The other day I hit the trails with the idea of maybe taking it a little easier, and also taking the time to take a few photos. Apologies for the photo quality, as I’m still using an iPhone 3GS. But it gives you an idea of what the trails are like at the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness in Tulsa.
This place has become an integral part of my training as well as my fix to get a little outdoorsiness in my life without having to leave town. If you have a similar site in your city, take advantage of it.
Anyway, here goes. On this day, it was about 38 degrees, windy and sunny. Still warm enough for shorts, but I did wear a warmer top and a knit cap. Perfect for the conditions on what would turn out to be a run of about five miles with a good amount of elevation gain.
It starts out gently enough, as you can see on this level and mellow singletrack section on the Blue Trail.
But at some point, you have to go up. On the main part of the mountain, that means either a series of steep, technical sections up the Blue Trail or similarly steep and technical spots (though less so) on the Yellow Trail. If you’re really brave (and fit), you’ll head to the top of the ridge via the Powerline Trail’s Lipbuster section. It’s a tad steep.
Anyway, this jumbled mess of exposed rocks and roots is on the Blue Trail, and is an example of the technical trail-running challenges that I love about this place.
Eventually you top out and a whole variety of choices are in front of you. You can continue on the Blue north, link up with the Yellow later on, or go straight north via the Powerline Trail, a steep, hilly route that promises a pretty good workout. Or you can go west and enter the Pink Trail system, which has its own set of fun challenges.
This is a shot entering the Pink Trail system at the top of Lipbuster. Again, nice mellow singletrack that belies some of the more rugged paths to come.
On the west edge of the Pink Trail system is the city’s Westside YMCA, but it’s not like most Ys. Think more summer camp, less gym. Anyway, the Y has set up a disc golf course out here (how they play it in those woods, I don’t know) and they’ve gone through the trouble of actually setting up signs to name and mark trails.
While this is an urban wilderness, sometimes you can’t escape the infrastructure of man. You can kinda see it to the left in this super-fun downhill section of an old jeep trail.
Here it is on closer inspection. I don’t know if it carries oil or wastewater. But there are pipelines for both in this part of the city.
From here, you can hang a left, climb a ridge, then go north to the Westside Y. Or you can go straight, climb another ridge to the east, then pick your way down a ravine past Pepsi Lake and eventually break into the lowest portion of the Powerline Trail. Nowhere to go but up from that spot, so another hill climb is in the offing.
Heading north, I saw this rock staircase, which I assume is a natural structure caused by runoff erosion.
I elected to continue north up the Powerline, where more options are ahead. There are side trails that lead to another pond, a trail called The Ridge that runs south and up the spine of the ridge on Turkey Mountain proper, or Ho Chi, which dips down, then hugs the east face of the ridge all the way down its length. I chose The Ridge Trail.
(Ho Chi has parallel companion trails that are named in accordance to their position in relation to it — Hi Chi is just above it, Lo Chi further down the ridge’s east slope.)
The Ridge is a little deceiving. It has a couple climbs, but appears mostly level, and most of the path is not very technical. But the truth is, it’s ALL a steady uphill, and finishing those last couple of miles after having tackled three other pretty tough hills on the previous three miles or so is pretty rough. Eventually, you hit a nice level spot at the summit.
It is, quite literally, all downhill from here. Some of it is steep, technical and tricky — a section aptly named “Meatgrinder.” Other parts just wind around through switchbacks until you hit the low part of the Yellow/Blue trails and back to the trailhead.
There are literally scores of trails out here, most of which are cleverly named by the mountain bikers who ride Turkey Mountain regularly (That’s where you get names like Ho Chi, Lo Chi, Lipbuster, Jellylegs, Meatgrinder, etc.). Last weekend, the park served as a venue for a double half marathon — one half on the trails, one half on pavement nearby (some folks did both for the full marathon). Other races occur here several times a year, and a trail run group comes here twice a week.
Only in the hottest of days have I gone to Turkey Mountain when there was hardly anyone there. Every day, every season people come out here running, hiking, cycling, walking their dogs, riding horses or spending time with their kids.
I’m sure there are more scenic urban wilderness parks in this country, but I love what I’ve got here. Tulsa is underrated as a city, and one of its best hidden gems is Turkey Mountain. May it ever be preserved.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088