If you like to spend time at Veterans lake, you’ll want to read this. In July, the area around the lake will close for dam repairs. Apparently, they’re badly needed. The lake will be open for the holiday weekend, but will shut down shortly after. The following text is from the Chickasaw national Recreation Area…
Lake area to be closed
The Veterans Lake area of Chickasaw National Recreation Area’s Platt Historic District will close to the public on July 19. The closure of the area will allow for two major construction projects to occur. The expected duration of the closure is six to nine months.
In conjunction with the Bureau of Reclamation, the primary project will be a rehabilitation of the Veterans Lake Dam, intended to bring the dam into compliance with modern safety standards. The second project is the construction of the north shore portion of the Veterans Lake Trail, including a new west trailhead parking area. The North Shore trail will be approximately one mile long and be placed between the North Shore Road and the shoreline, with a connecting trail to Rock Creek Campground. The road across the dam and the parking lot at the south end of the dam will be removed and a trail and new parking lot at the north end of the dam will be built as a replacement.
During construction, access to the Veterans Lake area and the Southwest Perimeter Road will be closed from U.S. 177 to Rock Creek Campground. No access will be available to the Bromide Hill parking area, the north trailhead of the Rock Creek Multi-use trail, the Veterans Lake Trail and the Veterans Lake Pavilion during this time.
Incident highlights need for repairs
A recent incident underscores the need for the scheduled rehabilitation of the dam. On June 18, park staff documented a visible slump on the roadway along the top of the Veterans Lake Dam. Essential personnel were notified, and the area was closed. In accordance with established plans the siphon drain was opened and the lake level was lowered. On the morning of June 19, park staff conducted an inspection of the visible portions of the dam to identify the problem. A plan was then developed to determine the cause of the deformity. On June 20, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer investigated and the site was stabilized until the rehabilitation project begins next month. The dam section of Veterans Lake and the lower road was later reopened.
Park Superintendent Bruce Noble said, “Visitors will have access to Veterans Lake and its facilities through the July 4 holiday. When completed, these projects will create a safer and more enjoyable area within the park for visitors to use for many years to come.”
Got this news from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge concerning Saturday summer activities geared toward families. Have a read, and if this interests you, go down there and check it out.
The following events are scheduled for the rest of the summer. Contact the Visitor Center at (580) 429-2197 for more information. They are free.
- Saturday Morning Kid Friendly Hikes: Guided hikes for the whole family- meet at the Visitor Center at 9 a.m.
- Saturday Afternoons in the Discovery Room: Fun, educational activities for kids from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Visitor Center Discovery Room.
- Saturday Evening with the Stars – join Refuge Volunteer Bob Schmall at the Environmental Education Center at 8 p.m. on Saturdays for a variety of programs, changing every week. Programs continue rain or shine.
Here’s a disturbing report concerning a wildlife encounter of the wrong kind. In this one, an Illinois man was killed last week by a grizzly bear while at Yellowstone National Park. You can read about it here:
From reading the report, it sounds like the victim was an experienced outdoorsman, but was hiking alone. The report says that friends noted the victim was well aware of the risks of hiking in the area.
Bear-related deaths in that area are pretty rare, the report said. This was the area’s first fatal bear mauling in 25 years.
This comes at an interesting time. If you remember from an earlier post I made, I did a solo hike in the Wichitas last week and had a wildlife encounter of my own, with a startled buffalo. Luckily, that ended up as just a scare. You can read about it here:
As careful as I was, I still stumbled upon the animal and scared it enough to where it made an aggressive move toward me before running off. Sometimes even the most careful, experienced people can have bad wildlife encounters, and those are made all the more serious when going solo. I was aware of those risks, but it’s always something to think about before heading off into the backcountry alone.
Here’s a link to some interesting things for families to do, offered by Bass Pro. Take a look and see if this is for you and your little ones:
Folks who like to frequent the Martin Park Nature Center will have to wait until next week to go there. The place had some flood damage from Monday’s storms. Here’s some information from the park about the temporary closure:
Martin Park Nature Center, 5000 West Memorial Road, will remain closed until Wednesday, June 23, as staff and volunteers work to repair damage sustained during Monday’s flood event.
