Monday, October 10, 2011

Road Trip - Oklahoma and Arkansas

By the time I got to Elk City on Friday night, it was dark, clouds had built up, and the moon was obscured.  I followed signs to an RV park. It was big and shady, but it took a long time to find the office, which was closed. I called the number given on the door and left a message, found a spot to park, and spent the night. On Saturday morning, the office was still closed and no one had ever called me back, so I left. The park didn’t seem to have a bath house or restrooms, and the place I’d parked had no electricity, so I didn’t feel in the least guilty for leaving without paying anything.

Western Oklahoma is almost as flat as Texas, but greener. The riverbeds actually have water, and trees appear to grow naturally. Eventually, on the way east, the land becomes more rolling, more wooded, and the rivers get wider. But the wind was just as strong and constant. It’s disconcerting to drive along and see a huge semi tractor trailer wagging as it rolls down the road. The big rigs with two trailers are especially wobbly and scary to get past. I was glad to see there weren’t any triple trailers. I hope they’ve been outlawed.

Oklahoma City isn’t nearly as large as I’d imagined. I asked the man at the visitors center on the eastern outskirts how many people live in the metro area. He said it was about 1.3 million. That’s just a bit bigger than Albuquerque! It didn’t take long to get through the city and out into the open country again. What pretty country too! On the eastern side of the state, the woods become thick and dark, made up mostly of junipers and pines with a smattering of elms and oaks thrown in for color. The Arkansas river is enormous. I made the assumption that crossing it meant we were in Arkansas, but not true. It wasn’t Arkansas until Fort Smith.

Cliffs of Petit Jean State Park in the sunset.

The plains disappeared and gave way to largish hills and even something resembling a mountain. Arkansas is replete with lakes and rivers, dense forests cover the hills and little towns are known only from the signs saying they are there, you never see them behind all those trees. It reminds me a bit of New England except the trees don’t arch over the road forming tunnels. So far, autumn is still a few weeks away. Some trees are showing a golden cast but the 80+ degree days make it feel very much like summer.

Foliage along the falls trail, no quite autumn yet.
My plan was to get to Petit Jean State Park by early evening. For whatever reason, travel by car always seems to take much longer than one would expect. At the suggestion of the visitor center guy, I took the scenic route to the park, dropping south at Russelville to Center and then east on 154 to the park. It was a winding road, steep in places with a speed limit of 20 most of the way. At the top of a ridge the view was magnificent. Just north was a cliff face, glowing in the setting sunlight, rising up out of dense green forest, overlooking a broad open valley of cleared fields and hazy blue distant mountains.  The park’s website shows some spectacular falls. The campground borders a lake and there is an airfield on the other side of that. Probably the only state park in the country with it’s own airport! As darkness approached, there was a loud buzzing overhead. It was a hang glider type parachute, powered by an ultra light engine carrying two passengers. I now wonder if you can purchase a ride. It would be beautiful to fly over the lake, falls and cliffs.  The park is something of a resort complete with tennis courts, a pool, even lodging in an old WPA era hotel.

Lake next to the campground in the sunrise.

If deadlines weren’t looming, I would stay here a week. It would take that long to explore the trails and photograph the falls at different “sun times”. Plus I would come back in mid-October. Autumn is barely started here, in a couple of weeks it will be phenomenal.