Oklahoma Trail Hike
I was in Oklahoma City for two weeks for a new weather system for the airport where I work. The class was easy and also met a few people from previous classes years earlier. I brought my camera bag with me to include an assortment of lenses, filters, batteries and tripod. I made a stop at one of the only camera store's in OKC. Nice store and surprised to see the prices matched the online prices. The salesman Bill was very nice, we chatted and he gave me some ideas where to get some local shots of some landscape.
He suggested two places Lake Hefner and the one above with a dam. I opted to catch the sunset at the dam since it was close by to my hotel. The location was really scenic but when I looked closer it was tragically trashy. I was really bummed that such a nice place could be full of trash in the water and on the ground. I tried to edit most of it out. The sunset was nice, not many clouds like I prefer, but a warm sunset. The water was smooth and somewhat glassy when I slowed the lens down. I shot some wide angle shots and a few slightly zoomed.
I then decided that I should make a trip to one of the oldest wildlife preserves in the US. Wachita Mountains, a beautiful and terrifyingly unforgiving place I would soon find out. Jon in my class showed me a Google map and where he had hiked a few years earlier. He showed me some pics from the internet and also told me to expect around 3 hrs for the full hike. I checked the weather as it was close to Friday and it looked like rain on Sunday and really hot on Saturday. Well the rain and my camera wouldn't mix well, so Saturday with high 90's it will be. I charged the spare batteries and made sure I had spare battery pack for my phone as well. Saturday morning I ate a big breakfast at the hotel stopped at the store for gas, water and sunblock. The drive was about 2hrs or so along a long flat boring highway. Also nearby would be Fort Sil (Army basic training) and Altus Air Force Base.
Once I arrived at the park, I seen some buffalo and lots of small rock formed mountains. They weren't huge, but more like a mix of small canyons and foothills. Once at the trail head, I parked in the spaces with about 5 other cars. Two cars pulled up at the same time. I put on my sunblock in the car and finished a liter of water. I packed the other two liter's and my gear and hit the trail. I didn't want to crowd the others, so I took my time so they could pass me. The trail seemed easy at first and progressed to the rim of a small canyon. I took lots of pics here and imagined that the non flowing water below would have been really cool after some heavy rain. I could see other's hiking on the other trail (Bison Trail) across the canyon. I was on "Kite" trail named after the elusive raptor bird. He's a much smaller bird than a Hawk, more like the size of a seagull. Their hunting technique was more like a Osprey as they would frequently fly in place preparing for a dive to capture maybe a lizard or small rodent.
I seen a few resident lizards, one was camouflaged in the local fauna of rock color. The other was bright colors green and yellows, and was slightly bigger than the plain lizards.
After a bit of hiking, I found the dam where I could cross over to "Bison Trail" and also get closer to a small heard of buffalo that I could see from the other side of the canyon. You could also park nearby to this dam and start your hike there.
Prior to the trip I had downloaded maps to an app I use called "AllTrails" that highlighted the trails in case I had no cell signal. Well I used this map to slightly go off course to take some nicer shots of the buffalo. After a bit I continued on paralleling the trail but this was annoying as there are stickers in the taller grass that seemed to glue themselves to the material in my Merrell hiking shoes. And the temperature continued to rise somewhere near 100 degrees F. Once I found the trail again it was narrow in a low lying area with some small trees and plants. This was a good spot for me to rest and take my shoes off to get those stickers out. I had about a half of a liter of water left and from the looks of the map I was about half way around bison trail. While I rested, a few Airmen from Altus AFB were hiking by. I put my stuff back on and figured I'd hike nearby them but realized they were crossing another dam to go a different direction. My trail was taking me up and up the rocks. I felt like I was climbing a solid rock mountain. My legs were tired already and at this point had been hiking for over four hours. I'm starting to realize I may run out of water and this is going to take way longer than three hours that my classmate said. After a few short breaks, I could see some trees and shade ahead and figured that would be my next rest stop. I sat on a large rock overlooking the trail ahead and took my shoes off again, took the backpack off and tried to cool down. Out of nowhere a buffalo appeared on the trail ahead. I set up the tripod and took some pics. His head was down eating the grass and I tried to make some sounds to get him to lift his head. Well he had no interest in my sounds or me. So I walked closer to get some better shots and ended up about 50 feet from him maybe less.
He finally looked up and at me and I realized I'm way too close and the trees were much farther. So I went back to the trees and packed the camera and tripod. I decided I would just have to go around this monster as he wasn't moving and I didn't want to get pummeled. I also wanted to go while the clouds were overhead. I took a wide path around and found my way back to the trail. Well the clouds left and the sun was in full force. The drops of water left were not much. I started getting a really bad headache and my back and neck were hurting bad. I kept looking at my phone hoping the end would be near. After almost two hours of walking I found a small bush off the trail and I stumbled my way over and tried to huddle in the shade on some rocks. I again took my shoes and backpack off. I laid down and really hoped someone would come by. My phone felt broken as it looked like I didn't get anywhere and still had miles left to go. I was getting bit by ants, but I didn't care. The rocks felt like a hot grill and were not at all a good bed or seat. I guess it was nearly an hour that I laid there hoping someone would pass. No one....... I stood up and realized I was dizzy, I repeated this a few times. Now I was worried... What if I don't make it....? It was getting late, so I took the last swig of water stood up for a few till the dizzy left, threw the pack on and headed out. I walked or stumbled a bit and wanted to make it to the canyon to cross early and shave a few miles.
