When the Chickasaw Nation was forced to relocate to Indian Territory, within their new borders they found a wooded area filled with fresh water and strong-smelling mineral water springs. They believed these springs had healing powers. Fearing that they would not be able to protect this area from commercial development and becoming another Hot Springs, Arkansas, they sold it to the Federal Government, with the condition that it be protected, and kept open to the public. In 1902 Senator Orville Platt introduced legislation designating this area the Sulphur Springs Reservation, and in 1906 Congress passed legislation creating Platt National Park, named for Senator Platt, who had recently died.
At 640 acres, Platt National Park was the seventh and the smallest unit in the National Park System. Though small it was no less popular, in 1914 it received more visitors than Yellowstone or Yosemite. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned to make improvements, to make the area deserving of being a National Park. They added many buildings, and landscape features, that significantly altered the character of the park. By 1949 it was receiving more than a million visitors a year. However, many people within Congress felt that Platt National Park lacked the grandeur and scope expected of a National Park. On March 17, 1976, Congress changed the status from Platt National Park to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area because it was not the same natural beauty as Yellowstone and Yosemite. This former national park was added to the Arbuckle Recreation Area to create a lush playground for all to enjoy.
The older portion of the park, the Platt District, remains popular, still receiving more than a million visitors a year. It features the springs, a swimming hole, fishing, boating, hiking, and camping. The swimming hole has a small man-made waterfall called the Little Niagara. Here the spring water is cold and a host to people of all cultures.
There are three basic camping areas. The Lake of the Arbuckles areas: Buckhorn, Guy Sandy, and The Point. One, Guy Sandy, is first-come-first-serve and does not require a reservation. You simply show up, decide on your spot and visit the kiosk, then pay for your stay. Buckhorn and The Point are reservation camping loop is very nice with full hook-ups and full almost all year round. The third camping area is within the historic Platt District, the original area of the park has three camping loops, in which the only one is open year-round and only first-come-first-serve. This area is surrounded by the rushing creek and active in the springtime.
Ren and I first visited in the Fall of 2013, we were on the way back from visiting family in Oklahoma. This was before we really caught the travel bug, but we fell in love with the park and made plans to return. We have revisited the park several times since then, it is a reasonable drive from both Fort Worth and from Tulsa. When I started photography it was one of the first places I wanted to go.
We decided one day to visit the visitor center and hike trails behind it. Here the shade from the canopy of trees kept us cool in the Oklahoma August heat. It was quiet for the most part, except the various little waterfalls and birds chattering in the treetops. Here we found a peaceful place just minutes away from the main county road. It was an amazing hike.
We then took the time to swim in the swimming hole just below Little Niagara Falls. We even followed many of the young people and jumped off the top! It was exhilarating. I remember my heart pumping and watching the people ahead of us pop up from down below. My knee was aching, it was only recently healed from being broken and the cold, spring water felt good, taking away the swelling.
It may not be a National Park anymore, but it is still worth a visit if you are in the area.
Thank you so much for joining us on this park adventure. We appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to enjoy the time with us. Please remember to help us get out to many others and share this post.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we, trying to be flexible, took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and, usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged, and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
If you want to do astrophotography, one of the things you have to deal with is light pollution. You have to get where it is dark, far away from the city lights. Living in Fort Worth, was not terribly difficult. I was about an hour and a half from reasonably dark skies, and three hours from very dark skies. The other thing you have to deal with is that you need to shoot when the moon is not in the sky, so the New Moon is ideal. Once we moved back to Tulsa, really dark skies were further away. Looking at the Light Pollution map on http://darksitefinder.com I saw that the darkest skies in Oklahoma were found at the far western end of the panhandle. In fact, these were as dark as any place in the continental U.S., and right there in the middle of these wonderfully dark skies was Black Mesa State Park. I wanted to go. The problem was that it was over seven and a half hours away; this would be a major trip. I had suggested it a few times, but Ren had not been enthusiastic because she was worried about the heat and the distance.
When I saw the August New Moon was going to fall on a weekend, and that it was going to fall during the middle of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I told Ren that I was going to want to be somewhere DARK that weekend. I was surprised when she suggested that we go to Black Mesa. It took me about half a second to agree. We started our planning. More accurately, Ren started planning. She presented me with three plans with a breakdown of costs, driving times, and the number of new counties we could get.
