Sunday, July 29, 2007

Paddling and Hiking at Robbers Cave

Robbers Cave Pines
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
We visited Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton, Oklahoma this weekend and it was a blast! This park is only a couple hours drive from our Okmulgee home and it offers loads of healthy, affordable fun.

A Great Place to Try Paddling

Robbers Cave State Park has three small lakes that are all excellent for novice canoe and kayak paddlers to give the sport a try. Lake Carlton is located right by the park office. This tiny lake offers canoe, kayak and pedal-boat rental and a lovely swimming area set against a backdrop of rocky bluffs covered in cedar, pine and assorted hardwood trees. Although, my first visit here was in the summertime, I imagine it must be stunning in the Fall. The lakes are free of fast boats and jet skis which makes them excellent for teaching the basics of paddling to kids.

Also, the small town of Krebs, Oklahoma is right on the way to Robbers Cave State Park from our house. Krebs is a town built by Italian immigrants and the opportunity to catch a meal there is reason enough for an Oklahoma Road Trip! Although most places in this town serve dinner only, you can catch lunch at a couple of place. Find one…it is worth it!

More Fun Stuff for the Kids

In addition to the lakeside swimming area, there is a large pool nearby and adjacent to the gift shop is a Nature Center for learning to recognize the native plants, animals and insects in the area. Now I know why the goldfinch feeder I bought on sale a month ago hasn’t attracted any goldfinches. It turns out that goldfinches are winter birds in Oklahoma!

The Kids Will LOVE the Hike…So Will You!

Hiking up to Robbers Cave is, of course, the main event at Robbers Cave State Park. Do not leave the park without taking this excellent hike. Although you will see folks breaking out rock climbing equipment and rappelling gear, most folks from 10 to 60 should be capable of walking to the top safely (if not quickly). The trailhead info says that the climb is equivalent to climbing eight flights of stairs and takes about one hour. It is, without a doubt, the best little hike I have ever been on and it was great to see how much Dylan enjoyed it!

My favorite part of the hike is The Stone Corral. The outlaws that used to hide out in these caves included folks like Belle Starr, Jesse James, Cole Younger, etc. They used The Stone Corral to conceal their horses. I walked up to The Stone Corral on a hot, windless day in the summer, but I swear that a constant breeze moved through the rock-surrounded area while I was there!

Some Advice for the Hike

Although non-hikers can walk up this hill, you will enjoy yourself more if you follow the following tips. Wear snug fitting shoes with good traction, you don’t want to risk slipping and falling. If your shorts are very long, roll them up. Take some water. take a camera and take your time. It was a hot walk uphill in the summertime, so the best advice I can give you is to leave early. The trail opened up at 8am and it started to get a little crowded with Boy Scouts ands such around 10:30am…right when the temps were rising and we were leaving.

Cabins, Camping or a Wilburton Motel

Wilburton, Oklahoma is not a huge town so the lodging options are somewhat limited when visiting Robbers Cave State Park. On the first night of our trip, we stayed in one of the park’s two bedroom cabins. The cabins are not fancy. but they are comfortable and they tend to be booked up early on weekends. Right by our cabin was the park lodge called the Belle Starr View and the park offers group camps, tent camping and horse camping as well.

To feed the internet addiction of our family we spent the second night of our road trip at Wilburton’s Hiway Suites and Motel. Their king rooms are also not fancy but comfortable and we found a decent WiFi signal right away. After an afternoon swim in the pool and some satellite TV, we awoke refreshed for another day of fun at the park.

Lake Carlton and Lake Wayne Wallace

Although there are several walking trails to explore, on Day Two we decided to paddle Lake Wayne Wallace instead getting lost in the woods. This lake is just a short drive from Lake Carlton, but it is more isolated and scenic. Lake Carlton is scenic, but with the boat rental, a shaved ice stand, pool, waterslides, swimming area and floating docks…it is anything but isolated. Young people play gleefully in all directions at Lake Carlton. Lake Wayne Wallace was much more my speed. Dianne and I paddled it early in the day until lunchtime and we only saw one other person…at a distance.

Both of these park lakes are small and surrounded by beautiful trees, stone formations and high scenic bluffs. If you have been waiting for an excuse to buy a new high capacity memory card for your digital camera…this trip will justify it!

Bonus Road Trip to Heavener, Oklahoma

My son Dylan had heard about the Heavener runestone and expressed an interest in seeing Oklahoma’s most famous Viking artifact. Since the trip would take us even deeper into the Ouachita Mountains, I was definitely up for it.

It would appear that sometime around 600 AD, some Vikings made an Oklahoma Road Trip of their own. Scholars believe they traveled up the Mississippi River and laid claim to land that would one day become Poteau, Oklahoma. The Heavener Runestone is said to be a property claim marker for a Viking named ‘Glome’. I was surprised to learn that other Viking Runestones had been found around Oklahoma including a Shawnee Runestone in nearby Shawnee, Oklahoma.

