5/31 Oklahoma City to Ponca, Arkansas
Sunday night and Monday early morning gave us a flash bulb light show, resounding strikes on a really huge gong, and the steady drum roll of waves of heavy rain. The wild thunderstorm was rolling southeast by the time I could get a look at the weather channel in the morning, but I still worried that we’d be in for it on our planned drive east to the Buffalo National River and a little campground near Ponca, Arkansas. The rumbling moved on and the sky brightened leaving only a thick soup of 95% humidity. The forecast told of scattered thundershowers where we were headed so we girded our loins and set out. If things got loud and wet for the evening we could always head for a motel in one of the towns we would pass through. Luck was with us and we didn’t see a drop from the sky all day and that night.
We left Oklahoma City on a surviving stretch of route 66 toward Tulsa that parallels toll highway 44. The road carried us through many small communities and lots of farmland. It seemed to be the day for turtles to cross the road and we silly Californians just had to pull over to rescue them from the rush of traffic. The first was really stuck on the yellow stripe. It just sat there with its legs folded in peeking its head out just long enough to be scared back in by each passing vehicle.
We made a u-turn, came to its rescue, and placed it way off the shoulder in the wet weeds. The second larger turtle was still forging ahead walking slow across the lanes. This time, with a very narrow shoulder and no place to park, mrs. a-go-go jumped out as I yelled to be careful, from a distance it looked like it could be a snapper. The ungrateful bugger soaked mrs. a-go-go’s leg with all the urine it could muster. She stuck the ingrate into the weeds near the pond it had been heading toward. After mrs. a-go-go changed into clean pants I declared an end to turtle rescues for the day. Fortunately no others ventured out in our path.
In Tulsa we left route 66 and drove due east on route 412 to the Arkansas boarder
and within reach of the Buffalo River that cuts across the Ozarks. There was a similar array of small towns and farmland but the terrain slowly changed from Oklahoma’s flattish to the Ozark’s rolling hills and oaks.
Once we turned from the 412 to the road to Ponca the roadside warnings signs became more dire, “very crooked and steep next so-and-so miles!” Wow, never have I delighted in such a descriptive road sign.
Several more steep ups and downs, and several more pictures of little black trucks loosing their brakes on down grades, and we found our campsite in Lost Valley.
As we set up our tent and alarmed hiker came down from the near by trailhead asking anyone for a cell phone. Another hiker up the trail had fallen and badly injured their back after leaving the trail, climbing over a railing, and trying to reach secluded waterfall. A steady stream of rescuers made their way up the trail over the next two hours. Rangers, volunteers, a helicopter in a nearby field, a paramedic ambulance... We stayed out of the way and put off the hike up the canyon to the next morning. The rescuers and the injured hiker didn’t make it out to the parking area until well after nightfall. Jeepers, the hiker had to be carried out strapped to a steel cage stretcher. Folks, don’t go climbing off the trail in steep rocky canyons. You just end up looking foolish or worse when all those people have to come get you and drag your sorry butt out to the hospital.
Happy to have that excitement over we turned in for a sticky humid night. There was no rain after all but the condensation kept us good and clammy. The night sounds in the Ozarks were something new and delightful for us. We heard many birdcalls we could not identify, alien insect buzzings (mercifully few mosquitoes), an unfamiliar and vociferous owl, and lastly wild turkey calls in the morning mist. Oh, I nearly forgot, mrs. a-go-go was able to cross off her life list one fantastic first, we saw fireflies drifting through the tree branches over our campfire. Yep, we’ll be coming back to visit the Ozarks again sometime soon.