Hike Date: February 21, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO MOSAIC
On a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon in February 2016, Wendy and I decided to return to Sparrow Hawk Mountain near Tahlequah. We’d thoroughly enjoyed a five-mile hike there the previous April, and I was interested in exploring some of the side trail loops we had skipped on that initial outing, while Wendy was looking forward to a workout in the woods. The elevation changes on the trail certainly provided some exercise on what turned out to be a 3.8 mile hike.
Before we had headed out to Tahlequah, Wendy and I checked that our state fishing licenses were in our packs, knowing that one can face a hefty fine for hiking at Sparrow Hawk Mountain without a fishing or hunting license or a wildlife conservation pass. In fact, a woman had run up to our car at the trailhead, having heard about the fines and asking for verification of the issue; she decided her group would forgo a hike since they lacked licenses. As it turned out, Wendy and I hiked on invalid licenses. I had presumed they were good for a year and would last until April 2016. But when I happened to pull out my license at a stop along the hike and actually read it, I was chagrined to discover that the licenses are for the calendar year only and had expired at the end of 2015. Thankfully no game wardens were present to fine us or the other hikers, many of whom may have similarly lacked valid licenses.
We drove 45 miles south to Tulsa for lunch at Spaghetti Warehouse before driving 47 miles east on US Route 412 and then 26 miles southeast on Oklahoma Highway 82 and through Steely Hollow over to Sparrow Hawk Mountain, which lies a few miles northeast of Tahlequah.
There were quite a few cars at the trailhead, and we climbed the initial steep ascent and regularly encountered fellow hikers throughout the hike, except on the side loops and on a bushwhack we made off one of those loops. Many were college students from Northeastern State University, including a very tall male basketball player escorting a rather short girl. I smiled, thinking how she would need to stand on her own shoulders to snatch a kiss from him. I’m grateful Wendy and I are not so mismatched in height.
We reached the high spot above the Illinois where the trail heads north along the mountainside for great river views. Soon we reached the south entrance to Binghams Trail, a side loop constructed by Green Country Cyclists. It was a pleasant diversion and included an accurate mile marker sign.
Eventually it looped back to the main trail, not far south of the popular overlooks on the Illinois. Young lovers were out on the slopes down below the trail, enjoying the views and each other. Wendy and I had already descended down the bluffs back in April for the vistas, so we just stopped for a snack up on the main trail.
We headed on north, both of us suffering from strong allergies in the warm winter air. I even saw a fly and some gnats on the hike, unwelcome reminders that our mild winter means the insects will be out in force this spring. We eventually reached the entrance to the other major side trail, this one marked only by a couple of crossed limbs. So I’ve termed that loop the X Trail. Like Binghams Trail, it heads eastward along the top of the mountain before turning north and then returning west to the main trail.
Wendy was enjoying hunting for pretty rocks with crystals throughout our hike, so when I spotted a large stony wash down below, we bushwhacked down to it in case some interesting rocks had washed down. While it wasn’t a lode of crystal rocks, the rocky bed of the dry hollow was interesting to traverse.
Bushwhacking our way back up the hillside, we passed a violently ripped tree. Back on the trail, we came across a ROTC wayfinding marker, and I posed by a large tree trunk gall.
It was warm enough and our allergies severe enough that I decided to not continue northward to Sparrow Hawk Village. We turned back along the main trail, I took a final shot of the Illinois, and we made a final diversion along a side route down to the trailhead. It had been great to be out and about, even with our drippy noses. It is a long haul at school between the winter and spring breaks, and Wendy and I are eagerly looking forward to getting away to Sugar Ridge Resort at Beaver Lake in Arkansas in the middle of March.