Tag Archives: Oklahoma

Migration South Day 10-12 – Great Salt Plains State Park, Oklahoma

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The short trip between the Wellington KOA and the Great Salt Plains State Park turned out to be a treat. The weather was lovely and warm. The scenery was lovely and we got a little whimsy for joy from a farmer. Have I mentioned I love the open plains? It was as wide and as open as could be. We pulled into the State Park and were delighted to have the entire campground to ourselves. The first day was warm and sunny and we liked it so much we mused about staying for a month. The next day it got cold and windy and we took a long walk but it was not warm enough for it to be pleasant.

The view was beyond spectacular. Directly across from us was a neat red cliff, reminders of Utah. There was a big dam with three tiers of spillways so we got to listen to the sound of a waterfall all night. I liked the “waterfall” while Dick was most interested in the diatom scum in the pool.

Having a whole campground to ourselves was really nice. Misty kind of accidentally on purpose got away from us and went for a nice long run. Fortunately all that recall training worked and she came right away when called. The river had pelicans in it and Misty alerted us every time they came near. She also let us know when horsemen went by which they did frequently.

Friday night the thunderstorms rolled by as forecast but, as forecast, nothing severe came near us. We got some rain and we heard some rumbles but we didn’t have to run to the shelter/bathroom. The next day we had planned to leave but the wind was ferocious. We decided to unhitch and go for a drive since it was too windy to travel with the trailer. First we paid for another night at the park.

The trip we took was out to the selenite crystal digging spot. During the summer you can walk out to that salt flat and dig up lovely selenite crystals. The place is closed in winter to protect the migrating birds. We could only look from the gate. We have some crystals so we didn’t feel a need to dig anyway. The wind was incredible, huge dust devils over the dirt fields. There were pump jacks everywhere. We stopped into a local grocery store in Cherokee Oklahoma. That was fun because we got to see different brands of foods and other neat stuff. I found some really lovely pottery with a south west theme and almost bought it, until I flipped it over. Made in China. Well it looked authentic.

Finally Sunday morning the sky was clear, the wind was low and the forecast was for snow. It was time to move south. And so we headed south to the Fort Cobb State park in south western Oklahoma.

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Eighth Stop: Cherokee Landing State Park Oklahoma

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We left Cedar Lake with some regret and a certain wish that we could have stayed longer and that we will try to get back. Our next destination was Cherokee Landing State Park. The trip was more harrowing up the steep hill, down the steep hill to a river bottom, up the steep hill, down the steep hill, with the tranny complaining as we went. Stereotypically, Oklahoma is supposed to be flat prairie but in the east a few of those roads could match the worst driving in Arkansas. The cat was once again riding in his carrier in the bathtub and I left him very unhappy with me.

After Cedar Lake, this park was a let down although it is a rather nice park. The park is open year round but it is also far enough north that there aren’t a lot of visitors in March. Being accustomed to remote self serve campsites, we weren’t particularly put off to arrive and find the office closed. However it was kind of a shock to see absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, in the way of instructions or anything else at the gate. There was no map, no list of reserved sites versus open sites, no campground host, not even road signage. We drove in and looked around and eventually found one of the four sites the state park brochure said the park had that were full service. Hubby dearest had to get out of the truck and walk to check for a sewer connection. It was time to do laundry again.

As evening settled so did a pall of thick smoke. A large wildfire was burning the south east. We closed up and did our usual trick to avoid having smoke trigger one of my asthma attacks. We left a pot of water on a slow boil and the dehumidifier and air conditioner going. The water surrounds smoke particle preferentially in condensing and they get removed with the waste water produced by the air conditioner and dehumidifier. By morning the wind had shifted and the air was clear.

