Natural Falls and the Grounds of Gilcrease

Gilcrease (click image for slideshow)

On this overcast November day gun-toting hunters across Oklahoma began deer season, so I knew I should hike at a state park to avoid the fate of Bambi’s mom. I perused my Oklahoma and Kansas maps for a destination not too far away and opted for Natural Falls State Park on US 412 near the Arkansas border. I’d been there once before but had not hiked the small trail system.

Breakfast was a sausage and egg McMuffin and the clouds east of US 75 were quite beautiful as I made my way south, a drive to Tulsa and then east on US 412 which was all too familiar after recent runs to Devil’s Den and Hawksbill Crag. So I tried changing it up by following “Scenic” 412 rather than taking the Cherokee Turnpike, but all I gained was 15 minutes more driving time since that drive was anything but scenic. I pulled into Natural Falls State Park for my hike. The park is unusual in that they charge $4 for day use. Perhaps it is a reminder that this was once a private park and the area is known to locals as Dripping Springs. The state took over the operation a few decades ago and already had a Dripping Springs State Park, so they opted for the rather boring new moniker. I greatly prefer the original.

Near the parking area was a rather ungainly fountain and I climbed down to a remembered overlook where I could tell that the main 77 foot fall was only a drip today but the smaller lower falls were running well. I walked down for a closer look and shot some video.

Then I clambered back up past the crumbling rocks to cross the high bridge for the Ghost Coon Trail. The bridge had annoying high side rails making photography difficult and bless their hearts, they tried to make a trail over there but the track is easily lost and the several of the signs are too small and obscure to be of much help. The ghostly trail ran by the sides of the creek with odd outcroppings and then sauntered around some open fields with an ugly burn pile.

I was relieved to be rid of the Ghost Coon Trail and transfer back to the Dripping Springs Trail, which led down to a low dam creating a fishing area. I crossed the creek on some loose rocks to transfer to the Fox Den Trail, which was my favorite by far. It was quite steep and tricky in spots and led down to a large overhang where a now-dry stream had carved out a channel in a high bluff.

I trail climbed up the hill and wandered past the camping area, taking a side trail that turned out to lead right back down to the bluff overhang. I returned up top and crossed over to the Bear Trail, which led back down to the falls. Along the way I passed some children with “Bad Dad”, my name for their father, who was always yelling at his kids about this and that. He evidently had gotten mixed up and lost the trail, for he was leading a small boy on a log over a stream and yelling at him for being justifiably frightened. That kid may never like day hiking!

I clambered back up past the high bridge and returned to my car. I’d hiked 3.5 miles and it wasn’t yet noon. So I raced back down the Cherokee Turnpike for a tasty lunch at El Chico in Tulsa and then drove over to the northwest edge of town and through the gates to explore the grounds of the Gilcrease Museum.

I’ve been to the museum many times but had never properly explored its environs. I first admired Above It All, a huge sculpture by Sandy Scott of an eagle about to land. Then I descended into Stuart Park and walked over to the pondside gazebo with its nifty supports. A big turtle was perched on a log out in the pond and I wondered if it was just another sculpture until it slipped into the water. Across the way was Large Heron Pair by Walter T. Matia. They looked even better with the gazebo as a backdrop.

Farther into the park I found Twins by Forest Hart, a bit much on this first day of deer season. I shot Plains Grizzly by Jim Agius as a silhouette against the cloudy sky. I liked how Frontier Woman by Jay O’Meilia was interesting from the back with her round hat, and wondered what she was thinking.

The sky was filled with cotton clouds as I tromped past the developed portion of the park to a large clearing where I found an old abandoned road leading up the hillside past large sandstone bluffs and boulders. It dropped me onto an abandoned driveway leading out onto Newton Street west of the museum. I walked back onto the grounds to visit Crisita by Doug Hyde and admire her slim profile from multiple angles. I’m not a fan of the Gilcrease home, but found an angle on it that made it seem less awful than it is.

I passed the interesting white tree trunk sculpture with the Gilcrease mausoleum in the background. On the rear of the mausoleum I found his epitaph:

At the feet of the rolling Osage Hills will I work and think until my troubled and worn body shall be called.

A bit of a gloomy gus, but he did go broke in the 1950s and Tulsa citizens ponied up $2.25 million for his extensive collection of artworks and artifacts of the American West, and the epitaph reminds me that he moved to this hilltop site after his attempt at a museum in San Antonio flopped. Gilcrease died in 1962 but had dedicated oil properties to repay the bond, which was finally accomplished by 1985.

The cloudy skies provided a dramatic backdrop for Simón Bolívar by Silvestre Chacén. It is somewhat out of place at Gilcrease, but I like it anyway. More in spirit with the collection is Strength of the Maker by Denny Haskew. I love the different tones in the bronze and the dramatic pose which conveys the strain against the bow.

The overcast day was bookended with pretty skies, this time the clouds and sun posing on the west side of US 75 as I headed home. Next week I hope to spend Black Friday not at the stores but hiking in southwestern Oklahoma, making use of my parents’ hospitality in Oklahoma City.

Click here for a slideshow from these day hikes

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, photos, travel, video. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s