My unofficial, unauthorized, semi-serious pitch to move the OR show to Tulsa

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

The next great host city for Outdoor Retailer? YES!

The battle for public lands is spilling over into the world of commerce. And that smells like opportunity to me.

Salt Lake City has been home to the twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer show, a trade show that brings gear manufacturers together for a chance to show off their latest products in all things outdoor recreation. Salt Lake City is a great spot for this to be, as it’s close to great skiing, hiking, climbing and a whole bunch of other activities that the participants of the OR show cater to.

But here’s the problem: Utah’s governor, state legislators and congressional delegation have been hell-bent on pushing new laws to divest the federal government of its public lands inventory in favor of state control or private development. And really, “state control” is a euphemism for eventually selling out to the highest bidder, be that the energy industry, mining interests, loggers, or real estate developers hoping to sell big parcels to people who want their golf course mansions to have mountain views.

This hits home to the companies who attend the semi-annual expo, as these folks depend on people who like to hike, fish, hunt, climb, bike, ski, camp and otherwise play in the nation’s public lands. Reduced access has a way of deterring said playful activities, and that means these folks buy less stuff from gear-makers. No bueno, dude.

So OR’s organizers are talking about pulling out of SLC. It’s not because the skiing sucks or the national and state parks there are lame. Totally the opposite. But if that state’s leaders want to turn the place into a giant mine pit, well, why stay there at all? One manufacturer, Patagonia, has already said it won’t be at any more OR shows until it leaves Utah or until state officials get a clue. Others may follow suit.

So where might OR go? Seattle? Denver? Las Vegas?

Great choices. But let me make a dark horse pitch for a city that won’t be on anyone’s list.

Come to my city. Bring OR to Tulsa!

What it looked like on another ride.

Your new home, OR. Oh yeah.

OK, OK, quit laughing. Really. Stop already! I’m kinda serious here. Let me make my case…

As I see it, an event like OR needs some things: convention space, hotel rooms, some infrastructure, entertainment options, access to outdoor recreation (duh!) and local support. Let’s break it down:

Convention space: The Cox Business Center downtown has 227,000 square feet of meeting space. Not big enough? The Tulsa Expo Center has another 448,000.

Hotels: There are more than 1,650 hotel rooms in downtown alone, and that doesn’t include one new 8-story hotel opening soon. Add to that the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino east of downtown and the new RiverSpirit Hotel and Casino in south Tulsa. And plenty more. Like more than 14,000 rooms. Not more than SLC, but hey. We’re workin on it.

Downtown Tulsa as seen from the Brady Arts District. Brady used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. A free outdoor music festival last summer drew some 40,000 people here. I run here a lot, and there is usually something pretty cool to see.

Downtown Tulsa as seen from the Brady Arts District. Brady used to be a rundown warehouse district, but is now home to a number of galleries, restaurants, pubs, music venues and a sweet little park that is home to live music and food trucks. 

Entertainment options: There is an entire section of the north side of downtown (the Brady Arts District) dedicated to having a good time. Music venues, art museums, pubs, bars, dance clubs and then some. Craft brewers, too. We’ve got our own ballet company and symphony. And I did mention casinos? Not as many as Vegas, but way more than Denver or SLC. Imagine the bliss of closing a deal over a rousing hand of Texas hold-‘em. Can’t do that in Utah, but you can here!

Direct flights: Yup. To and from New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix and then some. We ain’t LaGuardia, but I’m told that’s a good thing.

Runners and hikers can coexist with these guys. I promise.

Singletrack goodness for miles.

Outdoor rec: No, there are no big mountains here. But we aren’t bereft of things for the outdoorsy set, and you don’t even have to leave our city limits. Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness is 300 acres and 48 miles of singletrack goodness, one of the top mountain biking destinations in the country, and is a haven for hikers and trail runners, too. Imagine doing demos out there! Tulsa was recently ranked third in the nation among the most popular cities for active millennials (important demographic!). Rowing/paddling sports can be had on various stretches of the Arkansas River, and there are loads of lakes and state parks with places to hike, climb, bike, paddle, camp and run. And if you’re trying to show off the latest in fishing gear, you will find no more fertile ground for this sport than right here, which has twice hosted the Bassmaster Classic.

turkey-grid-map1

Commitment to public lands: Locally, we’ve got it in abundance. When the city had a choice between wild green space and an outlet mall, it chose the former, eventually doubling down by including a $7 million expansion of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area as part of a sales tax initiative passed last year. The city is also in the midst of completing a $350 million park and green space project near downtown. Our city leaders get it. Just don’t ask us about our state leaders or congressional delegation. Yeah, let’s glaze over that one for now…

So there you have it, my unofficial, unsanctioned and unauthorized pitch to flee Salt Lake City and find a new home for one of your two (soon to be three?) shows a year. We’re pretty awesome, and we’d be good hosts. I’ll personally give you the dime tour. What about those state/federal elected officials, you ask? Did I mention the amazing trails and casinos?