About 3:00pm a ranger came around and collected the $28 fee and then he gave us back $4 for being seniors. He was very friendly and helpful and told us about the nearby Cherokee Heritage Center. Our rationale for wanting to see the heritage centre was twofold. First, we knew almost nothing about the Cherokee and we thought it would be good to educate ourselves. Second, during this trip we kept encountering historical markers or commentary about the “Trail of Tears”. According to the movie Hilary’s America by Dinesh D’Sousa, the Trail of Tears was the product of a Democratic President stealing Cherokee land to buy white voters over the protests of Republicans like Davie Crockett. We decided we wanted to hear another perspective for balance. The nice ranger gave us good directions and tips on parking and such. We paid for two nights. The forecast was for storms in a couple of days so our plan was to be further north before any storms fired up.

Our visit to the Cherokee Heritage Center (my spell checker is having hissy fits here because Canadians spell it Centre) was a fascinating look into a parallel culture and we learned a lot. The walk through the preEuropean village, complete with actors doing early activities like flint arrow making and pottery, was fascinating. What I especially liked was there was no “noble savage” nonsense. Our guide talked about what was good about preEuropean life and what was bad. For example, he explained how the central fire pit in the house meant the house was always fun of smoke and this resulted in a reduced lifespan from lung disease. It seemed to be a fair and balanced kind of presentation, mostly interesting.

The center also had a mock up of a little Cherokee town from the 1800s. There, we were told that the Franklin wood stove was eagerly embraced by the Cherokee because the wood stove was a much more efficient way to heat a home compared to a fireplace and it reduced smoke in the home in winter. The little town look pretty much the same as any historical mock up of town of that era and so it was obvious the Cherokee had immediately adopted any European innovation they liked and that the arrival of European technology had vastly improved their lifestyle.

From there we went into the Museum proper. Most of the interior is dedicated to the history behind the Trail of Tears. I was really upset to learn how horrible it had been. These were a people largely accustomed to European style of living abruptly stripped of everything they had and sent on foot to walk west, over the Mississippi moved by brute military force and, for the most part, taking only what they could carry. It would have been bad enough if they had been a hunter-gatherer society accustomed to living off the land as they went. These were a people who had been farmers and had adopted European ways of farming, housing, and dressing themselves abruptly forced to travel hundreds of miles on foot in all weather. No wonder tens of thousands perished along the way.

I don’t think of it as being genocide because to me genocide means the deliberate attempt of one group to systematically kill off every member of another group. It was most certainly an ethnic cleansing. Every Cherokee was stripped of their lands and most of their goods and forced to move to a strange new place designated as “Indian Territory”. The rationale was they would be better off living as savages in a savage land off to the west while Americans “settled” the east. (As if it wasn’t already settled by the Cherokee and other Indians.) There were more than a few problems with this. Almost no provisions were made for the Cherokee on the journey and there were already a bunch of other Indians living in the same land. It was not just the Cherokee who were forced out. Other tribes including the Canoe of Florida and the Choctaw were also ethnically cleansed. The historical account we saw did acknowledge many whites were horrified by this ethnic cleaning and did what they could to assist the refugees. There was nothing about whether or not it was the Democrat versus Republican battle as presented in the D’Sousa movie so I didn’t get an answer to that question. I was reminded of the bitter pograms of Russia where Katherine the Not-So-Great bought off Russian peasants by stealing everything owned by Jews and redistributing their meager wealth. That kind of ethnic cleansing drove my husband’s Jewish family from Europe to America. Like the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Russia, along the Trail of Tears, tens of thousands died.

I must admit I am uncomfortable with using the term “Indian”. In Canada we don’t use it because it is not accurate. We are supposed to use more accurate terms like “First Nations” or “Indigenous Peoples” and wherever possible use the correct tribal name for the individual peoples. However the Cherokee use the term Indian when referring to themselves along with other First Nations people. I got a lot of weird looks when I used the term First Nations, like I was some kind of strange white with an acute case of noble savage complex. Indian is a common acceptable term in the USA, so I will use it when referring to Indians living there.

