Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Looking Into Nature

When you hear the name of Albert Einstein, what do you think of?  Advanced mathematician, quantum theory, theory of relativity, photon theory of light, his annus mirabilis (miracle year), or the publication of four ground-breaking papers within a single year, the Nobel Prize, his mass-energy equivalence formula (E=mc2), the study of molecular motion, particle theory, all jointly leading inexorably to the birth of atomic energy, but did you know he was a philosopher?
Perhaps it was in this latter pursuit that his brilliant mind finally led him to what most paddlers have discovered long ago, but need to constantly remind ourselves:  “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”  Yes, that is brilliant.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Crowder Lake - Part 2

Sneezeweed in full bloom.
The huge bloom of a Prickly Poppy.  The shorter orange flowers
are Indian Blankets.
I’m glad I have this trip to write about, because there certainly isn’t anything going on right now.  The temperature is 104-deg. with a 108-deg. heat index in the shade.  The shade is rather pointless, because the wind of 15 mph and more blows the heat right under any shade tree to carry all the heat with it.  It has been this way for the last week, and is expected to continue without any foreseeable break. 

There is another short creek running to the north, but west of Cobb
Creek, that runs into a wooded area.
A Great Blue Heron fishing along the bank.
We (my companion being my 14-ft. Kevlar Hornbeck Adirondack pack canoe, ’Buddy’) reached Crowder by going south on Rt. 54 from Weatherford for 6.9 miles after passing under I-40.  At Cty. Rd. E1100, turn left (east) for 2 miles to the first stop sign at Cty. Rt. N2410.  There is a small sign for the lake at this turn.  This will take you across the headwaters of Cobb Creek in a deep ravine that one sign identifies as Cedar Canyon.  At 2410, turn right (south) for one mile, and at the dead end, turn right again into the drive to Crowder Lake.  The gate is closed from 10PM to 6AM. The lake belongs to the Southwest Campus of Oklahoma State University.  There are five paved RV sites available on a first-come, first served bases at $20/night.  Tent camping is $12.  Seniors receive a $2 discount.  There is a very nice paved parking lot at the concrete ramp at L35.39743N Lo98.70259W.  There is also a 1-mile paved nature trail that emphasizes tree species identification.

This beaver lodge in the delta of Cobb Creek is the second largest
I've seen.

Like most Western and Plains states, any open public lands are open
to cattlemen for grazing at the rate of $1.87 a head/month.  Anywhere
you step ashore, you have cattle to deal with, and there appears to be
no responsibility for maintaining them.
The lake is great for paddlers.  Power boats are permitted, but idle-speed, no wake operation is enforced with a $290 fine as an incentive for compliance.  I have no doubt that the lake can get busy during the summer, but I had the lake to myself except for one fishing pontoon boat and a couple bank fishermen in the park.  When I prepared to leave, a university photography class arrived to take out a half-dozen large aluminum canoes, so my timing was perfect.  

Large, red sandstone cliffs hang out over the stream. 

The bridge across Cobb Creek spans what they call Cedar Canyon.
Not far beyond, the stream grows much shallower, but compensates
with a nice, firm, gravel bottom.

When we bottomed out on the gravel bar, I climbed up the steep
bank to have lunch in a grove of trees.  Nearby lay the skeleton
of a cow that had obvious laid there for a considerable span of time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Crowder Lake

The Ram and Buddy at the Crowder Lake Park entrance.
I really enjoyed this trip.  I made this trip in June, which was before we returned to the drought and triple-digit temperatures.  I’d give Crowder Lake five stars for a day-paddle destination.  The body of the lake is small, making it accessible even when the wind is up, and there are several arms off the lake that provide protection from the wind.  They also offer interesting topographic and geologic features, as well as large patches of wild flowers which were in bloom at the time of the trip.

Whether a one-percenter or just real lucky, the owner of this home
has a beautiful commanding view of the lake and their own boat dock.

Layers of rock formation create ledges at the edge of the lake.
Crowder lake is south of Weatherford, OK, and is in grid F-2, page 40, of the DeLorme Oklahoma Atlas and Gazetteer.  The map of the lake appears on P. 62 of the Lakes of Oklahoma publication by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Wildlife Commission.  The area around the lake is also nicely wooded. 
The greens were brilliant and varied.  The dark cedars blended nicely with groves of hardwoods with a broad palette of greens.   People elsewhere in the country may not see the significance of this.  Here in dry, drought-prone Northwest Oklahoma we are used to living with a palette of browns.  Seeing greens is a big deal, especially when seeing such a varied and abundant display.

Bold ridges and cliffs have eroded into the lake.  See the pedestals
near the water's edge.