We figured out what we wanted to see while we were there, which counties we would visit, how much gas it was going to take, and even where we would buy our gas, as we were headed into areas where you could not count on gas stations being nearby when you ran low. We knew we were headed to the park. There were three tri-state markers we wanted to visit, (A tri-state marker is where three states meet. If it’s not in the middle of a river, there will usually be a marker of some kind.), and, since Ren loves geology as much as I love astronomy, we were going to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.
Taking a half-day Thursday off from work we hit the road as soon as I got off work. We drove straight to the park along Highway 412, with only a minor detour to visit Gloss Mountain State Park, which was right on the way. We arrived at camp just after dark and got our first surprise. For a park that brags about their dark skies, they had the place lit up like downtown. Street lights everywhere. We would have to get away from the park to get our stars. We set up our hammock stand camp for the first time in the dark, but they are very straightforward and it went quickly. It was cloudy that evening, with a small chance of rain Thursday and Friday, but we got lucky, while there were storms around us, they passed us by.
We spent Friday, as planned, exploring the park, visiting two of the three tri-state markers, and a couple of canyons in Colorado. Friday evening I found a location and set up to take pictures, but it was pretty cloudy and I didn’t get the dark skies I had anticipated.
Saturday the plan was to get the third tri-state marker and visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. We left camp and headed toward the Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico border. When we got close enough to civilization to get a cell phone signal, I checked the weather forecast. The clear skies that had been predicted, were looking more and more unlikely. I wasn’t going to get my stars, again. I wasn’t too upset about it because we were having a great trip, and if you do astronomy long, you know that this is just part of the hobby. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
As we headed into Clayton New Mexico, on the way to the Volcano, I looked at the map and told Ren, “If I can’t have stars, I want mountains. Let’s go to Taos.” She asked how far it was, and I told her it was just over two hours. I expected a little resistance to scrapping the plan she had worked so hard on, however, to my surprise, she agreed right away. At this point, we knew nothing about Taos except that there were mountains. While Ren drove, I tried to figure out what we wanted to do when we got there. We aimed to stop at a place called Eagles Nest Lake State Park, and figure out where to go from there. While I looked over Google Maps, I saw a marker for Cimarron Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t clear what it was. We drove on toward the mountains, which were becoming more and more impressive the closer we got to them.
Reaching the town of Cimarron, we stopped at a tourist information booth to pick up some brochures and spoke with the attendant. I noticed a National Park Passport stamp and asked her what it was for. It turns out that Cimarron Canyon was a National Scenic, and Historic drive and we were driving right through it to get to Eagles Nest. We always try to take any Scenic Byway we pass. This was as beautiful as any with its huge cliffs and thick forest while the Cimarron River flowed the length of the canyon. I love Rivers, and the Cimarron is not just any river, it flows into Keystone lake just a few miles from where we live in Oklahoma where I have camped many times. It had an entirely different character here near its beginning. The middle section of the canyon was the state park, with lots of campsites along the road. We were in love with the place.
Reaching the town of Eagles Nest we had decided that we could see lots of interesting places by taking the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop, which includes Taos and goes through large areas of the Carson National Forest. The only issue was that it was nearly 3:00 pm and we were about three hours from camp if we skipped the volcano. I wasn’t willing to skip the volcano because I knew how much it meant to Ren.
I called my boss, asking if I could take an extra day of vacation, while Ren tried to find a reasonably priced hotel; turns out that reasonably priced and Taos, don’t really go together. After a bit of searching, we found a room right in Eagles Nest so we booked the room. While we chatted with the manager, he told us that if we were driving the Loop, we should be sure and drive over to the Gorge Bridge, and told us how to get there. We were set with a basic plan for the afternoon so we headed out on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop and it was well worth taking the extra day. There is something about the mountains that call to me, something that feels like home. Whether it’s the Davis Mountains in Texas, the Ozarks in Arkansas, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. I love the mountains. These were no exception. It was a gorgeous drive through mountains, forests, and quaint little towns. The highest pass we drove through was just over 9,800 feet.
There were several roadside parks that were part of the Carson National Forest when we stopped at one to stretch our legs a bit, we crossed a small stream flowing gently over the rocks. To my surprise, it was the Red River. We had lived on the Red River for five months when we were park hosting on Lake Texoma for Eisenhower State Park. We had even made a point of crossing every Red River bridge from Texas to Oklahoma, and here we were crossing it again in New Mexico; it was so small.