In spite of the great historical horror and tragedy of the Trail of Tears it still felt like a positive place. The Cherokee Nation seems to be doing very well for itself, thank you very much anyway. Their identity as a people, their language both written and spoken seemed to be well preserved and their culture thriving in spite of the best effort of Democrats (assuming D’Sousa is correct). We left the gift shop laden with goodies and a positive feeling. Cherokee and Jews would seem to have a lot in common.

Here is my review of the campground:

Cherokee Landing State Park

This state park is on a high peninsula sticking out into the lake. The park has a few shade trees but it is more exposed than not. We arrived in on a day that hit 92F and we baked. The wind was high and our trailer rocked and rolled with the blasts. There were wild fires south and west of us and the smoke was very thick so we didn’t go out much. Overall it is a rather standard state park with spaces somewhat closer than I would like. There are some sites with sewer but they are immediately adjacent to the dump site which meant stink and a lot of traffic. One thing we did really enjoy was there was a spring eruption of migrating birds so we got to see a huge variety of birds in large flocks  including northern flickers, woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, juncos, starlings, blackbirds, nuthatches and several other species. We stopped here to be close to the Cherokee Heritage Centre which is 15 miles away. We thoroughly enjoyed the Heritage Centre and the coincidence of the spring migration but otherwise there was nothing special or noteworthy about the park.

The next morning we headed north to Kansas. the forecast for Oklahoma was becoming ominous and I had no desire to experience one of this state’s infamous spring tornado outbreaks.Trip

Migration Home – Seventh Stop, Cedar Lake Campground, Ouchita National Forest, Oklahoma

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We headed north after our long week in Beaver Bend State Park. According to the Army Corps of Engineers the state of Oklahoma has taken over and runs all their campgrounds. Because of this the Corp campgrounds are the same cost as state parks. We were aiming for another state park, Wister Lake State Park. I knew there were several Ouchita National Forest Campgrounds on the Oklahoma side but I assumed they were being run by the state as well. That turned out to be wrong.

I spent a long time checking the map and Google earth satellite about the trip. Mountain driving scares me and my truck is underpowered for mountains. If I am not really careful the transmission overheats and I have to go very slowly uphill in low drive to avoid that. I am still afraid from when we cooked our break system coming out of Death Valley. I didn’t want to do that again. Thus, I was nervous about going through the Ouchita Mountains but we decided to give it a try. I am so glad we did! There was one particularly hair raising multi hair pin loop downward into the town of Big Cedar but the road was otherwise not especially challenging for me or my truck.  We stopped at the Oklahoma Ranger District on highway 59 far above the tiny town of Hogden and we were delighted to note that there was a National Forest Campground nearby that was not run by the state of Oklahoma. State parks cost us about $25-$30 a night, still much cheaper than a private campground and often much nicer. With the senior pass a nice National Forest stop can be a little as $8. When we got to Holson Valley Road we turned left and we ventured in to check out Cedar Lake. What a lucky detour that turned out to be!

Cedar Lake has three campsites. Shady Lane has several full service creekside campsites for $18 and we needed to do laundry for which we need a sewer hook up. Rain was predicted. Shady Lane is in a flash flood warning zone and there were signs all over reminding us of this fact. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms over the weekend so we decided we would move. After settling in we unhitched the truck and took a drive to see all the other campsites. The North Shore campsite is actually the prettiest and nicest part of the campground but it doesn’t have any hook ups. We can make do without an electric hook up but we prefer the electric if we can get it, especially in rain. I just don’t like cooking with propane inside the trailer. The Sandy Beach campsite is up high on a hillside and it has electric and water sites and washrooms with running water and showers. We checked out the equestrian campsite as well. It was interesting to see campsites with corrals but you could only stay there if you had horses.