The park’s trails, as well as fencing and other small structures, were damaged when high waters from Spring Creek rushed through the park during the flood.
Over three miles of natural and partially-gravel trails wind through the park and wildlife preserve. Most of the trails run adjacent to Spring Creek, which is a main feature attraction.
After surveying damage throughout the 140 acre park, staff determined that it will take several days to make all the necessary repairs for before the park can be reopened.
“Trail safety is our first priority,” said Casey Lindo, Martin Park naturalist.
“While we don’t want to inconvenience the public in any way, it’s critical we are able to make certain all of our trails and embankments are reinforced, and that the park is safe for all visitors.”
Parks and Recreation staff, in addition to volunteers from the Friends of Martin Park organization and local Boy Scout troops, were on hand Wednesday to begin clean-up. Work included picking-up debris that had washed down from the creek, repairing fencing along the trails as well as repairing significant portions of the trails, including the main gravel trail that leads from the park entrance to the education center.
According to Lindo, the education center was not damaged. In addition, there was little impact to the center’s wildlife.
Regular hours for Martin Park Nature Center are Wednesday – Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. The park is closed on July 4, Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
For more information, call Martin Park Nature Center at 755-0676.
First, a loud snort, then a dark flash just behind me. I wheeled around just fast enough to witness one of those close calls you’d rather not have when hiking solo. But more on that in a bit.
Usually when I take a trip into the backcountry, I do so with friends. For whatever reason, I was in the mood for some solitude. No better way to do that on a day when no one in their right mind would want to be outside.
Monday was that sort of day. Not that I planned it that way. I’ll admit to ignoring weather forecasts that called for heavy rain statewide. When I woke up and headed out that morning, all I saw was blessed cloud cover that might blunt the early summer heat that normally hits the Wichita Mountains hard.
My goal was to do a solo hike to Sunset Peak, a granite high point on the western edge of the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area. It was a perfect pick for a solo venture – not too technically challenging (from what I’d read), but great views atop a granite dome that I had yet to see.
But little went according to plan.
When I got to the trailhead at the Sunset picnic grounds, it was slightly overcast and warm. It didn’t appear the storms that ravaged Oklahoma City were going to appear here. Small groups of people were making their way up the trail to some close-by sights. I imagined that any trace of human beings would fade within 30 minutes of setting out.
This turned out to be true, but not for the reasons I suspected.
First, I got off track. A little backtracking and I got where I needed to be, but then the rains started anew, accompanied by some scarily close lightning strikes. I needed to get low, hunker down and stay off the bare granite high places.
So there were two ways of looking at this. One, I could sit there, get wet and sulk at the delay. Or two, I could sit amongst the trees and listen to the sounds of the storm and nothing else. It was actually pretty pleasant, despite the sogginess.
Eventually, the lightning moved off. That gave me the green light to get going again.
The forested area where I was hiking was filled with dense underbrush. Given the noise of the rainfall on the leaves, it’s pretty easy to move around silently. Unfortunately, it makes wildlife encounters risky – as in really easy to walk up and surprise the animals who call the Wichitas home.
In my case, it happened to be a buffalo. I walked right up to the beast without even seeing it. How, you ask? You’d be surprised how something that big can blend in so easily in the thick greenery of the refuge.
I heard it first, a loud, angry snort. As I wheeled, I caught a flash of the buffalo as it started toward me, then turned at the last moment just a few feet away before galloping down the trail. Fifty feet later, it stopped, turned toward me and stared. The pause allowed my heart slow down while at the same time I could gaze on this magnificent creature through the trees. Fortunately, the buffalo made its stand behind me and didn’t block my path forward.
Being gored or trampled by the buffalo would have been bad under any circumstance, but on this day – with no one around and hiking solo – it could have been that much worse. Solo hiking, backpacking and climbing are inherently riskier activities than when done in groups. If you do a solo trip, this is something you have to keep in mind. So for the rest of the trip I made sure that whenever I entered a wooded area, I talked out loud and made a lot of noise so any animal nearby would know I was coming. No more surprise encounters for me, thanks!