As we made our way around the loop we reached the intersection where we turned left to go to Taos, or right to go to the gorge bridge. We turned right. Wow! Just Wow!. On this trip, we had seen mesas, huge mountains, beautiful lakes, canyons, cliffs, forests, and scenic rivers, but this was by far the most majestic and impressive thing that we saw. It was the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The Rio Grande. We have traveled extensively in Texas, spent the better part of three years trying to see as much of Texas as possible, yet this was our first time to see the Rio Grande. It was amazing. This is the seventh highest bridge in the US, 565 feet above the river. There is a parking area on either side, with a scenic overlook, and you can walk out on the bridge. It was truly awesome, in the best sense of the overused word.
Reluctantly, we left the gorge and headed into Taos. I won’t spend much time on Taos, as this is getting rather long enough already. We drove around for a few hours, loved the place. Ren wants to move there; of course, she says that about every place we visit. I guess it’s a good thing we plan to buy an RV someday so we can live wherever we visit.
I suggested that we visit the Taos Ski Valley before heading back to the hotel. This was the first place I got any real pushback from her. Not that she didn’t want to go, but she is frightened about driving down twisty, turny roads, especially since it was getting late in the day; however, me driving scares her even more because, in her words, she is a bad passenger. One of the things I admire most about Ren is that she does not let her fears get the better of her. It took her a few moments to work up her nerve, but she agreed.
The Hondo Canyon Road is the road that leads up the valley to the ski lodge. I know I’ve said this several times already, but it was a beautiful drive through the valley with huge cliffs, tall trees, and a valley, there was, naturally, a stream named the Hondo, Rio. As is usual in this area, we were in the Carson National Forest and there were lots of scenic roadside campgrounds. We drove up to the lodge, but it was getting late, so we didn’t get out of the car, then headed through the valley again, stopping at a few of the parks.
It was time to be heading back to the hotel. The last leg of the drive was the twistiest and turniest road of the entire trip, and it was full dark, so we didn’t see most of it. When we got back to the hotel, Ren went to bed; she was exhausted from the last leg of the drive. The hotel manager told me earlier I could get a good view of the milky way from the deck on top of the hotel overlooking the lake. I went to take some pictures, but between the hotel and city lights, they were not the skies I had come seeking, but they weren’t bad.
The next morning we found the entire town socked in with fog. We were not eager to drive through the canyon again until the fog lifted, so we walked through town to find breakfast. What we found instead was there wasn’t anywhere in Eagles Nest to get breakfast at 8:00 on a Sunday Morning. Did I mention that Eagles Nest is tiny? Did I mention that Eagles Nest is at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet? We hadn’t really paid much attention to that before taking our walk, but as we were walking back the thinness of the air became apparent. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got back.
When the fog burned off we headed back through the valley to Cimarron then north to Raton, where we found breakfast. Then we took the Raton pass into Colorado where we visited Trinidad State Park, before heading to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. This is an extinct, cinder cone volcano, with the cone remarkably preserved. There are a visitors center and a road that wraps around the cone to a parking lot near the top. From there you can hike down into the vent, or around the rim. We intended to hike around the rim, but between the altitude, our exhaustion, and general lack of fitness we turned back well before we reached the top. It was still worth the trip, and even from the parking area near the top, it is an impressive view.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and, usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged, and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them. In no time we were on the road. An hour and a half drive, and a minor crisis involving so many bugs hitting the windshield we could barely see out took us to Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Being Sunday night the place was empty and we found a nice site overlooking the lake, and slept under the stars, with a cool breeze to keep the bugs away.
The next morning we visited the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Walked through the visitors center, watched the informative movie and took a short hike, then got back on the road. We headed into Oklahoma to get those last two counties. On the way to Kiowa County, we were passing right by Quartz Mountain State Park. We couldn’t be this close without stopping. It is a very pretty park, though the lake was very low at the time. We spent about an hour here before heading to our next destination.
The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a place I had to hear about for a while but had not yet managed to visit. It was getting late and I was thinking we should just head home, but Ren knew how much I have wanted to go here and insisted that we take the time. I’m so glad I listen to her. I had been afraid that after seeing New Mexico, that Oklahoma would seem dull and unimpressive by comparison. I needn’t have worried. The mountains of Oklahoma may not be as tall as those of New Mexico, but they are no less beautiful. We ended up staying much longer than we intended and it was getting dark by the time we headed home.
