The Refreshing Greenleaf Hiking Trail

Greenleaf Lake (click image for slideshow)

After a truly horrid work week I was more than ready to escape on a good day hike. Saturday’s weather was overcast and rainy, but Sunday was sunny and warm. I rose late and drove south through Tulsa and southeast on the Muskogee Turnpike, turning off at the Muskogee Power Plant to drive over to Camp Gruber for a return to the Greenleaf Hiking Trail. The entire trail is 18 miles and back in May 2010 I’d hiked the first bit to a swinging bridge. This time I planned to hike about 10 miles, completing the south loop of the trail.

I’d read online that the Ankle Express group which maintains the trail sometimes does trail maintenance in February, I knew that sometimes the trail is closed for hunting and for military maneuvers in Camp Gruber, and they want you to sign in when you hike there. So I dutifully went to the road-accessible trailhead in Greenleaf State Park, signing in at the trail registry but then driving back out onto Highway 10 and crossing the highway bridge over to the abandoned asphalt road south of the dam. It was even more rutted and washed out than before, so I parked over to one side and hoofed it down the trail toward the lake.

I noticed a foot-travelled abandoned road leading east and knew that the asphalt road slowly curved down to the trail and this abandoned road looked like it would be a helpful cutoff. There were clear signs of trail maintenance along the path, with a ramp someone had set up for bike vaults.

Soon I reached the junction with the Greenleaf Hiking Trail and its telltale blue blazes. It wasn’t long until I saw the swinging bridge, had crossed it so that I was now on a path I had not previously trod, and turned left to follow the west side of the loop. It followed an old road for a bit and a blizzard of blue blazes made it obvious when it turned off uphill. I was pleasantly surprised that the trail did not hug the lake shore, meaning that it would not have to tediously track back down each side stream for crossings.

At noon I reached a large flat rock which made a convenient spot for a tasty lunch, having another of the Turkey and Swiss on Berry Wheat sandwiches I now pick up at QuikTrip for each nearby hike, along with Fanta, a Payday, and Peanut M&Ms. I love those QuikTrip turkey sandwiches, although I can only eat about half of one at a sitting.

I passed another of several hill streams and was grateful to find a few orange leaves still hanging from some of the trees. Soon I reached a long inlet of the lake, fording it and admiring the clear water, a strong contrast to the muddy waters of the lakes near Bartlesville. The trail followed the inlet bank upstream until I could ford it. I deviated from the trail, which turned back downstream, walking upstream for a ways before backtracking. One could easily make your own connector trail here between the sides of the loop.

I heard voices and saw a fit man and woman in skintight running outfits exploring the stream. I figured they’d pass me eventually and headed on down the trail, passing an old hollow stump and campfire remains. I encountered a man with a boy and girl in their late teens or early twenties coming along the trail the opposite way, and not long afterward I heard a call behind me and, sure enough, the joggers trotted past, remarking on the beauty of the day. Those five people were the only ones I would see on the trail all day.

The trail showed a changing character, playing with variations of rock and vegetation and showing why this is considered a premiere trail in the state, being interesting to hike even on a nearly leafless sunny day in February. I forded Barbed Wire Stream. I call it that because when I walked a few feet upstream to see the sights, I was startled by a nearly invisible old strand of barbed wire strung across my path. There was no fence evident elsewhere. What was going on?

Examination revealed that an old fence had once run along here, but was completely gone except for a strand of barbed wire completely embedded in two trees.  It ran smack through the middle of one, terminating an inch or two after its exit on the far side. The other tree showed the same thing. Had they grown up around the wire years before? How odd.

I forged onward past frequently blazed trees and tree remains, until near mile marker 4 the trail hugged the edge of a high bluff and provided a view across the lake below, where I could see fishermen in their boat. I enjoyed the views from the bluff and then the trail descended to the lake, passing more streams and tall trees. I enjoyed an unexpected grassy section of trail and soon saw a stand of cedars which marked Mary’s Cove.

Passing mossy trees and rocks, I forded the inlet at Mary’s Cove and found the main camp area with its sign, some fire rings, and a camper-fashioned bench. I would need to turn off here to take the white-blazed connector trail to complete the south loop, but first I followed a bit of the north loop, having spotted some tents up along the far shore of the cove.

I ventured into the cedars, found beaver sign, and two tents with foodstuffs hung up in the trees. Reaching the lake shore, I started two Canadian geese, which fled, honking. For once I was fast enough with the camera to capture them in flight. I took a last close look at the lake and then backtracked to the connector trail.

Most connector trails are uninteresting, but this one was great. It followed a stream uphill with large mossy rocks, one of which had been drilled through by water. The stream led up through great piles of mossy rocks and wet stone slabs. Near what I call Tree Falls, because of a big fallen tree, I walked through stone formations and up beside the stream until I reached the trail junction at mile marker 11.

It was clear that most people turn off here to Mary’s Cove: the north loop of the trail was quite dim and rough along here. I could see the frequent blazes would be vital along that section, although they had been overkill on the south loop. Someday I’d like to start hiking early in the morning here so I could do the north loop. I’ve no interest in camping on the trail, so it would take some doing since taking both loops takes over nine hours and in the long summer days this area is replete with ticks.

I began returning on the high east side of the south loop. The blazes had changed to a combination of blue and orange. Along here I noticed my camera’s clock was twelve hours off. Evidently I messed up AM and PM sometime in the past. That would explain some of the weird date entries on Flickr! I fixed the settings and marched onward.

The trail provided a high distant view of the lake. Through the tree limbs I could make out the distant fishing boat. Sunlight brushed across mossy rocks in the hillside and I posed by a tortured tree. I climbed past more moss-covered slabs and the trail then followed an old roadbed uphill for a bit, then turned off and I saw a brand new marker post in a grassy section. Trail maintenance was clearly underway.

A fallen log had interesting insect roadways and then I walked by the remains of an old low rock dam, old enough for a sizable tree to be growing out of it. A half-cylinder tree was interesting and then I began losing some shots to the camera blur I’d seen on my previous trip. I’m waiting for reviews of the new Canon SX-260 HS to come out; if they are positive, it will be my new camera. The blur wasn’t continual, and I grabbed a shot of two new marker posts lying beside the trail near a road, awaiting placement.

After passing a sun-streaked stream, I found a tree which was particularly easy to climb and posed atop it, and then the trail headed eastward up a wide side draw. I found a grotto pool which was a large version of the one at Osage Hills and shot a short video zoom of it. The trail eventually forded the stream high up the narrowing draw and returned southwest toward the swinging bridge. I passed another new marker, with a far more natural fungi post nearby. The trail reached an abrupt steep hillside, a marker warning of the coming switchbacks.

The return to the car was uneventful and I wrapped up my 9.85 mile hike in 5 hours 15 minutes with plenty of time to freshen up at the car and drive to Tulsa for dinner. It was a gratifying day hike, especially since I’ll spend most of the next weekend facilitating teacher workshops at the senior high. I’m quite grateful for this unusually warm sunny February day which helped refresh my spirit.

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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