Friday: Tulsa Wildflowers
It was another three-day May weekend, made possible by unused snow days in the warmest winter on record. On Friday I went to Tulsa with my friend and colleague Betty Henderson. We had lunch down there and drove to the wildflower patch in the Brookside neighborhood just off Peoria, where beautiful poppies and bachelor buttons were on offer. There was a light rain as we snapped our photographs, so we cancelled our planned visit to Oxley Nature Center and went to the Marvel’s The Avengers instead, which spent more on effects than it did on the script.
Saturday: Yardwork and Table Mound
The next day the rainy forecast was belied by sunny skies, allowing me to spend time outside Meador Manor. I tackled the big pile of River Birch branches I’d piled beside the house over the past few months, forming four bundles I laid at the curb for pickup. I then cleaned out the gutters of the tree’s debris for the fourth time this spring. I noticed a bunch of branches had accumulated on the roof valley, so I climbed up there too and they joined the streetside bundles. My, but that big tree keeps me busy.
I had a big lunch at Garfield’s and the still-sunny skies lured me to hike 8.25 miles along the eastern shore of Elk City Lake, which is an hour’s drive north of Bartlesville. I’ve hiked all of the designated hiking trails there multiple times, but it had been two years since I’d hiked the best trail, Table Mound, in the spring. As it turned out, this day I would also hike the Green Thumb and Post Oak nature trails, visit the outlet channel, walk part of a previously unhiked mountain bike trail, and bushwhack up and around Table Mound. Not a bad day at all!
Circling My Prey
I drove over the dike and discovered the lake was very high, with the floodplain on either side of the roadway inundated. Taking my cue from the turkey vultures circling above, I used county roads to circumnavigate Table Mound on the lake’s eastern shore. I passed the high old smokestack of the former United Kansas Portland Cement Company at Le Hunt on the mound’s east side. The smokestack is crumbling away and one of these days shall fall, leaving only the crumbling low remains of the site, visible in satellite images but hidden away at ground level behind locked gates.
Table Mound Trail – Bluff Section
I drove up to the overlook above the dam and set off north down Table Mound Trail, passing trees growing in the big cracks in the limestone bluff with huge chunks broken away below, where the lower part of the trail ran alongside the base of the bluff. Wild foxglove grew by the trailside. I reached the north end of the high part of the trail where there is a nice panorama of fields to the northwest, and then took the steep dive down through a crack in the bluff to the lower part of the trail and posed in one of the rock rooms formed by the cracked limestone.
A tree looked liked it was struggling to part the rocks as I walked beside huge weathered chunks of limestone, with the green leaves of the trees providing relief. Trees framed views of the bluff and leaned to contrast with the stone. I reached the overhang camp with its convenient stone seats, of which I took advantage. Farther south along the bluff I passed under another projecting shelf. A huge stone sandwich was beside the trail, with solid stone buns and crumbled stone like chopped beef between.
The trail passed under a huge stone slab supported by a leaning pillar of stone, which was more striking from the far side. More sandwiched layers appeared on the bluff above me and a darker top layer bulged out over crumbling older slabs. Then I slid through a narrow crack in the bluff, the tightest squeeze along the trail. At one point the straight steep bluff wall contrasted to a crooked tree, and then the bluff began to diminish while the trees topped out.
I reached the end of the high bluffs at the rock walls which mark the unheralded intersection with the Post Oak trail, which parallels the Table Mound trail but runs along the top edge of the bluff. If you ever want to make a loop out of the Table Mound trail’s most impressive section, climb up at this point to the rock walls and take the Post Oak trail back to the overlook. If I were in charge of the trail system, I’d make this one big loop with the remainder of the Table Mound trail as an appendage winding south along the shore to the camping area.
Table Mound Trail – Lake Shore Section
Soon the trail crossed the road and I strode out on one peninsula to gauge the lake level. On my return a troop of boy scouts passed by, headed north. I found the low point in the trail, where it crosses one of the narrow inlets, flooded out. So I bushwhacked around to the east, fording the stream beside a felled barkless tree with its corkscrew grain.
The trail gave a high open view of the dam to the north, then rounded the bend and provided a view of the partially flooded campground to the south. Many of the stays with my grandparents and their gathered children’s families here in the 1970s featured high water as the lake restrained the flooding Elk River.
Campground and Green Thumb Trail
I reached the end of the Table Mound Trail, finding the scout troop had camped in the higher Timber Road area of the campground, above flooded Sunset Point. I decided to walk the Green Thumb Nature Trail, the one I dragged my parents and my patient late Aunt Mildred on many a time well over 30 years ago. I crossed the bridge over the first stream and descended the hillside with its embedded logs. The streams were flowing from recent rains and a small clearing had more wild foxglove. The trail climbed to the limestone cap, crossed by crevices, and soon I was bounding back down to the Table Mound trail for the return north.
Retracing Northward to the Outlet Channel
On the north return trek I glanced back to see a powerboat zipping above the flooded jetties. The skies were lowering and a very light rain fell, barely tapping me beneath the trees. I reached the bluff area and then decided to not follow the trail around the north end of the mound, but instead bushwhacked my way downslope, lured by the roar of the outlet channel. They had the outlet going full blast, with water crashing out of the 16 foot diameter conduit into the walls of the stilling basin, and I shot some video.
Eagle Rock Mountain Bike Trail
I had passed the entrance to the Eagle Rock mountain bike trail and there were no bikers about, so I opted to walk part of that trail system for the first time. It led north beside the outlet channel and I followed the Hillside trail, a mown path which curved around the north base of Table Mound into the woods to follow an old closed road eastward before ascending partway up the slope to turn back westward.
Bushwhacking Up Table Mound
I did not wish to return to the outlet channel and bushwhack up to Table Mound trail from there. Instead I began to bushwhack up the north side of the mound until I reached the bluff and followed it along the eastern side of the mound until it shortened where I could clamber up to a lagoon beside the start of the Table Mound trail. A sign by the overlook showed the design of the outlet channel I’d visited earlier. I shot a panorama from the overlook and then decided to walk south along the top of the bluff on the Post Oak Nature Trail.
Post Oak Nature Trail
The Post Oak trail runs parallel to the adjacent Table Mound trail below at the base of the bluff. Every so often you can peer over the side and see the blue blazed trail below. I followed it to the intersection with the Table Mound Trail and then followed it east to a glade, which I then exited to return to the bluff and overlook. I’d hiked 8.25 miles and was ready for dinner.
I dined at El Pueblito in Independence, followed by the perquisite dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. Then I drove back west to the overlook for the sunset. I shot a golden hour panorama of the overlook building and the view out over the lake in the golden hour and of the sunset. Clouds scudded across the face of the setting sun and I ventured north on the Table Mound trail to shoot a panorama over the field using my new camera’s “Vivid Mode”. Ribbon clouds across the face of the sun reminded me of the bands of Jupiter. At the close of the day I headed home across the floodplain, illuminated by the sunset.
Today was a fun if familiar hike and I again count myself lucky to have such a nice trail within an hour’s drive. I continue to be please by the photos from my new Canon camera, and I’ve learned to patiently check that the GPS is locked in so each shot is geotagged. I still have to fool the exposure a great deal, but with some tweaking in Photoshop Elements it all turns out fine.