Arriving home late, we were tired and sore, however, the trip had been more than we ever expected because we abandoned our plans and took a chance. Sometimes having a plan is important because it tells you the when, the where, and the how; but it often causes you to miss the unexpected treasures of traveling along the backroads. Our motto is “Get out, live life outside your box,” which sometimes means getting outside of your plans. Take a chance, do something unexpected, live your life to the fullest. I still want to go back to Black Mesa. I still want those dark skies. But I wouldn’t trade this trip for the one we planned.
In April 2021, Scott had a stroke less than a year after his quintuple bypass. This was because three of the five bypasses failed and the remaining two bypasses becoming 80% blocked. He went from 55% heart function to 25% in less than six months. Because his heart and arteries are so diseased from diabetes he is unable to apply for a heart transplant or have further bypass surgeries.
The doctors painted a very grim outlook for Scott over the next two to five years. They explained the elevation we were living at probably caused this to happen at a much faster rate than it would have at a lower elevation so we needed to move back to Oklahoma. If we stayed in Colorado, they said he would only have one to two years; however, if he was able to move to a lower elevation such as Oklahoma, he could have up to five. We chose to give him more time, so it was time to pack the boxes.
We packed everything, moved it all into storage, and are now back in Oklahoma staying with family. Having searched for weeks and some help from friends who donated to our original fundraiser, we now have a motorhome to live in. However, it was gutted and there is much to do.
This is not our photo, this is the former owner’s photo of the motorhome set up. Used with permission.
The former owners gutted the motorhome and made it to fit them. They took out the propane system and the 12-volt electric system. They have it completely on the normal power grid and it was done poorly. Unfortunately, we need to replace the 12-volt and normal electric system, add a propane system, replace the 1940s refrigerator with a three-way fridge, add a heater, add a shower, and a seat to be able to drive it home. There are a few other “minor” things we would love to do such as a better, insulated floor, painting, and just making it ours; but those are cosmetic. As you can see from the above photo, the outside looks really good.
Family and friends have set up an art auction for us to help us finish the motorhome. There have been many pieces of artwork (painting, embroidery, photography, and more) donated by artist friends who are extremely talented. Please join us July 2-16 (central time) and help us by bidding on some art for yourself.
*** please remember shipping will be extra unless otherwise noted by the artist or it is outside the United States. ***
If you would prefer to donate to help us get the motorhome in liveable condition, please visit the original fundraiser at https://www.facebook.com/donate/163996742323297/. We were able to purchase the motorhome by the donations already provided, but we are still short of our goal.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read our blog posts. We appreciate it so very, very much!
Waterfalls are magical places for Scott and me. There is something about the sound of the rushing water leading to it crashing down below. In the spray, we find rainbows which always bring a smile to our faces. We decided in 2020 we would “collect” twenty water features that fit into the “waterfall” category. We took the year and found eleven waterfalls, one Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) dams, one Work Projects Administration (WPA) dam, six spillways, and one cascade. We did not have any criteria as to what to look for, we just tailored our travel plans to finding water features. It may not sound surprising or magical, but where we found the waterfalls blew us away.
Being a new year and cold in Oklahoma, we headed to Bluestem Falls west of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in Osage County. These falls are a local swimming hole in the summer and, when no water is running, you can see it is the local teen hang out due to graffiti. However, when Lake Bluestem is full, it creates an amazing waterfall.
Technically this location is a spillway for Lake Bluestem, a water source for Pawhuska, which was completed in 1958. Because of “downcutting” the layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone were taken away downstream and the layers can be seen clearly. The outcome has caused a 75 foot (22 meters) drop which has created a rather impressive waterfall into Middle Bird Creek.
The day we visited the falls there was still snow on the ground from the day before and ice was appearing in the shallower places. The spray from the water was cold and thrilling. What blew my mind about this waterfall is that I was able to see the physical act of downcutting in action. It proved to me, once again, that water is definitely one of the most powerful tools on earth.
It is a bit of a hike to get to Twin Falls, but well worth it. Like many of the waterfalls in Arkansas, Twin Falls can be seasonal and is best seen in the Spring. We were lucky to catch it running when we were there in January 2020. The park rangers can tell you if the waterfall is running, but even without the waterfall, this is a beautiful hike.
The geology in this area is amazing to see. Here you will find Boyd shale between Brentwood and Pitkin Limestone. The three types of stone can be seen quite well on the canyon sides. The Brentwood Limestone is darker in color while the Pitkin Limestone is a lighter color of grey and blue with the shale in between. These mountains are just over 1,800 feet high and they are the remnants of the Boston Mountain Plateau. The Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science has a very interesting article from 1955. It is titled “Geology of Devil’s Den State Park” that gives greater detail about the geology of this area.