Bob Doucette

Scott Pruitt, the EPA and the looming legacy of Tom Joad

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is the Trump administration's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who is the Trump administration’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

I’ve waited a bit for the fallout of the November elections to settle, to give myself a little time to take stock in what the results will mean when it comes to conservation. There are a lot of mixed messages coming out of Donald Trump’s transition team as to what we can expect from his administration concerning public lands and the environment.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know where I stand here. Federal public lands belong to all of us, and federal stewardship of these lands are key to preserving them for everyone. A lot is also at stake when it comes to issues of clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, public health and those who work in tourism and the outdoor industry, itself a $646 billion contributor to the national economy. A healthy public lands system and a vigilant stance on clean air and water are vital.

I’m not going to say much (at least not yet) of Trump’s pick for interior secretary, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. All I know for certain is she seems to agree lockstep with the Republican Party platform on public lands, that is to open them up for drilling, mining, logging and, if so desired, sale to the states or private interests for use of their choosing. She is also a climate science denier. Clearly these are stances in which I am in disagreement, and her leadership of the agency that manages federal public lands might be a good topic in the future.

But I do want to examine the broader picture of the nation’s air, water and land. And there is one particular nominee I do want to focus on, and that is Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. While my knowledge of Rep. McMorris is relatively thin, it’s different for the EPA pick, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve lived here since I was a teenager. I’ve come to know Oklahoma’s stories well, some more than others. I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, if you’re not familiar with Mr. Pruitt, here’s a small primer…

Scott Pruitt is fairly typical in what you see in Republican political circles, advocating for smaller government and fewer federal regulations. Like Rep. McMorris, he’s a climate science denier, calling climate change “far from settled science.” When he was elected attorney general, he set up a unit in that office to monitor and take legal action on anything he deemed “federal overreach.” He sued the federal government over certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and joined Nebraska in suing the state of Colorado over its legalization of recreational marijuana use and sale.

But his biggest legal target has been the EPA, the very agency he is slated to lead. On at least eight occasions, the EPA has been sued by Pruitt’s office over regulations regarding emissions from oil and gas production and coal-fired power plants. He has close ties to the energy industry, taking in more than $316,000 in campaign contributions over the years from individuals and groups with ties to that sector; Pruitt’s PACs have received even more. In fact, those ties are so close that he once accepted and signed a letter to the EPA that was written for him (with a few minor edits) by officials at Devon Energy, a large Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company.

Politics being what they are, and with Oklahoma being a very conservative state, none of this should be much of a surprise, though in some instances, it does send up a few red flags.

But you’d think a guy who has lived in this state for any length of time would learn some of its history, and particularly what has happened when lax environmental regulations and practices run amok. The answer is stark, and at times, quite terrible. Here are four that come to mind, in case Mr. Pruitt needs a reminder…

1930s dust storm in Cimarron County, Okla.

1930s dust storm in Cimarron County, Okla.

The Dust Bowl. Back in the 1930s, crop rotation and soil conservation wasn’t much of a thing. Huge swathes of Oklahoma acreage (as well as significant chunks of Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado) were vulnerable to losing topsoil (and thus creating a perfect storm for crop failure) if the conditions were right. Around the time the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, record heat and drought created those conditions, wiping out crops, bankrupting farmers and creating huge dust storms that blacked out the sun. Lessons from the Dust Bowl days taught us a lot about proper soil conservation, but not before thousands lost their farms, livelihoods and homes. Great migrations of Oklahomans headed west, and a famous book, complete with Okie stereotypes’s personified by John Steinbeck’s Tom Joad protagonist, followed.

The Sequoyah Fuels disaster. Nuclear power seemed to be the answer for American energy independence, but funny things happen when you start playing with radioactive materials. The Sequoyah Fuels Corporation had a nuclear fuel processing plant near the small town of Gore, Okla., and in 1986, an explosion there released 29,500 pounds of gaseous uranium hexafluoride, launching a 30-foot column of poisonous fumes into the air. One person died and 37 people were hospitalized. General Atomics bought the site a few years later, then suffered its own troubles — a 20,000-pound spill of uranium tetraflouride powder, and the discovery of some 21,000 pounds of uranium under the site’s main processing building. Uranium levels in the groundwater underneath the plant were 35,000 times higher than federal regulations allowed.