What About Thrilling Whitewater Excitement?

We made a brief stopover at Lake Wister on our way back to Wilburton and our kayaks were in the back of the truck. Lake Wister is releasing huge volumes of water now. Below the dam release point there was some mighty frothy whitewater and lines of fishermen on each shore. They were pulling 45 pound catfish out of this area with rods. I was surprised when one of them asked me if they would like to pull their lines in so we could run the whitewater in our kayaks.

Thanks…But No Thanks

First of all, neither of our kayaks or our skills are up to snuff for this run. Even if we were paddlers enough to survive, the smell would gag a maggot. Apparently, the lake is ‘turning over’ as it does every summer. The water has a yellow tint and an almost overpowering smell of sulphur (rotten eggs) fills the air around the dam release. I was standing on the bank about ten feet from the water and I could see fish just beneath the surface. I couldn’t help wondering if it had any impact on the flavor of the catfish…it sure put me off my feed for awhile!

Trails Galore!

Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton, Oklahoma has a wide assortment of Nature Trails, Mountain Biking Trails, and Equestrian Trails. If you take a notion to do some wandering partner, this place has got trails! Dianne and I took Dylan and Dianne’s Mother Juliene and we all found fun activities to enjoy at this park. I can’t remember when I have enjoyed such cheap fun. Since we had our own kayaks (only two boats to share between four people), we spent nothing on activities. The hiking and boating and Viking History lessons were all free.

For the drive home, we decided to skip the Indian Nation Turnpike and take Highway 69 instead. Highway 69 crosses Lake Eufaula at in several places like Rock Creek, Coal Creek and Crowder. I'll have to get back and paddle that part of Eufaula one of these days.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Looking to Trade Kayaks?

Evan, from The Red Dirt Paddlers, is trying to sell his dagger outlaw kayak. He would also be willing to trade it for a recreational kayak.

If you are interested in learning more about The Red Dirt Paddlers, Oklahoma's own chapter of the ACC, visit the Red Dirt Paddlers page on the ACC website.

Trip Report On Dogwood Acres to Frisbee Ramp

Dianne and Greg Paddling
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
Last week I got an email from a blog reader in Checotah with an idea for a paddling trip. Greg, a kayak paddler who lives near our lot at Dogwood Acres, suggested we paddle from our lot, down the North Canadian River and across Eufaula Lake to the Jack Frisbee boat ramp.

Normally, Dianne and I have to take 'up-and-back-again' trips on the river because we only have one vehicle and no shuttle. Needless to say, we were thrilled to get a chance to do a 'one-way', downriver trip and to meet one of our new neighbors.

The float trip is about 6 miles, most of it with a decent downstream current. We started early in the morning to try and beat the heat. This is pretty important for taking this particular trip during the summer. Although the river portion of the trip offers some current and quite a bit of shade, the last leg of the trip is pure Lake Paddling in the blazing sun.

One of the downsides of paddling Oklahoma lakes is that the wide open area offers little shade. Also, the lack of distance cues around you makes it seem like you are paddling at an a very slow speed. The feeling of slowness makes paddling across many Oklahoma lakes feel very monotonous. There is also an element of danger when paddling your kayak across a big expanse of water where ski boats and personal watercraft race around at breakneck speeds.

Despite a couple miles of paddling across the lake at the end, the trip is a good one. Although not as scenic as the Illinois River or the Lower Mountain Fork River, paddling the North Canadian offers solitude, peacefulness and some cool bird watching opportunities.

Meeting Greg was the best part of the trip. He is a really conscientious paddler and all-around nice guy who has developed some very good safety habits. Dianne and I set the bar rather low when it comes to safety procedures. We wear our PFD's when paddling, but that is about the extent of our safety preparations. Greg plotted the whole trip out on a map and brought along some rescue gear in case someone ran into trouble.

His kayak is a cool Advanced Elements boat about ten feet long, some folks call them Folding Kayaks. Advanced Elements makes hybrid kayaks that have the buoyancy of an inflatable kayak with a rigid frame that makes it easier to paddle than most pure inflatable boats. The best feature of the boat is that is can be carried on a roof rack like a regular kayak OR you can take it down and fold it into a bag for traveling!

The trip running from Dogwood Acres to Jack Frisbee Boat Ramp near No Name Creek will be one I am sure we will repeat. The Frisbee Baot Ramp is right of Highway 150 and offers a great parking area that is close to food, lodging, bait...whatever you need.

Greg offered two suggestions on the trip that I ignored and looking back on it...I should have taken his advice. The first was when he offered us all sunscreen at about 9:30am and the second was when he suggested a group picture at the end. Buddy, you were right!

