Walking down the backside of the gorge at Turner Falls just outside Davis, Oklahoma, was a lesson in the strategic placement of cactus and loose stone. I could feel myself falling….
Temperatures in Oklahoma in the Autumn can swing wildly from below freezing overnight to T-shirt weather by the late afternoon. My husband and I decided to take a trip to the south central attractions of Sulphur and Turner Falls. After spending the first day touring the Chickasaw Cultural Center and the mineral springs that, at times, smelled like rotten eggs (hence the name of the town), we decided to end our trip at the Turner Falls gorge in the Arbuckle Mountains. The day began with heavy frost on the ground and temperatures so cold that we each wore at least three layers of clothing. As the day got warmer layers came off and ended up tied around my waist.
The Falls themselves were delicate, a reflection of the desperately dry summer, but recent rains allowed the thin streams of water to flow over the smooth rock and still reveal the pocks of erosion and deep caverns that rimmed them. It was over a mile back to the RV and so I carried my layers and the backpack for my camera with me as I explored the bottom of the gorge.
Hubby had the great idea to follow a trail that went off to the south of the main falls. It began as another gorge. Slowly, the trail rose and as it climbed, it narrowed to a goat path strewn with fallen limbs and loose rock. It also became so vertical, I was climbing on all fours. My clothing and the thick equipment bag on my back made me feel like a moose trapped in brambles – except that one misstep and I could be hanging 100 feet over the edge by a coat sleeve or bag strap. Climbing is easier than going down, so I hoped that there would be another route back to the Falls! Grasping at roots, I dragged myself up another 60 feet, tearing a favourite pair of pants in the process.
Finally, when we reached the top, I was panting partly out of fear and partly from the discovery of how heavy a 7 lb weight gain really is (I contemplate this whilst munching on Hallowe’en candy). Hubby takes off to find an easier way down leaving me to overlook a view of the drought dried vegetation living on the thin soil at the top of the gorge. The only plants that seemed to thrive were the thorns and cacti which parked themselves conveniently along the edge of the goat path. The view was vast and the distant hillsides were covered in trees, except where it appeared a tornado had ripped through, clearing one nearly bare. Only a skirt of twisted and flattened tree trunks remained below the highest elevation.
Fortunately, there was another way down through another shallow gorge filled with the remnants of quick runoff – loose branches, small stones and more cactus. It seemed to me that every time I would pass a slippery pile of loose stone, I would be greeted by a spiny cactus, graciously offering to catch me if I slipped. The deep grass on either side beckoned, offering an alternative, but my snake radar was up and I figured the fangs of the cacti to be the lesser threat.
Sure enough, I felt my feet lose their grip and down I went. Fortunately I missed the cactus but, instead, landed on a sharp stone. Sharp enough, that while I write this, I have to sit in a number of awkward positions to avoid the bruise.
Somehow I survived with only a few scrapes on my hands and a sore… ummm…. So I decided to climb up the other side of the gorge! The photo at the top is the view from the stone castle built on the north side.
There are more photos in my “Oklahoma” set of Flickr here.
Included in that set is our second trip to the Wichitas to see the bison. We were surprised by how they gathered near the edges of the road. They tolerated the humans and many even posed for the cameras!