Leaving It All Behind, January 2024

Your host makes a photo at the top of Mount Scott at sunset.
Your host makes a photo at the top of Mount Scott at sunset.

I met fellow photographer and lifelong friend Robert Stinson for a New Year’s hike in the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma, a destination I have been visiting since 1971, and which my sister recently described as a “gem” or “jewel.”

All the photos of me are by Robert, who made a point of shooting lots of images of me.

We arrived early for a quick bite of breakfast. The day began cold and cloudy, and stayed that way all morning, but we were undeterred.

The streams were full and the water was cold, as in this image at Headquarters Creek near the start of our first hike.
The streams were full and the water was cold, as in this image at Headquarters Creek near the start of our first hike.
Bubbles swirl around a boulder in Headquarters Creek.
Bubbles swirl around a boulder in Headquarters Creek.

By about midday, the sun came out, but it remained quite cold, never rising above about 40 degrees.

Here is another view of bubbles in the creek.
Here is another view of bubbles in the creek.
Early in our first hike we found this small dam.
Early in our first hike we found this small dam.

We had good hikes in familiar areas, and they were all relatively easy, and very fun.

The cold was biting at the start of the day. I am wearing two polar fleece layers, fingerless gloves, and a hat that Abby made for me years ago. The gesture I am making is one of my signature "Richard" gestures.
The cold was biting at the start of the day. I am wearing two polar fleece layers, fingerless gloves, and a hat that Abby made for me years ago. The gesture I am making is one of my signature “Richard” gestures.

On the Elk Mountain trail, we followed a creek and it’s runoff area, which lead us off trail.  We topped a prominence, and while Robert was handing me a lens, we lost a lens cap in a crack about eight feet down, just out of reach. Robert dove in head-first, but was unable to reach it. If we’d had any chewing gum with us (we had plenty in the cars), we could have grabbed it with the gun-on-a-stick method. For a while, Robert planned to hike down and get a “grabber” he had in his car, but decided against it.

Robert prowls around a prominence near Elk Mountain. It was around here that we lost his lens back cap.
Robert prowls around a prominence near Elk Mountain. It was around here that we lost his lens back cap.

We decided to name that particular hill “Z5” after Robert’s Nikon Z5 and the lost lens cap.

You humble host poses where Robert and I dropped the lens cap. As you can see, the cracks between the boulders are deep and dark, and neither of us got anywhere close to reaching it.
You humble host poses where Robert and I dropped the lens cap. As you can see, the cracks between the boulders are deep and dark, and neither of us got anywhere close to reaching it.

While returning to the parking area, we veered north into some woods, and discovered we were well off-trail. I was able to see our location on a satellite shot that we were only a short distance north of the trail head, but Robert insisted we cross the creek at that point (maybe feeling lost). I leaped over the creek, but Robert took off his shoes and vest so they wouldn’t get wet. I hung his vest on a branch and told him to take it when he got across, but he didn’t, so it remained on the branch.

Near the Elk Mountain trail head, we found these remains.
Near the Elk Mountain trail head, we found these remains.

We had a very quick snack break, then made our way around to Heart Rock, a formation I have been visiting for decades, but only recently discovered it was called “Heart Rock,” and has become a popular spot for engagement photos. When I was growing up, we called it “the glacier rocks,” based on the mistaken notion that the big, smoothly-curved boulders were formed by glaciers.

You host makes a clumsy "heart" as he poses above "heart rock."
You host makes a clumsy “heart” as he poses above “heart rock.”

One of my favorite things about this spot is that you can tailor your activities to your desired difficulty and ability. You can take it easy, or challenge yourself. It really is a hiking and bouldering playground.

This more obvious view shows "heart rock" at the very start of the hikes we variously called the "glacier rocks" or "lock rock" or "sitting rock."
This more obvious view shows “heart rock” at the very start of the hikes we variously called the “glacier rocks” or “lock rock” or “sitting rock.”

We hiked and shot well. The sun was finally out, and the light was maturing nicely.

