Lake Arrowhead State Park

yet another continuing saga in the diary of Tom & Sharen…..
by Sharen Taylor & Tom Griffin

Rain, thunder, hail, lightning, confused turtles and … This trip's going to be a rough ride so fasten your seatbelts and let's get going!

Indian painbrush in bloom at Lake Arrowhead State Park It was Saturday and Tom and I had both pulled a rough week. We took advantage of sleeping a bit later than normal, ate a mercury-ladened lunch of flounder and squash, then hit the road heading west to Lake Arrowhead State Park. Neither of us had ever visited this spot so we were curious and excited. Our Texas Guidebook detailed the park and made mention of hiking trails, birding, swimming, fishing and a prairie dog town.

This time I was at the wheel and even though Tom claims that I don't make him nervous when I drive, I know otherwise. It generally takes him about forty-five minutes to adjust to my handling of the wheel; until then he opens and closes his mouth like a frog in a roomful of invisible flies.

My Tom - such a delightful companion! With him on board you never know what's going to happen during your adventure. Take our recent trip to the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville, Texas. Thousands, perhaps millions of people visit the zoo annually. However, only my husband is capable of losing his glasses in the flamingo cage. Fortunately, a kind young man who worked at the zoo fished them out for him, miraculously avoiding being pecked to death by the flock of curious flamingos. Then there was the trip to the meteor crator. Tom located a funny looking plant that he had to touch. Three days later he still smelled like that stinking gourd vine. We've discussed the smell several times over the past two years and we think we've finally identified the scent. It's akin to the smell of someone who becomes locked in the Arabian dessert for about a week without antiperspirant or water.

Back to our current adventure… As we headed out from the city there was an ancient little man tottering over a bridge. Traffic was heavy or we would have turned back to check on him. He was coated in what appeared to be grease and he was pushing along an oxygen tank connected with little tubes that were rammed up his nose. A police car was in front of us and he finally backtracked. He was being led along in the stream of traffic as we were. There was a heavy haze over the area and that added to our concern for the little man. We wondered where he had walked from and if his tank were empty or full.

Birdhouses are placed all around at Lake Arrowhead State Park The day was also hot and humid; the air-conditioner in our little Geo was running more furiously than a washing machine at the laundry mat. When we had initially set out on our journey, the sky had been bright enough for sunshades but the more miles that clicked by, the darker the sky became. The clouds had begun rolling back in a scroll, resembling ocean waves, like whitecaps turning backward flips. A few more miles down the road and the sky darkened further still and black clouds hung in a metaphysical view, almost trembling as they held back what we feared to be a torrent of rain.

We stopped to fuel the car and collected a container of Popeye's Cajun rice and a fountain coke, then we hit the road again. The sky was now black and rumbling, with odd shaped clouds dipping down from the squall line. A bit further down the road and we became completely shrouded by the dark clouds and buckets of rain blocked the once-clear path. Lightening arced from the four corners of the sky and we witnessed a brilliant light display. Beads of hail thumped against our car, but thankfully they were small.

Tom kept an eye out for funnels as I kept both eyes glued onto the road. One time before we'd run into some tornadoes during a trip home from West Texas. Fortunately, we'd been far enough away to enjoy rather than fear them. However, this time it appeared that we were in the middle of the storm and what concerned us was the power of the wind. Tiny trees were bent, kissing the ground. We could feel our little car listing as we plowed through the rampage of the storm.

We contemplated turning back for home but decided that we'd be better off heading towards the park. If we turned back at this point the storm might follow us all the way home. Besides, storms can be fun. They have a way of waking up nature. Animals are generally unpredictable just before and after a storm and it's very difficult to match the beauty of flora dusted with raindrops. The park held great promise for adventure!

Slowly, we emerged from the dark cap of clouds and now only a light dusting of rain continued. To give the rain a chance to dissipate we stopped in the small town of Henderson at a delightful little Treasure Shoppe. The store was filled with new and used bargains. We love poking around in curiosity shops because you never know what you'll find. What's the old saying? One man's junk is another man's treasure? So true.

