Black Friday in Charon’s Garden

November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Break Travels (click image for slideshow)

Wendy and I spent Thanksgiving Day with my parents in Oklahoma City, with a sunset walk at Lake Overholser. We spent Black Friday hiking in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, preferring that over braving the throngs of bargain hunters at the stores. We wrapped up the break with tours of the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman and the Oklahoma History Center at the state capitol complex.

Lake Overholser

Wendy and I walked off some of my mother’s Thanksgiving feast with a walk along the dam and eastern bank of Lake Overholser.  The lake has about 600 surface acres, but an average depth of only six feet and its deepest point is only 13 feet down, but there is a 60 foot fall-off beyond the eastern end of the dam, which is over 1,200 feet long.

We first walked the length of the dam and back, passing over the long series of spillways with birds wheeling about overhead. After sunset, the lamps added to the dam in the late 1990s were lit, and the darkening sky silhouetted an old spillway control wheel.

Wendy’s lovely shot of Lake Overholser Dam

As the sun set, we walked north along the embankment which forms a channel along the lakes’ eastern shore, enjoying views west across the lake and south towards the dam and its spillway control house.

Charon’s Garden Wilderness

Black Friday found us hiking in the Charon’s Garden Wilderness, a rugged mountainous area in the western part of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. In keeping with the area’s 1970 wilderness designation, trails there are unmarked and not maintained. I first hiked the southern portion of the Charon’s Garden Trail back in November 2010 with Quincy Amen, completing the trail the next February along with the Elk Mountain Trail. Charon’s Garden is the most challenging trail in the refuge, but Wendy was up to it, scrambling with me across the rough terrain and enduring the inevitable scratches and cuts from the granite boulders.

Charon’s Garden Hike

We arrived at the Sunset Pool trailhead about noon and headed west along the creek. I couldn’t remember where to strike south uphill from the creek bed for the unmarked trail, so we overshot the turn about 0.1 mile, but then backtracked and made our way around the northeast side of Elk Mountain, which was dotted with snow, especially on the shadowed north face.

Apple and Pear

We passed a hillside of trees covered in different shades of red and orange leaves, soon climbing through one of the most scenic stretches of trail up to where the Apple and Pear formations hove into view high above us.  Soon we would reach a large boulder field, and a family of hikers asked us if we knew where the cave was. I knew of Spanish Cave and Wind Cave (aka Bat Cave), although I’ve never been to either one, but neither of them is anywhere close to the boulder field. So I couldn’t help them, although later I wondered if they meant the “rooms” below the boulders where you can roam about.

We reached the field of room-sized boulders, the top of which yields a beautiful vista to the south. I struggled to recall how I had crossed the boulders previously. I tried going straight through, but the huge gaps between the high boulders made that too perilous, and I knew a hiker died out here some years back. So I led us up the east side of the canyon, but again the way seemed too fraught with peril. But I could see how the trail coming up from the south led up the west side of the boulder field. So we scrambled down and across, using trees and rock edges to pull ourselves up and along the western edge of the boulder field, straddling one “bridge” boulder to make it over to the rest of the trail. Wendy and I each collected our share of cuts and scrapes, but we made it.

We paused to rest at Post Oak Creek where a side canyon leads east to where the Bonanza Mine was sunk over 100 years ago. The shaft eventually ran over 80 feet into the mountain until a lead seam pinched out and the mine was abandoned. Someday I will locate that old mine, but this was not the day for it.

We proceeded south along the creek to what I call “The Slot” — where the creek drives through a section of granite walls and a tiny waterfall connects two pools. We carefully scooted along the western side of the falls across the smooth slick rock and then the trail broke away from the creek to climb a hillside for a view of Treasure Lake to the southeast.

I led us over to the lake shore and then we climbed up toward the south trailhead, pausing for Wendy to shoot a pool in the rocks above the lake and for me to shoot a panorama.

Above Treasure Lake

We rested beside Post Oak Lake and then retraced our steps, with a detour at one point as I satisfied my curiosity about a side trail, finding it was an alternate route southward to Post Oak Lake. Wendy formed a snowball but spared me as we trekked northward through The Slot and past the perilous boulder field, rewarded with a late afternoon sunlit view of the Apple and Pear.

As we came down the hillside, Wendy carved our initials in the snow, signifying that she had enjoyed our strenuous six mile hike. We tried to eat dinner at Meers, but it was overcrowded and we opted for comfort food at the Riverside Cafe in Medicine Park.

Sam Noble Museum of Natural History

Buffalo Hunt, They Throw Their Hearts on the Plains

On Saturday we toured the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, intent on seeing some Spiro Mounds artifacts after our visit to the mounds themselves a few weeks ago. There were ear spools, pipes, and pottery fragments. We again noted the similarity of the pottery designs to Mayan and Aztec work, enjoying a recreation of a conch shell artifact next to a matching fragment. We were surprised to see quartz arrowpoints from another site, and admired the extensive beadwork on various Native American artifacts.

We enjoyed the various natural science exhibits, but what impressed me most was the temporary exhibit, Masterworks of Native American Art: Selections from the Fred and Enid Brown Collection. There were some splendid paintings, such as Rhythmic Reflections, Regalia & Song and Prayer for the Return of Bees by Yatika Starr Fields, an untitled work by Raymond Succo, and the vivid circular Buffalo Hunt, They Throw Their Hearts on the Plains by Parker Boyiddle Jr. I didn’t care for the Dali-esque surrealism of Robert Lee Taylor‘s The Souls of the Mountain: The Dance of Life, but I admired the dancing motion he captured.

Oklahoma History Center

After the Noble Museum, the Oklahoma History Center by the state capitol was underwhelming, with me very distracted by the foyer being set up for a reception, despite the discreet workers. Wendy loved seeing props from the movie Twister and was amused by the gruesome special effect heads by Steve LaPorte, while I liked seeing the Gemini 6 capsule and its scarred heat shield.

For this break spent with my parents and my adventurous sweetheart, I was truly thankful.

Click here for a slideshow from this trip

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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