When we arrived, Sandy Beach was full except for three walk in sites and two others that were too short for our trailer. The sites are half first come first serve and half reservable. In the morning, I dressed early and dragged out our “guest room” tent and put it in the truck.  I watched the road. As soon as I saw a big rig leave I jumped in the truck and raced up the hill and put up out the “guest room” tent on an exceptionally lovely site among the first come first serve sites which had just been vacated. This site was the highest in the campsite and overlooking the lake with the prettiest view. Even though it was up high, it was sheltered by a ridge and had no really big trees making it a good spot to ride out thunderstorms. As soon as the tent was up I raced down to the pay station and paid my fee and got the tags and raced back up. By this point there were four other rigs driving around looking for an empty spot and two of them asked me if I was leaving that day. Sorry, no. We had the lower site until 2:00pm checkout so we got our laundry done and then moved up into the higher campsite. We ended up staying five more days for $10/night with the senior pass and it was easily the best campground we stayed at for the entire trip.

Just a side note on the practicalities of trailer living. If we have a full hookup, sewer water and electricity, life is not much different from a city stick house. If we have water and electric and can fill at need we only have to worry about black water and grey water tanks being full. We can empty the tanks by either moving the trailer to the nearest dump site or by using our “honey wagon” which is a small portable tank that pulls behind the truck. If we don’t have water handy, we can either move and fill up directly or we can haul water in our big tank. In this situation we had a five day stay planned and we didn’t want to be bothered with hauling water or using our honey wagon every other day. We used the honey wagon in Beaver Bend State Park because they had coin showers and it was so crowded the showers were either full or there was no hot water. At Cedar Lake we showered in the nearby showers. They had warm and abundant hot water without having to plug coins in every few minutes and we usually had the showers to ourselves. We can typically go five to seven days between emptying the tanks under such circumstances and that was one of nice things about Cedar Lake.

The rain and storms predicted for the weekend went north of us. We had lovely weather every day including afternoons nice enough to be out in just a t-shirt, all but two bright and sunny. We went on long walks and rode our bikes. We got the canoe into the water and had a wonderful couple of hours paddling around the lake. Migrating birds caught up with us and we saw eagles, herons, egrets, cranes, wood peckers, nuthatches, blue and grey jays, wrens, warblers, loons, cormorants, and many others. These are the birds that nest at our Manitoba home and we welcome so enthusiastically so it was lovely to note they had caught up with us on their migration north. While out in our canoe we saw two species of turtles. We saw a male ‘fence lizard’ in his bright blue bellied spring mating colours which was a first for both of us. Their favourite food is ticks making them one of our special favourites as reptiles go. We even saw a small rattlesnake subtly moving off the trail as we approached. There were wildflowers carpeting the ground and the trees were in bloom especially several large eastern red buds with the glorious pink/red. The southern maples with their brilliant scarlet were stunning. We saw huge numbers of water striders doing some kind of giant communal mating swarm which was also a first for us. We built a campfire and sat and talked until it burned itself out almost every evening. From our campsite we could see and hear trailer loads of horses going to the equestrian site and we got many glimpses of horses and heard their whinnies often. The angle of our place up on the hill meant we got to enjoy spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the lake. There were a lot of ordinary folks from the area who were happy to talk and we learned a lot, especially about fishing and how bad the economy still was in this area. There was no internet or TV so the days were quiet and stress free and we relaxed. It was beyond lovely. On our last day we took the three miles long (about 6km) hike on a well marked trail around the outside edge of the lake. Most people take under an hour to do it. We went slowly, stopped for rests and looked at all kinds of fascinating things and ended up taking three hours. It was worth every minute.

On a practical note, we drove to a Choctaw Nation run casino/gas station/deli in Poteau every other day because they had unlimited free internet. The food was reasonably priced and very good. I lost $40 in their slot machines. The town of Poteau is typical of what is so callously referred to as “flyover states” by people living on the east and west coasts. Poteau was full of empty buildings, empty factories, empty warehouses and an entire historic downtown district of empty stores in what had once been a thriving small city in a thriving community. There were Trump signs everywhere. The few people left in the area were older and underemployed and had not one nice thing to say about Democrats. We drove to see Wister Lake State Park on one trip and it was nowhere near as nice as Cedar Lake. It was satisfying to know our detour was the right thing to do and we had ended up in a nicer spot.