Devil’s Den State Park was built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The young men from North Dakota were placed here in October 1933 and they built roads, trails, and a dam here, It was one of these trails that led up to the waterfall area. Often we had to cross the stream from the falls, and eventually, we found ourselves along the edge of the canyon wall standing on the bridge admiring the twin falls.
During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to put young men to work on projects for the public good, and so they could care for their families. This was the origin of many State and National Parks, including Devils Den. Here they created a lake, sculpted the spillway into this lovely waterfall, and built many hiking trails.
Near the dam, stands a four-foot bronze statue of a young man. The title of this artwork is “The CCC Worker.” I have looked to see who the original artist was, but was not able to locate that information. However, this statue is in many of the parks built by the thousands of young men who left home to work, saving their families. The Devil’s Den statue was dedicated on June 30, 2002 with a plaque saying, “This statue is a tribute to the dedication, attention to detail and ability of the enrollees, leaders and commander of the CCC. October 20, 1933-March 25, 1942. We can take it.”
Just a few miles from Devils Den State Park, in the Ozark National Forest, is the small town of Natural Dam, named for a natural dam near the edge of town. This is perhaps the easiest waterfalls to see in this area of Arkansas. You can drive right up to it or drive across the Mountain Fork Creek it if you like. A natural slab of rock (sandstone of the Atoka formation) acts as a dam and creates a waterfall as the water flows over the dam, causing undercutting. The area behind the dam is used as a local swimming hole, so bring your swimsuit when you come to visit.
William Larrimore set up a grist mill here a short time after he discovered the dam on a hunting trip in 1818. By 1838 there was a post office and settlement. We have heard there was a foundation left from the mill, but we have not actually seen it.
If you do decide to stop by Natural Dam, Arkansas, along highway 59, remember to stop at the reason for the town’s name. It is worth your time and you will enjoy exploring the location. Just remember that the place is extremely popular in the summer time and you will do well to arrive early.
Located in Osage County near Shidler, Oklahoma, Lake Charlotte Falls is something of a hidden gem. We lived near it for years and never know it was there. The waterfall is the spillway for the lake and only flows when the lake is full. We were fortunate to be there during a particularly wet winter when it was flowing well. Being the off-season we had the place to ourselves. It would have been much busier in the spring and summer.
This is another spillway that has been turned into a thing of beauty by downcutting. The layers of limestone have some of the best fossils we have found in the Osage area. There are many crinoids to be found here, but we actually found a fossil of a large “stalk” or “sea lilly” (see the top right photo below, I have highlighted it in pink). Needless to say, I was extremely excited by this find.
When you visit this gem, be sure to take the stairs up to the top, there is more to see than is apparent from the bottom. Here you will see the upper falls and some rather interesting erosion the water has applied to the rock layers. The stairs, when we were there in 2020, were very secure; however, please use caution and do not do anything you feel unsafe doing.
Butcher Falls at Red Buffalo Ranch was a major surprise for us. Who knew Kansas had waterfalls? This one is on Pool Creek on the Red Buffalo Ranch. The falls are 14 feet high and are surrounded by Plattsmouth Limestone boulders that slope downward. As the water moves downstream, it empties into the Middle Caney Creek and helps to bring water to prairies around Sedan.
The structure you see in the photo is called Butcher Falls Bunk House and can be rented in the spring and summer. Because this was within day-trip range for us, we never took the time to stay. Public access is limited to 100 feet above the falls. For access to the rest of Red Buffalo Ranch call (620) 725-4022, or stop by the Red Buffalo Gift shop 107 E. Main, Sedan, KS 67361 and talk to Mary Kurtis. Open Monday – Saturday 9 AM – 5 PM.
We have visited this site about three times and each time we find something wonderful about this place. Unfortunately, we did not realize there were farmer’s markets there or that Prairiehenge was there!
The Grand Falls near Joplin is the only waterfalls we visited in 2020. It is known as the largest continuously flowing natural waterfall in the state and is a 163-foot wide ledge of solid chert that crosses Shoal Creek. When standing below the falls, you can see the water plunge 25-feet causing there to be a loud roaring sound that caused Native Americans in the area to have called this place “the place of the singing waters.”
