November 27-29, 2014
Warm and sunny days on Thanksgiving Break 2014 allowed Wendy and me to take short hikes around Baldy Point at Quartz Mountain and The Narrows in the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma.
On Thanksgiving Day we drove down to Oklahoma City to visit my parents before heading on down to the Quartz Mountain Resort for a couple of days, following up our previous visit in June 2013. Wendy had asked to return to what I consider the best of the state resorts. We enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the lodge’s Sundance Cafe that evening, although, of course, it couldn’t compete with my mother’s home cooking earlier in the day.
Quartz Mountain’s Future in Doubt
I’m sad to see the resort is enduring a state feasibility study in this time of ill-advised income tax cuts and business tax breaks. Wendy and I can attest to how schools have suffered mightily because of the shortsighted fiscal policies of our legislators and governor, which have put immense stress on all state services. The rich folks who get almost all of the benefits from state income tax cuts can afford fancy private resorts, but the rest of us rely heavily upon state lodges and state parks, which are especially important to day hikers like me. The severe drought has only made things worse for Quartz Mountain, with Lake Altus barely above its conservation pool level and dead as a fishery. If you’ve stayed at Quartz Mountain Resort and would like to keep it operating, take the survey to help with the feasibility study.
On Friday morning we had breakfast at the lodge restaurant and then were ready for a day hike. We had already hiked the trails around the lodge on our previous visit, so I drove us westward to Baldy Point, which I’d hiked back in December 2010. This time Wendy and I would almost completely circumnavigate the hill, which rises over 260 feet above the surrounding farm fields. We would ascend on its gentler northern slopes, rather than the steep southern side which attracts rock climbers.
This time I could not locate the Summit Trail at first; it was faint and overgrown. So we started out on the broad trail along the southern base of the hill, which leads through cedar and mesquite trees with frequent openings to the southern face. Where I see a crack in the rock, a climber sees a challenge. As usual, I was more focused on large features and vistas, with Wendy discovering berries, odd-looking plants, and crystalline rocks as we rounded the hill onto the Cedar Creek Trail. Most of the trail signs have been wiped clean by time and neglect, and the Cedar Creek area has been literally burned out in the drought.
The burned trees meant we were not tempted to walk the Cedar Valley Trail, and the Black Jack Pass Trail was closed due to hunting. So we ascended the northern slope of the hill, onto unfenced private property, for a sweeping view of the valley below and the fields and granite hills to the west. We descended and walked east to the area’s other trailhead before returning west through the mesquite forest.
I finally located the Summit Trail’s faint path, and we made our way around the west end of the summit. Wendy had remarked earlier how she’d love to pitch golf balls from the slopes and was laughing when she found a golf ball along the trail. She also spotted a buffalo gourd, which she cracked open on a tree to examine its fibrous interior. At the time we had no idea what the gourd was, but my mother’s guidance and Wendy’s exhaustive internet research identified the plant and its uses.
Prickly pear cacti spilled from a huge boulder as we ascended the western slope, where Wendy was feeling adventurous and crawled through gaps in the rocks. I found a pivot rock, and we turned back once it was clear we’d nearly made it back around the hill. Our 2.7 mile hike thus included two forays a couple of hundred feet up the slopes.
From on high we’d seen the Lake Altus Dam, so we drove over to see it and the lake. Then we returned to the lodge to relax, taking a walk along the Twin Peaks Trail before dinner. Afterward, Wendy got a kick out of Suzanne Klotz’s The Dancer of Illusion mixed media work on a corridor wall, and we later encountered a half-dozen deer on a walk around the lodge buildings.
The Manchurian Candidate
We ended the day with me treating Wendy to the classic 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate on the DVD player I’d brought and hooked into the lodge television. It is a disturbing and unusual film, with Angela Lansbury giving the performance of her career as the domineering mother. Her intensity is truly frightening when the film makes its big reveal. It is hard to believe she was only three years older than the actor portraying her son, let alone that this is the same actress who played Miss Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks and was Jessica Fletcher for 20 years. Wendy and I loved how director John Frankenheimer captured her twitching cheek on the stage in Madison Square Garden as she awaits the climactic shot.
The next morning, after a final breakfast at the lodge, we drove eastward through Kiowa county. Wendy had been fascinated by the cotton fields in the area, and we stopped by a huge bale near Roosevelt so she could get a close look and feel. My mother and her siblings picked a great deal of cotton back in the day, as did members of Wendy’s family. The mechanical picker has thankfully brought an end to that hard labor, but the economies of scale consolidated the small cotton farms.
We were headed to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to hike. The oaks in the refuge still had some autumn colors, and we first stopped at the refuge’s Prairie Dog town, watching the dogs watch us and listening to their high-pitched barks. There have been at least six colonies of Blacktail Prarie Dogs at the refuge over the years. One of my favorite photographs is a snapshot I took of wildflowers at one of those colonies back in 1989.
We found a record number of cars at the Boulder Camp trailhead, and I took us down the trail’s right fork along the low route before we made the steep ascent for a view of the narrow channel below, the vista to the north and lovely cliffs to the east, and the Narrows to the south.
We heard a group of repellers celebrating their successful ascent farther down the creek and could see fellow hikers high above the chasm up on Eagle Mountain.
A nearby hiker gave scale to the view south. We descended partway down the hill for the views and then turned back, since Wendy was not inclined to bushwhack down The Narrows as I did back in 2010, reaching the junction with Panther Creek.
We happily returned along the trail, soon passed by an energetic Army guy running along the rough trail while carrying a heavy load of rappelling ropes. Later we encountered a large Asian American family which had scampering kids and teens out front, followed by the parents, one of whom was belting out Motown’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough on a boom box, with a clumsy teenager who bounced her way among us, and at last the polite elders in the back. It was quite a show!
We enjoyed dinner with my folks in Oklahoma City before returning to Bartlesville. It was great to get away from our mutual school workloads for a few days before facing the hectic final weeks of the semester. We’ve both been so overwhelmed by schoolwork, with big projects still working their way down the pipeline, that I suspect our Winter Break will feature a few nearby get-aways rather than one long trip.