I have made this image on many occasions, just a short distance up a large granite face above Heart Rock.
I have made this image on many occasions, just a short distance up a large granite face above Heart Rock.
Your host blunders his way up the face above Heart Rock.
Your host blunders his way up the face above Heart Rock.
Afternoon light matures nicely on the huge granite boulders in the area.
Afternoon light matures nicely on the huge granite boulders in the area.
Robert and I try to cast shadows as a graphic element.
Robert and I try to cast shadows as a graphic element.
My shoes stick like glue to the super-rough granite boulders.
My shoes stick like glue to the super-rough granite boulders.
Here is an exploration of light and shadow in the ancient granite at the location.
Here is an exploration of light and shadow in the ancient granite at the location.
This is your host pretending to do something difficult and treacherous.
This is your host pretending to do something difficult and treacherous.
The shadow side of the granite takes on a cooler hue.
The shadow side of the granite takes on a cooler hue.
This deep fissure between two house-sized boulders is visible on Google Maps. I first photographed it on Kodachrome in October of 1978.
This deep fissure between two house-sized boulders is visible on Google Maps. I first photographed it on Kodachrome in October of 1978.

At one point, I noticed how the sun was shining through my water bottle, and photographed it. Robert saw me doing this and photographed me backlit in the sun with water bottle, then spraying the water into the sunshine. It was fun and funny.

The sun skirts my water bottle. My Fujifilm HS30EXR is terrible when it comes to highlights, sunstars and flair, resulting in this mess of a photo.
The sun skirts my water bottle. My Fujifilm HS30EXR is terrible when it comes to highlights, sunstars and flair, resulting in this mess of a photo.
I asked Robert to shoot me drinking from my water bottle with the sun behnd me, and it worked out pretty well with his Nikon Z5 and 85mm f/1.8.
I asked Robert to shoot me drinking from my water bottle with the sun behnd me, and it worked out pretty well with his Nikon Z5 and 85mm f/1.8.
We made several attempts at capturing the water backlit by the sun as I sprayed it out of my mouth.
We made several attempts at capturing the water backlit by the sun as I sprayed it out of my mouth.
On the way back to the cars, we noticed our shadows and started chasing them.
On the way back to the cars, we noticed our shadows and started chasing them.

Next we drove over to Burford Lake, which I visited 15 months ago. On this occasion, we approached it on the road to the west, giving us a different view than last time.

There has to be a funny, mocking name for Richard pouting in the red costume sunglasses. I am leaning toward "Mopius Dick."
There has to be a funny, mocking name for Richard pouting in the red costume sunglasses. I am leaning toward “Mopius Dick.”

Of note, “…in the 1920s the lake was named in honor of Judge Frank Burford… but it never made it onto the map, and was largely forgotten for many years. Burford Trail was ‘rediscovered’ after the wildfires of 2011 .”

As you can see, this boulder at Burford Lake once held a sign.
As you can see, this boulder at Burford Lake once held a sign.
In October 2022, I photographed this dam from the other side. This time, the lake was full and water flowed vigorously over the dam.
In October 2022, I photographed this dam from the other side. This time, the lake was full and water flowed vigorously over the dam.

Water was running steadily and loudly across the dam, which it wasn’t on my past visit, and it made very nice images.

This view looks down Panther Creek from Burford Lake.
This view looks down Panther Creek from Burford Lake.
Tall wheat grass is set against a perfect afternoon sky.
Tall wheat grass is set against a perfect afternoon sky.
Of note is that for the entire day, I wore this dark green fleece pullover, which I've owned since the 1990s, and which is one of my warmest. I tend to get too hot, so if I'm dressed like this, it's cold out.
Of note is that for the entire day, I wore this dark green fleece pullover, which I’ve owned since the 1990s, and which is one of my warmest. I tend to get too hot, so if I’m dressed like this, it’s cold out.

Our final photo op was at the top of Mount Scott, the high point of the Wichitas. It was very crowded, but it was fun, and not as cold as it was the last few times I visited.

When we had arrived in the morning, we saw the top of the mountain was in low clouds, and by the time we were there at sunset, we discovered the trees at the top were covered in frozen fog from earlier, which was very interesting.

The frozen fog from the morning still clung to the highest trees and bushes, but nothing else.
The frozen fog from the morning still clung to the highest trees and bushes, but nothing else.
Lake Elmer Thomas takes on the crossover amber-blue light just at sunset.
Lake Elmer Thomas takes on the crossover amber-blue light just at sunset.
The view from Mount Scott is always worth the drive.
The view from Mount Scott is always worth the drive.
Robert handed off his phone to a fellow visitor to make this image of us atop Mount Scott at the end of the day.
Robert handed off his phone to a fellow visitor to make this image of us atop Mount Scott at the end of the day.