Wichitas in Winter

Wichitas in Winter (click image for slideshow)

I started the last day of my winter break hiking trip with breakfast in the Sundance Cafe at Quartz Mountain Resort. The server, Kitty, sat me beside a different fireplace than from the previous evening, and I took the opportunity to photograph various artworks in the restaurant.

I did not get a close look at the decorative plates above the side bar, but directly in front of me was The Arts of Quartz Mountain by Don Nice, aniline paintings on cut-outs of anodized aluminum. His similar Quartz Mountain Starscape and The Wildlife at Quartz Mountain were nearby. Prominently featured was Mesteño 3 by Luis Jiménez, a study for the eight-foot high mustang sculpture at the Fred Jones Museum of Art in Norman. Jiménez died tragically in his studio in June 2006 when a large section of Blue Mustang, based on the Mesteño work, fell on him and severed his femoral artery.

I exited by the fireplace in the lobby and strolled out to the courtyard, where an overcast sky was beginning to lighten. Entering the guest room building, I passed the decorated window on the stairwell and returned to my room. I like the resort’s western motif, which is fun without being as kitschy as that of Western Hills.

The hotel room’s wood pieces had Indian designs carved into them, although I’m so immature I thought the tadpole on the TV cabinet looked like a sperm. I never opened the cabinet, so maybe I was in a honeymoon room and it was just storage for Magnum condoms, although on this trip I’d noticed that the lower-class restrooms had switched from Magnums to Huggers. Perhaps we need a federal stimulus package for this problem!

There was only one open trail I had not taken at the resort, so I bundled up and headed to the northeast end of the resort complex, passing by the outdoor performance area and information on the Kiowa, who camped in the area. The Cave Trail was close by with stones leading up the hillside several yards to a small cave. The view from it was pleasant enough, and I posed outside. I left when a ranger showed up and starting putting up a sign beside me which instructed, “Don’t feed the Bruin.”

Actually, no one but me was venturing out in the cold morning, and I walked between the resort and Lake Altus toward Twin Peaks, circling around to a wagon beside the Cafe’s outdoor seating and back through the courtyard and its centerpiece, Tree #2 by Menashe Kadishman. It was less monolithic and austere than a Richard Serra work, but still not to my taste.

The sky was overcast but without rain, so I decided to head east to the Wichita Mountains, where I’d hiked in Charon’s Garden with Quincy Amen six weeks earlier in far better weather. I drove past Lake Altus and out toward Lone Wolf, stopping to stomp up to a railroad track for a view from the eastern side of Lake Altus and spotting the cut hillside for the road leading over to the resort. The train track looked like it ran straight into a mountainside, reminding me of a roadrunner cartoon.

I took a county road eastward through flat fields, periodically punctuated by granite mounds. Modern ranch buildings nestled against a granite mound contrasted to a photogenic if inhospitable abandoned house out in the fields. I made a brief stop at Roosevelt for a sausage biscuit to enjoy on the trail later. The little town was named after Teddy Roosevelt by one of his Rough Riders who had settled there, and Teddy came out to visit in 1903, riding a train to Snyder and then onward to Roosevelt on horseback. He was lured out for a chance to visit Rough Rider Charley Hunter and see U.S. Marshall Abernathy’s skill in catching coyotes alive.

For the previous three days I’d been hiking while listening to Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, an immense historical novel – the Audible version lasts for over forty hours! It’s a great melodrama, but I was ready for something different, so today I put my iPhone’s iPod app into shuffle mode. Thus I associated different portions of today’s adventure with various songs. They also help break up this immense post. Use the links in the paragraph below each title for full-length plays via YouTube.

If This Is Goodbye by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
My eyes sting with tears whenever this song plays. Based on final conversations from doomed occupants of the burning Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, it always wrenches my heart. It was a good match for the desolate drive under overcast skies through the empty fields toward the Wichitas.

Soon I was at the western edge of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, and drove over to West Cache Creek, where I’d be hiking over 8.2 miles today. The first stop was the Lake French trailhead of the Dog Run Hollows Trail System, which is a National Recreation Trail and has many helpful map signs for its various loops.

I first headed east along shore of the lake to its dam, which was constructed in 1934. I saw ducks and a belted kingfisher as I walked the nicely curbed trail. The dam has an elaborate fish ladder and a series of fish lakes and dams intended to allow native fish to travel upstream into the lake. The beautiful $30,000 fish ladder never worked, but there were no native fish on the creek anyway!

The Longhorn Trail led me past several of the placid narrow fish lakes, with interesting rock formations along the eastern shore of the first such lake. The trail then headed up over barer ground as it looped back to the southwest. I did not want to hike the full Buffalo Trail, since I wanted to save time in the afternoon for what I knew would be a very scenic hike near Eagle Mountain. So I followed the Longhorn loop until it intersected the Buffalo Trail in a grassland area and then headed south on the Buffalo Trail toward Dog Run Hollow.

Forget You by Cee Lo Green

I’m not fond of cursing in songs, but Cee Lo’s recent hit has such a great groove. So I bought the cleaned-up version, although some will prefer the rude original version. When this song shuffled up it really quickened my pace toward Dog Run Hollow.