The first week of February it was cold and we were hoping the snow would still be around to help make this location magical and we were not disappointed. We were able to locate a small horseshoe-type waterfall off to the right of the falls where cold water cascaded down.
It was a pleasant time for this cold wintery day as Scott took photos with his camera and I was busy searching the river rolled stones for unique stones to add to my collection and fossils. Missouri did not let us down with this beautiful natural waterfall for sure.
Many people have a vacation spot they visit over and over like skiing at Monarch every winter, camping and fishing at Beaver Dam State Park every summer, or fall foliage watching along the Blue Ridge Drive. For us it was stopping in Bella Vista, Arkansas, to visit Tanyard Creek Nature Trails. Here we would wade in the creek in the summer, view the turning of the leaves in the fall, and sit peacefully listening to nature.
Tanyard Creek Nature Trails is a series of nature trails built by volunteers and financed by private donor money so people can enjoy the outdoors. There are many trails that loop around the area with a suspension bridge and many boardwalk-style bridges. You will also find a waterfall near the Winsor Lake Dam. This is yet another spillway with a beautiful example of downcutting.
We have been able to take one of the GrandGeorges to this waterfall and she was thrilled when she and I walked behind the waterfall. I am sure if we were still close by, we would be taking the others to enjoy the same experience.
There are many famous waterfalls in the United States; Yosemite Falls, Niagara Falls, and Horseshoe Falls to name a few. Have you ever heard of Dripping Springs? This waterfall is located near West Silom Springs, Oklahoma, in Delaware County. It is where the mountain lion scene of Where The Redfern Grows was filmed and it is a beautiful location.
Scott loves waterfalls and he wanted to see the tallest waterfall in Oklahoma; he had a choice between Turner Falls and Dripping Springs. This waterfall at Natural Falls State Park, like Turner Falls near Davis, is 77 feet tall. This however is all that the two locations have in common. There is an observation deck overlooking Natural falls with many stairs leading down to a viewing boardwalk. The spray from the water often drops the temperature ten degrees lower than up at the observation deck. The rock throughout the park is chert and limestone from the Mississippian Boone Formation. Here you will find crystal clear water and plenty of beauty to be enjoyed as you hike around the park just as we did.
The spring of 2019 we took some time to enjoy the waterfall and camping the park provided. We were able to head down to the falls toward sundown and get some wonderful photos. The park has yurts available above the falls; they can be reached by walking up the boardwalk that is high above the valley or with special carts provided by the park. This was one of our favorite places to visit.
One of the things we like to do is find parks that are no longer state parks, much like Cowley State Fishing Lake near Arkansas City, Kansas, in Cowley County. We had been looking for waterfalls in Kansas because we had recently found Butcher Falls in Chautauqua County and wondered if there were more; there was and this former Kansas State Park has a Niagara Falls type surprise.
Granted these falls are nothing more than a spillway that has washed away tons of fossil-embossed limestone and red shale giving it a semi-horseshoe appearance. This is where the similarities end. This 25-35 foot tall waterfall is impressive during the rainy seasons. There are only four ways to reach the fall. One is to drive to the end of the lake road and view the waterfall from above. This is a good vantage point and you can actually feel the vibration of the water and hear the roar well. The second way is to go to the end of the lake road and climb down the rocky “trail”. I called this bouldering because that was what it would have been; between my knee issues before surgery (fall of 2017) and the wet, icy conditions of 2020, we decided that would not be a smart move. The third way would be a dirt road that went further than the “official” end of the lake road. This was, however, blocked off. The final way would be to access it by way of the spillway itself. Unfortunately, this would need to be when the falls were not running, but imagine the fossils you would probably find.
The first time we visited the falls, we found a large marker showing that this was once a Kansas State Park. I have not been able to located when it ended it’s run as a state park or why it was no longer. It will forever be a state park for us, former or not.
One of the waterfalls that really surprised us both was Bixhoma Falls just outside of Leonard, Oklahoma. We had heard rumors there was a waterfall, but neither of us realized there was even a lake there. This 110 acre lake is about 50 feet deep and sits on top of Leonard Mountain at 899 feet which is approximately 300 feet above Bixby, Oklahoma. Bixby, about seven miles north, is the city that cares for it and it was the sole reason it was built in 1965. At this time it does not really provide much water to Bixby, but it still helps to provide water for the surrounding areas.