The facility was eventually shut down, but there are still buildings near the plant site — including the old Carlisle School — that remain abandoned for fear of radioactive contamination. Several million cubic feet of contaminated material are on the site to this day, and there is fear that toxins could leak into groundwater or taint the nearby Arkansas River. Maybe a little more red tape and a few more regulations would have helped (though that would be an Energy Department and not an EPA function). In lieu of that, Sequoyah Fuels’ buildings, vehicles, toxic sludge and contaminated soil have all been buried underneath large berms, which will be monitored by the Department of Energy (and Rick Perry!) once the cleanup operation is complete.

Chat piles of toxic mine tailings loom over a neighborhood in Picher, Okla.

Chat piles of toxic mine tailings loom over a neighborhood in Picher, Okla.

Tar Creek. In what is Oklahoma’s biggest environmental catastrophe, and what is dubbed by some to be the country’s worst environmental disaster, a small corner of northeastern Oklahoma that was rich in lead and zinc deposits is now a major EPA Superfund Site. Dating back to the late 1800s (and seeing its heyday through much of the 20th century), zinc and lead mining in Ottawa County, Okla., as well as adjacent parts of southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri, was big business. As with any large mining operation, there are waste products — called mine tailings — that end up being left behind once the ore of the desired material is refined. So in the towns of Picher and Cardin, massive chat piles of mine tailings rose around and within the community like small mountains. But the chat piles were contaminated, poisoning ground water, creeks and streams. Children in these communities began suffering the effects of lead poisoning, and with no realistic way to clean up the mess, the government was forced to buy out all the properties in Picher and Cardin. Both communities are now ghost towns, forcibly abandoned by contaminants left out in the open during a time when mine tailing regulations were spotty at best. Waters in the Tar Creek area are still poisoned, and unlike the towns’ residents and many of their homes and businesses (a tornado wiped out many structures there in 2008), those giant chat piles remain.

quakes

Oklahoma earthquakes. This may be a shock to you, but Oklahoma has a history of seismicity. In 1952, a 5.5 earthquake shook the state, and even cracked the floor of the state Capitol. But most Oklahoma earthquakes were small and rare. Until around 2009. At that time, and with increasing frequency and strength, Oklahoma went from being a mostly earthquake-free state to the country’s most seismically active. Temblors went from infrequent to several hundred a year in that time, and in some cases, damaging — a 2011 event near the central Oklahoma town of Prague buckled pavement, damaged homes and toppled portions of buildings as far as 30 miles from the epicenter. In 2016, a series of earthquakes near the towns of Pawnee and Cushing did even more damage, with one quake registering a 5.8 magnitude — a state record.

The cause was not some new mountain range trying to break through the state’s famous red clay. No, it was caused by the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas drilling activities. By drilling deep disposal wells and injecting wastewater underground, fault lines long dormant were exposed and activated. The severity won’t rival anything along the San Andreas fault of California, but the damage is enough to spawn a number of lawsuits. The state was slow to respond, and received a lot of pressure from the energy industry and its political allies to downplay any link between oil and gas activity and the quakes. Eventually, science won, and soon after we discovered that if you decrease or shut down disposal well activities in quake zones, the number of quakes diminishes. But scientists warn us that even with tighter regulations on disposal wells, the damage is done — Oklahoma will likely see more quakes, and the chance of something 5.0-magnitude or greater still exists. This will likely persist for another 5-10 years, according to one study.

Obviously, Pruitt is not to blame for these events, and the EPA’s scope wouldn’t cover them all. But as an elected official representing this state, they are things of which he should be aware, and the lessons therein point toward the need to keep a close eye on how human activity affects the environment. No one wants an overly intrusive federal government that squashes business. But the EPA’s role in protecting the nation’s air and water is vital. It’s one that shouldn’t be relegated to a “hands-off” approach until something bad happens. It needs to be a proactive watchdog.

It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed by it. Mr. Pruitt should look at Oklahoma’s environmental history and understand that when he heads to Washington, his job isn’t to serve the donors that have fueled his political ambitions. His job is to protect the land, the air and the water. It’s to protect us, so we don’t suffer calamities like the ones I described above.