(Note: I made several people aware of exactly where I was going and when I expected to be back out. I also included extra food and water, plus a first-aid kit, knife, rope and other tools in case I was forced to overnight in the wilderness.)
Unfortunately, I got off track again and found myself going up a nearby minor peak. I used the vantage point to spot the trail, but the effort delayed me even more. By the time I regained the trail it was getting later in the day. I had a set turnaround time and it was rapidly approaching. It was decision time. Do I push back my turnaround time and head for Sunset Peak, or do I find another place to hunker down and eat lunch before heading back?
Ultimately, the weather made the decision for me. Distant thunder appeared to be intensifying, and the clouds were starting to darken again. Had I gone to Sunset Peak and reached its summit, I might as well have worn a sign that said, “Hey, lightning! Strike here!”
So I went to Crab Eyes, a cool rock formation atop a minor peak I’d been to many times. It has a great place to stop and rest just underneath its iconic twin boulder summit. By going here, I was conceding defeat. Sunset Peak would have to wait.
It wasn’t too disappointing, though. Crab Eyes is like an old friend, a familiar and welcoming face on what had been a challenging day. I stopped, ate and rested, and listened to the birds, the thunder and the rain. There wasn’t another human being within a couple of miles of me by then. You pay a price to attain this type of solitude, but it’s worth it.
Soon I was off, determined to make it back to the car before too long. But then the rains began in earnest, and they wouldn’t stop. Trails turned into creeks. Long dormant waterfalls sprang to life.
Even the appearance of the range appeared to change. Through the rain, the brown and pink granite changed to gray, with particularly slick rocks shining like silver. The skyline of the mountains became one continuous, jagged outline, like some sort of mythic landscape from Nordic lore. Surrounded by such rugged heights, it was hard to believe I was in the Southern Plains. Tired, soaked and a bit hungry, I didn’t care. This was the kind of scene that never leaves your head.
It was at that time I realized how lucky I was. At that moment, legions of people were at work. Others were at home watching TV. Some were in jail. Or overseas at war. I was out here, reveling in what was, for me, a unique experience.
So I didn’t reach Sunset Peak. I almost got run over by a buffalo. And I was soaked to the bone. No matter. It was a great day.
Here’s a story updating the Arkansas flood tragedy. It appears the search for survivors or victims is over. This is from The Associated Press:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Authorities on Wednesday officially called off the search for victims of the flash flooding that killed 20 people at a western Arkansas campground last week, shifting their focus to assessing damage and cleaning up debris from the disaster.
Gov. Mike Beebe announced that state agencies had ended their role in recovering victims from Friday’s flash flooding at the Albert Pike Recreation Area in Montgomery County. Police on Tuesday identified the final known victim from the flood.
“While the Forest Service will have sole jurisdiction from here forward, Arkansas stands ready to help if any additional assistance is requested,” Beebe said in a statement released by his office.
State police had already scaled back their search efforts on Tuesday, and a spokesman said the state police mobile command center would leave Thursday morning.
“At this time, there has been no other individual noted who may be unaccounted for,” State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Wednesday.
The U.S. Forest Service said it had shifted its attention to assessing damage from the floods and cleaning up debris. A spokeswoman for the agency said she did not know when the campground would reopen.
“It will likely take a week or so for the initial assessments just to give us a better idea of what kind of damages were caused by the floods,” said Tracy Farley, of the service’s Ouachita National Forest division.
Beebe’s office also said the governor has been in touch with Forest Service officials about potential federal assistance for the victims’ families and for those who assisted with the search efforts.
Lawmakers continued to focus attention on what steps could be taken to better notify campers in remote campsites of impending emergencies.
Sen. Mark Pryor said he planned to meet with Forest Service officials to discuss ways to improve communications. The agency is reviewing how to improve communication after Friday’s flash flooding.
