Michelle and I have yoga class on Saturday morning, so we usually go hiking on Sundays. On this particular Saturday, we planned to go to lunch after class in order to discuss some upcoming events in our yoga studio and then we had a teacher’s meeting on Sunday. So it appeared there would be no hiking this weekend, especially since the weather forecast for Sunday was very cold and VERY windy (nothing new there). We had a very nice lunch and accomplished a lot, but we didn’t finish until almost 2 pm. When we walked outside, the temperature had warmed up and I could almost smell a hike! Could we? Should we? Did we have time? We looked at each other and the plan was hatched. She would go get gas in her car and I would go home to check on my hubby, who had been suffering from the flu all week. I would text her to let her know the verdict.
When I arrived home, my husband was in the kitchen. He asked how class and lunch went, and I asked how he was feeling. Then I started to inquire about his plans for the afternoon, asking question after question. We have been married for a long time and he quickly figured out that something was going on. Then he asked the crucial question: “you want to go to the Refuge, don’t you?”. I sheepishly answered that Michelle and I wanted to go hiking. Of course, he had no problem with that because he’s awesome (and I don’t just say that because he didn’t have a problem with me going hiking – actually, he pays me to say things like that 🙂 ). So I texted Michelle and told her that I could come out to play! Spread on the sunscreen, grab the backpack and water, quick potty break and I’m ready to go. Didn’t even change out of my yoga clothes. I’m not the sort of girl who takes a long time to get ready!
While we were hatching our plan in the restaurant parking lot, we knew we couldn’t be out long because we probably wouldn’t even reach the Refuge until 3 pm. Michelle had suggested hiking Jed Johnson Lake and I agreed. I had been to the dam at Jed Johnson Lake before, but never on the trails and never to the observation tower. So I was excited! Since Jed Johnson Lake is on the east side of the Refuge, we entered from the east entrance near Medicine Park. Turn right at the Holy City turnoff and then take the first left. There is a parking area at the end of the road and the trailhead is located there. My heart was happy as we set out and I had activated a new route on Map My Hike. I tried to carry it in my pocket, but with the Otterbox on my phone, it was too big, so into the backpack it went. The voice from the app had annoyed us on the previous hike, so I disabled it this time around. After hiking a short distance, the trail splits (the story of our lives). Fortunately, Michelle had been here several times and knew that the left trail went down to the shoreline and the right trail climbed to the observation tower. We went left first because the shoreline isn’t far away and it offers a great view of the observation tower. I have seen several web sites state that the tower looks like a Scottish castle perched on a cliff and I absolutely agree.
I’ll pause the hike for a few minutes and give a little background. Jed Johnson was born in Texas, but received his law degree from the University of Oklahoma. He then began a law practice in Walters, Oklahoma, which is a small town located southeast of Lawton. After serving in World War I, he was elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature and later served several years in Congress. Then he was appointed to the United States Custom Court. The lake is his namesake. The observation tower was built in 1941 and is approximately 60′ tall. It is built from native stone and some sources say it was built with stone that was left over from the dam that is on the other side of the lake. Unfortunately, the observation tower is closed now and is in a state of disrepair, but it is still beautiful to behold. Some sources claim that the tower is haunted and some people say they have heard a woman screaming from the tower. Not really my thing, but okay. For the record, we didn’t hear any screams.
We now resume our regularly scheduled hike. We went back to the main trail and started to climb toward the observation tower. The trail is wide enough in most places for two people and is in good condition. As it starts to rise, there is an area that looks like a miniature rock slide, so be careful with your foot placement.
