Brian A. Hopkins
Diagnosed with Restless Rider Syndrome...

"Alabaster Caverns, Oklahoma"
11-12 July 2008

Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind
than a man's ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own
company. --Lucius Annaeus Seneca, philosopher (BCE 3-65 CE)


You'd think I'd be ready to sit at home for a bit, wouldn't you?

I mean, I did that Four Corners trip with my friends Greg and Elaine, came home and serviced the Tiger (front tire, chain and sprockets, oil and filter, etc), spent a sunny Sunday burning through a couple tanks of gas on my Hypermotard, then flew to Cozumel for some diving -- and, hey, as an aside, while I'm on the subject of diving, here are some photos (compliments of Allen at Bluewater Divers here in OKC). The first three photos feature yours truly, bahwife, and my daughter Summer with her boyfriend, all of us drifting through the deep blue anywhere from 40 to 120 feet deep. The rest of the photos are just a few of the critters we saw. I was very pleased to see that the reefs in Cozumel have recovered nicely from the hurricane that ripped through there a couple years ago (incidentally canceling a dive trip we had scheduled at the time). Not really motorcycle related, but what the heck. (You can click any of the dive photos to open a larger view.)

Because my Dad's been having some health problems (shingles, hernia, leukemia), I wanted to make a run down to Gulfport, MS to spend a few days with him. Since our flight to Cozumel left out of Dallas, I took the Tiger down there and parked it with Greg and Elaine. When we got back from Cozumel, I was able to just hop on the bike and zip down to Gulfport in one day from there (about 600 miles). While the Triumph was sitting at Elaine's, wouldn't you know that silly little turd Pierre would talk her into cutting him free of where I'd once again zip-tied him to the mirror of the Tiger. I found him comfortably sacked out in the pocket of  a pair of jeans I'd left for Elaine to wash for me.

I think she'd been hand feeding him caviar, fanning him with a palmetto frond, and serving him expensive champagne from a glass slipper. Heck, the little bugger might have even gotten a blowjob. As always, any time he has his little paws free, Pierre gets into mischief. Just look at the decal he put on the front of the Tiger! You can imagine the looks I get from motorists as I pass them. I try to answer their aghast expressions by pointing to Pierre, but he goes all glassy-eyed and does his "I'm just a stuffed mouse" impersonation, and I know the insulted motorists blame me for the sticker.

Anyway, I got back from Gulfport (after four days of visiting with Mom and Dad, plus a two day ride home), mowed my grass and accomplished some other household chores, and you'd think I'd be ready for a nice relaxing weekend doing nothing more than kicking back in the Lazy Boy with a book or something ... Nah. Let's go somewhere. I was feeling the need for some quiet time to myself and it's been a while since I've been camping, so I threw the camping gear on the bike and headed off for the northwestern part of Oklahoma, an area I really haven't taken the time to explore in depth. Alabaster Caverns are less than 200 miles away. With the long summer days, I knew I could be there and set up before dark, even if I waited until after work to leave and cruised on backroads. Alabaster Caverns are pretty unique because nearly all caves in the States are limestone. Alabaster Caverns are gypsum. Let's go check it out, eh?

The ride out there was fairly unexceptional. I didn't even remember to bring a map, just followed whatever the Zumo told me to do, even when it picked out dirt and gravel roads.

Arriving at the Alabaster Caverns State Park, I checked in with the Park Ranger, paid my ten bucks for a campsite, and asked when the first cave tour was the next morning. Nine o'clock. That would work. "You want to camp up here in the developed sites with the RVs or down in the canyon in one of the primitive sites?" the Ranger asked. I told him to put me as far away from the RVs as humanly possible.