Once again we find ourselves exploring another spillway type waterfall that has been having downcutting creating the beauty. The geology here is quite normal to this area in Oklahoma being mainly shale. Above where the waterfall currently is you will see a yellowish “mud” with various sized pebbles and rocks. Unfortunately, we did not find any fossils at this location.
We did our normal drive around the the park only to find this park used goats as their vegetation management. Neither of us were shocked by this, we have seen other parks using this method; however, it was the donkeys that shocked us. Bixby was having issues with coyotes and wild dogs killing their goats so they had invested in two donkeys to help protect their goats. They were all extremely friendly and it helped to amuse us.
Oklahoma really stepped up when it came to the waterfalls, granted most of them were spillways but nature did its thing and turned them into beautiful pieces of art. We were driving along Highway 10 where it parallels the Illinois River area in the Cherokee County area one day. Scott was looking over the map and noticed the J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve. It would enable us to drive along the east side of the Illinois River and experience the less “popular” side.
As we took the “gravel” roads, we came across an area where an interesting waterfall appeared. This was the Cherokee Bathtub Rocks waterfall. The rock is Burgen Sandstone and the deep impressions in the rock looked almost like bathtubs; hence the name. These geologic tub formations were created by fast rushing water running over the rock for thousands of years.
This area is more known than Scott and I thought. In the summer months, hundreds of people come here to cool down in the extremely clear, refreshing water to escape the summer heat. Because of this, the area has begun to see the impact of litter and graffiti. The Nature Conservancy and J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve are doing what they can to educate the visitors and do weekly clean-ups.
The one Work Projects Administration (WPA) dam on our list is located just outside the county seat of Okmulgee County. It is a hand-cut, local stone dam that resembles a staircase when it is not running. The Okmulgee and Dripping Springs Lake and Recreation Area was once an Oklahoma State Park (1963). In 2015 it was given back to the city of Okmulgee.
Like the Devil’s Den State Park’s CCC dam, this was a project designed to help men out of work feed and care for their families. Originally this was a an earthen dam built in 1927 when Okmulgee needed a water source for the county’s citizens. Unfortunately, the dam was washed out in a flood giving the WPA an opportunity to create this county their lake back.
The stone used in the building of the dam dates back to the Pennsylvanian Period and this area is one of the few places the rare Gymnophyllum wardi fossil can be found. It is also known as the button coral.
Near Mountain View, Arkansas, in Stone County, we found Blanchard Springs Cavern and Recreation Area maintained and managed by the Ozark-St. Francis National Forestry Service. Just below the cavern entrance, there are two springs gushing from the limestone mountain filling the Mirror Lake below. It is one of our favorite areas of Arkansas; we have actually talked about settling down in this area when we are done traveling.
At one time this was all under an ancient sea about 350-500 million years ago, but because of land mass shifts it was uplifted. This created the Ozark Plateau. Because water is amazing, it seeped into the cracks and crevasses in the rock and eventually created caverns in the limestone. The springs here still travel through the cavern causing dissolved limestone and various minerals to color the Mirror Lake water a green turquoise color. Here the water stays at a 58-degree temperature making it a trout haven.
The trail leading to the falls was built by the CCC using the local, hand-cut stone. It went along the rushing water and we really enjoyed shade of the trees. Because it was raining, the springs and water way really put on a show for us.
Just down stream from Blanchard Springs Falls was Mirror Lake. It was created by the CCC in the 1930s when they built the stone and concrete dam. It is not quite the same stair type build as the Okmulgee Dam the WPA built, but it does have a couple of levels, giving it a very nice flow. Occasionally, you would see a fish go with the flow and end up adventuring in the North Sylamore Creek that would eventually end up in the White River.
It was raining the day we decided to adventure in this area, but that never seems to stop us. The trees were in full bloom and the rain just enhanced our walk down the boardwalk above the river. From there we were able to view the Old Mitchell Mill ruins that were used to ground corn and work ginned cotton. The mill was built in the 1880s using oak, walnut, and local stone. The family eventually sold the land to the forest service, giving us all the opportunity to enjoy the area.
The only issue with rain is that the roads and trails get really soggy which makes for mudding trudging. We wanted to go down and view the ruins closer, but we were concerned about the condition of the lower trails and the creek possibly rising quickly. Arkansas creeks have a tendency to surprise you when you least want them to; we decided it would be in our best interest to enjoy the view from the above boardwalk.