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My Review

Cedar Lake Campground Ouchita National Forest

Sometimes you pull into a campsite and your heart sings and your spirit lifts and you think “This is why I do this!” That’s how I felt coming to Cedar Lake. Cedar Lake is a small lake with a color like a glacial lake, pale blue/green and gorgeous. It is fed by two creeks. There are three major sections for camping. The east side has many lovely unserviced campsites. There is a section of serviced campsites including some with sewer on the south side on of the two creeks. There is a third group of sites above that on the west side of the lake that have water and electric. The upper area overlooks a lovely brown sand beach suitable for swimming. Half the sites, including all the sites adjacent to the beach, are reservable. Half are first, come first serve. Everything about this campsite was perfectly suited to my tastes. Big, spacious, private, paved drive, fire pit, barbecue, picnic table, and two places to hang things. We started with a lower level campsite with sewer in order to get our laundry done. We moved to a west side campsite high over the lake on the ridge where we could see both sunrise and sunset the next day. There is a three mile hike around the lake that is a delight. There are numerous other longer hikes. The west campground is adjacent to an equestrian camp so we got to see horses coming and going. Two caveats. The lower campsite with sewer is in a flash flood zone. Part of why we moved up the hill was because the forecast was for thunderstorms. Also signs say the lake can be contaminated with toxic blue green algae in hot weather. During our stay, it was just heavenly. Abundant wildlife, birds, turtles, beavers, and deer and blissful long paddles around the perimeter of the tiny sheltered lake, hikes on pathways with blooming wildflowers and the sound of creeks. During the weekend it got a bit noisy and busy so go weekdays if you have a choice.

And this is our trail after almost three weeks and seven moves. Next stop Cherokee Landing State Park and the Cherokee Heritage Centre.

Day Seven

Migration Home – Sixth Stop Beaver’s Bend State Park Oklahoma

Sixth Stop

We left the Crater of Diamonds State Park and headed into Oklahoma. We took the less demanding route and the cat rode in the cat carrier in the bathtub. We arrived at the Beaver’s Bend State Park after a grocery stop and settled in. The park has four campsites, three on the water and one in the woods. All the waterside campsite were full so we found a spot in inner campground. We initially signed in for two nights but we ended up staying a full week. The main reason we stayed a full week was that we were tired of traveling and even though our campsite was not very nice, this campground had a lot to do and see. The second reason was the weather turned cold and rainy and miserable and since the park had some indoor activities there didn’t seem much point in moving. Third, we discovered we had started our Oklahoma site seeing in the middle of spring break and a lot of campgrounds, including this one, were full by the weekend.

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The park had the one thing I enjoy beyond anything else, a babbling brook with falling water over rocks. Several time we walked from our campsite to the creek and followed the trails.

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In addition to the creek the park is full of roadways and places to drive and walk. We had our bikes out and we went bike riding every day except one where it rained.

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Going up and down the creek had some demanding parts including this little rock cliff that Dick carefully climbed.

We enjoyed our walks in spite of the cool weather. I have been fascinated by the lifecycle of bryophytes with their sexual and asexual/haploid and diploid stages since I took introductory biology a long time ago. All the mosses were in bloom and the fern were coming up as fiddleheads. I even had luck while carefully examining the ground and found several of the nearly microscopic haploid gametophytes. What a treat!

