14 Miles at Roaring River

On the Pibern Trail (click image for slideshow)

This past week I had to miss school on Tuesday and Thursday to drive back and forth to Oklahoma City. Tuesday was the State Teacher of the Year ceremony, where my colleague Betty Henderson was a finalist. Thursday I was at the downtown Skirvin Hotel for the beginning of the latest rounds of revisions to the state’s physics teacher certification test. While I enjoyed both events, all of that driving and being in class every other day for three days made things quite hectic. So this weekend I wanted to escape for a long day hike. What better place to visit than good old Roaring River, where my love for hikes first developed?

So I got up early on Saturday and drove under overcast skies past Vinita and Neosho, through Cassville and on down into the Roaring River valley. I parked at the new park store and crossed the west stream, admiring the big CCC stonework building up the south bank for the park store where the old hotel used to stand. I was heading for Dry Hollow to hike the Pibern Trail. As I approached the 1912 Roaring River School building, one fellow I passed complimented my Tilley hat and when I stopped to speak with him, a couple I had just passed turned upon hearing my voice and the lady asked, “Are you Granger?” It was the Porterfields, the couple who purchased my parents’ little vacation home on nearby Table Rock Lake some years back. We had a nice chat and they kindly invited me to drop in and see the many improvements they have made to the cabin, but I took a rain check on that since I planned to hike all day and then drive back to Bartlesville.

I then walked up campground 1 to the very end where one finds the north trailhead for the 1.5 mile Pibern Trail. The rocky streambed led northward, although the trail first diverts past old fallen trees before joining the streambed. I posed by one of the taller side bluffs and marched right past the spot where the Pibern Trail heads westward up one side of the streambed, instead forging onward up as I’ve done a couple of times before. I threaded through fallen tree barriers to where the streambed narrowed and then briefly split. I figured I had probably reached the park boundary when I saw telltale rocks left by others. One rock jutted from the streambed like a tombstone and then the stream appeared, with a steady flow. It was no longer diving underground so often, instead tumbling over the rocks.

It turns out the waterproofing of my boots has failed, but I slogged onward, passing a dark bluff reminding me of one at Petit Jean Park in Arkansas. Higher bluffs appeared and the stream appeared to dead end into one, although of course it just made a sharp turn at that obstacle. I passed an old road leading up the hillside and sidled alongside a long bluff to reach a place I recalled where a house sits besides the stream. A friend and I had made it this far many years ago and I knew it was time to turn around and head back.

When I reached that old road, I decided to explore it. The pathway was quite overgrown but cleared a bit farther on, leading steeply up the hillside to a large clearing. I presume someone hopes to sell this lot someday. I followed the road onward through the woods up to another big clearing on the ridge top. A side road led down past a deer feeder to a dead-end clearing. Someday isolated cabins may be built up here. Heading back down I passed a skull and re-entered the streambed, tracing back to the Pibern Trail and following it up the west side.

I was again climbing the west bank, but instead of an old road there were the park’s familiar wooden steps. I passed the first waterway with its big stone slabs and followed the trail up through the woods to ford another waterway. I posed on the nice stone steps farther along, then passed a nice fallen log and crossed the small bridge on my way to the south trailhead at the entrance to the Paradise Valley RV park. I’d hiked 5.87 miles, 1.5 miles of that on the Pibern Trail. It was time for lunch!

I cleaned up at the small restroom outside the park store, replacing my soaked boots and socks with fresh ankle socks and my tennis shoes while zipping off the sodden cuffs of my hiking pants, converting them into shorts. I donned a fresh shirt and climbed the steps up to the Emory Melton Inn. I love the lounge with its handsome fireplace, beautiful coffee table with a carved stream bed, and high walls with a canoe and portrait of Thomas Sayman, who donated the land for Roaring River Park. But the food at the inn was as mediocre as ever – you can’t have everything!