By the time we exited the shop the rain was down to fine drizzle and the sun was beginning to peek out of the clouds. A nice lady in the shop had provided directions to the park and we found ourselves winding down a delightful strip of country road. Everything looked so green for a Texas mid-spring. The roadsides were full of beautiful wildflowers including Indian Paintbrush, vibrant thistles, yellow mustard, prickly pear cactus in bloom, vetch and a few bluebonnet stragglers.

Yellow flowers booming along the country road into Lake Arrowhead State Park Just before we met the gates of the park we passed over the man-made damn. The canyon walls below the lake were awesome! The rainstorm had washed the sandstone to a deep brown and it was very picturesque. Abandoned oil derricks protruded from the belly of the lake, poignant reminders of better days gone by.

Within minutes we were inside the park grounds. We always spend a few minutes driving through the park to decide where we want to begin our journey by foot. The prairie dog town was irresistible and we had purchased food for them at the Visitors' Center. These furry critters were quite friendly and we had several that cooperated for a short photo shoot, one baby in particular. They were totally charmed by Tom and I; we are quite certain that the food had nothing to do with their amicable nature.

To our good fortune the air now held a chill. We always carry along a small pack that contains emergency items. This trip the pack really paid off. We donned our sweatshirts and went on a short walk around the prairie dog town.

The birds had emerged in full force: killdeer, grackles, morning doves, yellow sissortails and robins. When we rounded one mesquite tree we almost plowed straight into a nesting morning dove. Startled, she flew away, uncovering her small guarded flock of bald babies. Tom took a very quick shot them we rushed away, not wanting to disturb the mother's nesting area. To our delight, several trees within the grove contained nesting morning doves and grackles.

Tunnel at Lake Arrowhead State Park Anxious to explore another area before sunset, we headed towards the north end of the park. Along the roadside leading to the trailhead was the most spectacular red paintbrush that either one of us had ever seen. The trail was skirted with yellow daises and in the center was a huge tunnel large enough to allow passage for a man on a horse. The tunnel was damp with puddles of water in some places but we were game. Our destination was the massive damn adjacent to the canyon we'd spied on our way to the park.

After we maneuvered through the tunnel we were met by a garden of greenery that was split by a well-worn trail leading to the damn. The park has placed several birdhouses about the area, some in trees, some on stilts. Again, the area was meshed with colorful wildflowers.

By the time we reached the damn a light sprinkle had began. We would have liked more time to explore the damn and the surrounding canyon but there was the camera gear to consider. We paused by the damn for a short time to admire the swallows and their mud nests. There seemed to be millions of these birds wing-gliding through the canyon and they were all screeching, the eerie sound echoing then becoming amplified by the great walls.

An ancient windmill at Lake Arrowhead State Park On the way back to the main road we spied an ancient windmill still in use. Tom was at the wheel this time and he stopped to take a few shots. A killdeer was hovering in the road and as we exited the car she ran at us like a bull chasing a confused matador. Tom laughed then told me to watch. What followed was truly amazing. Every time he approached her she would run, then fall onto one side as if she had a broken wing. Tom explained that we were very close to her nest and this was her way of luring intruders away.

We would highly recommend Arrowhead State Park for springtime adventure. The 524-acre park features water-oriented recreation and is equipped with campsites with and without hookups, restrooms, showers, groceries, a boat ramp and a dump station. Activities include fishing, swimming, water skiing and hiking. Don't forget to explore the adorable prairie dog town.

The park is a bit difficult to find because the country roads shoot off in so many directions and there is no true clear-beaten path unless you're a local. It is located some 14 miles south of Wichita Falls via U.S. 281 south, then F.M 1954 east.

One last tip. If you come upon a wayward turtle you may want to think twice before attempting a rescue. Our rescue caused a backup of about 10 cars of curious onlookers driving in the opposite lane. Our lane was clear. It just goes to show that good deed doers get attention. Hum, has the ring of Golden Rule material…

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