When the cliff broke away, the dirt slowly eroded and washed into
the lake.  A few rocks in the dirt, however, protected the dirt
beneath them from further attack by the weather, creating a
protective 'helmet' that shielded the earth beneath to leave the
rocks on tall pedestals.

Along the remaining cliff face, swallows dig into the earth to
build nests.
Crowder Lake has an 8-mile shoreline, and was formed in 1959 with the damming of Cobb Creek.  The main extended arm north out of the lake is Cobb Creek.  Here and in the northwest arm of the lake, deltas are formed where the flowing water slows and sediment deposits to create a wide shallow area.  Once you pick your way through the shallows and reach the main channel, the stream deepens, clears, and meanders through scenic woods.  In the Cobb Creek delta, I paddled past wading cattle and a beaver lodge as I sought out the channel.  As I slowed to drift past a rock, the rock suddenly revealed itself to be the back of a huge carp that exploded in panic and threw water everywhere.  When back in the channel, the water clarity increased to two feet and the grass-covered shoreline became more interesting.  Much of the lake shoreline has steep drop-offs, but there are scattered places where you can step out to relieve the fanny fatigue, though the bottom is a bit mucky.  In Cobb Creek north of the bridge, the water shallowed into a gravel bar that gave good, clean footing and where I stopped for lunch.  When passing under the Rt. 1100 bridge, stay creek left (east side) to avoid a huge rock shelf that extends out half the creek’s width from the west bank and has a sharp edge.  Continued..........


Monday, July 17, 2017

A Ribbon of Color

Our chrysanthemums are already starting to bloom.  This blossom was a bit over two feet long.  It’s called a red stripe ribbon snake---a member of the garter snake family.  If anyone wants to disagree, that’s fine.  I’m certainly no expert on snakes, but this is the best identification I can find.  It was driven up off the ground by the spray from the hose as we were watering, and got right up in the top of the flowers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Meet the Thudbuster

The design of 'ahhhhh.'
Most paddlers just enjoy the tranquility of self-propelled travel, as well as the exercise, so if they can’t get on the water, they will often grab a bike for some two-wheeled journeying.  Therefore,  I don’t feel bad about posting a bike item here.  
About a decade ago, my wife made me a great gift of a Specialized Expedition XL mountain bike.  It is a well-built and reliable bike, but I had a problem with it.  Actually, the problem was more with the rider (me) than with the bike.  I don’t recall rider weight, the number two criteria in bike selection (immediately behind the type of riding the bike is intended for), being a big topic of discussion at the time, and I’ve eaten a few boxes of chocolate-chip cookies since then.  I was now looking to my bike to provide enough exercise to help reverse the scales, but to stay on it long enough, it definitely needed to be more comfortable.
The average bike is designed for a rider of not more than 220 pounds, my research has shown.  Bikes are made for heavier riders, but are often not among the normal off-the-floor models.  At 6-ft, 2-in and 285 pounds, I was overloading my poor bike, and the horribly rough roads around us were punishing the bike even more.  First, I was breaking one rear wheel spoke after another, so I had to have all the rear spokes replaced with stainless steel.  That was a $60 upgrade.  Then the seat post had a straight shock-absorber design, and my weight usually bottomed-out the post and produced more shock than absorber.  The shock-absorber finally blew apart, so I had to replace it with a fixed seat post.  That transferred the shock next to the saddle with its plastic frame, so when it broke in two, I had to replace it.  I was slowly rebuilding the bike one piece at a time.  
The biggest problem, however, continued to be the pounding ride.  The expansion joints in area roads have collapsed from age, heavy traffic, and heat so that the bike wheels drop into 1 to 3-inch deep grooves roughly the same radius as the wheel, and they occur about every 25-feet or so, making the pounding continuous.  At times I felt like my spine was about to be driven through the top of my skull.  Every ride of more than an hour was making me more and more frustrated, so I turned to Specialized for a solution.  They couldn’t offer one, but referred me to Cane Creek Cycling Components of Fletcher, North Carolina.  Cane Creek offered the Thudbuster seat post. 
The Thudbuster ST (short travel) used a single elastomer to cushion wheel impacts of 1.3 inches.  The Thudbuster LT (long travel) uses two elastomers, is a bit heavier, but absorbs impacts of 3-inches, making it much more attractive for touring bikes where a few extra ounces are no issue when comfort is the goal.  Both are sold for maximum rider weight of 250-pounds.  I called Cane Creek to see if I could squeeze 35 more pounds out of the post.  It was then I learned that the elastomers are available in different densities, so the standard #5 elastomers can be easily switched out in a few minutes to accommodate a heavier rider.  The elastomer cylinders ride on a rod, so it is simply a matter of removing a nylon aviation nut from one end of the rod, remove the two cylinders and a coupling washer that are on the rod, lubricate the rod, slide on the two new elastomers with the coupling washer between them, replace the nut, and hit the road.   
The shock from the rear wheel is driven into the rider in an up and forward direction.  Even if of a size able to handle the rider’s weight, seat springs and shock absorber seat posts flex vertically, meaning they don’t meet all the force exerted from the saddle.  The Thudbuster flexes in a down and back direction, as a flexing parallelogram, directly opposing and depleting the force of the road’s impacts from the rear wheel.  I was desperate, so I purchased the post with its two #5 standard elastomers, but also purchased two #7 elastomers.  There is also a #9 elastomer.  It wasn’t cheap at $169, and with two firmer elastomers at $7.50 each and shipping, the total was bumped to $205.48.  However, once I hopped back on the bike, I detected a clearly audible ‘ahhhh’.  Why this option wasn’t made known to me a decade ago, I don’t know, but it would have made a world of difference, and that’s why I’m passing this nugget of information to you.  If you want a smoother ride, regardless of your weight, or need something beyond your bike’s standard equipment, I’d strongly recommend the Thudbuster. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Arkansas & Missouri RR - Part 2