On Memorial Day weekend we decided a longer trip than our normal day trips was needed so we packed up our little car and head to Wyoming. There were no thoughts of waterfalls this trip, it was all about the Devil’s Tower and Chimney Rock along the way. As we headed home through South Dakota’s Black Hills, we kept seeing a stream getting stronger and wider. It was at that very moment I told Scott I bet there was a waterfall nearby. I was on! The bet called for one of us to buy the other breakfast.
As we followed the stream, we could hear the sound of crashing water and suddenly we saw a stone-carved sign telling us there was indeed a waterfall nearby. The forestry department had a nice little area with parking, signs, and a boardwalk to take us to Roughlock Falls. It was so pretty with green spring plants growing on the Spearfish Creek’s limestone.
We tend to get excited when we come across waterfalls we have no clue are there. There is something about finding little gems like this that cause us to be giddy with excitement. Of course, the fact that Scott had to buy me breakfast didn’t hurt my excitement either.
While we ate breakfast at the Latchstrong Restaurant in the Spearfish Canyon, we were told about our next surprise waterfall for the Memorial Day trip. Just a few minute hike away from the Restaurant was the Spearfish Waterfall that cut the Spearfish Canyon. The path gently went down into the valley where the Spearfish Creek resided and trees provided plenty of shade. Once again, it was a magical trip to see this 47-foot waterfall.
Scott seemed to like the walk along the trail and was taking many photos of the area. There was something about the limestone canyon and sounds of the waterfall that seemed to have his photography bug itching. It seemed as if we were constantly stopping for him to take a photo of the falls, mountains, and birds. I might seem a bit annoyed when he does this, but really it thrills me to know he is seeing nature as art and is allowing his creative side shine through.
We loved that Spring was starting to show up in this place and to see the green buds upon the trees was encouraging to see. Even though it was just starting to show up here in South Dakota, we knew it would be quickly be summer weather in Oklahoma by the time got back.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a cascade as “a steep usually small fall of water”. This may be reaching, but we located water rushing down the mountain and it reminded us of Cossatot Falls in Arkansas, only on a much smaller scale. The photos do not do this location justice really because you cannot see the layers of cascading water.
Yes, this might be a stretch, but the potential is there. I have been told by a young man I work with that if we had taken the trail from the area we stopped for this photo we would have come to a rather impressive “waterfall” for the area. I guess we will need to go back in the spring this year and check that out.
At one point a couple of years ago, we purchased the book Arkansas Waterfalls by Tim Ernst. He has visited over 200 waterfalls in Arkansas and wrote a book about each one and how to get to them. He states that Carwash Falls is one of the most unique falls in the country, so we had to check it out. Who knew we would have such an adventure getting to it.
Driving Arkansas Highway 123, also known as the Arkansas Dragon, we found ourselves going right past the Carwash Falls. To get to the falls, you must turn off the main road and take a gravel road (which we call “going on an adventure”). It is approximately three miles and you must cross Hurricane Creek. Normally this is not a big deal because it is not always running with high water, but this day there was more than enough to concern us a bit. The car we have now is a Chevy Sonic and the body is very low to the ground. To ensure we could cross it safely, I got out and walked one side to the other. It was not over knee-deep and no muddy spots; we would risk it all!
Once we crossed the creek successfully we had a pleasant drive along the Big Piney Creek. As we topped a hill, we saw the wall of limestone bluffs on the right side. It was beautiful, however, we could not see the falls. With sunroof open, we continued to drive forward when suddenly we had water pouring onto the hood of the car. Scott was filming and insanity ensued.
Having closed the sunroof just in time, we were still dry and able to visit another waterfall just down the road. It was a nice little swimming hole called Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area. As the name suggests, there was a waterfall on the Haw Creek and it was a nice one to end up on. It was just a few feet from the state forest camping area.
We spent a couple of hours here exploring the area to find a few fossils in the limestone slabs which made up the falls. The water, yet again, showed off its power of under and down cutting. It was amazing to see just how efficient erosion could be. As we navigated the area keeping our feet dry, we could see deep down into the water because the water was so clear. It, like Mirror Lake, had a green turquoise color from the dissolved limestone and minerals from area springs which made the deeper parts very mystical looking.
The time we spent here was very calming and we wished we could spend more time there, but there is always so much more to see and do. It is because of this blog, videos, and photos that we are able to enjoy these places again when we are visiting other locations. We hope you are able to get some inspiration from our travels and find those places that bring you peacefulness.
Thank you so much for joining us on all of our adventures, we appreciate you so very much.