Weather forecasters warned of the flooding four times over the course of an hour. But the campsite did not have a ranger on duty, cell phone service was spotty and weather radio signals did not reach there.
Pryor said the solution may be as simple as warning bells set up at the camp, or an informational campaign.
“My preference would be something simple and low-tech,” Pryor said. “I’ve heard a lot of different ideas over the last few days, but the bottom line is those folks were asleep when this happened and even if they had gotten a radio signal down there … I’m not sure that a lot of them would have heard it.”
Campers would have been told about a flash flood watch posted at midday Thursday, but the flood arrived after 2 a.m. Friday when many were asleep. At times, the Little Missouri River rose eight feet per hour.
Something that could be fun and relaxing at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area this weekend. The following is a release from the park. Have a read, andif this is something you’d like to do, head down to Sulphur and and enjoy the festivities!
Chickasaw National Recreation Area Superintendent Bruce Noble would like to invite the public to the Campfire Stories event at the Bromide area in the park’s Platt Historic District on Saturday, June 19th.
Join Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the Sulphur Chamber of Commerce for a wonderful evening of music, hayrides, and storytelling. Young and old alike will be spellbound by tales of days gone by told around a campfire. Hayrides and music will begin at 7:00 p.m. Storytelling will start at 8:30p.m. in front of the Bromide Pavilion. Storytellers include community members, Territory Tellers, the Chickasaw Nation, and park staff.
Bring your lawn chairs or blankets and come sit a spell. There is no cost for any portion of the evening’s activities.
This is an absolutely horrible story out of Arkansas today. Flash floods ripped through some campgrounds in the southwestern part of that state. The affected area, the Albert Pike Campground, is in the Ouachita Mountains, a place not only popular to folks in Arkansas, but Oklahoma as well. So far, officials estimate at least 16 people were killed and many others missing. Here’s a link to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story about the tragedy:
If you don’t want to go to the link, here’s an Associated Press story:
CADDO GAP, Ark. (AP) — Floodwaters that rose as swiftly as 8 feet an hour tore through a campground packed with vacationing families early Friday, carrying away tents and overturning RVs as campers slept. At least 16 people were killed, and dozens more missing and feared dead.
Heavy rains caused the normally quiet Caddo and Little Missouri rivers to climb out of their banks during the night. Around dawn, floodwaters barreled into the Albert Pike Recreation Area, a 54-unit campground in the Ouachita National Forest that was packed with vacationing families.
The raging torrent poured through the valley with such force that it peeled asphalt off roads and bark off trees. Cabins dotting the river banks were severely damaged. Mobile homes lay on their sides.
Two dozen people were hospitalized. Authorities rescued 60 others.
Marc and Stacy McNeil of Marshall, Texas, survived by pulling their pickup truck between two trees and standing in the bed in waist-deep water.
“It was just like a boat tied to a tree,” Marc McNeil said, describing how the truck bobbed up and down.
They were on their first night of camping with a group of seven, staying in tents. The rain kept falling, and the water kept rising throughout the night, at one point topping the tool box in the back of the truck.
“We huddled together, and prayed like we’d never prayed before.” Stacy McNeil said. They were able to walk to safety once the rain stopped.
After the water receded, anguished relatives pleaded with emergency workers for help finding more than 40 missing loved ones.
At one point, Gov. Mike Beebe said the death had climbed to 20. But Beebe’s office later revised that figure to 16, saying he had relied on an erroneous figure after talking to an emergency worker at the scene.
Still, authorities agreed that the death toll could easily rise. Forecasters warned of the approaching danger during the night, but campers could easily have missed those advisories because the area is isolated.
“There’s not a lot of way to get warning to a place where there’s virtually no communication,” Beebe said. “Right now we’re just trying to find anybody that is still capable of being rescued.”
The governor said damage at the campground was comparable to that caused by a strong tornado. The force of the water carried one body 8 miles downstream.
While the governor spoke, rescuers in canoes and kayaks were on the Little Missouri looking for bodies and survivors who might still be stranded. Crews were initially delayed in their search because a rock slide blocked a road leading to the campsites.
