On my day hikes on Black Friday 2010 I’d been unable to take the Rock Creek Trail near Veterans Lake in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (which is still Platt to me). Three major projects had been underway at the time: rehabilitating the dam, a north shore trail for the lake, and removal of eastern red cedars in the area. I would see all of these improvements up close on a hot Saturday in early June, hiking over six miles on the Rock Creek Trail and another three miles around the shores of the lake.
I found the north trailhead near the lake and set off on what would prove to be a trek strewn with wildflowers, which I’ll struggle to identify. They were a clear contrast to the organized horticulture of Woodward Park on the previous day. First up were Black-eyed Susans with their distinctive conical centers. Trail 1 led south past an embankment and above Rock Creek and then rose to the rocky top of the embankment. Patches of coneflowers and phlox attracted butterflies, a tree made the sign of four, and there was thelesperma and a trail toad.
Beebalm and and thistle attracted more butterflies and there were some more unusual offerings, including yellow flowers sticking their tongues out at me. I passed fading oxeye daisies and followed what I termed Wildflower Lane southward until I turned off to explore what may have once been Gilsonite, an asphalt mining area with trace remnants of old roads of the same material. Throughout this area were the remnants of destroyed eastern red cedars. I reversed course and returned northward, taking the eastward Trail 3 to return to the trailhead.
I passed more thistle and the trail paralleled a streambed groove in the prairie into which a big conglomerate boulder had fallen. More flowers reminding me of hungry mouths gaped at me and I passed one last stand of wildflowers as I approached the improved spillway of Veterans Lake. I finished my wildflower trek with a contrasting cactus.
I decided to next circumnavigate the lake so I could see the new north trail. The primary feature was a shelter stuck out on a projecting peninsula. The sunny walk along the wide concrete path was not inspiring, lacking the wildflowers and softer footfalls of the Rock Creek trail.
By then it was past noon and I was starving, having been too hot on the trail to stomach the typical turkey sandwich. So I cooled off in the car and drove to Sulphur’s Sonic for lunch. A quarter-pound hot dog, tater tots, cherry limeade, and chocolate shake restored my energy so I could drive south along old Highway 77 across the Arbuckle Mountains to Turner Falls.
The Arbuckles are the ancient worn-down roots, or anticline, of a mountain range that is hundreds of millions of years old. I well remember visiting its tombstone topography, due to eroded strata tilted on end, during a geology field trip when I was at OU.
Today I-35 blasts through the shallow roots of the range, but back in the 1920s George Ramsey of Ardmore initiated a project to build the first highway across the Arbuckles, which was done using prison labor from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. The road features tilted strata as you climb hairpin curves to a panoramic overlook of Turner Falls.
Named after pioneer Mazeppa Turner, this has been a recreation spot since 1868 and is operated by the city of Davis. Back in junior high or high school my friend Jeff and I camped with his family at Turner Falls. We swam in the pools, strolled along Honey Creek, and clambered about the hillsides. For some reason one of my clearest memories is of Jeff playing Wizard of Wor there: I was hopeless at video games, but he could advance far enough to earn a bonus warrior, and I loved how the crude voice synthesizer would have the Wizard taunt, “Another warrior for my babies to devour.” The park’s odd ruins of Collings Castle, built by OU’s education dean back in the 1930s, are fun to explore and featured at Abandoned Oklahoma.
From my vantage point at the overlook I could see folks wading above the falls, Collings Castle sticking out above the trees, and I shot a jiggly video of the area. I know one of my just-graduated students is working at Turner Falls this summer, and I wished I had brought a swimsuit so I could take a refreshing splash in Honey Creek. But, like any water park, Turner Falls is best suited to group activity, so I put off a nostalgic return for a future day with friends.