A building has integrity, just like a man, and just as seldom.
So says Ayn Rand in The Fountainhead and I was reminded of that quotation today when I made a brief return to Oklahoma’s Fountainhead. The former state park and lodge on Lake Eufaula, that is. Over 25 years ago a friend and I visited Fountainhead and Arrowhead, back when they were both operational. I’d hoped to see striking architecture at what were once the state’s premiere lodge resorts, but only found fading façades.
Eventually the state defaulted on the debt and both lodges were sold off. Arrowhead sadly became one of the Scientology cult’s Narcanon drug rehab centers while the Muscogee (Creek) Nation bought out the Fountainhead golf course and resort. The tribe is operating the golf course, but their plans to redevelop the resort have been stymied because a major building is situated on Corps of Engineers land and our dysfunctional Congress has yet to resolve the situation.
My friend Carrie and I had a long but memorably unattractive hike at Arrowhead a year ago. The trails there were rough, rocky, uninteresting, and littered with dozens upon dozens of beer cans. So I had faint hope for what I’d find 17 miles north at Fountainhead, now renamed Lake Eufaula State Park. The park map showed only two longer trails, one of which appeared to be a handicapped accessible hard surface loop. I appreciate the need for that sort of trail, but it has limited appeal to me. But I wanted to hike on a pretty December day, had an evening Christmas party to attend, and we’re in the midst of deer hunting season. So I was seeking a state park with a trail new to me and the former Fountainhead was my choice.
I dropped my car off for a tire rotation while I walked 1/3 mile up US 75 to grab breakfast. After that I had the oil changed and made the two-hour run south to Lake Eufaula. I chose not to turn off and see the decrepit lodge but drove past the park sign to the visitor center. It was naturally much like the one at Arrowhead, with a silly steep aluminum roof with a gold or copper anodized coating which has almost completely worn away. If you back far enough away and get some of the roadside pines they’ve planted in the shot, it looks a bit better. As at the other park the restrooms were in a separate building and bizarrely built with extremely narrow doors and vestibules. They’re anything but ADA compliant.
Across the road I found the trailhead for the Chinkapin Trail. It was a mowed and cleared strip, a bit soggy from recent rains. It would no doubt be more appealing at other times of the year, but probably not much more interesting. It crossed a couple of tiny almost-dry creekbeds which once had piped crossings but those had washed out. The old concrete pipes were discarded to the side, an unattractive reminder of an investment no one cares to renew. I then began hearing the shots.
Hunters were busy, not in the state park, but across the lake. Since the park is on a peninsula the sounds of various shots boomed across the water, hardly conducive to a relaxing hike. I wanted to see the lake from the shore, but knowing a shot can carry a long ways I donned my orange vest and decided to wrap up this trip. I reached a leafstrewn gully/road and it led past what appeared to a pond built right into the lake’s shore. Trees and, sadly, some jetsam jutted from the rim of Eufaula Pond…or should I say from the edge of Lake Eufaula?
The trail led on to the closed Longhorn Loop camping area, which had a truly nasty shelter that typifies what goes wrong with cheap modernism which is not properly maintained. I walked down to the lake shore and then fled along the asphalt loop road to return to my car. Along the way I spotted a side trail and followed it to an old neglected cemetery. The Logans had the biggest tombstone, while the most touching was for the Fox’s dead baby.
I returned to the road and was ambling through a clearing when a buck and doe bounded past me. I didn’t bother with the camera but just grinned and admired their strides. Knowing another deer might well be nearby, I followed a clear cut they had emerged from and eventually found another buck eyeing me from a distance. I shot him at full zoom, but my shots were far less deadly than my fellow hunters’.
Returning up the highway to the visitor’s center I noticed they planted the pines too close to the power lines, resulting in ugly cutbacks. Poor planning, but it did provide a nice screen from the road for a bit. I also discovered why this area was called Longhorn Loop. A herd of the namesake cows was in a field beside the road. A giant roadside fish told me I’d reached the end of my 4.15 mile hike.
With distant gunshots still echoing across the lake, I opted to forgo the tiny nature trails in the other camping areas and the Hummingbird Beach trail just north of the airstrip and headed home. I shan’t return to Lake Eufaula, as it has disappointed me too often. Hopefully I’ll have better luck hiking in southwestern Oklahoma during winter break.