Monday, April 22, 2013

The California Trail

I managed to get some yard work done today, mainly consisting of getting canna lilies dug up and transplanted. With the wind gusting to 30-35 mph, that kind of work was about all the day was fit for. I still had to chase my hat across the yard and up the street when a gust ripped it off my head, and I came in with my hair and skin covered with dirt. It was certainly not a paddling day. It was a similar day when we decided to leave the trailer and canoe at home and drive south to the Red Rock Canyon.

It takes no imagination to see why it's called the Red Rock Canyon.
It's a much steeper descent into the canyon than this picture
would suggest.  Still, we found a number of RV's in the campground
at the bottom of the canyon.
The California Trail, also called the California Road, was actually made up of a number of trails that lead roughly 2,000 miles westward. It would be the basic route later followed by developments such as the Pony Express, the Overland Stage, and the Trans-Continental Railroad. Within this system of trails were the Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Mormon Trail, and others. Before the advent of the stage lines and rail, those wanting to get to the West Coast would travel on their own, either alone or in small groups, until they got across the Missouri River. In places like Independence, MO, they would join a wagon train for the trip through Indian territories and desert regions. Trails moving emigrants, settlers, snake oil salesmen, and Gold Rush prospectors traveled between easily recognizable landmarks or followed riverbeds. The trail that led through Oklahoma began at Fort Smith or Fort Gibson and moved from one military fort or landmark to the next. I’ve already mentioned the Antelope Hills earlier as one landmark that could be seen from many miles. Another landmark and popular stopping place was Red Rock Canyon.

A small stream winds through the canyon.  It produces several
ponds and a fertile population of beavers.
Red Rock Canyon had been popular with Native Americans for perhaps thousands of years. The stable environment in the canyon hosted many species of flora and fauna not found on the prairie above. It provided cooling relief from the baking summers, and protection from the cold and relentless winds of winter.

Moss and ferns cling to the lip of the canyon, but quickly disappear
from the praire floor once you get away from the canyon's influence.
One of the oddities found in the canyon is the horsetail scouring rush. It is a plant that is termed a living fossil, meaning that it dates back over a hundred million years. It resembles bamboo, and in its far distant past would reach 90-feet in height. Now it is generally seen at about 6-feet. It can still be found in moist, temperate areas, such as Mexico, Central America, the Gulf Coast, Florida, and other boggy places that stay warm and moist. Moist and temperate are certainly not how you would describe the praire above the canyon, which suffers from drought and widely swinging temperatures. The scouring term comes from the fact that the plant contains silica, which made the rush great for polishing metal, pots, and drinking mugs by those encamped in the canyon.

Horsetail scouring rush.  Small finches skittered about in
it's protective cover.


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