Archive for ‘Off the Reservation’

January 29, 2014

Scottish Rite Temple is Site of 2014 NAI Region VI Workshop

Guthrie Masonic Temple

The National Association for Interpretation Region VI Workshop will be held in Guthrie, Oklahoma on February 24-26, 2014.

The Temple of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry will be the primary venue.

I traveled to Guthrie with other members of the planning committee on Monday to iron out some final details.  The temple is an incredible building.  If you don’t join me at the NAI convention, be sure to take a tour of the Temple the next time you find yourself in Guthrie.  You’ll be glad you did!  (Until then, you can take a 360° visual tour online!)

One of the rooms in the temple. The others are just as grand!

One of the rooms in the temple. All the others are just as grand!

January 24, 2014

A Visit To Lake Murray Nature Center

Lake Murray Nature Center

Earlier this month, I attended a meeting at Lake Murray State Park in south central Oklahoma.  The primary reason we visited this location was to admire the new Lake Murray Nature Center below the park’s iconic Tucker Tower.  The purpose-built structure is fantastic, and all the exhibits are modern and relate to the park or the immediate area.

I also enjoyed an overnight stay at the Lake Murray Lodge.  If you haven’t been there in a while – no worries, it looks exactly the same as it has for decades! …But that is all about to change!  The park is scheduled for a major overhaul that includes a new lodge and many other exciting updates.

Of course, there’s no need to wait for the new lodge before you plan your next visit to Lake Murray!  Even in January there are a variety of things to see and do.  Check out the new nature center, the recently renovated Tucker Tower, and the parks’ rich WPA/CCC history.  On any hike or drive around the lake you are sure to see bald eagles and whole flotillas of waterfowl.  (A Lake Murray employee even reported seeing swans during my visit.)  Then there’s the best part: A visit during the off-season almost makes it feel like you have the place to yourself.

Check out their website!

December 29, 2013

Day Two: Petit Jean State Park (Arkansas)

Pictograph Cave 01

Petit Jean State Park, outside Morrilton, was Arkansas’s first State Park.  Construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps was started in 1933, and we hoped to take a look at some of their handiwork still visible in the park.

We had pitched our tent in the dark in an empty campground and prepared for bed. The next morning we discovered that, among all the sites available to us, I had chosen the most expensive of all: a $30 full service (electric, water, and sewer) RV site.  Whoops!  We had camped at the Ritz and hadn’t even noticed!

We first visited the CCC-built Visitor’s Center, which has a room of interpretive exhibits about the park’s natural history and physical geology, as well as the CCC and early park advocates.  We then visited other CCC sites, such as Davies Bridge, the Boathouse, the CCC overlook, the CCC camp, and the CCC water tower.

We took a hike past the curiously shaped “turtle rocks” on our way to Rock House Cave, an overhanging shelter that has faint paleo-Indian pictographs scrawled on the wall in red and black pigments.

Then, we hiked to Bear Cave – so named because a bear was known to hibernate in it at one time.  It was so small in comparison to Rock House Cave that we continued hiking up the trail beyond it wondering if we had in fact found the correct thing.  (Apparently we had!)  On the way back, we had a great time exploring the weathered fissures in the rock.  We discovered handholds and footholds carved into the sandstone, so we used them to scramble to the top of the outcrop.

Finally, we stopped for a late lunch at the restaurant in the park’s Mather Lodge, a portion of which was built by the CCC.  Mather Lodge is the only CCC-built lodge in the Arkansas State Park system.  Most of the original structure is now used only as a waiting / sitting room.  We worked on a jigsaw puzzle-in-progress in this area while waiting for a table to become available in the restaurant.   A well-appreciated fire was burning in the fireplace, which was a nice touch on a cold day!

After lunch, there was only time for a quick walk to the Cedar Falls overlook before hitting the road for home.

Persuaded by billboards, we made one more stop in Muskogee, Oklahoma for “Christmas At The Castle.”  We hadn’t been there before…  And now that I have, I am not sure whether to be impressed by the sheer volume of illuminated inflatable yard ornaments, or disappointed in the mile-long repeated displays of blow-up Santas on motorcycles and Frosty snowmen on airplanes. [There’s my love-hate with tacky tourism, again!] I bought an “animatronic” singing Teddy Roosevelt caricature (a la Billy Bass) for $5 at the Christmas store in The Castle, which Isabel and I definitely think was a good score!

By the time we reached Tulsa, the ice-laden trees and bushes — beautifully enhanced by dazzling white light from the street lights — were a sublime reminder that we were lucky to have missed it all.

December 27, 2013

A Visit to Mt. Magazine State Park (Arkansas)

Mt Magazine Overlook

I was driving east towards the Arkansas line with my family as the ice storm in Oklahoma began last weekend.  Although the rain was with us for our entire drive, and flood warnings were being issued in Arkansas, the temperatures remained above freezing.