As we approached the top of the trail, there appeared to be two people standing in the middle of the trail holding onto one another’s arms. What were they doing? Dancing? Fighting? Had it been a summer day, I would have thought that I was suffering an hallucination brought on by the Oklahoma heat. As it was, the temperature was quite comfortable. So maybe it was the beer and Mexican food I had for lunch?? On closer inspection, we discovered it was a tree that had been split mid-trunk. When you get closer to it, there are so many things that you can see in it. But again, maybe that was my lunch coming back to haunt me. The damage to the tree was likely caused by the Ferguson-Meers fire that occurred in September 2011. That wildfire burned over 46% of the Refuge and destroyed 11 homes. You can still see evidence of it throughout a good portion of the Refuge, including Central Peak and the Charons Garden Wilderness Area.
Throughout the journey to the top of the cliff, I had noticed trails all over the place. Most were animal trails, but it was clear to me that you could spend hours climbing all over this area. As we neared the top of the cliff, we got our first up-close look at the tower.
After the tower was closed to the public several years ago, large rocks were placed in front of the entrance to deter visitors. According to Michelle, people still got inside and vandalized the tower, so there is a metal barrier in place now. I really wish I had been able to go inside when it was open. I did climb across the rocks and look through the metal slats. Inside, there are a lot of loose rocks, along with trash and graffiti. On the left side, there is a staircase that leads to the observation deck on top of the tower. Maybe some day, someone will find the funds to repair the tower so that it can be reopened.
The hike to the tower only takes 15-20 minutes and you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the entire lake, as well as the dam on the other side. Of course, you can also see a lot more of the landscape on the east side of the Refuge.
At this point, we had only been out for approximately 30 minutes and I wanted more! The trail continues toward the north and Central Peak, and curiosity got the best of me. Michelle was game, so away we went. Due to the Ferguson/Meers fire, this is actually a fairly easy hike for quite a distance. It was only as we really started climbing that we had to thread our way through burned-out trees and some relatively dense underbrush. Even then, I would say it was a moderate hike.
As we neared the top, we found a heart-shaped rock. That’s two hikes in a row where we found something heart-shaped. Is this going to be a theme? Time will tell!
At the top, we found a cool rock outcropping. After checking thoroughly for critters of any kind (but particularly of the coiled-up kind), Michelle and I stopped to take some pictures of yoga poses. Michelle suggested Camel Pose for me and it couldn’t have turned out better. It wasn’t intentional, but it looks like I’m holding up the rocks with my body. And Camel Pose is a heart opener, so the theme continues!
After a few interesting attempts and a caution from me not to knock herself unconscious on a rock, Michelle totally “rocked” One-Legged Upward Bow Pose.
Having arrived at our destination (and yes, I consulted Map My Hike along the way!), and since it was getting late and starting to get cold, we started our descent. The way back down wasn’t quite as evident as the way up, but it still wasn’t too difficult. As we reached the bottom and found the trail again, I experienced my Sound of Music moment for this hike. The hills are alive… I don’t think I sang this time though (you’re welcome Michelle). Once back at the tower, I wanted to take a couple more yoga pics with the lake as the backdrop. I chose Baby Dancer and it definitely was not as easy as the poses we did on Central Peak. There, we had been protected from the wind by the rocks. At the observation tower, the wind was crazy and there were a couple of times that I thought I would be blown into the lake. Michelle kept telling me to hold on another minute. Take the picture please!!
As we started back toward the parking lot, we each had to strike a pose! I noticed when looking through my hiking pictures that Michelle wore this same shirt when we hiked the Narrows. Possibly a good reminder to both of us that we are capable of accomplishing whatever we put our minds to? Or had she simply run out of clean clothes??
Back in the car, I attempted to end our hike on Map My Hike, but I couldn’t remember how. 😦 While I continued to mess with my phone, Michelle proceeded to drive to the Holy City. And Map My Hike continued to run, so the end result was not accurate. Eventually, my brain kicked in and I figured it out. You hit Pause My Hike and then slide to finish. I’m posting that here so that I have a way to remember in the future. In the end (without the side trip to the Holy City), we hiked 1.91 miles in 1 1/2 hours. Another beautiful adventure!
As always, don’t forget to follow your own path! You are the only you and you shouldn’t let other people dictate your life. Be safe and see you on the trail!