Sunday, May 21, 2017

American Horse Lake

This was taken on Birch Lake in 2013, but the stump field represents
much of what American Horse looks like.  The 100% humidity and
fogging of the camera made the American Horse pictures unusable.
 

American Horse Lake is located in Blaine County, OK, northwest of the town of Geary.  I spent some considerable time trying to find the source of the name for the lake without success.  The lake came from the damming of Squaw Creek in 1966, which runs through a ravine or canyon.  The lake has a 6.8 mile shoreline and depths of up to 70 feet. 

This was my second attempt to paddle American Horse Lake.  The first visit a couple years ago was when the lake was drained and closed for a reconstruction of the dam.  While water has returned to the lake, according to one visitor, the level is still below normal.  The first visit when the lake was dry was interesting in the number of rods and reels that I found on the canyon floor after being lost overboard through the years. 

Blaine County was created out of the 1892 Land Run across lands promised to the Creek and Seminole Tribes after their forced relocation during the 1820’s and 1830’s.  The area was also the home of Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck.  Not surprisingly, he became known as ‘Ducky’ and passed away in Los Angeles in 1985.

This shot of Buddy was taken on the St. Croix National Scenic River
between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
 

We had been experiencing April weather in February, when I made this trip, and between warmth and the healing of my bone fracture, it was time to hit the water.  The state was under a blanket of dense fog.  The forecast was for the temperature to climb close to 70 degrees, and the fog to clear off by noon.  Hoping for clearing skies, I took the time to enjoy blueberry pancakes with my wife before heading south.  Just south of town I saw a roadrunner crossing the road in front of me.  It finished its frantic run by taking flight when it reached the shoulder.  I think that was the first time I have ever seen a flying roadrunner.  The new experience sent me to Google.  It turns out that they rarely fly, because they can run at 20 mph.  They are more inclined to fly to evade a predator (Wile E. Coyote) or to descend a steep bank or hill, but can usually fly only for a minute.  The latter was the case this morning, and when the roadrunner reached the edge of the road, it took off to fly down through a deep ravine.  We always think in terms of car travel, but roadrunners got their name from routinely racing alongside horse-drawn carriages and wagons.  Anyone that has spent time at sea is accustomed to seeing porpoise racing alongside boats and ships, and it seems horses provided just the competitive pace the roadrunners enjoyed.   

Between the towns of Greenfield and Geary, I headed west on Cty. Rd. E0940.  It is an 11-mile run west to the sign for the lake pointing south on Cty. Rd. N2520.  When I came through a tree clearing, I saw a herd of a dozen white-tailed deer just off the road on my left that I suppose were equally disoriented by the fog.  My camera was still in its dry bag.  That was not going to be an issue, because as soon as I slowed, they threw their tails in the air and headed for the cover of the woods.   

American Horse Lake offers some confusion for those wanting to launch powerboats onto the lake.  Varying signs I saw said no powerboats capable of more than 6 mph, electric trolling motors only, or bank and tube fishing only.  Any of the above is a boon for paddlers.  There is one concrete ramp and a few picnic tables.  Primitive camping is permitted (no toilet facilities) for a maximum of 3 days.  You would need to carry water.  While the lake’s search page mentions a water well, the hand pump has been stolen and not replaced to date.   

Visibility was still limited when I launched, and blowing mist made the camera a challenge, but we paddled the circumference of the lake.  The water is clear.  The ravine was not bulldozed when the dam was built, so many trees that grew there are still in place in the lake.  There are two main braches and a number of fingers that make exploring the shoreline interesting.  The shoreline is blanketed with countless nickel-sized white freshwater clams.  I spotted one blue heron, and three or four kingfishers.   

