Testing Our Mettle

Anyone who’s ever been camping knows that it’s more fun to camp in great weather than it is to camp in the rain. Judging on that standard, this has been the week from hell.

We started out near Tulsa at Washington Irving Recreation Area, a Corps of Engineers campground on Keystone Lake.20170427_170244 We knew bad weather was coming – we are well armed with weather-watching tools when we have a bit of internet access. Since the shit was scheduled to hit the fan Friday night/Saturday, we decided to stay until Sunday morning, so that we weren’t trying to move down the road in severe weather. Smart Decision #1.

We never heard specific rainfall totals, but we believe we got between 6-8″ of rain from Friday night to Sunday morning. In the hopes of giving ourselves a bit of extra shelter, we deployed our large yellow awning when we setup camp on Thursday afternoon. So, at 4:30am on Saturday morning, we found ourselves outside in 60mph winds trying to wrestle the awning off the Campshack (our new name for the Fireball). It had totally pulled out of its stakes, but remained attached to the keder rail, which hooks the awning to the trailer. We got soaked, and were nearly flogged to death, trying to get a grip on the flailing awning (which miraculously was undamaged). We were absolutely pounded by rain and high winds (40-60mph). We got about four big bangs of hail, but mercifully escaped that ordeal. Here’s one telling photo.20170501_113921 The following photos tell the story of this storm. Check out the rising lake level.20170427_17033820170429_10180220170429_15563520170430_073231We escaped Sunday morning, driving through Tulsa to have breakfast with a fellow T@Bber, and headed toward Fayetteville AR to Lake Wedington, a somewhat shabby little National Forest Service campground in the Ozark National Forest. 20170430_144012Fayetteville got hammered by the storm, absorbing 10″ of rain. Fields were submerged, and ditches alongside the road were filled with rushing water. This sure doesn’t look like any river view I’m familiar with. 20170430_124435-120170430_124502-1Our campground had several sites underwater, but we grabbed a decent site, and hoped for the best. A bit of sunshine helped, and we put everything up and out to dry. Our awning and patio mat were soaked, and the inside of the Campshack had that ugly, wet feeling that comes with a perennially damp dog, and eight wet feet traipsing in and out. We were desperately seeking sunshine. While we were there, a boat drifted up and beached itself on our campsite. We immediately adopted it, and named it Plan B.20170430_180220 We were rewarded with sunshine for a day. What a lift to our spirits that was.Fayetteville is gorgeous. We drove into town to check out one of the many breweries. Good beer/marginal food at the Bricktown Brewery. It’s near the campus of University of Arkansas in a beautiful old downtown area. I was especially taken with this little garden area, and one of the sculptures there. The old lady knitting was so realistic that I could have struck up a conversation.

After lunch, we headed to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. It was a pleasant diversion, but small and not really notable. But it sure was a great feeling to be out and about in the sunshine.20170501_150459They either did a fantastic repair job, or had little storm damage.

Our next two choices for campgrounds moving eastward were both closed due to storm damage. We had hoped to camp alongside the Buffalo National River, but had to move east to Robinson Point, a Corps of Engineers campground near Mountain Home AR. The drive though northern Arkansas was incredible – rolling hills with every shade of green you can imagine. May must be the best month for this area – not a lot of color, but green and fresh. We passed through towns with names like Flippin and Yellville. I had thought that our route would take us right through Flippin, and was disappointed and surprised to find that we just passed closely. I really wanted a photo of the town name.

The amount of water at Robinson Point is astonishing – probably 45 of the 70 campsites are fully submerged, as well as is an entire island in the lake about 50 yards offshore.20170502_15130220170502_151442(The photo above shows an area of about 30 campsites which are wiped away.) This is primarily due to the fact that dams above this campground along the river have been opened up to release flood pressure upstream. We were told that the usual flow from the dam at Bull Shoals (the first one above us) is 20,000 gal/sec, but it was increased to 60,000 gal/sec. The lake here is the color of a latte – no resemblance to any kind of water color you’d ever want to see. We grabbed an available (high) site and set up. Jezzy and I wandered over to find the registration station to pay for our two nights. Couldn’t find it. We patrolled the entrance area – nobody home at the Camp Host site. I was heading back to camp when I spotted a Corps of Engineer truck heading my way. I flagged the driver down, and explained that I couldn’t find the registration box. The driver shrugged. “Just camp” he said. “Free?” I asked. He nodded. I remarked what a gorgeous campground this was, and said that I was sad to see such extensive damage.

He just kind of stared off ahead, nodded, and pulled away. It’s shocking to see this kind of damage. Some of these places will take weeks or even months to recover. Tomorrow (Wednesday), we’re supposed to get another 1.5″ of rain here.

More Oklahoma Surprises

Already, it seems like forever ago since we left Great Salt Plains State Park.  We planned an early departure, so we could stop in Oklahoma City to visit the  Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, established to commemorate the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.20140418_124849 This memorial site is somber and moving, with hand-crafted bronze chairs in place for each of the 188 bombing victims, including smaller chairs for the children, which are especially gut-wrenching.  The chairs are arranged in nine rows, according to the floor of the building each of the victims was on at the time of the bombing.  At night, the bases of the chairs are softly illuminated.20140418_12354520140418_123445 Large black granite walls with the times 9:01 (the last minute of normalcy before the bombing), and 9:03 (the time the recovery and healing began) guard the site, which includes the chairs, a walkway built from granite of the Murrah building, and a flat black-granite pool.  It’s dignified and quiet – a fitting tribute.There’s a wall with hand-made tiles from kids all over the world recognizing the sorrow of the families and friends of the victims.20140418_13054020140418_13024620140418_130210 April 19 will be 19 years since the bombing.

