Eatonton, GA -> Black Mesa State Park, OK

Nashville, TNThis post will track my travels from Eatonton, GA to Black Mesa State Park, Oklahoma. This trek covered 7 states and took 12 days. I encountered Spring and then lost it then found it again – repeatedly. The blooming Dogwood and Eastern Red Bud trees were amazing each time I saw them. See the pictures so you can be amazed too.

Fun Facts! Eatonton, GA is the hometown of Alice Walker (Did you watch the Color Purple? Now read the book, it’s even better!) AND Joel Chandler Harris author of countless Uncle Remus tales. Now when I went there I only knew it was the home of some lovely folks I’ve known since high school. (Thanks for letting me stay with you Joan and Ross!) Alas, I only stayed one night as I had a clever plan for evading the big swath of rain heading my way.

My big plan was to head west and stay in Fort Mountain State Park in Chattsworth, GA where they had lean-tos for my tent in case I miscalculated where the rain would fall. Turns out what I Fort Mountain Fire Towermiscalculated was that the lean-tos were too short for my tent and the location of the sites was ½ mile walk into the woods. So in an act of character building, I spent the night. I used my backpack to haul my stuff to the site and spent the night in my tent. I had the whole area to myself and built a lovely fire for my own enjoyment. However, the rain was still on its way and after much dithering I decided to head a hostel in Nashville for the next two nights.

Nashville was perfect. The price was right. I was out of the rain. I posted to this blog. I ate at some delicious places, took some interesting walks and got some great pictures. I didn’t go to any museums or bars because……..I didn’t want to. But I did soak up the music vibe of the place! Of note – the downtown library has its own dedicated parking garage. Wow!

After two restful nights, I headed North to Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky (April 1st – no foolin’). The place was packed because the area schools were on Spring Break – Surprise! All the guided tours were booked up until Sunday. Then in an amazing solo traveler score the cashier said she had one (yes, just ONE) spot open on the Cleveland Tour for 1pm – I’ll take it!! About the tour from their official website – “Descend nearly 200 stairs at Mammoth Cavethe Carmichael Entrance, pass the craggy breakdown of the Rocky Mountains and enter gypsum encrusted Cleveland Avenue. This tour showcases gypsum in various crystalline shapes and sizes. The beautifully elliptical Cleveland Avenue terminates in the Snowball Dinning Room, viewed by visitors since 1840’s.” This was a dry cave and didn’t have the stalactites and stalagmites (pop quiz: which forms from the cave roof not the floor?) that one usually sees. There was some interesting graffiti from the 1840s & 50s. Writing on a cave wall in 2016 will get you fined big bucks. Writing on a cave wall in the 1800s will get photographed. For the night I camped in the gloriously uncrowded (but not creepily so) Houchin Ferry Campground in Brownsville, KY. It was right on the river whose sound lulled me to sleep.

Looking at the map I realized I could easily drive through Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri before ending up in Arkansas. Not all in one day of course, just most of it. 🙂 Taking this route I washo able to see Paducah, KY, a UNESCO city. I went there for the name but discovered a great deli, really interesting town history (http://www.paducahky.gov/history-city-paducah), cool old downtown and that it is a very important place in the quilting world. Next I went through Cairo, IL (not a thriving town) and headed for Horseshoe Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area which was my camping destination. The lake was very high due to recent rains which made for great photo opportunities. My Spidey sense and Larry, the local I chatted with who was fishing at the lake, said that this was not such a good place for me to spend the night. So I drove on and on and ended up at a Super 8 in Poplar Bluffs, MO. Here I discovered my cooler had sprung a leak, but I cleverly dried everything out and bought a new cooler. It was a great day of driving with the perfect mix of highway and backroads.