Much of the history in the beautiful countryside is being preserved.
The bridge in the background, that no longer meets modern specs,
is being moved intact to where it can be used rather than being
torn down.

Our return trip was in car 107 with its beautiful patterned tin
ceiling, called a Wunderlich ceiling.

The 139.5 mile-long line was built between 1880 and 1882 by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, a predecessor of the Burlington Northern.  On the trip out and back, we used two different coaches.  Car 105 was built in 1927 in Wilmington, Delaware, and Car 107 was started in 1955 and completed the following year.  The Victorian coaches are fully restored in the greatest detail with mahogany interiors, plush velvet upholstery, and pressed tin ceilings called Wunderlich ceilings named for the Austrian manufacturer.  The rails twisted and turned through the mountains.  We crossed three trestles that carried the train across the creeks and gave miles of visibility.   Two were about 110-feet above the creeks, and one, the Winslow trestle, is 125-feet high.  This makes it 1,735 feet above sea level and the highest railroad trestle between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rockies.  This leads the train into the 1,702 foot-long Winslow Tunnel.  With all the twists through mountain passes, across and along numerous creeks, and over elevated trestles, it would have been a train modeler’s fantasy dream.
In my youth, these double-decker 1940's-era Zephyr Vista Dome
cars were the epitome of first-class travel.  I had always wanted to
see one, but it wasn't until this trip that I climbed on one with the
cleaning crew hard at work.  Fortunately, I found this picture on
the Arkansas & Missouri web site sans cleaning crew and vacuum

This picture blurred as I tried to take it from the train as we flew past,
but it was important enough I felt it should be seen anyhow.  The
construction on the Winslow Tunnel began on Sept. 26, 1881 with
a 300-man crew.  Conditions were severe, and once inside the tunnel,
the air was scarce and stale.  Men's skin turned yellow as they
grew weaker.  Then smallpox swept through the crew with many
deaths, some buried in nearby cemeteries, some buried right along
the tracks they were laying.  With the warming of spring, malaria
was added to their health challenges.  The work had to be completed,
but the railroad president felt so bad about the toll in human life
(a condition I doubt we'd see in American industrial life today),
that he stipulated in his will that his body be returned to lay with
his workers on the mountain, and here he lies between two of
his employees.

Winslow was a small, isolated mountain town until the Winslow Tunnel broke though the mountain and made it a picturesque town that was popular with people from Van Buren and Fort Smith wanting to escape the summer heat by retreating to the mountains.  Winslow became the movie set for two movies.  “Frank and Jesse,” was a 1995 film about the James brothers, and starred Rob Lowe, Bill Paxton, and Randy Travis.  A 1975 film, “Smoke in the Wind”, was about a southern family’s struggles following the Civil War.  It was Walter Brennan’s last film.  He passed away in September, 1974, before the film was released the following year. 

Greater Downtown Winslow.  There is one more red building
to the left of these.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad still runs passenger service from
this depot.

The perfect Ron Howard-styled movie set.