I followed a series of steep switchbacks down to the campsites along the creek at the bottom of the canyon. Most of the better sites were already taken. The open sites were muddy from some pretty serious rain we'd gotten earlier in the week. I refuse to set up my expensive Northface tent in mud. There was some nice grass on the far side of the creek, but it was somewhat inaccessible and inconvenient. You were supposed to park out on the street and haul your stuff across a little foot bridge. I didn't have much to carry, but I don't like being separated from the bike. I looked around -- no Rangers in sight; who's gonna care? -- and rode the Tiger across the foot bridge to a spot with thick, luscious grass. My tent was up 10 minutes later, sans the rain fly since it was pushing 100 degrees and there was no rain in sight, and it was time to do a little exploring before calling it a night.

A series of hiking trails climbed the canyon walls, providing access to some nice views and an undeveloped cave. One of the trails was named for an enormous wolf that had once caused the local ranchers some problems -- made me feel right at home. Owl Cave was kinda cool, but it was getting dark and I hadn't brought a light, so I didn't explore it much. The trails took me to the canyon's rim and the Park Ranger's office, where I was hoping to maybe buy a soda, but by the time I got there the place was locked up tight. I followed the trails back down to my tent and enjoyed beef jerky and water for dinner. Wild Turkey American Honey served as dessert. I had some Nutter Butter cookies, but was saving those for breakfast.

As the sun went down, the woods around my campsite came alive with fireflies. The only time I've experienced more fireflies was once at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee -- must have been sometime back in the mid eighties. The wife and I had been staying at a B&B and the field behind the B&B had been lit by literally thousands and thousands of fireflies, twinkling so bright that it seemed as if the field was an extension of the star-filled blanket of night. It was absolutely beautiful. There weren't nearly that many fireflies here, but there were still a lot. As I lay in my tent with my eyes drifting closed, I kept thinking I was seeing distant flashes of lightning in my peripheral vision. It was the fireflies. There were so many and they were so bright.

It was terribly hot. I lay on top of my sleeping bag in nothing but my underwear, sweating. With the creek so near, I was worried about mosquitoes, but amazingly there were none. When I realized this, I opened the doors of my tent, which allowed a sweet cooling breeze to pass through. Cicadas provided white noise as the fireflies danced around the Tiger, and I drifted off to sleep much faster than I usually do when camping. I'd planned to spend some time lost in thought and introspection, but it seemed what my body and mind really wanted was sleep.

I was up in the morning with the sun. With so much time to kill before nine, I dozed off and on in my tent, slipping in and out of dreams, most of which fit my usual archetype: I'm looking for something or someone, the quintessential missing element I suppose. My original plan was to see the cave and then pack up, but by seven I'd had my fill of laying in the tent. I changed into clean clothes, brushed my teeth, broke camp, packed the bike, and was up at the Park Ranger's office before 7:30. The sign on the door said they didn't open until 8:00. I sat on a park bench and ate my Nutter Butters for breakfast, waiting for them to open so I could buy my ticket for the 9:00 cave tour.

The cave was neat. I love the way the gypsum and selenite crystals capture and transmit light. The Ranger leading the tour demonstrated this quite well by pressing her flashlight against an alabaster wall. The wall drew in the light and literally glowed as the light was transmitted throughout the crystalline structure. Unlike limestone caves, they don't care if you touch the cave walls/formations because you're not going to hurt anything. This makes it a better cave system for kids. I think I still prefer limestone formations, though. There's something about the smooth, flowing, melted ice cream formations in caves like Carlsbad that I find appealing. Mother Nature sculptures in abstract like no human artist can.

Cave photos below. Click thumbnails for a larger view. The two critters painted on the cave wall are a bit of a mystery. They're not sure if they were done by Native Americans or not. The Rangers thought they looked like rabbits, but it makes little sense to me why someone would paint rabbits on a cave wall (unless an Indian named Two Rabbits once lived there). I'm guessing they're supposed to be bats. You'd think some sort of dating technique could be used to determine how long they've been there...? The green on the rocks in one photo is algae growth. The cave has a stream running through it and is quite damp and slippery. The last photo shows a lovely dome created by a receding whirlpool. There were a lot of these throughout the cave.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Alabaster Caverns:

Alabaster Caverns State Park, near Freedom, Oklahoma, is home to the largest natural gypsum cave in the world that is open to the public. The gypsum is mostly in the form of alabaster. There are several types of alabaster found at the site, including pink, white, and the rare black alabaster. This black alabaster can be found in only three veins in the world, one each in Oklahoma, Italy and China. Another form of gypsum can be found in the many beautiful selenite crystal formations.

