November 8, 2014
The skies were sunny and the temperature in the mid 50s when Wendy and I drove an hour north to Elk City Lake for a fall hike above the fields up on Table Mound. I had recalled how beautiful the mound looked back on a solo hike in November 2011, so three years later we assembled three miles of hiking from portions of three different trails: Table Mound, Post Oak, and Eagle Rock. Throughout our hike we were on the prowl for evidence of xanthophyll, carotenes, and anthocyanin: the yellow, orange, and red leaves of autumn.
Table Mound bulks up above the Elk River and the lake, a rocky protrusion which has attracted quarry men, hikers, and bikers. We began this day hike on my favorite section of the many miles of trails at Elk City Lake: the north end of the Table Mound Trail. It starts at the scenic overlook high above the dam and runs north along the western rim of the mound. Just below is the lower section of the trail, and the trees down there protrude upward at the edge of the bluff so that the upper trail is at canopy-level, providing nice views of the high leaves. At the end of the mound there are lovely views of the fields to the north, including the Old Fashion Baptist Church nestled up against a wooded slope about a mile away. I always stop and shoot a panorama up there.
The trail then makes a steep descent through a slit in the top to circle around the base of the bluff, where huge chunks of rock have broken away and slid down the slope. I leaned against the pillar of stone which supports one large overhanging slab, playfully checking that it would not topple; if it did, I’d sure find out the hard way!
We enjoyed the bluff and the autumn leaves along the trail. Where the Table Mound Trail falls away from the bluff, it is only yards from the Post Oak Nature Trail, which runs along the top of the mound. We jumped trails, and I led us up a dim and unofficial side track to a promontory providing a view of the eastern shore of the lake.
On the Post Oak Trail there were large red and orange leaves; Wendy collected some particularly large specimens. She later arranged them along with a piece of copy paper which illustrates their size. We circled back to the overlook and then drove down to the dam to hike part of the Eagle Rock Mountain Bike Trail. This was the only trail at the lake which Wendy had not yet hiked, and even I have not hiked all of it; I finally found an online map of its various loops only after we completed our hike.
The small parking area on top of the eastern end of the dam was marked closed, so we drove down to the outlet spillway. Wendy loved the colors arrayed across the side of the mound. At the trailhead we found three boys having fun rolling down the slope of the dam. One eagerly asked if we were hiking the trail and told us how it was pretty hard, but he admitted he had bushwhacked a bit, so maybe that made it harder. I did that myself back in May 2012, when I deviated from the Hillside loop to climb my way to the top of the mound. This time I’d see a new section of trail for the first time in years at Elk City, since Wendy and I completed the Hillside loop.
We walked through the tall grass around the north end of the mound to reach the Elk River, where a series of concrete pyramids closes off an old road which leads onto private property. There is a metal beam and a section of curved pipe embedded in some of them; what they were originally used for, I have no idea, but a lot of quarrying and concrete work has been done on the mound over the decades. The bike trail turns back and ascends the mound there, and this time we followed its zig-zag path eastward back along the side of the mound to the tall grass area, passing some of the big chunks of rock which had tumbled their way down from above.
It was the golden hour as we exited the trail, driving away from the mound as the sun set behind the hills to the west. We stopped to enjoy the western sky as the day ended. We are blessed to have the trails of Elk City Lake and Osage Hills so close to home. Hopefully we’ll enjoy some more fall foliage in the weeks to come before we head to Quartz Mountain for a few days over Thanksgiving Break.