Bushwhack at Coon Creek Lake

Spring Flowers at Coon Creek Lake (click image for slideshow)

April opened with a sunny weekend, but I had a job fair to work at until 1 p.m. on Saturday. So once that was wrapped up I headed south, stopping in at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Tulsa for a late lunch and then driving down to Robbers Cave State Park.

The main goal of this trip is to hike on the Old Military Road trail in the Ouachitas across the Talimena Skyline Drive. But driving 3.5 hours out and back plus a long hike in the mountains was too much for a Sunday. So I booked a hotel room in Poteau and headed down to Robbers Cave to squeeze in a hike in the remains of the day, for a short drive the next morning to Talimena State Park.

I’ve hiked all of the main trails at Robbers Cave, but the park is circumnavigated by a multi-use trail and on my latest trip there I’d visited the tiny CCC lake on Coon Creek but had not visited the larger Coon Creek Lake I’d spotted below the cabins in the south end of the park. I knew I did not have time to hike all of the way around it and back up to the Belle Star Lodge, so despite temperatures in the low 80s which had me wearing a wicking T-shirt, I wore jeans for some inevitable bushwhacking.

I located a gravel road leading to the lake, parking before spotting the lake and hoofing it back out to the highway so I could cross to the other side of Coon Creek and attempt to locate the multi-use trail with its distinctive multi-color blazes. Rather than walk a long ways down the shoulderless highway until I found the trail crossing, I opted to bushwhack uphill and go cross country until I intersected the trail.

The steep climb was the first real test of one of my new trekking poles. I had purchased two Swiss Gear poles with cork handles and flip-up lights for $34 in June 2009. The poles were fine, although I never made use of the somewhat annoying lights, which I had thought might be useful if I were out on a trail at dusk. But I liked the cork handles and shock absorbing spring. However, one had to extend and then twist the telescoping poles to lock them and, as I’d been warned online, they sometimes malfunctioned and had to be wormed about to work again. So I wanted to try something else in new poles.

One of my cheap poles snapped on my latest sojourn at Petit Jean State Park, so it was time to invest in something better. I read reviews online and opted for Leki Corklite Aergon trekking poles with speed locks. They are quite light, have cork handles but no shock absorber, and when you extend a telescoping pole you just snap a plastic lock to tighten, much like quick release nuts on a bicycle. These suckers set me back $120, so I sure hoped they worked. I took along one pole today and it worked well, being noticeably lighter than the old Swiss Gears. The snow baskets fell off my Swiss Gears soon after their first use, while the ones on the Lekis are tight. But the baskets make it impossible to slip the pole through a belt loop for portage, so I’ll probably strip them off.

500 miles of trails since June 2009 had worn out my hiking boots, so I purchased some on sale at the Bass Pro Shop a couple of weeks ago. They had worked fine on an 8 mile loop on the Pathfinder Parkway, and they were comfortable although I suspect they look more clunky than my old pair. Most importantly, they offered a sure grip on the rocks today as I forded Coon Creek.

So I was sporting new trail interfaces as I bushwhacked through the woods until I stumbled across the multi-use trail. This section is barely used, so the blazes were faint and trees had grown up in the trail bed, making one very dependent on the frequent, if faded, blazes to follow the trail. Eventually it joined with the yellow bridle trail and became clearer.

I followed it around until I spied Coon Creek Lake below. I knew I had limited time and needed to find a way to ford Coon Creek to bushwhack back to the car, so I did not pause long but followed the multi-use trail’s high path above the lake’s eastern shore until I saw the lake had petered out into a stretch of Coon Creek above the big lake but below the small CCC lake I’d visited previously. I then bushwhacked down to the creek and happily found an easy ford of large boulders.

Bushwhacking uphill quickly brought me to a narrow forest road which allowed me to head back down the other side of the creek back toward the lake. I had heard two fellows chattering across the water earlier on the hike and soon heard them below me, near an abandoned cable mechanism of some sort. It carried something out and over the water at some point, but now is a rusted heap. But I did get a shot of some rusted ratchets and a pawl, reminding me of the rusty trike I found on the Elk River trail up in Kansas.

I then bushwhacked along the brushy lake shore until I reached the main road and followed it past a group fishing out on pier in the lake. Above me I heard voices and spotted the cabins I’d visited last time, perched high above the lake. While the park’s Lake Carlton is fully developed with facilities, its large Lake Wayne Wallace has few facilities, as does Coon Creek Lake.

I walked across the rock-and-earth dam to get a panorama of the lake, with red buds providing splashes of color in the trees and low flowers signifying spring and attracting the attention of insects as well as mammals like me.

As I walked back toward the entrance to the lake area, I passed a marker which indicated that Coon Creek Lake was constructed in 1964 as the Fourche Maline Creek Watershed Project’s Floodwater Retention Lake Number 4. And I thought Coon Creek Lake was being pretty literal – the bureaucrats did it one better.

The sun was getting lower in the sky as I walked toward the car around 7 p.m. and sure enough, a park ranger waved as he drove into the area, preparing to shoo everyone out of this day use area.

I was tired but happy as I drove over to Poteau. I bought a couple of albums by jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis last week, and was listening to his version of Delilah, with its somber bookends, as I headed eastward for some junky fast food at Myers Drive-In, a former Sonic which looks a bit worn and says it is five years younger than me. Well, even though I only hiked 2.8 miles today, it had started for me with insomnia at 4 a.m. and I looked a bit worn out myself. I was glad to check in at the hotel for a shower and some blogging.

Up and at ‘em early tomorrow, hopefully, for a warm hike looping about a mountain on the Talimena Skyline Drive.

Click here for a slideshow from this day hike

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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