The little river that runs through the campground has an old weir in it. The weir is nonfunctional now and is basically just a pretty waterfall. This is a working river and it came equipped with a siren that went off when water levels changed. And wow did they change going up a meter or more shortly after the siren sounded and then dropping back down again. Along the edge of the river is a long straight flat trail perfect for walking or bike riding. (The siren never went off while we were near it.) The trail along the riverside was full of wildflowers and tiny creeks and springs and the rocky ledges that were the most perfect for hunting up bryophytes. We took a walk every day, often with the dogs, and many a bike ride with several fast trips to watch the water levels change. The park also had a nature centre with a reasonable display of local flora and fauna. Dick noted an error in their diatom display and left them a comment card about that. The park also had a really nice museum of forestry in Broken Bow area that took about three hours to properly walk through. The walk ended with a small art gallery and a really nice gift shop. It was a perfect diversion for a rainy afternoon.

The campground was full of people and we met many of them. It was a bit peculiar. One man showed up on Thursday and parked a huge fifth wheel on one site. He had three teenagers along with him and they set up tents on three other sites. He told me the rest of his family was coming that weekend along with the other members of his church and their families for their yearly reunion. Friday night the campground really filled up with many large families. We saw several groups of women in long skirts, obviously pregnant or carrying babies, enjoying nature. The man with the fifth wheel helped three women with children to park their own rigs on the campsites he had put the tents on. By Saturday every site was full of these extended families. The children of whatever this denomination was, were all exceedingly polite but acted exceptionally wary around us, never speaking to us beyond a “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am” with a broad Texas twang and averting their eyes and running away if we said anything beyond hello. They traveled in happy packs, always with at least one older teen minder, like wild creatures set loose in this wild setting after a long captivity. The men organized group games like baseball whenever it was not raining. One campsite for each extended family group was set up as a sort of communal kitchen and every evening all the groups in a family would descend, gather and eat. Feeding this crew must have cost a fortune! On Monday, they began dispersing and by Tuesday the campground had a few empty places. On Sunday they had an open air service. I enjoyed watching them, the boys in blue jeans and jackets, and the girls with their long hair and modest skirts and leggings.

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And there was one special treat. I’m not sure what the special ingredients were, but the shaved ice sold from this little vehicle was absolutely the best tasting I have ever had. The owner had 14 flavours to choose from. I had pina colada and it was beyond delicious. It was even better after I went back to our camper and added a little vodka. Everywhere this fellow went, he had one long lines eagerly waiting their turn to pick a treat. He must have made a killing financially.

Every third day we drove into the nearby town of Broken Bow to check internet and weather forecasts and possible places to go. Finally, after a full week enjoying Beaver’s Bend State Park, we packed up and headed north to explore more of Oklahoma.

Here is my review of the park:

Beaver’s Bend State Park

Exceptionally nice state park. When you arrive at the main office, you can either go up the hill to the spillway area or continue down the river to the lower campsites. Going up, there are many unserviced campsites in three sections, half can take a larger rig and some are right on the water. These sites are $14. There are 15 non reservable campsites with water and electric. The upper area has paddle boats & canoes for rent, tackle shop, boat launch, easy lake access, miniature train, stables and a lodge. The lower section ends at the old dam that is like a waterfall and very pretty. The lower area has a good restaurant (We loved the fried pie!), nature centre, a museum of forestry and a gift shop. There are three camping sections of campground sites, Buckthorn, is reservable, Acorn and Cypress are not. Acorn and Buckthorn are all big and spacious and on the water for $27. There are also five sites specifically designed to accommodate the handicapped above Acorn. Cypress has many very narrow turns and all back in sites, When we were there, it was wet and muddy on either side of the narrow roads. We did not get stuck but we saw other longer rigs that did sink right to the jacks because they could not make the tight turns without going off the roads and into the muck. The sites are close together and set at haphazard angles so you don’t have much privacy. Our site was, like most, short and we had to unhitch to fit in. $24 but we got $2 off as nonresident seniors. The area below the dam has lots of tempting rocks to climb on and it looks perfect for wading. It isn’t. There are sirens that go off to announce water level changes at the dam and they are big changes. A man comes around selling snow cones for $2-3 and they are the best snow cones I have ever had so try one. We might go again if we can get a reservation first and it isn’t spring break.

And here is our path thus far on our long migration home.

6th day