Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Dry Great Salt Plain

In spite of the drought, the juniper had a bumper crop of berries. 
They look like berries, and are called berries, but they are actually
 miniature cones with tight, fleshy scales
We took a road trip to the Great Salt Plains in Northern Oklahoma to get out of town for a few hours. The drought has been really hard on all of us in this part of the country, but we were heartsick to realize how horrible it has to be for the wildlife. The Great Salt Plains is on a major bird migratory route. This is the time of year to see tens of thousands of birds and waterfowl here, so we went with my longest camera lens in hopes of getting some wildlife pictures. There were about a dozen ducks in the stagnant water between two parts of the dam, and that’s it. No cranes, no pelicans, no geese, not even any birds in the trees and brush. In Orwell “1984” fashion, the wildlife management area, the hive of wildlife activity this time of year, appeared dead.

A view across the corner of the salt flats.
From the ground, the wildlife management area is closed to entry, so you can’t get close enough to see the roughly 28 square mile saltpan. A look across the corner of the lake just shows a white band in the distance, but from the air and space, the salt flats stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding land. The waters are normally roughly 50% of the ocean’s salinity, but with the loss of water, the salinity must now be higher than that.

The Great Salt Plains Lake and salt flats.

The Great Salt Plain Lake was down so low there was not enough water to get within four feet of the sill of the dam. The dam is a stepped structure, almost like a salmon ladder. Two of the three sections were dry concrete. The wetlands, which the fowl depend on for food and rest on their migration, were totally dry. The tracks of deer could be seen where they had moved up and down the river bed looking for water.

This is the Salt Fork River, a branch of the Arkansas River.  All
that's left is some salt residue.

The killdeer seek food in the few remaining brine puddles.

Ironically, I'm parked in an area for fishermen.  I'm also standing in
the middle of what should be the Salt Fork River, north of the
Great Salt Plains Lake.  The only thing in the riverbed now are sandburs.

As the river dies, so do the businesses that depend on it.  Red's Corner
Mini-Mart provided live bait, ice, cold beer, and tackle for the
fishermen that have taken their business elsewhere.


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