We arrived at Mount Magazine State Park  early in the morning while it was still enveloped in a fog so thick I could hardly see beyond the hood of the car.  Our first stop was at the state park lodge for a hot breakfast at the rustic-styled Skycrest restaurant.  The view from the large picture windows is said to be fantastic in fair weather, but all we could see was the inside of a fairly boring stratus cloud. …So I sat on the other side of the table and never got bored looking at the details inside the beautiful dining room.  My wife and I each ordered the “Top of the Mountain” (Two eggs any way you want, plate sized pancake, plus biscuit & country gravy, choice of ham, bacon, or sausage, and choice of grits or fried potatoes).  The food was good, and they aren’t kidding when they say “plate sized pancake.”  Isabel shared off our plates and we still carted away leftovers.

After breakfast, we drove the park roads and visited the Visitor’s Center.  The Visitor’s Center has a nice gift shop, a wildlife observation area, and a room of modern interpretive exhibits.  A sign on the door informed us that all the park’s hiking trails were closed. Bummer!  The park had been hit with their own ice storm a few weeks ago.  Fallen trees and snapped limbs were visible throughout the park.  The main roads had been cleared of downed trees, but the trails hadn’t yet been serviced and were closed due to safety concerns.

We headed back towards the Arkansas River bridge in Ozark, listed as one of the most beautiful long span bridges in the U.S.  The best time to see it is at night when the design is enhanced by lights.  (We first passed over it in the dark on our way to Mt. Magazine, but the fog was so thick I could scarcely even make out that I was crossing a bridge.)  Like most bridges, it is difficult to appreciate the engineering from the roadway – Try taking one of the surface roads adjacent to the river to see why it won the accolades.  (I must admit, I was not wooed!)

We next went to Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Arkansas.  The Benedictine monk-missionaries first settled near here in 1878.  The Romanesque-style Abbey Church of Saint Benedict was completed in 1959.  A guided walking tour of the campus is available, but we took the self-guided option.

After stopping at an Italian eatery in Ozark, we headed for Wiederkehr Village.  I have a love-hate relationship with tacky tourist destinations, so I thought a Bavarian-styled tourist village might be just the thing to end a chilly rainy day.  Well, Wiederkehr Village is no Leavenworth.  Wiederkehr has a population of about 40 folks and other than the Weinkeller Restaurant offers nothing but vineyards and countryside views.  This was actually somewhat of a relief.  We caught the sunset at St. Mary’s Cathedral above the city of Altus and drove on to Petit Jean State Park where we set up camp for the night.

April 26, 2011

A Visit to Oklahoma City’s Martin Park Nature Center


On April 21, I visited the Martin Park Nature Center, a perennial favorite for school children and families throughout the OKC metro area. The park is located at 5000 W. Memorial Road, just west of Mercy Hospital. Martin Park is operated by the Oklahoma City Parks & Recreation Department.

Martin Park protects 140 acres of woodland and prairie from the surrounding urban sprawl. Even during my visit, earth moving equipment droned and clanged from the southwest corner as yet another edge of the park becomes demarcated by tract housing. Ever since 1962, when the land was acquired by Oklahoma City, quite the opposite has been happening inside the park.

Over one-hundred years ago this land was used as farmland. (The farmhouse, built in 1895, used to stand near Memorial Road until it was torn down about ten years ago.) Later, the Bluff Creek Dairy operated here. Just before acquisition by Oklahoma City, the property was used to raise beef cattle. Each of these industries had their own profound effects on the flora and fauna of the park.

Looking back through several years of aerial images, you can see vestiges of fence lines and pasture edges slowly disappearing as staff and volunteers rehabilitate the landscape, restore native plants, and eliminate introduced species. Even as habitat is being lost immediately outside the park, recovery is still being done within.

The Martin Park Nature Center provides hiking trails (no bikes or pets allowed), wildlife viewing stations, a tree house/tower, a small gazebo, an exceptionally large iron and wood bridge, and a picnic area with a pavilion and amphitheater. The park has three creeks and a pond (swimming and fishing is prohibited). The nature center museum and education center has exhibits relating to local plants and animals as well as general ecology topics.

The park’s three main loop trails take the visitor through a variety of habitats, but primarily wind beneath large oak trees in the riparian zone adjacent to the creeks. My eye didn’t catch too many wildflowers. Either they aren’t out yet, or I overlooked them. I did find Ground Plum, Japanese Honeysuckle, Showy Evening Primrose, and a Wild Rose in bloom. The inconspicuous flowers of the Roughleaf Dogwood and Greenbrier were almost ready. The fruits of the early-flowering Chickasaw Plum (Sand Plum) and Eastern Redbud were ripening on the trees.

The weather was perfect for a day at the park.  In fact, I spent so much time on the trail that the museum was already closed before I made it back.  If you are in or near Oklahoma City, I would encourage you to make a trip to this wonderful nature preserve even if you only have an hour or two of free.  I think you’ll find it time well spent.

The park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is free.  Visit the Martin Park Nature Center’s official website by clicking this link.