Cool.

After the 45 minute cave tour, it was time to hop on the Tiger and go. Next stop, Little Sahara State Park, another place I'd never seen. Though there's an easy (albeit roundabout) pavement route between the two State Parks, I opted to take a direct offroad route suggested by my GPS. I'm debating taking the big heavy Tiger to Alaska instead of my Dakar. The Tiger would certainly be more comfortable for all the pavement miles between here and there. My only hesitation concerns the dirt and gravel roads and construction sites I'll encounter in Alaska, particularly on the Haul Road. At over 500 pounds, the Tiger can be a bit of a handful offroad. I'd really hate to dump it. I don't think the pretty orange saddlebags would survive much of a crash. Even though I rode my first Tiger offroad quite a bit, this big orange beastie's mostly only seen pavement. My recent trip to Colorado (the aforementioned Four Corners trip) was supposed to give me the chance to reacquaint myself with riding a big adventure bike offroad, but that didn't work out, so I was using this trip through northwestern Oklahoma to do a bit of that.

The roads were dry and decent enough. I wouldn't want to ride them after a heavy rain, though, as I think the mud would be quite slippery. In fact, I saw a number of places where cars and trucks had dug some serious ruts in the mud. I can't recall any scary moments on the Tiger, which handled everything I threw at it with aplomb (though I did hit some sand that had the Tiger's front Tourance doing the wiggle-worm). I mostly took it easy, but on some of the smoother gravel roads I was doing 50-60 mph with no problems. Between now and my Alaska trip, I'll be doing some more of this stuff, all leading up to the final decision on which bike to take.

Little Sahara was a disappointment. If you're not going off into the dunes on a buggy, ATV, or dirtbike, there's really nothing to see. There was no way I was taking the big Tiger into the dunes, of course -- not on street tires. I didn't even snap a photo, just cruised on to my next destination: Great Salt Plains State Park. This is a nearly 8,700 acre salt lake in northern Oklahoma. Normally, you can dig for selenite crystals, but for some reason that portion of the park was closed. (I expect this has to do with the recent rains and flooding in northern Oklahoma). The spillway was neat, a huge chute with two cascades. From the number of birds fishing there, I imagine the fishing at the Great Salt Plains Reservoir would be good. I saw a lot of people fishing the banks, but didn't stick around long enough to see if anyone was having any luck.

Though the park was nice and looked to be a great place to camp, I was again less than impressed. Moving on, I began to think the problem wasn't the sights, but the sightseer. I was in a bit of a funk that even the Muse of Motion didn't seem capable of dispelling, thinking about the six-month regimen of chemo my Dad was just starting, my own health, and other things. I'd planned to wander a bit farther afield, working my way east toward Kaw Lake and Keystone Lake before turning south for home. That was the original plan. But I just wasn't in the mood. Turning at random, I worked my way south and east, eventually connecting with I-35 around Guthrie, Oklahoma ... then slabbing it home.

One bright note (though animal lovers won't think so) was that when I got home I spotted the latest gopher tearing up my back yard. Birdshot to the back of the head put an end to his digging days. If you've been reading my ride reports, you know of my ongoing war with these varmints. Doesn't seem to matter how many I kill, their relatives keep moving back into my yard. I hate to kill them, but what'r'ya gonna do, eh?

That's about it for this ride report. Other than tossing my dirty clothes in the laundry, I haven't bothered unpacking the Tiger. We'll see where next weekend's wanderings take me...

Brian A. Hopkins
at Road's End, Oklahoma City
13 July 2008


Copyright 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-08-01 19:49, www.bahwolf.com