“As that river goes down, you don’t know how many people are under it,” the governor said.
Authorities prepared for a long effort to find other corpses that may have been washed away.
“This is not a one- or two-day thing,” said Gary Fox, a retired emergency medical technician who was helping identify the dead and compile lists of those who were unaccounted for.
“This is going to be a week or two- or three-week recovery.”
The heavily wooded region offers a mix of campgrounds, hunting grounds and private homes. Wilderness buffs can stay at sites with modern facilities or hike and camp off the beaten path.
Forest Service spokesman John Nichols said it would have been impossible to warn everyone that the flood was coming. The area has spotty cell phone service and no sirens.
“If there had been a way to know this type of event was occurring, it’d be closed period,” Nichols said.
A trooper on duty noticed high water about 3 a.m. and notified the sheriff’s department, which responded to the scene.
He said the water is usually low, allowing people to wade and fish in it during the summer, Nichols said.
Brigette Williams, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Little Rock, estimated that up to 300 people were in the area when the floods swept through.
“There’s no way to know who was in there last night,” state police spokesman Bill Sadler said. It would be difficult to signal for help because of the rugged and remote nature of the area being searched, some 75 miles west of Little Rock.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management sent satellite phones and specialized radio equipment to help in the rescue effort.
Campground visitors are required to sign a log as they take a site, but the registry was carried away by the floodwaters.
Wanda McRae Nooner, whose son and daughter-in-law have a home and a cabin along the river, said her son was helping rescuers.
“I know they’ve been bringing the bodies up there in front of their house until they can get ambulances in and out. It’s just the most horrible thing. It’s almost unbelievable.”
The rough terrain likely kept some campers from reaching safety, according to Tabitha Clarke, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.
Some parts of the valley are so steep and craggy that the only way out is to hike downstream. Any hikers who had taken cars to the campsites would have been blocked at low-water bridge crossings that are inundated when the rivers rise, she said.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning around 2 a.m. after the slow-moving storm dumped heavy rain on the area. At that point, a gauge at nearby Langley showed the Little Missouri River was less than 4 feet deep. But as the rain rolled down the steep hillsides, it built up volume and speed.
Even if people attempted to leave at the first sign of danger, water climbing higher and higher along the valley walls may already have inundated a number of low-water crossings, trapping them, Clarke said.
Authorities established a command post near the post office in Langley, along the Little Missouri. Helicopters landed behind a general store, and a triage unit was set up at a volunteer fire department.
Meliea Moore of Hot Springs waited at the store with her friend whose sister, brother-in-law and niece were among the missing. They had been staying in a cabin for the past week at the campground.
A center for relatives of the missing was set up at a church in Lodi offering dry clothes and food.
This story will be evolving over time. I’ve heard of similar stories involving people camping near slot canyons in desert areas, but I can’t remember something like this in this part of the country. My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this.
China puts new age restriction on Everest climbs; Jordan Romero’s record likely to stand indefinitely
It would seem that Californian Jordan Romero set a record that may never be broken. According to The Times of India website, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, which governs climbing on Mount Everest’s north face, recently decided to set age limits on who could scale the mountain. You can read about it here:
In short, only people between the ages of 18 and 60 will be allowed to climb the mountain. Exceptions can be made for those as young as 16, but anyone younger than that is out of luck.
Nepal already has restrictions barring anyone under age 16 from climbing Mount Everest. China and Nepal share the mountain along their common border. Mount Everest is 29,029 feet tall and is the world’s highest mountain.
Jordan became the youngest person to ever climb Mount Everest last month. He’s 13. I’m not certain what this will do to his plans to climb Cho Oyu, another Himalyan peak along the China-Nepal border. Cho Oyu, 26,906 feet, is the world’s sixth-highest mountain.
Some plans had already been made to break Jordan’s record. According to The Times of India, a Nepalese climber had sought to train 11-year-old Nepali children to break the record. Those plans are now dashed. The online report said the China Tibet Mountaineering Association made the new restrictions in reaction to Jordan’s climb — and the ensuing controversy.