Our first forays into Kansas and Oklahoma came when we were crossing the country in 2018 from north to south rather than west to east. Neither time have they been destinations unto themselves, but as long as we had to go through them, I tried to find places for us to be where we might actually enjoy ourselves.
Sylvan Grove, KS
As I mentioned in that first blog post about Kansas, there were two locations I had bookmarked as decent-looking places to see long before we hit the road. One we visited in ’18, and the second, Wilson State Park, we patronized this time. Having exhausted both options, I guess we’ll have to skirt Kansas on future cross-country trips.
Wilson is a large park with several campgrounds from which to choose, and it is divided into two main areas on opposite sides of the lake. I put us north of the water in what I’d hoped would be a less-crowded and quieter section. Turns out, it was both of those. There were only three other rigs in the loop on our first night, then after what I’ve come to think of as the Sunday Scram, when all the weekend campers bug out, there was only one other rig there. Naturally, they were parked directly across from us and right in the path of our lake view, but it really wasn’t whine-worthy at all.
One of the reasons I’d had this park in my to-see file was a photo I’d found online a few years ago.
Unlike a lot of “false advertising” you’ll see online, this photo wasn’t. While it was too windy during our stay for me to get my little puffer kayak on the water, we did get some dirt in our bike tires. Before we could do that, though, we needed to find the key to the bike rack. It wasn’t on its hook, and it wasn’t in the dashboard key holders, and it wasn’t in the car, and it wasn’t in a backpack. TBG surmised perhaps it was in a pants’ pocket, but it was not found in any of those, either. I started murderously tearing apart every cubby in the RV from front to back while TBG began dismantling the bike rack. He eventually got the bikes off without breaking too much of the rack, and then as we were changing into our bike clothes, he sheepishly pulled the key from his bike shorts pocket. His bike shorts pocket, I say.
You’d probably not think Kansas would have very technical bike trails, but there were some sections of this seven-mile loop that were outside my comfort and skill levels, and I walked those. Not so for TBG.
Most of it was rideable for me, though, and except for nearly getting blown off the bridge on the way to the trailhead, it was a pretty fun ride.
On another day, we took a short walk along a different section of bike trail to determine if it was something I could do, and we stumbled across a big patch of buffalo gourds! You all know I like to paint stuff, and you may recall my National Park Gourd-painting Project (NPGP) I started while in New Mexico — painting dried buffalo gourds with scenes from each national park we’ve visited. Until now, I only had six gourds, and despaired of ever finding more especially since it would be a long time until we were in gourd country again. TBG gallantly took off his hat, and we filled it with enough gourds for me to complete my project no matter how many more NPs we visit.
As it turned out, we had a disagreement the day we went back to actually ride that trail, and we rode our separate ways. It was the second time that, having parted company in a snit, TBG came across a turtle. Does that mean it’s good to butt heads sometimes, or does that just make us buttheads?
Other than that, we took walks around the campgrounds and the one-mile nature trail, luxuriated in having the windows open at night for cool breezes and no noise, and watching seasons 1 & 2 of Yellowstone. No spoilers for Season 3, please!
Up next was Lake McMurtry Recreation Area, chosen for the same reasons as mentioned above. Oklahoma’s roads haven’t improved at all since our visit two years ago, and it was a rough, rough time getting to our destination. We didn’t at first see our water hookup, so I quickly motored up to the office to learn that every two sites share a spigot. Fine, and good thing we had our own splitter. Add to that the 50A plug wasn’t working, and I was about to cry for having been the route-planner. Motoring back up to the office and just barely catching the employee before she left for the day, she called out some folks to fix the outlet. It was taken care of within the hour, and once all that was settled, we liked my choice overall for the duration.
The best part of this site was the big picnic area with a lake view.
Like Wilson, this park is divided into two halves on opposite sides of a lake, and each has two long bike trails. We never did venture over to the East section, but our first morning we took a walk/run on part of the the Orange Trail (too technical for me to ride) and that evening, a long walk around the whole West area. Oklahoma would be our last chance to spot our cherished prickle frogs, and though we didn’t, we did make an altogether new spotting.
We’ve been in several areas where armadillos make their homes, but we’d yet to see (a live) one. At McMurtry, we saw one per day, and were even close enough a few times to hear their determined snuffling as they rooted for bugs. It was that which led TBG to give them the moniker of Dig Pig. Their behavior and snouts reminded me of something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I researched. They are related to anteaters! I know they aren’t a rare critter or one that is considered “fun,” but we’re always happy to see something new.
