January 6, 2014

A Look Back: January 6, 2010 – Jumbo Icicles

The snow on the ground today harkens back memories of cold weather on this date a few years back.  These pictures are of jumbo-sized icicles found on the Loop Trail Bluffs and below the Sand Creek Bluffs on January 6th, 2010. (The rusty color is probably from tannins leached from fallen leaves.)

Icicles 02

Icicles 01

January 5, 2014

More Snow And Cold Weather For Osage Hills State Park

CCC-built Pump House

Snow fell again in the Osage Hills. The flurries started Saturday night and continued through the morning with temperatures stalling at 15°F. The dry snow never seemed to stay put – the wind busily rearranged it all day – which made taking measurements a challenge. I found it from 3.25 inches deep near Group Camp to 6.5 inches deep on rocks in a ravine. Officially, the National Weather Service reported 4.7 inches.

Low temperatures for Monday will range from 5 to 10 degrees above zero, with highs in the lower twenties. Wind chill values from -5 to -26 degrees are expected.

Tractor Clearing Snow From Roadway Over CCC Culvert

Tractor Clearing Snow From Roadway Over CCC-built Culvert

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.

December 26, 2013

Winter’s Arrival Confirmed By A Look Outside

Bobcat Hollow Bridge

Last weekend the calendar told us what we already knew: Winter has arrived!  A thick coat of ice cloaked everything in Osage Hills State Park after a bout of cold wet weather moved in on Friday.  Roads were clear and dry by Monday morning, but by sundown a half-inch of snow made roads treacherous again.

The sun finally broke through on Christmas Day and returned the white-washed landscape to tones of brown. (And de-iced my satellite dish so I could submit this post!)