The next part of my trip I spent in the Ozarks in Arkansas. This is my new favorite region! The camping was excellent – perfect for my tent, not overly crowded and so pretty! I stayed in Robinson Point Campground on Norfork Lake outside of Henderson. I had a great spot with a view of the lake and tons of birds to watch. On the drive there I got to drive nearly empty twisty, fun roads through the hills and mountains. Such beautiful country and I saw domestic pigs (Squee!! PIGS!!!) just hanging out in a field like they were horses. Next I ended up at the Blanchard Recreation Area in Mountain Home, AR. I had intended to spend two days there and see the nearby caves, but plans change. The campground was right on the North Sylamore Creek which was fun (if cold!) to wade in, plus there were tons of perfect skipping stones. There were bathrooms with showers, really what more could I want. Hmmmmm…..oh, not to have to drive through several inches of the creek (with warning signs on each side) with my low to the ground Prius. I only stayed one very nice night which limited my drive thorough that water to twice. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I ended up at the Gunnar Pool Recreation Area in Fifty-Six, AR after chatting with several locals about camping places. Same river, less people, a CCC site (www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/ccc-introduction/) and no rushing water to drive through. Perfect! Ozark Folk CenterAlso loved the town of Mountain View (not to be confused with Mountain Home). Adorable, little artsy town in the middle of nowhere and home of the Ozark Folk Center State Park. I cannot overstate what a great time I had there talking to the locals and learning all about how they make stuff.

Onward through Oklahoma! Much, much farther through Oklahoma than I intended. I started my day intending to drive 2 hours to my next camping place (Buffalo National River area), but it was raining when I got there. Who wants to camp in the rain?? Not me! So on I drove to Keystone State Park (my next planned camping place) outside of Tulsa where it’s not raining, just super, super windy. Blow my lunch off the picnic table windy. Who wants to put up a tent in a gale? Not me! So on I drove – on and on and on. Discovery of the day – Oklahoma route 412 has tolls! Several non-cheap tolls. 10 hours after I began I stopped for the night at Boiling Springs State Park (my 3rd planned camping place). No, the spring is not actually at 100°C or 212°F. It gets its name because the spring appears to be “boiling” up from the ground. Three days worth of travel rolled into one. Nice job me!

And yet, I’m still in Oklahoma which is fine because I’m headed to the highest point in OK. Why you may wonder……..because it struck my fancy. From Black Mesa State Park in Kenton, OK I can hike up the Mesa to that lauded, highest spot at 4,973 ft (TES kids is this higher than Mt. Monadnock??). An uneventful drive gets me there and in no time Park Ranger Tucker has taken my money and suggested a great spot to camp by the lake. Sure the bathroom is a 5 minute drive away (1.8 miles) over two cattle guards (www.cattle-guards.com), but I have the whole area to myself. Just me, lots of birds I try and fail to identify, and a whipping prairie wind. I have an even greater respect now for those who lived on the plains, crossed the plains, settled on the plains and stay on the plains. Because the wind – the endless, endless wind would drive me crazy. A wind that made setting up a tent a daunting feat and made me to wonder if I could just sleep in my car out of the wind and the chilly night temps. Yes indeed, I can sleep very comfortably in the car. Thank you wind for giving me the impetus to try, as sleeping in the car (no need to worry about rain or wind or cold) became my modus operandi for my next 6 camping spots.

My 9 mile round trip hike up Black Mesa was challenging, fun and interesting. The clear and sunny day was temperate due to the imageaforementioned wind. The landscape was high desert plains and the views from the top amazing. I could easily see Colorado, Kansas and Texas. Taking pictures from the western (?) edge of the Mesa I had to take shelter behind a scrub tree to keep from being blown about. The impressive headwind I encountered on the way up was quite appreciated on the way down. During the 4 hour hike I only saw 2 other people (Big shout out to Richard & Bliss) – they were staying at the State Park and later that evening we had a great visit in their adorable airstream trailer. I would have liked to stay in the area a little longer but two days of the incessant wind was all I could take, so my trip continues……..

Next post find out what amusing plan I make that turns out to be not at all amusing. Learn if the Silver Saddle Motel in Santa Fe, NM is as good as the reviews promised. See how many days I’m sore after horseback riding near Madrid, NM. Discover if I eat pie in Pie Town, NM and so much more!

Click the below for a my slideshow of pictures.Black Mesa State Park

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