The other trail on the west side was the Blue, and we biked a large portion of it one morning.
I wanted to get my kayak out on the lake, but unless I was ready at first light, the days quickly became too breezy. We got lucky on our last day after returning from errands in town that conditions were not only warm but calm. TBG dropped me at the boat launch and took off for a bike ride while I prepared for a paddle. As I was inflating my ‘yak, I heard the dreadful sound of escaping air. I located the source along a seam in one of the foot wells, and I tried unsuccessfully to stem the leak with the only thing I had, which was a Band-Aid. It didn’t seem like a critical area to not have inflated, so I pumped up the rest and floated out.
Since you’re reading this, obviously I didn’t sink. It didn’t even seem to make much of a difference at all, which is good because that hole isn’t getting patched any time soon.
About midway through our stay, after struggling with our wifi hotspot to finish the video series we were streaming, TBG noticed the wifi antenna on the big light pole in front of our site, and we realized we’d had good, free park wifi the whole time. Doh! It wasn’t that big a deal since we had plenty else to keep us occupied. There were lots of birds, most of which were too fast to photograph, but I enjoyed sitting at our picnic table watching them and the turtles sunning themselves on “our” log. The way they’d stick out their back legs cracked me up.
On the way to our final stay in a “repeat” state before our travels begin to take us into previously unexplored territory, we did something we’ve not done before. We pulled off the highway to get some sandwiches that I saw advertised on a billboard. The sign didn’t even have a picture on it, it simply read “Smoked Turkey Sandwiches, Robertsons Meats.” The thought of smoked turkey made me hungry, then I made TBG hungry talking about it, and because it wasn’t a big pain to pull off to access the place, we did.
They weren’t even fancy sandwiches, but they were tasty and made tastier by the novelty of our stop. We didn’t fuel up here, but gas and diesel prices are a screaming good deal right now, and that helps mitigate a roadside sandwich or two.
Our next destination was Greenleaf State Park. When I was erroneously waiting to check in at the office, I overheard the employee saying that it was fall break for the local schools. I’d known when I booked that it was Columbus Day weekend, but this was extra-special news. So lucky!
Wow, what a nice, open site, but don’t get too excited.
I don’t like to add more whining to an already lamentable year, so suffice it to say that there were entirely too many people in the park for a few days.
TBG was tuckered out the next day from the rough driving, so I took myself on a bike ride all around the park. It is a spacious park with a lot of activities that are either closed on weekdays or for the season. It has several campgrounds and cute stone cabins, a marina with a small store and grill, a huge seasonal splash pad, an all-concrete (!) mini-golf course, a weirdly-situated wildlife blind, some nice paved trails, and one long forested trail, The Greenleaf Trail. That’s where we headed the following day in hopes of finding the suspension bridge.
It was a nicely overcast day saving us on sunscreen, but it was more humid than we’ve been accustomed to. The trail wasn’t hard to follow, but neither was it really well-maintained comparatively.
The online information I’d seen regarding a trail closure and the lack of helpful maps indicating where that closure was exactly, made us question whether or not we were really on the right track to reach the bridge. It came into view as some kayakers were gliding underneath it, planting a seed for our next outing.
The bridge was, indeed, closed on the opposite end but, obviously, it was accessible for traversing. We took a break here, regaining our equilibrium from the bouncy bridge, before heading back.
Despite the annoyance of overcrowding, the weekend meant that the park’s marina was open, and we plunked down the 25 smackers to rent a tandem kayak for an hour.
Our destination was to see the suspension bridge from the water, and paddling almost directly into the sun, we headed that way. Shortly after we launched, we realized neither of us had a clock with us, therefore no way to know when our hour was up.
We didn’t tarry on the way back, mostly because kayaking, unlike hiking, doesn’t allow for ducking behind a tree when nature calls, but also because of the time limit. At just under 2.5 miles total, we pulled into the marina slip with two minutes to spare.
I wasn’t expecting as much of a Sunday Scram as usual since Monday was a holiday, but we were pleasantly surprised that the park almost completely cleared out, and we were able to have our windows open overnight again without worrying about too much noise or campfire smoke. In the middle of the night, I was roused by a rustling outside, and I knew immediately what I would see when I shone my flashlight out there — Dig Pig! We espied another on our last evening walk due to my newly super-honed armadillo hearing that alerted me to its presence under the grasses.
It was a nice capper to our time at Greenleaf, but we were excited to be moving on to a new-to-us state the next day.
To Arkansas and beyond!