I heard some voices ahead on the trail. I smiled and sped up a bit. Ahead was a family resting around mom who was resting like I had done on a rock. I said hello and told them I was so glad to see them. They offered me a bottle of water! I sipped the warm water slowly hoping it would last and laid down right on the rocks and dirt. We chatted for awhile and found out he works on the C-17 aircraft and I told him I did the same for the last six years in the Air Force. Small world I was thinking. The mom wasn't feeling well prior to their hike. They were much more used to hiking in 100 degrees and for miles. He had packed a bag with nothing but water and that was awesome! Everyone though was on their last bottle of water even with the extras. This family didn't realize how bad I really was. I talk a lot and was full of smiles, probably giving them the impression I was ok. I asked them how close can you get to the buffalo, were they used to people? He said they could run as fast as a race horse for a short distance. And the number one injury to hikers was being rammed or gorged by a buffalo. Then he asked "how close did you get?" I told him around 50 feet maybe a bit closer. He turns and said "did you hear that hun? He got 50 feet from a buffalo!" At this moment I realized I was again lucky to not get launched by that beast.... We chuckled at the thought of being a dumb tourist getting hit by a buffalo, as that would have been all I needed to make my death crawl out of that place any harder....:P
Another couple came by and they were asking if there was another way to cross the canyon. I showed them on the phone that the way they crossed would be the shortest route back. They were not tired but ready to head back. They had camel packs on and seemed upbeat but concerned for mom. They stayed with us and we followed them back to the canyon. Through conversation we found out the man used to be an Army Medic. This was a huge relief just knowing someone with life saving skills was on hand! They led and went slowly helping carry our stuff. Dad held my backpack with my camera gear. I just couldn't carry it anymore and I think he could see the pain I was in. The down slope of the canyon was steep, but we managed it slowly and at the bottom was some cool water in the shade. I wanted to drink it up, but knew i'd probably pay for that. The boy soaked his shirt and put it back on. I did the same with a wash cloth I took from the hotel. This felt so good to soak my head. The kids were true outdoors hikers. This was an easy trip and they were probably surprised at our struggles. The other two men helped mom down and I stayed back with the kids to bring up the rear. As we had to jump down about 4 feet to the bottom, the other two men already stepped down, the girl shouted that she wasn't going down where that snake was! We looked where she pointed and realized it was about 6 inches from where they had just jumped down! There was nothing down where they were, so I went a few feet back and broke a stick off so I could push the snake out of the way because there was no way I was going to go back at this point. I pushed him out once and he struck the stick and went right back. The second time I flung him a little farther and he went into the water and swam away. The kids later looked it up and told us it was a Copperhead. We thought he was poisonous since he had a triangle shaped head. Now we all could get down.
Going up the other side was much harder than we though. The medic offered me the rest of his water, and it was still somewhat cool, but it felt so good. He had no idea how much I needed that.... We could only go a few steps and rest. I would go ahead and lay in patches of shade and wait for them to catch up. I was glad for the rest, my legs were like rubber and the sun wouldn't stop cooking me. The trek back took about three hours and we eventually arrived back to my car and the couples car. The family was parked on the other side of Bison Trail, it was shorter to my car for them and I was glad to bring them back to their car. We thanked the couple for their help and chatted about how great it was to find some awesome helpful people!
We drank some water and dad drove my car as we headed into town to get some cold drinks and food. We passed Scott's mountain and he was saying it was a short drive to the top. I felt much better and asked if he wanted to go up. I offered to take some family shots with the camera at the top. It was really nice up there and refreshing to stretch again as I was cramping from the dehydration. There was a nice breeze as the sun was setting shortly.
After a short drive into the nearby town we sat down at a restaurant overlooking a small river. We all ordered super sized drinks and browsed the menu. The kids were joking about trying some frog legs. I leaned over and told them to order what ever they wanted and the bill is on me. That was the least I could do as they have no idea that I wouldn't have made it out without them. I was treated to a Buffalo burger. It was good and hit the spot. We said our goodbye's and we swapped emails so I could send them the pictures. They offered to meet up again on one of my future trips, I suggested if we did, they should bring a wagon with water for the Jersey boy....lol.
The drive back was about two hours and surprisingly wasn't too bad. My bed in the hotel was like heaven on earth. I was still cramping in my fingers and toes. The next morning I stayed in my room all day and evening. I even ordered room service, something I have never done. I called my family and told them the story, they reminded me I wouldn't have made it on Naked and Afraid. And they don't have to worry as I'm not ever trying to be on that show.... I learned a good lesson to never let your guard down. If I was with the family or friends I would have calculated the distance, temperatures and quantity of water to account for the hike. I ended up hiking over ten miles that day in 100 degrees on rocks, grass and canyons. I haven't hiked that far for probably over 20 years. Most of my recent hikes have been with my doggies back home on easy trails in hot humid but shady hikes around 2-6 miles at most. Thank God for my return. And my new friends in Oklahoma for getting me home.
Here are some of the photos I entered in the "Share the Experience" contest from the Official Federal Recreation Lands Contest. Please feel free to vote for me if you like my story and photos. Thanks!
Lost Lake Dam from 1929
Yellow Head Collared Lizard basking on a rock
Buffalo off of Bison Trail
Early sundown at Mt Scott overlooking Lake Lawtonka
Lizard standing still as I walked by