We hustled out of OK City, not wishing to see other sights this trip, but anxious to find our new campsite at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  By a lucky accident, we made a wrong turn into the area, and found ourselves at a campground which was not the one we for which we planned (although we had no reservations).  A part of the same NRA, this campground had deluxe paved roads, paved slabs, and water/electric for just $12/night with our Geezer pass.  Showers, even!  A view of the lake. Heaven.  John celebrated by baking Dutch oven cinnamon rolls for breakfast the next morning.  20140419_08291620140419_08295520140419_085605Don’t let the dark tops fool you – they were spectacular.  Scarfed down while warm, with the gooey frosting oozing between the layers.

We decided to explore the next day on bikes, and headed toward Sulfur, the nearby town.  The Chickasaw Cultural Center caught our eye on the way by, so we happily detoured into the curving driveway.20140419_150104 What an informative afternoon we spent – live demonstrations of archery, weaving, beading, spear-throwing games, were all in process.20140419_12174920140419_12120920140419_121151 Native stomp dancers talked about their traditions and culture.  A movie, and audio presentations.  For lunch, a bison taco and hominy stew.  But, the best part was the old tanner who was working there.  This elderly gentleman hunts and tans all of his own hides, makes all his own clothes, camps in a teepee, makes bows from native materials, raises bison, and is the real deal.20140419_12263620140419_122706 He was very gracious in spending time with us, explaining his craft, and answering all of our questions.  What a treasure.20140419_150313

Back at camp, I decided to forage for unused firewood at empty campsites.  That’s a favorite trick of ours – we HATE spending $$ for firewood, and forage when we can.  There’s an astonishing amount of wood left at campsites every day.  Free for the taking. We have no pride when it comes to hauling it back for our own campfire.  What did I spy but the greatest carved hotdog stick ever!  Four-pronged, with a handle. 20140419_174413 I grabbed it, and sprinted back to camp, hollering at John to come see.  He was knee-deep in giving Fireball tours to about five passers-by at the time. (This is something we do a lot.  Everyone wants to ask us about the Fireball, and check out the inside.  We gladly oblige).  I was quickly brought back to earth – Hey, City Girl – this is no hotdog stick, it’s a frog giggin’ stick!  Ick!!  I don’t know exactly what the process is, and don’t want to know.  The loss of innocence was crushing.

Hating to leave this fabulous campground, we sadly pack up on Sunday morning and head for Crater of Diamonds State Park in AR.  Hoping to screen/dip/mine the big one, although we have no idea what the process of finding your own diamond really is. Guess we’ll find out. How hard can it be, anyway?

Peace and Quiet and Birds

Pelicans in Oklahoma?  Sure….and the Easter Bunny is going to load the Fireball up with Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs this weekend. Right.

But, here we are, camped on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River in Great Salt Plains State Park (OK), and we have white pelicans floating alongside our campsite.  20140416_152231And, there’s an enormous lake which has about 1/2 the salinity of the ocean just a few hundred yards away.  This is not the Oklahoma we expected to see.20140416_15360520140416_155117Our own private dam….20140416_155240and a beautiful campsite (see us on the left about 1/2 way down on the left?) complete with water and electric for $18/night.20140416_152924I really can’t believe I’m in Oklahoma (until someone wants to talk politics).  It’s beautiful and peaceful.20140417_121501 20140417_143043We’re right alongside the edge of the Salt Plains National Wildlife Preserve, so I cycled over there to take in the sights and see the Visitor Center.20140417_141225This is on a major north/south migratory path for many bird species, but there was a lot of room at the inn today, as there weren’t many birds in sight.  I rode along the gravel roads and hiked the Nature Trail and saw a few egrets, Great Blue Herons, many other wading birds that I couldn’t identify, mallards galore, one bluebird, a pair of cardinals, and a bunch of cormorants.  Lots of other small birds which I couldn’t see well enough to identify.

Persistant knocking on the door of the Visitor Center persuaded the Ranger inside to open up and let me see the exhibits inside.  He answered all my lame questions, and offered up the following tidbit.  On a single day, there were 130,000 Sandhill Cranes and 120,000 Canadian Geese here last fall.  Can you imagine seeing that through these birder blinds?20140417_13315420140417_133122Such a sight (and such a ruckus) is beyond my comprehension.

It’s a quiet place, and we were happy to be here.  John rode off in search of digging selenite crystals, which take on a unique formation in this area.20140417_134140 However, the digging area was both farther away than he was willing to cycle (about 40 miles round trip – tough on his CX bike) and it required more/better tools than we had.  Next year.

Windy, cool, cloudy, and a bit of rain for the day, but we are happy to be out in the boonies. I’d love to be here during fall migration when there are hundreds of thousands of pelicans (the Ranger told me that the ones by our campsite have probably decided not to make their return trip to Oregon, and will stay for the season), plus Whooping Cranes (up to about 300 from near extinction of a population of 18), and dozens of other species.

Things are on the upswing, after disappointment in Dodge City.  We’re on our way tomorrow to the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge in OK for a few days, so (hopefully) more of the same peacefulness will stretch into the weekend.