Dan Marsh became editor at my newspaper, The Ada News, in the spring of 2013, and he and I have become good friends, and he has grown powerfully as a photographer. Last fall he bought a Nikon D3200 digital camera and two lenses, and took up my invitation to sit through my class, which he enjoyed.
Dan’s been hungry to expand his photographic opportunities, so when he gets free time, he finds somewhere to go to shoot. He’s been out to our patch a few times. He’s been to graveyards. He’s been to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in nearby Sulphur several times.
When I asked him if he wanted to go hiking in my old haunt, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma, he jumped at it. After some preparation, an ice storm moved in during early December, so we moved the date back to Friday, January 3.
We met up in downtown Ada early in the morning and hit the road. It was bitterly cold, but as the sun came out, the temperature climbed out of the 20s, and our only issue with the weather was the wind, which was howling out of the south.
We grabbed some breakfast in Medicine Park, then made for the Refuge. Because the wind was still biting, we spend some time chasing the light and finding some photo ops, like the legendary Parallel Forest, Meers, Prairie Dog Town, and the Blue Canyon Wind Farm, before getting on the actual trail at around 11 am.
Our first trail was the Charon’s Garden trail that leads south from the Sunset campground. We made our way south on it, but found it somewhat uninteresting, and when the trail went cold (meaning we could no longer find it to follow it), we turned around.
The next hike was to my favorite spot in the Wichitas, the area in Charon’s Garden we long-ago nicknamed the Glacier Rocks. We bouldered up the enormous granite faces and explored, all the while making some fairly solid images. The cold meant we had the place to ourselves. Before we knew it, we were at Sitting Rock, where the wind was unhindered and insanely scary. I did not shimmy up the last 20 feet to the actual peak, fearing the wind would make it too dangerous.
Above and around us for much of the day were Air Force fighter jets making strafing runs at the dummy airfield at nearby Fort Sill.
I promised Dan we’d see a bison, and we found one quite close to the road for him to photograph.
The truly unusual photo moment came as we walked along French lake, which had a large ice floe on it. The wind was still strong, and it pushed the ice around, making it hiss and pop. At one point we walked right up to the edge of the lake to find huge shards of ice cracking and shattering as they collided with the shore.
Our final stop was the traditional drive to the top of the Refuge high point, Mount Scott. The late afternoon light was nice, but the wind was howling worse than ever. We found it impossible to compose pictures because the wind pushed our cameras out of our hands. In fact, all we could do was laugh at how ridiculous it was.
On the drive home we talked about this and that, and Dan reviewed his images with frequent wows. It was a good hiking day.