The Talimena National Scenic Byway is a beautiful 54-mile drive through the Kiamichi Mountains and the Quachita National Forest.  We had wanted to make this trip for some time, so decided to tack it onto the train trip.  Dropping south on Rt. 71 from Fort Smith, we started at the east end of the byway in Mena, Arkansas.  Right in the heart of town by the train station, Mena Street turns north off of Rt. 71 and becomes Rt. 88 or Grandview Heights.  It was a fun, twisting ride through the mountain tops with magnificent vistas and interesting places to stop.   At the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line, Rt. 88 becomes Rt. 1 and continues to its terminus at Talihina, OK. 
Sunset on the Talimena Trail.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Excursion

This is not a paddling tale, but was a train excursion we took
last November.  It was great fun.

Like Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory), we feel there’s a lot to love about trains and railroads.  Jean has been wanting to make a rail excursion for some time, so this past November we made a 134-mile, one-day fall foliage trip on the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad starting in Springdale, Arkansas.  Of the 19 things Trip Advisor recommends doing in the area, this excursion is No. #4.  We traveled through the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks Range, made a layover in Van Buren, which sits across the Arkansas River from Fort Smith, and then returned.  The old railroad line runs through what is called ‘the Bottoms’ and follows small streams, like Rock Creek and Frog Bayou, and passes through Fayetteville, Woolsey, Winslow, Chester, Rudy, and then Van Buren.  In spite of some problems that surfaced along the way, this was a very enjoyable experience we would recommend.

Arkansas-Missouri Railroad's Springdale, AR, station and museum.

I had an eye doctor’s appointment, and of course it and the non-refundable train tickets fell on the same day as our departure.  We started the 5-hour drive to Springdale after the doctor’s visit, and since my pupils were dilated, Jean took over the driving for a while.  Heading into the mountains in November, I had packed for autumn weather, so naturally we would suddenly encounter record-breaking high temperatures.  As soon as we left the optometrist, the first stop was a clothing store for a short-sleeved cotton/polyester blend shirt to augment my duffel-filled stack of long-sleeved flannels.

Engine 68 provided the muscle for our day-long trip.

On any trip, we have to make allowances for our traveling zoo, so I had called ahead to find a motel that would accommodate our two cats.  Fortunately, the aviary was remaining at home.  We showed up with our two-day reservation to find that the motel we had booked was only suited for wildlife of the red-lighted, two-legged variety.  The business had been given over mostly to an electronic cigarette sales operation.  We found a couple homeless men sleeping in the lobby as we walked to the reservation desk.  It was obvious that we needed to see the room before registering.  The room gave the appearance of having normally been rented by the hour.  It was dirty, run down, the quilt had tears in nearly every square foot as evidence of the numerous physical encounters between guests, and when we lifted the covers, a cockroach ran between the mattress and box springs.  I told the clerk we would have to look elsewhere.

Car 105 from 1927.

The unpredictable nature of travel now left us without a room and two cats that most businesses would not accept.  We traveled down the main road and encountered a line of ‘no pets allowed’ signs.  Another such sign was at the Super 8 Motel, but after explaining our plight, they bent the rules in exchange for a $15/per night/per cat surcharge.  So, not only was our room now more expensive, but the cats also had premium lodging for an extra $60.

Car 105 was completely rebuilt and renovated in the Victorian
grandeur of mahogany, brass, and velvet.

The good news was that the motel was being completely renovated.  That gave us the privilege of being the first to use a new king-sized mattress and bed that had just been moved into our room a couple hours before.  The room was really nice, but the finishing touch was a huge framed wall covering that featured the Buffalo River with a canoe pulled up on a gravel bar opposite huge, sheer, 200-ft. cliffs.  The 5-by-5-ft. mural was surrounded by a satin black frame that matched the bed frame, and was particularly appealing.  If it wasn’t for being tired, I would have thrown my pillows at the foot of the bed and just laid there soaking in the view of the Buffalo River.

Most people understand that when you go out into nature, you
have to accept nature on her terms.  One traveler didn't get the
message.  While nearly everyone rated the trip as 5-star, one gave
it a 1 or 2-star rating because the foliage wasn't as spectacular as
he expected.  While the dro
ught had deprived the trees of their
normal fall glory, they were beautiful all the same.  The trip
itself, was still 5-star.

The bad news was that they were not finished with our room.  We had to make the room available for their crew to switch out the remaining room furnishings the next day while the two cats remained in the room during our absence for the train excursion.  The cats had to be accommodated in the bathroom with everything they would need for the day.  We had to make sure notes were left for the day manager and the work crew to ensure that the bathroom door wasn’t opened.  We had a sign posted on the door, and the doorway was barricaded with the pet carriers in case the workers ‘no habla Ingles.’  It all worked out fine in the end, but it was just that much more stress added to what should have been a relaxing getaway.

The Boston Mountains