I turned on the heater and listened to the radio as I headed from the lake for home and the Super Bowl.  The radio announcer said, “Regardless of what the forecasters promised, we just have to admit that the rest of the day is going to be plain yukky.”  It was fine with me.  I had been in the canoe and on the water. 
This was a day very well lived.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Coming Storms

If I suddenly disappear, it may be that we have joined Dorothy and Toto somewhere over Kansas.  We have tornadoes forecast starting this evening, and the chances continue at least through next week.  I've moved things around so we can drop directly into the storm shelter, made sure the spiders are vacuumed out, water jugs are at the ready, the battery-powered light, rations and screw-lid bucket are in place, and the phones are fully charged.  Then it's just a matter of staying glued to the TV and computer-generated radar screen.  The broadcast stations out of Oklahoma City do a very good job of analyzing storm probabilities and tracks.  So good a job, in fact, that they preempt all other broadcasting so there is no option but to sit and obsess over the possible looming doom.  It is rather like lying on your back looking up at the guillotine blade.  It becomes quite impossible to look away or think about anything else.


On a happier note, this is the latest litter of critters to come out of the shop.  These bunnies have already hopped off to their new homes.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Oklahoma Bike Ride

Everyday can't be a paddling day.  When the wind is blowing hard, it's
time to resort to the gears on the bike.  Out where there are no
visible address markers, gate signs help you find your way.
Open Oklahoma prairie. 
Name something that takes whatever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever
it wants, with or without permission, takes, takes, and takes, and never
gives anything back.  That, of course, would be the oil and gas industry. 
Years and years of the state legislature giving the industry concessions,
tax breaks, and incentives have left the state 900 million dollars in debt. 
                     Part of that is the lobby arm-twisting, and part of it is the stupidity of
the legislators allowing themselves to be led by the nose, or corrupt enough
to be bought off.  In any event, education suffers, infrastructure
suffers, emergency services suffer, everything suffers, but when oil and gas
is asked to chip in and pay their way, to show appreciation for all they
have been given for free, they still want more.  So, here, while they can't
afford to help rebuild the roads that their heavy, oversized truck loads
destroy, they can still afford to put yet another pipeline across
private land.
There are no end of dirt roads.  These sometimes allow the only chance to
see sights never visible from the paved highways.

When a highway is paved, what happens to the dirt road grader? 
 Sometimes it is just pulled off to the side of the road to provide
decades of interest to break up the endless prairie.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lake Ellsworth - Part 2

A juvenile Great Blue Heron leapt into flight from Chandler Creek.
 
I continued up the lake until I was far enough into the headwaters to have only a foot of water.  Telegraph or phone poles and fence posts were found frequently that were left from the days before the lake was built.  Lacking water depth, I crossed to the north shore and followed it west as I continued to explore the shoreline.  Only 25 feet or so from the shore, I repeatedly felt strands of spider web across my face.  Others were draped across the canoe and other parts of my body, so by the time I got back, I had a decent population of stowaway spiders with me. 

 
The shore varies from gradual to rocky and bold like this spot where
the lake turns into Hassenbach Arm.
 
Coming around the point on the north shore brought me to Fisherman’s Cove.  This area is primarily for tent camping.  The cove on the south side of the point looks downright heavenly with acres of mowed grass, a long, gradually sloping shoreline, and trees for pitching a tent under.  It couldn’t look better.  If you round the point to the north side, there is another concrete ramp, but the fisherman’s bait and tackle concession has been abandoned and vandalized.  The town of Lawton is working on developing the property, but the bad news is that they are looking to rent it to a dune buggy and ATV operation.  That would be the end of the quiet for miles around.


An egret hiding in the foliage at the head of Hassenbach Arm.
 
Another takes flight from its tenuous perch atop a wood fence
post submerged but for an inch above the lake's surface.
 
The lake was flat calm when I left Fisherman’s Cove, so I struck out straight across the lake and around the north shore of Treasure Island.  It appears to be a nesting or resting place for migratory waterfowl, and the island was so densely covered with large flocks of Canada geese and pelicans that getting ashore would be messy through all the guano. 

There are many places to stealth camp if weather or time make
it necessary, like this gradual shore into a field without a human
or building in sight.
 