I decided to do a big loop on the Firetower and Eagle’s Nest trails for my afternoon hike. Returning to my car, I switched back into my wicking shirt and headed south through the picnic area and over the bridge to the Firetower Trail entrance near the current Nature Center, which was once the CCC kitchen. The climb was as steep as ever, and I thought of the many times I’ve plowed knee deep through autumn leaves on this path. I passed bluffs and then traced along the narrow ridge. I did not follow the trail to the hatchery but turned east toward the observation tower, catching my first glimpse of it in the trees.

At the tower I encountered four young women with two dogs. They asked for a photo, which I was about to offer anyway, so I had them line up on the tower stairs for a shot. They asked if I wanted to climb the tower, but I said I’d done so many times before. That prompted the question if I lived in the area and I told them I’d been coming to the park since I was a toddler. They asked for trail guidance, so I showed them my MotionX GPS tracking map on the iPhone, which impressed them greatly, and explained their options. They had walked from the hatchery on Deer Leap Trail, and they liked my suggestion to backtrack and follow the Firetower Trail to the Nature Center and then take the old CCC River Trail back up to the hatchery.

We parted ways and I passed fallen trees and bluffs to emerge at the clearing project for the big view. I strode past the old stable, where a Methodist youth group was set up in the restricted camping area. Then I took the “new” connector trail along Roaring River from the Firetower Trail over to Campground 2. This is such a great addition to the trail system.

The Firetower Trail would be far less confusing for folks with a bit more signage. A couple I passed on it said they had finally found the tower, something my folks and I took years to accomplish back when there were even fewer signs. They need a sign pointing toward the tower where the trail branches off to the Nature Center. And I wish they’d put up a sign on the Firetower Trail where it splits near its trailhead at Highway F, telling folks that one trail leads to the restricted camp and the other to Highway F and onward to Campground 2. And they need to put a nice visible sign on the south side of Highway F telling folks that there is a trail there leading back to Campground 2. Finally, they should add this connector trail and the one leading up from the eastern end of Campground 2 to intersect the Eagle’s Nest Trail to the park map. I may take a couple of days this autumn to individually map out each trail at Roaring River with my GPS and make my own park map, similar to what I’ve done for Osage Hills. But all four or five groups I gave directions to on my hike had not consulted a park map, so a trail map posted at each trailhead would be a great addition to the park.

The peaceful section of Roaring River leading back to Campground 2 was good for a short video and the trail ran along the river’s north bank and its few small flowers over to what was once Bass Lake. The dam was gone before I was born and in my childhood they planted trees and built Campground 2 there. I enjoyed the rolling river and found fisher folk around the remains of the old dam. I only managed a fuzzy shot of a bug on a flower since the little guy would not hold still, then wound around to the connector trail linking the east end of the campground to the Eagle’s Nest Trail.

On that trail I posed by a rounded bluff and saw the small cave at the base of one bluff. I wasn’t surprised to see they were keeping people out to hopefully protect the bats and just took a zoom shot of the interior without entering. I climbed past mossy rocks and encountered three teenagers: a girl walking with two half-naked young men. They asked if I recognized a green pod she had eaten. I didn’t and urged them not to eat any more just in case. They laughed and said they’d keep an eye on her and sauntered on.

Up top I passed the overgrown homestead of the Mountain Maid and passed a spooky tree. I followed the trail back around and down along the south bank of Roaring River and walked past many campground fires to my car. There I washed up again, switching back to my clean shirt for the drive into Cassville to eat at The Rib and then drive home.

I was glad I’d taken this fun long hike on very familiar ground to recuperate from the work week. It gave me a chance to finish off yet another audio lecture series; I’d listened to two Agatha Christie audiobooks on my last day hike and during my OKC trips this week, so I was ready for a change of pace. Sunday would be spent readying this post, grading papers, and mowing the lawn. And then I’ll be back in the thick of it, teaching my students about vectors and falling bodies while taking on a half-dozen meetings or so. No rest for the wicked!

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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