I did not know what to expect, but since the entire trail system was named after Dog Run Hollow, I figured I should not miss it. The trail finally reached the edge of the grassland and descended down to a small creek with a few odd rock formations. I was now walking along the shallow Dog Run Hollow and, fittingly, two dogs suddenly appeared on the trail. They ran over to me, with a husband and wife and daughter in tow. They were the only hikers I would see the entire day and it was sure nice of them to arrange for Dog Run Hollow to live up to its name!

I don’t like dogs, however, and Dog Run Hollow had not impressed me either. I was getting hungry but wanted a more scenic lunch spot. So I trekked onward, hoping the trail would grow more interesting, and it did that in spades. The hollow ended with some more dramatic creek erosion and then turned northeast to return to West Cache Creek. That creek had carved more deeply into the granite as it ran southeast toward Eagle Mountain. The trail led upstream toward Lost Lake and here the creek had also carved the landscape dramatically, forming a miniature canyon which ended in what they call the Forty Foot Hole.

I took a steep pathway down into the Hole and sat down above its twin waterfalls for my lunch and then snapped a self-portrait. After the monotony of the earlier section of trail this area was, contrary to its name, quite uplifting. Even better, the song that shuffled up while I was sitting there was darn near perfect:

The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein

Elmer’s rousing yet reflective score for this 1960 western is wonderfully propulsive and, even though I’ve never even seen the movie it is from, makes me visualize the American West. I preserved the moment by holding one of my earbuds up to the camera as I shot a video of Forty Foot Hole, but I then reshot it for an upload version since the music I was using is under copyright.

My video of Forty Foot Hole was my first experience of using iMovie on the MacBook Air. I just added some titles and, since some non-copyrighted music is included with iMovie, I added a suitable clip to help mask the wind noise.

Ascending out of the hole, I was startled to see a longhorn grazing nearby. I waited to get a shot better illustrating how the breed earned its name, and walked onward to find a tree with stones stacked by a previous passerby.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

I’m sure it is sacrilege to AC/DC fans, especially my friend Betty’s son who sings in the KC/DC tribute band, but I like Joan’s cover better than the original. This great rendition shuffled up and propelled me back to the trailhead.

There were several hours of daylight left, so I drove over to the Boulder picnic area so I could hike the nearby Narrows trail. It takes off from a group picnic area which was gated off, but I found a dirt trail leading into the compound, which has interesting big round stone-and-concrete picnic tables and a cabin built in 1912 by the Lawrence family and improved by the Treasure Lake Job Corps.

I found the unmarked trail, which led through some woods and then ascended a rocky slope. I found myself atop a bluff overlooking a bend in the creek which extended over fairly level ground upstream. The trail led down to the creek bed where it had carved steep bluffs as it skirted Eagle Mountain. A bit downstream were beautiful reflections as it entered the Narrows, which became visible as I boulder-hopped my way along.

The trail made a steep ascent, offering a higher view of the entrance to the Narrows. After it wound its way through the narrows, West Cache Creek flowed through very high bluffs. The trail made a steep descent back to the creek bed and I could see the water meandering downstream through a boulder field. The sun finally broke through at 3:30 pm, so I was able to get some nice shots when I retraced my route.

I made my way downstream on boulders and sand with high bluffs to either side. I rested beside one peaceful pool. I was surprised to discover the trail again, ascending high above the creek via a series of switchbacks to make its way downstream. This portion of the trail goes beyond the trail mileage shown on the park map. It is narrower and clearly takes extra effort to keep open, with sawn treefalls and erosion repairs. It then made a steep return to the creek bed for a last leg before petering out as I approached the junction with Panther Creek.

On the return I saw a steep path leading up and found it ended at a tiny cave, although to the left of the cave you may see a faint bushwhack which continued upward along the side of Eagle Mountain. Turning back, the steep trail was daunting and I deployed my trekking pole for the first time that day. I decided to shut down the music and use the pole for the rest of my journey, as I’d gone over seven miles on very rough terrain and needed to concentrate lest I stumble and tumble.

Farther on the main trail headed back down toward the creek, but a side trail rose high up onto the side bluffs and I followed it to its perilous end, with a tremendous view both upstream and across at the opposite wall. Descending back to the creek bed, I found someone had arranged a pile of rocks echoing a distant boulder’s shape.

I made my way back to the car and left the day use area an hour or so before sunset. Leaving the refuge I drove past the closed visitor center and more cows and bid the granite hills adieu.

It had been a marvelous week of day hikes, but I was more than ready for Christmas Eve with my parents in Oklahoma City.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was day hiking, not even this louse.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

<– Previous: Climbing Mountains of Quartz

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.
This entry was posted in day hike, music, photos, travel, video. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Wichitas in Winter

  1. Pingback: Climbing Mountains of Quartz « MEADOR.ORG

  2. Jennifer says:

    Interesting blog entry, thank you. Have to think about it.

  3. Pingback: Bushwhacking in Charon’s Garden « MEADOR.ORG

  4. Pingback: From the Parallel Forest to the Central Peak of the Wichitas « MEADOR.ORG

  5. Pingback: Kite Trail Wildflowers in the Wichitas | MEADOR.ORG

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