December 1, 2012
Today a former physics student of mine, Andrew Geibel, helped me gain authorized access to the Osage Trail leading from Osage Hills State Park to the Boy Scouts’ Camp McClintock. I’d blundered along the trail three years ago, back when there was no sign demarcating the private scout property from the state park. A few weeks ago, Andrew, who graduated from Bartlesville High back in 2006, said he was back in town and inquired about going on a day hike with me, later volunteering that he, as a former Eagle Scout, would get us access to the trail.
That appealed to me, not only to catch up with how Andrew was doing, but also because I’d never mapped the trail with my GPS and long ago I downloaded an intriguing map of the Osage Trail from the website of the Cherokee Area Council. It showed an old homesite, an old stove, and a deer stand along the trail, plus a cave up a side stream. I hoped we might find at least one of those things on this unusually warm and windy first day of December.
Andrew and I opted to meet at the stone building that once housed the gasoline pump which provided water to the CCC camp, now the trailhead for the mountain bike trail system and the nearest parking spot to the private section of the trail. We had signed permission forms relieving the scouts of liability for our safety along the trail, so they were off the hook if we got ourselves into trouble.
I took a shot of the rustic entryway of the old pump house as I awaited Andrew’s arrival. The Osage Trail technically leads on into the park for over a mile from this point, but it is just following other hiking trails in those areas. We started out by fording the stream midway, heading along the Red Bike Trail and following the infrequent red metal circle markers for the Osage Trail.
We passed a stone totem someone had erected along one of the streambeds we crossed on our way to the Grotto, where the drought had stopped all of the water flow but a small pool of water remained. Andrew posed for me, giving scale to my favorite spot along the Red Bike Trail.
When we reached the most dangerous area for bikers, where the bike trail descends a short but very rocky bluff, I spotted some temporary warning signs lying on the ground. They’d probably been placed for a recent ride, and Andrew and I acted like good Boy Scouts, remounting the flimsy signs.
We reached the edge of the state park and each of us posed at the sign admonishing us to get permission before continuing. Satisfied we met that mandate, we forged onward, with me plodding along in my usual Columbia Hiking Boots and Andrew in his more daring Vibram Fivefingers Running Shoes. I prefer to keep my feet dry and cushioned, but Barefoot Ted McDonald champions the close-to-barefoot style of his Vibram offerings and I’ve noticed them on a few feet, mostly younger and more adventurous types.
Andrew had to be adventurous to bushwhack up a side creek with me, searching for the cave, us having failed to spot the old homesite beside the trail after a not-at-all-exhaustive glance up on the hill. We bushwhacked to the fork and followed a branch some ways, finding nothing more than a small overhanging ledge. Now that I’m home with my Google Earth trail track, I can see that we probably would have found it if we had ventured a bit farther up the right branch of the fork. I’ll bet one or both of us does that soon.
We bushwhacked back down to where the Osage Trail crossed the streambed and headed southward toward the camp. We spotted no stove, but did see a single board left of the old deer stand up in a tree. Soon we were ascending the hill to Camp McClintock, spying the Cub Cabin above us. The Cub Cabin trail joined ours and we reached the end of the Osage Trail, 3.5 miles from the picnic area over in the state park.
Andrew toured me through the camp. We passed through a stone gateway built by the troop from Picher back in 1936; little did they suspect their handiwork would outlast their town: Picher is a ghost town, one of the few locations in the world evacuated and declared uninhabitable. The town in far northeast Oklahoma was undermined by lead and zinc mines and the toxic piles of chat throughout it had poisoned its inhabitants.
Andrew and I were impressed by a new 44-foot-high climbing tower erected at the camp. I’d never be tempted by its climbing holds, but Andrew was less skittish, risking life and limb to climb…a couple of feet. We’d signed those waivers, after all, so we couldn’t blame the Scouts if we got hurt!
We bemoaned the broken suspension bridge across Sand Creek, with Andrew posing by the warning signs holding…something flammable. Later he walked once again on one section of bridge, but not across Sand Creek as in his childhood, since it was lying on the ground. That’s really bringing one down to earth.
We walked the big campground, where a different type of soil inhibits tree growth while attracting gophers. Andrew was alert for sharp goathead nutlets, which could easily penetrate his Vibram shoes. We circled back to the amphitheater and each of posed at the little chapel, which offers a nice view of Sand Creek. After one last look out over the creek, we retraced our path back 2.2 miles to the pump house.
I had a great time visiting with Andrew on our 5.75 mile hike and bushwhack, although our chattering meant the only animals which would stay near us were armadillos. I still want to find that cave, though!
If the weather holds up, I’ll probably take him to the Table Mound Trail at Elk City in the coming weeks. Like me, he’s hiking to enjoy nature and to stay fit, and I’m sure he would enjoy that great hiking spot only an hour’s drive north of town, across the border in Kansas, where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the sky is not cloudy all day.
POSTSCRIPT: Two months later I followed up and found out Andrew and I were only yards from the cave!