Preamble: Ouachita Trail

The plan was to start the Ouachita Trail on March 1st. The trail runs from Talimena State Park in eastern Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock, Arkansas. The trail is 223 miles long, and there’s a single re-supply point sort of near the halfway point. At my pace that doesn’t really work for me so I planned on caching food at a few spots along the way. Also part of the plan: hiking westbound

I drove to Little Rock and assembled my four resupply boxes using plastic ammo boxes. Side note: Arkansas was state #16 for the trip and #49 lifetime. I went and hiked the first 3 miles of the trail to give myself a head start on the backpacking, then drove along the trail storing my resupplies.

While I was doing this I was also keeping an eye on the weather. There was a nasty blast of Arctic air scheduled to come through, accompanied by a couple days of high winds and freezing rain. Not great camping weather. I kept trying to convince myself it would be fine, but at the last minute I decided to postpone things by a week.

I camped at Talimena State Park for a couple nights ahead of the storm (Oklahoma: state #17 for the trip and #50 lifetime!). Visited Sequoyah NWR and saw lots of stuff: snow geese and possums and my first armadillo (or rather my first five armadillos).

Drove up to Wichita and wandered through the Museum of World Treasures. An eclectic mix of stuff – dinosaurs and Buddhas and medieval swords etc. Also stopped at River City Brewery (I think that’s the name). Good mac & cheese, great chicken noodle soup, and a really good Mexican-chocolate stout. That night temperatures dropped to single digits, the wind kicked up, and about 5 inches of snow fell. Thankfully I was in a motel.

Drove around Cheyenne Bottoms Refuge. Very very cold. Lots of distant ducks and geese clustered around the few non-frozen patches of water. Too cold to pull out the scope and tripod though.

Made a very brief stop in Dodge City before heading back into Oklahoma. One of the first road trips I planned (but didn’t go on) was a “western frontier”-themed trip – cowboy towns and Native American sites. I contemplated going to the Boot Hill Museum but it was late and I had more driving to do so I only made it as far as the gift shop. As I drove south from Dodge City the terrain developed into some lovely hills.

The next morning I made a quick drive through Black Kettle National Grassland then headed to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It’s these rocky mountains popping up out of the flat plain – it’s an interesting area. Teddy Roosevelt established it in 1901 (I think) as a place to highlight the disappearing wildlife of the plains. Bison had to be re-established here, as well as other plains animals that had been nearly driven to extinction. There are a few CCC-created ponds and lakes, several prairie dog towns, and a herd of Texas longhorn cattle. Temperatures were still bitterly cold so I didn’t do any walking around, but I did stop at their really nice visitor center.

I wonder how they determine which NWRs get the fancy visitor centers and which don’t? Some don’t have an on-site park office while others have huge buildings with lots if exhibits, movies, gift shops, etc.

Then the long drive back across Oklahoma to Talimena State Park. I had another two nights planned here, so I could take a full day to figure out what I’d be taking with me on the hike. And take advantage of the park’s hot showers in their heated bathrooms. Still quite cold, but since this was car camping I had my 6-inch foam mattress, 0° sleeping bag, 22° sleeping bag, 40° quilt, and comfy pillow to keep me warm. Temperatures hit the teens but I was actually too warm. Sadly I would not be able to have all that with me in the backpacking trip.

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