Getting back to the west shore, I paddled under the railroad bridge and into Chandler Creek.  The bridge just cleared my up-reached arm by a couple feet, and has no opening.  The train had come through the evening before at 1620, so I kept an eye on my watch so I could be back by the bridge in time for a nice picture.  It became obvious, as I waited, that the trains run on an as-needed-basis rather than on a schedule.  Meanwhile, at the head of the creek, I found two bridges.  One was the 62/281 bridge, and next to it, on its east side, was the original concrete bridge that spanned the stream before the lake was created.  It sat in the water making a complete barrier to further paddling up the creek.

 
Two bridges in Chandler Creek.  One from before the lake was
created now sits in the water, and the new bridge just behind it.
 
There are big differences between Lake Ellsworth and Lake Frederick, which we had just left.  On Ellsworth, the potential for stealth camping is almost limitless, while on Frederick, it is very spartan.  On Ellsworth, camping is limited only by one’s imagination.  Please be sure to pack in/pack out to preserve this happy situation.  Also, Frederick and Latonka are the party lakes with loud drinkers and fast boats.  Ellsworth is for quiet, basic camping and enjoying nature---at least until the ATV’s show up.



Monday, May 1, 2017

Lake Ellsworth, OK

Union Pacific freight train crossing the junction of Lake
Ellsworth and Chandler Creek.
 
On leaving the Wichita Wildlife Refuge, we proceeded east on Rt. 49 to I-44, north of Lawton.  We traveled I-44 just one exit before jumping off onto Rt. 281/62 north for Lake Ellsworth.  The map shows Lakeside Village, but it’s not easy to find.  It will be the first turn to the right when headed north after passing the commercial intersection of Rts. 62 and 277.  At this intersection is the Valero truck stop, and the only place around to find WiFi.  As you turn onto NE Pine Ave, you may spot a small sign for Ralph’s Resort (580-492-4763).  The ramp is there at L34.79975N Lo98.37323. 


Just below our campsite was a sandbar that made a gathering
place for birds and waterfowl.
 
After leaving Quanah Parker, Lake Ellsworth, with its 53 mile shoreline, is huge by comparison.  It was created in 1962 by the damming of East Cache Creek, its main tributary, but two secondary branches making contributions to the lake are Chandler Creek from the west and Tony Creek from the east.  Ellsworth and Lake Latonka, which we wrote about earlier, are the water sources for the City of Lawton and the Fort Sill military base.  It you cross the railroad tracks to the east from Ralph’s, the campground is a short distance on the left.  For launching a canoe or kayak, there is a nice beach to launch from there rather than going back to Ralph’s.


The gates of the Lake Ellsworth dam.
There is a sand bar on the east side of the campground where ducks, birds, and pelicans congregate.  When I arose our first morning hoping to hit the water, it was so foggy we couldn’t see the sandbar or out onto the lake.  My handheld VHF radio had decided to stay home, so having no way to get weather, we just had to wait and watch.  The area has no WiFi, so even my ‘smart’ phone was dumb on the subject of weather.  We drove down to the Valero truckstop, where I was able to downloaded a weather app on my new phone.  Guess what we learned.  We were under a dense fog advisory.  Tadaaa!


East Cache Creek continues 40-feet below the dam.
 
Unless there are city vehicles going into the maintenance yard across from the campground, nothing stirs unless a train comes through.  It is dead quiet and serene.  Except for one evening, we had the campground to ourselves.  We sat during the evening and watched killdeer, a rabbit with a couple young, several woodpeckers, pelicans, cormorants, bluejays, osprey, cardinals, and a small flock of 6 or 8 bluebirds.  When Treasure Island, which sits in the middle of the south end of the lake 8/10th of a mile offshore, began to peak through the fog at 1115, I rolled Ibi down to the water.
 

The first day of paddling had to wait for the fog to burn off.
Ralph’s Resort is in the SW corner of the lake.  The marina is just inside the low railroad trestle the crosses by the ramp and blocks the mouth of Chandler Creek.  It does a nice job of blocking lake access to any boats much larger than a bass boat.  I paddled east past the dam and into the Hassenbach Arm.  There were a number of coves and branches off the Arm to explore, and where I encountered a large number of egrets, herons, cormorants, and osprey.  They were the only ones out fishing this area, as over the course of 4 ½ hours, I only saw three boats, so this is a very paddle-friendly lake.