Oklahoma Weathered, Day One

THE TOWERING ARBUCKLES


At the tailing, eastern end of the Arbuckle Mountains is Chickasaw National Recreation Area. It's fifteen square miles of woods surrounding a lake, and sit between the rocky hills to the west and the prairie to the east. The Arbuckle Mountains are anticline rock formations- the oldest kind there are in North America- but the highest point you'll find here is 1400ft. Oxford English Dictionary says that's totally tall enough to be a mountain, but for a while the US Geological Survey felt that these hills were 600ft short of being mountains. I have no horse in this race. Camped out down in Chickasaw, the only thing to contemplate is what could be making that smell.

I fell asleep so fast at my campsite that I didn't really notice the smell. The following morning the scent of sulphur lingering in the air was undeniable. Springs run all through this area, their babbling follows me around on Chickasaw's windy, hilly roads. When the wind dies down, the rotten egg scent finds its way back.

The main attraction of Chickasaw, the real reason Im here, is to check out their bison herd. Bison had just become the National Mammal, so I was excited (more so than usual) to see some during my time in Oklahoma. The herd in Chickasaw is small, and they have about half the park to themselves to enjoy, protected by fences to keep us fans from bugging them too much.


Nothin'


A pebble trail winds around the bison's acres, flowing from deep forest to prairie. It almost feels like Im on a trail in the east coast, with the familiar humidity and dense foliage. The familiarity is interrupted by the occasional sandstone boulders or prickly pear cactus.

Given the amount of land the Bison have available to them, and small percentage viewable from the trail, the odds aren't in my favor. So I give up, armed with my park map, head for one of the numerous springs and creeks running through this park. Waterfalls range from natural rock faces to CCC concrete dams and rock facades. One creek runs so high it floods the bridge above it- now's as good a time as any to use the timer on the camera.




The healing, sulphur springs

OF THE CHICASAW NATIONAL RECREATION AREA

These springs have been a part of every culture who has called here home. In the area they've found artifacts from the first peoples' migration, and from later non-nomadic cultures. The Chickasaw Nation, when forcefully relocated to the area by the US Government, were stoked on these springs for the healing properties and the hunting opportunities nearby. While the Chickasaw were making the best of a really crappy situation, mineral springs over on the east coast and in Europe were becoming destination health resorts. They started coming west, where nearby springs in current day Hot Springs, Arkansas turned into private resorts with fancy bath houses.

According to the pamphlet provided by the National Parks, the Chickasaw sold this land to the nice ol' U.S. Government to protect it and prevent Hot Springs from happening all over again. Side eye that as much as you feel inclined, but the land stayed protected, turning into Platt National Park, then eventually acquiring more acres for the public land as it sits today, with depression-era CCC stone houses, like small holy temples, surrounding spots where sulfur-laden water comes bubbling out.

So that's what that smell is. Now, if I've made it sound like this whole park smells like a ripe fart- I apologize. It doesn't like a ripe fart. It smells like a beautiful forest, with crisp, clear water streams, and lovely wild flowers. Occasionally, however, it's like someone walked by while you're enjoying all this and they just let one fly.




THIS SMELLS BAD, BUT ONLY SLIGHTLY.


HEADING FOR THE HIL- UH, MOUNTAINS


Coming south out of the park, a series of backroads will lead one into the Arbuckles. One spot in particular Im hoping to see is, as noted on the flyer for the train that goes through Oklahoma, Big Canyon. It's a section of the Washita River that has cut it's way through the old rocks, the only means of access being the neighboring quarry. But it seems this is a local spot, as Im not the only one actively trespassing, though I'd fit in much better if I was holding a fishing rod instead of a camera.

Im not doing the river justice in the pictures, but it's moving hella fast. The byproduct of recent rains, Im assuming by all the dirt runoff tinting everything a rust color. Between the current and a potential dye job I resist taking a dip. It's windy, a patch of clouds are blowing through. But they're moving westward at a good clip. West is my general direction for the next day or two, so Im hoping these winds stay in my favor. By the time I walk back to the gravel pile I've stashed my bike behind, the sun has broken through and I can see blue skies behind it. I go north, for a road that goes across the interstate that separates me from the town of Davis.

Im not doing the river justice in the pictures, but it's moving hella fast. The byproduct of recent rains, Im assuming by all the dirt runoff tinting everything a rust color. Between the current and a potential dye job I resist taking a dip. It's windy, a patch of clouds are blowing through. But they're moving westward at a good clip. West is my general direction for the next day or two, so Im hoping these winds stay in my favor. By the time I walk back to the gravel pile I've stashed my bike behind, the sun has broken through and I can see blue skies behind it. I go north, for a road that goes across the interstate that separates me from the town of Davis.

My time in Davis is short. Finding no other option, I slink into wal-mart to buy food for the next few days. They have kombucha, so that's nice. Otherwise I do my best to walk out of there without a gallon of soda, bison burgers, and a hunting rifle. Five miles down the road is my last stop for the day, and where I'll hang my hammock for the night.

Nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains lies Honey Creek. It curves around one of the higher points, heading over a few small ledges both natural and manmade before the blue water drops seventy seven feet in Oklahoma's tallest waterfall- well, tied with another waterfall on the eastern side of the state. What are the odds they're the exact same height? Anyway, it's a weekday at Turner Falls and barely anyone is around. Of the campsites I check out, none has a single tent pitched nor RV parked. Assuming there's no evening rush, I switch into my hiking shoes and leave my bike up against a tree to go check out the place.

The mountains are covered in wildflowers. The wildflowers are attracting all kinds of bugs, which in turn are attracting a lot of birds. The landscape is so elaborately animated I feel like Im in a disney movie. I don't twirl around and sign and much and I hunch over and take pictures while muttering "this is so cool" under my breath.


✨TOO CUTE TO HANDLE✨


This place is an oasis. Im sure it gets insanely busy during the summer holidays, but on this quiet weekday I pass by only a few folks in complete privacy (almost, Im there after all) picnicking, swimming, and wandering through the hills. I haven't even shown you, dear reader, the waterfall this place gets its name from yet.

Like I mentioned way back up at the top, the Arbuckle Mountains are anticline rock formations. The folding of the stone layers lead, inevitably, to caves, which there are over a dozen marked and unmarked throughout the property. Online, this is a secret spot for spelunkers and underwater cave divers to visit.




Turner Falls, Oklahoma

This is totally, completely fine.




Please note the lack of people, railings, fences, and other items meant to manage areas like this for responsible enjoyment by the visitors. While relaxing in the water a family pulls their cooler by me. We greet each other, and after they pass I consider jumping off the waterfall into the lagoon below. It sounds fun, but I'm far too comfortable sitting on a rock and letting the cool, blue water run over me.




Route Map


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