When Michelle and I were at the visitor center last Sunday, we discovered that the Nature Store is now carrying animal finger puppets! Seriously?? We had to have some, so last Friday, I bought a bat for Michelle and a fox for myself. This morning, we headed out at 7 am with our new friends in tow. As we prepared to leave, we could hear thunder, but we decided to go the Refuge anyway. Our plan was to hike Elk Mountain, and since that is a fairly strenuous hike, we had decided to get an early start. As we pulled to the end of Michelle’s street, it started to rain a little. A few minutes later, the rain picked up, and by the time we got to Highway 62, it was coming down pretty nicely. It looked like we would just be driving through the Refuge, but that was okay too. I needed to be there today.
The odd thing is that even though the Refuge is just north of Lawton, it doesn’t always have the same weather. This is especially true if you are on the western end of the Refuge. Today proved to be such a day. As we exited at Cache and headed down Highway 115, the rain let up. Hike on! Although it was overcast and relatively cool, there weren’t many critters out and about (except our finger puppets). Just before Camp Doris, we did come upon a few turkeys. There were adults and babies, which was cool because neither of us had seen baby turkeys before. Unfortunately, my pictures didn’t turn out, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Next, we encountered a lone bison taking a little stroll down the middle of the road. He seriously couldn’t decide which lane he wanted to occupy, but we were eventually able to pass.
As we neared the turn off to Sunset picnic area, we spotted a deer in the field to our right. She appeared to be looking for something or someone on the other side of the road, but we never saw the party in question. After a few pictures, she crossed the road and we all went on our way.
As we were pulling into the Sunset picnic area lot, we saw a Cardinal in the road. He quickly flew off before I could get a picture, but it didn’t matter. It is said that a Cardinal is a symbol of a loved one who has passed. Today is the sixth anniversary of my father’s passing, so I knew at that moment that my dad was with me. I quickly decided that I would name my fox finger puppet Frank, in honor of my dad. Michelle named her bat Claudia, in honor of her mom. And the Adventures of Frank and Claudia (or Claudia and Frank) was born!
Although it was cloudy, it was still extremely humid, and we had not hiked Elk Mountain since May 2016, so there would be a lot of rest stops. Our first stop was a photo op for Claudia and Frank on the bridge leading up Elk Mountain.
With the cloud cover, the views were amazing. I love watching the clouds run across the Refuge. It is totally magical and today was no different.
Claudia and Frank seemed to be enjoying the hike as well, especially when they were the center of attention! Of course, they didn’t have to do any of the work!
Although many thousands of people hike in the WMWR each year, those of us who live nearby and hike it often seem to be a fairly small group. So a funny thing happened on the way to the summit. A gentleman was coming up behind us pretty quickly, so we stepped aside to let him pass. We exchanged greetings and he continued on. A few minutes later, we encountered him again and he asked if I was in Lets Hike 2. I said yes and he explained that he had been with the team I was on during the flood cleanup in 2015. His name was Joel and he recognized my voice. Huh?? As he continued on, I questioned Michelle about this. Apparently, I have a fairly distinctive voice. Okay, if you say so. It seems pretty non-distinctive to me, but I’ve been listening to it my whole life, so what do I know?
Continuing on…. After much huffing and puffing, frequent rest breaks, lots of picture taking, comments about how hot finger puppets are on our fingers, and Joel passing us on the way back down (over achiever!), we reached the summit. Much to my disgust and disappointment, the summit sign is now completely gone (it was broken the last time we hiked here). People can be such asses!
We headed toward the east side of the mountain and climbed up on some boulders overlooking French Lake. We could see the rain curtain over Lawton and the clouds in front of Mt. Scott.
We stayed at the summit for a long time enjoying the views, the breeze, and the clouds. Michelle even brought a bonus birthday bag of snack that smiles back. Yay!! Of course, Frank and Claudia had to get in on the act as well!
After approximately an hour, we packed up and headed back down. The cloud cover was starting to dissipate and it was getting hotter. The sun and clouds were chasing each other over the prairie and it was beautiful!
Halfway to the bottom, we encountered a man and woman hiking up. The gentleman stopped to inquire about where we had purchased our snake gaiters. I was pretty sure that it was Alan T., who has written a book about hiking in the Wichitas (which I own). He is also a very good photographer and I enjoy his pictures. The funny thing is that we are all friends on Facebook, but we’ve never met. Bill just ran into him yesterday for the first time, so I guess it was our turn today. Since I wasn’t positive, I didn’t ask, but we confirmed it on Facebook this evening. So, Alan, if you’re reading this, it was nice to meet you and I hope to see you again soon!
We eventually reached the car (thank goodness!), stowed our gear, grabbed the snack that smiles back, cranked up the A/C, and headed for the visitor center. Once there, we regaled Randy, Donna, and Sierra with our adventures of the day. Of course, Claudia and Frank tagged along and shared their stories as well. Interestingly, none of them seemed surprised by our behavior. After all, we are known as the Happy Hikers, and finger puppets certainly make you happy! We have been assured that more finger puppets will be ordered, so I can totally see a whole hiking group. However, they are far too hot, so in the Summer, they will have to ride on the pack. In the Winter, however, they could come in very handy as finger warmers!!
Today could have been an extraordinarily difficult day for me. I am a total Daddy’s girl. My dad taught me how to fish and how to dance. He shared his love of history, and that was one of my majors in college. He raised me as a Redskins fan, shared a love of British comedy, and taught me to be independent. He was my hero and I miss him every single day. Alzheimer’s took the final ten years of his life and I have dedicated myself to helping find a cure for that horrible disease. I am just one person, but I do what I can to raise awareness and money. I am so grateful that I got to spend this day hiking with my best friend, being totally goofy, laughing our fool heads off, and starting a new tradition with Frank and Claudia. Thank you Michelle for being with me today and helping me to have a great day. You mean more to me than you will ever know. I know that my dad is watching over me and I truly hope that he knows how much I dearly love him and miss him. Every adventure I go on, you will be with me Frank.
Remember to follow your own path, and if that path includes finger puppets, don’t be surprised at the strange looks you might receive from fellow hikers. See you on the trail!