Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dam Fine Day


David and Randy

We were skipping across the surface of Grand Lake toward Pensacola Dam with David at the wheel of the sleek, white boat.  David and his wife live on Grand Lake, with the dam across the water from their backyard.  We had met them just minutes before, and now we found ourselves on his boat with his daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Randy.  We aren't stowaways, or even hitchhikers - we are just a really lucky group of friends reaping Oklahoma generosity.

Let me rewind.

The plan was to take a hike.  The group went from two to three to seven and back to four within about 48 hours.  I spent more hours than I care to admit searching online and on my paper map of the state, trying to plan a trip to someplace new.  There is one thing that I try to remember - expect things to NOT go as planned.  Once you have accepted this mantra, the real fun begins.

A designation was selected - Natural Falls State Park in Siloam Springs.  It made the top 10 list of most beautiful places in Oklahoma.  It is also three hours from where we live in the heart of OKC (or, 2.5 hours, the way I drive).  To break up the drive, I picked a "mystery detour".  As the other three friends met up for breakfast, all that they knew is that we might make it to Natural Falls, and that there were going to be planned and unplanned detours along the way.  They came prepared for hiking, swimming in creeks, and getting home late.

Once we caffeinated up and filled our bellies with tasty, vegetarian fare from Red Cup, the roadtrip and 20 questions began.  Does the "mystery detour" involve food?  No.  Stores?  No.  Animals?  Yes.  Alive?  No.  Did they used to be alive?  Not exactly.  Mythical?  No.  Unicorns?  No.  Is it a zoo?  No.  (With animals that aren't alive?!?)  Is there water?  I don't know.  Is it interactive?  Sort of.  I conceded that it was about two hours away and was "an attraction".  After a few more guesses, one friend finally says, "all I can think of is the Blue Whale."  Ding, ding, ding!!!  We have a winner!

Famous Blue Whale in Catoosa on Route 66
Inside the Blue Whale
"Kissing Whales"

We get to the Blue Whale in Catoosa - one of the most famous landmarks along Rt. 66 - and do all of the required pictures and poses.  For a while, we had the whole place to ourselves.  Before we left, a group of three guys on an adventure from Pennsylvania to LA joined us and we exchanged picture-taking favors.  As we were leaving, we realized that we were playing like kids, yet there wasn't a single "official" kid in sight.  The Blue Whale was built in the 70s, and obviously before the days of safety rails; compressed, splinter-free wood; and helmets for every sport.  The "interactive" element requires imagination and actually moving your own legs and arms.  It may look like just a wood and concrete structure covered in brilliant blue paint, but it is actually a time-warp that brings you back to childhood when you walk under the kissing whales at the entrance.

Piling back in the car, we decide to visit the Totem Pole Park in Foyil.  It is home to the World's Largest (Concrete) Totem Pole, and also home of the Fiddle House.  Both the Blue Whale and the Totem Pole Park were on the list of 50 free things to do in Oklahoma.  We made complete fools of ourselves creating human totem poles that incorporated visual effects and yoga-ish poses.

There is nothing quite like an Oklahoma country road.
The field trip continued on to the real destination - Natural Falls State Park.  Wait, how did we end up on a complete (generous) stranger's boat on Grand Lake?  The Totem Pole Park just so happens to be on a road that leads right up to Grand Lake and the Pensacola Dam, on the way to Natural Falls.  Grand Lake just so happened to also make the list of top 10 most beautiful places in Oklahoma, and a tour of the Pensacola Dam was also on the list of 50 free things to do in Oklahoma.  Pensacola Dam is the longest multi-arch dam in the world - at approximately one mile long - so I just had to see this man-made wonder.

One of our traveling companions had a grandmother that used to live in a private community directly opposite the lake from the dam.  He thought that would be a good place for us to view the dam, even though it was quite a distance across the water.  It's a big dam, though, right?  The community had developed a bit in the 20 years since he used to play there.  New, lake-front houses lined the water's edge and it quickly became obvious that we would have to trespass in order to get the view of the dam that we came to see. 

We spotted a man and woman holding towheaded toddlers on a golf cart.  Our friend gets out of the car and makes a small request so that his friends might get a chance to see the dam from that particular perspective.  They immediately agree and we follow them to their driveway and get out to snap a couple of pics.  Minutes later, we are boarding their boat and David is navigating the boat across the lake so that we can get a front-row view of the dam.  Jennifer and Randy, David's daughter and son-in-law from Tulsa, join us on the boat and don't seem a bit surprised that their father has invited four complete strangers to join them.  (By the way, "yachting" on Grand Lake is on the Oklahoma Bucket List.

Total awe and disbelief at our good fortune completely overwhelm our traveling group.  I hope that we were gracious guests, despite our state of shock.  They were certainly more than gracious hosts as they drove us the length of the dam and pointed out a few sites along the way.  I wasn't sure if we were going to actually make it to our original destination, but couldn't pass up the opportunity that had been presented.  There was no need to worry, as David and family brought us promptly back to the boat slip so that we could continue on our journey.  We didn't even get their last names, so I just hope that they see this story and know what an incredible experience they gave us - not just getting to see the dam from the water, but to meet this exceptional family that shared this gift of their time with us.

It was about 5:30 in the evening when we finally made it to Natural Falls State Park - eight and a half hours after we met up that morning for breakfast.  We were way over-prepared with hiking shoes, backpacks, and hydration packs.  Small children in flip-flops and crocs passed us as we headed down the sidewalk toward the falls.  The 77-foot waterfall didn't disappoint.  It made me want to watch "Where the Red Fern Grows" again, since it was filmed here.  It definitely deserves its spot on the top 10 list, although I would bump it up closer to the top.  For the next two hours, we explored most of the other trails in the park.  Maybe it was the time of day, or the fact that the Thunder were getting ready to play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, but the side trails were deserted and didn't even look like they normally get much traffic.  We discovered large caves, sleeping snakes, a sun-dried squirrel skull, and Seuss-like caterpillars.  In one patch of clover, we hunted until we found a total of four, 4-leaf clovers.  I already knew just how lucky I was.

Oklahoma and her people shared some of their best with us this day.  Oklahoma is beautiful, fun, exciting, playful, and intriguing.  Her people are generous and inspiring.  There is more than enough to share, and I hope to have the opportunity to give someone else a "dam" fine day.
Dam good friends - Tricia, me, Michael, and Curtis