This felt like our first real float trip of the summer because it isn't a real float trip until someone (me) gets a sunburn on their knees, right? Greg, if you are reading this…thanks for a great trip! Dianne and I really enjoyed it meeting a fellow paddler that knows the Eufaula area so well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dogwood Acres to Jack Frisbee Ramp

I'll Take Chocolate and Gold
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
Greg, a Checotah area reader of my little Oklahoma kayaking blog, has suggested paddling from our river lot near Pierce, Oklahoma downriver to the Jack Frisbee Boat Ramp on Eufaula Lake just off Hwy 150.

It sounds like an excellent trip, well worth repeating if everything works out. There is an excellent boat ramp and paved parking area at the landing site, plus ice, grub, bait and beverages just a couple miles up the road.

The river level on the North Canadian River is still quite high, but that just improves the river access at our lot. The current is also very high, so we will be watching out for debris coming down river. It will be nice to take a one-way paddle with the current for a change!

The water level on the Illinois River still looks excellent with no flooding at all.

All of the rain Oklahoma has been seeing this summer has swollen most rivers to well beyond their banks. The bright side is that the numbers of frogs and wading birds are much larger this year than I have ever seen before.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Riverside Sunsets and Insane Thrill Rides

Riverside Sunset
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
One of the things I really like about paddling is that is offers something for everyone. As for myself, I enjoy the occasional bit of fast water, but I really prefer chasing sunsets across glassy waters. I'll get my excitement in the mail from Blockbuster Online. Profit - The Complete Series is now on DVD with bonus episodes. This trippy little dark comedy /suspense series was way ahead of its time with its spot-on insight into the modern corporation. It was little surprise that companies like P&G found other vehicles to sell their soap so quickly.

Rapids tend to get water on my lens, but other folks demand more excitement in their lives and technology is always there to deliver. Case in point: The Jet Kayak.

Waterfall jumper Shaun Baker and his engineering friend Andy Selway crammed a 45 horse power motor and a Yamaha jet ski impeller into a kayak. The modified impeller forces water through it's body to push the kayak to a maximum 35mph.

See the Jet Kayak video from UK show Top Gear on YouTube to see what a 35mph kayak really looks like.

As I said...something for everyone.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Current Kayaking Conditions Are Cool!

Summer Cedar
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
This weekend the water flow down our little section of the North Canadian River slowed down enough for me to do some solo paddling. I even managed a side trip to DFWR on Sunday.

The North Canadian River is still very high, which is great for us because our river access spot normally has a steep bank making landing and launching very difficult. However, at it's current level it is a perfect spot to launch out and catch the sunrise or sunset. Landing is also a breeze due to some sandstone we recently arranged.

Saturday, after the lawn work, I paddled out around 7pm, just in time to catch some fantastic light. The tree photo here is basically right out of the camera. I got some nice pictures of the rocks as well. So many big catfish were rolling to make me wish I had brought a fishing rod.

The recent strange weather has made for some very nice sunsets and it is easy to find water these days. Sunday, I met up with Bill at DFWR White Oak Area where the water is dropping pretty fast.

Bill is a real nice local guy who saw some of our pictures on Flickr and we got to chatting about kayaks, photography and stuff. He took my Perception Swifty out into Thousand Acre Lake for a test paddle. He takes some killer shots with his Nikon D80 . I gotta get me one of those!

The Illinois River is at ideal paddling depth so I am trying to get Dianne to agree on a weekend trip up that way. I am hoping to find some overnight lodging that would allow us to get on the water early enough to catch the good light.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Paddling Greasy Creek and Okmulgee YMCA

Greasy Creek Bridge
Originally uploaded by FreeWine
This weekend our little portion of the North Canadian River was rolling too hard for our particular brand of kayaking. However, with Dianne's kayak newly repaired, we were eager to get on the water somewhere. I've heard the traffic on the Illinois River is unseasonably slow, but Momma wanted to stay close to home.

Luckily for us, Okmulgee Creek (Greasy Creek) is flooded. This provided us with the opportunity to paddle both Greasy Creek and the exercise trail at Okmulgee Municipal Park (near the YMCA on 20th Street).

Paddling the Okmulgee Creek is actually quite nice once you get past the odor and the cars honking as they pass. Dianne's Mom even stopped by to take my Perception Swifty kayak out for a quick paddle around the soccer goals.

Paddling Greasy Creek reminded me of one of the key benefits of having a Sit-Inside-Kayak as opposed to a Sit-On-Top kayak. Sometimes, you don't want the water to touch you at all. Flood water is likely to be contaminated, so swimming in it is never advised. Sit-on-Top kayaks tend to get more water on you than one might prefer during the winter or while paddling in nasty water.