouts back in 1929. Across the lake some park buildings I would later walk by were visible, while to my right the lake abruptly flowed over the curved rim of the old dam. I walked over to the rim of the dam and then clambered below it.
Returning to the trail, I spied the bluffs across the lake which I would soon be clambering across. The trail made the ascent and I admired the eroded complexity where a tree clung tenaciously to life. The ascent here was the steepest of the day, and I paused for a self-portrait after shedding my jacket but retaining a shirt and sweatshirt since the temperature was still in the 40s with a sharp north wind. I walked out on some bluff edges for a superb view of the lake below. The chain of bluffs afforded more great views, including a set of bridges which I wondered about. Later I would visit them and find out they were part of an outdoor classroom.
The trail then descended, crossing a dry streambed formed from a large shelf of rock, then ascended the next mountain, which would wind past Lake Wayne Wallace. I was surprised that the lake was barely visible, since I was fast approaching the part of the trail I’d been on a few weeks earlier, which ran along the lake’s far northwest shore. The trail began a rapid descent as lunchtime approached and I decided to forego going all the way down to the unattractive lake shore and then have to climb right back up.
Instead, I took advantage of a convenient tree stump seat left for me by a thoughtful forester and enjoyed a sandwich I’d picked up on my out to the park. But then my mouth began burning. I’d forgotten and once again bought one with that darn Pepperjack Cheese and hastily swished some G2 around in my mouth to take the sting off.
I began to retrace my steps, but then decided to bushwhack my way to the summit, where I could see a ring of bluffs. I was surprised to find the top was a large flat clearing with petroleum machinery. A stand of planted pines helped soften the blow. I circled the rim and found a rough trail which led down to a bridle trail which happily ran back south just below the summit rim, high above the trail I’d taken earlier. A series of bridle and foot trails led to jutting bluffs above Lake Wayne Wallace, reminiscent of the ones I’d enjoyed earlier above Lake Carlton.
I had a panoramic view of the 93-foot high earthen dam of this younger lake, created for flood control back in 1964 and more than twice as high as the arch dam of Lake Carlton. A trail ran along high bluffs at the western end of the dam, with a final promontory which was impressive from both the north and the south. I began a quick descent to the outlet pool below the dam. Looking up I could see the promontory I’d stood atop moments before.
Then I hiked through the empty equestrian campground, taking a brief side trip down to the Fourche Maline Creek running beside it. I passed a picturesque CCC shelter and peeked through its doorway as I reached the park road and then hiked along its shoulder back south to Lake Carlton. A soft carpet of pine needles made this one of the most pleasant shoulder walks I’ve taken.
When I reached the lake area, I investigated the wood bridges I’d seen earlier and found they led to a shelter which was part of an outdoor classroom along the creek. Soon I was back at the arch dam. The arch not only lends it strength, but gives it a distinctive look as the water flows gently over its edge. I took a rough trail down below it to admire some creek bluffs and their odd cavities. A series of low dams create gentle pools for fishing down this stretch of the creek, which I followed back to my car.
I’d hiked just over six miles, but the sun was still up in the sky and I was ready for more. So I drove across the highway over to the Belle Starr View Lodge, where I hiked out back to see the view, which was not all that impressive due to tree growth. But I did get a shot of the lodge perched on its high bluff.
I found the trailhead for the Coon Creek Ridge Trail and followed its red blazes for a bit. But then a side trail made a steep descent amidst huge boulders and lured me away. It wound its way down the hillside but then I lost the trail, so I kept descending until I came across a bridle trail. The 50 miles of bridle trails in the park come in handy for us bushwhackers. By switching from trail to trail I made my way down to the creek, where I found pools providing many lovely reflections.
Soon I came acros an old CCC dam, which I mistakenly thought was creating Coon Creek Lake, although that much larger and newer flood control lake was actually further downstream and I missed it entirely on this outing. I bushwhacked my way across the creek, hoping to find a trail. Eventually I came across the multi-purpose trail which loops the entire park and followed it for some ways until I worried I was too far north for what I thought should be the adjoining Coon Creek Ridge loop trail.
So I started bushwhacking northwestward along a stream bed and then across brushy areas, crossing a stream or two and then steadily climbing the hill to its bluffs and up over its long ridge. Still no trail! I trudged onward and finally found the trail and its welcome red blazes. I followed it through a pine forest, replete with baby trees, back to the lodge.
I’d gone over nine miles this day and was ready to call it quits. But before I left I drove down the row of cabins to Cabin 101 at the very end to see its view of the San Bois Mountains. I’d practically had the park to myself all day, coming across only a few fishermen and folks in cars, and never encountering another hiker on all of the trails. As gorgeous as this place is, I’m sure it would be a far different tale outside of the wintry months.
Back in McAlester I showered and enjoyed an excellent dinner, complete with homemade flour tortillas, at Patrón Mexican Grill. I spent the remainder of the day in my room, editing photos and blogging.
Tomorrow I plan to rise early for a long westward drive to Quartz Mountain. I reserved a room there back when the forecast called for sun and 60s. But a cold front has replaced that promise with predictions of rain beginning in the evening and continuing through noon on Friday. So I’ll try to get some trails in before the rain starts and then take it easy at the resort.
Previous Robbers Cave Day Hikes: September 6, 2009: Cave Area December 5, 2010: Rough Canyon Loop
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