Don’t let the legacy of Tom Joad come back haunt the entire country.

Bob Doucette

Recapping the 2016 Route 66 half marathon

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

Pre-race running stoke. Me and my nasty beard.

It’s been a funky year in running for me. The beginning of the year saw me get pretty lazy on that front as I spent most of the first seven or so months working on strength. I did work on some speed, ran for six hours on trails in March and did a few 5Ks in search of a PR (to no avail). Even during the fall race season, I didn’t enter much.

So going into the Route 66 half marathon, I didn’t have very high expectations. I spent the bulk of my time building up a base, working my long runs into double-digit miles and trying to get my body used to running on pavement for a couple of hours. Considering where I was starting from, I felt good about being as strong at the end of my long runs, in terms of pace, as I did in the beginning. I also made sure to run plenty of hills, remembering hilliness that the Route 66 course presents every year.

The problem, however, came from this fall’s weather. When the fall training cycle starts up, I’m mentally ready for lots of hot-weather runs. It’s part of the deal in the Southern Plains. But I expect that by October, things should be cooling down enough to really work on pushing the pace throughout the week. Unfortunately, Oklahoma went through its warmest October on record, with only a couple of days where highs didn’t reach the 80s. Often, those highs were near 90.

To race faster, you must be able to train faster. Throughout the fall, that didn’t happen for me. Throw in a couple of interruptions in my training schedule, and I went into my fifth half marathon with low expectations. I was heavier than I needed to be and slow. While my workouts were ahead of where they were a year ago, I had a feeling that this race might be my slowest half to date.

THE COURSE

If you’ve done this race before, you know that it fools a lot of people. Oklahoma is a relatively flat state, and newcomers arrive thinking this will be a fast, flat course.

And a good chunk of it is. Just not the majority of it.

You run downhill for most of the first mile, then spend the next four battling a series of rolling hills through a residential area. It’s scenic — the old neighborhoods of midtown are filled with big trees and stately homes, and the fall foliage was in its full glory. It was gorgeous to view with a bright sun and blue skies on what started out as a crisp, cool day.

After five miles, runners spill out into Brookside to begin about three miles of flat ground. The course ducks back into a neighborhood for a couple of miles and a long, deceptive uphill that can zap the unwary. It then goes back out onto the flats of Riverside Drive before taking the long uphill slog back into downtown.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

I made sure to start out at a measured pace, and for those first four miles, I was fairly slow. It looked like I might match or exceed the previous year’s 2:20 finish.

One thing that worked in my favor (besides the cooler temps): All that hill training. Every Monday, I’d run three miles on one of the hilliest streets in Tulsa. That, combined with plenty of strength training in my glutes and hamstrings, really helped me feel fresh by the time I hit the flat part of the course at Mile 6.

It was here where I noticed that my mile times were getting faster. After nine miles, I was only a couple of minutes off my 15K personal record. By Mile 10, I passed the pacer who was holding a 2:15 pace.

Let me say, first off, that I am not fast. At all. But around this time, I knew I was starting to close in on my half marathon PR, a 2:11 split I hit in 2013 when doing Route 66’s full marathon. Back then, I was running 20 more miles per week and weighed about 13 pounds less. I didn’t foresee breaking that mark, but of one thing I was sure: I wouldn’t bomb like I had the previous year.

And then came the race’s great equalizer. Once you’re 11 miles in, you must go back into downtown, which is atop a hill. Southwest Boulevard is what takes you there, and it’s the biggest hill on the course. My cardio to that point had been taxed but was solid. That is, until that hill.

That’s where I cratered. The hill got me again, just like it had in here previous races. The 2:15 gal breezed by. No shot at a PR.

But getting past that, I recovered. And the last mile flew by. I sprinted the last hundred yards, and crossed the finish at 2:15:04, my second-fastest half.

Race bling.

Race bling.

WHAT TO MAKE OF IT

I see a lot of what-ifs. What if I’d been a little more disciplined on the diet? What if I had pushed my training a little harder? And so on.

That’s my nature. I tend to look at what I could have done better, and achieved better results. A lot of the reasons I do this (and I know it’s true for many of you) is to test myself, to see if I can improve my fitness and performance, to see what this ole body can do.

And that’s all fine. But some of the things I did worked, and I do believe that training in warm to hot weather for most of the season paid off in November.

But most of all, it’s always nice to exceed your expectations. Putting up a 2:15 in a half marathon isn’t the pinnacle of long-distance running, but I didn’t believe it would happen this year. And then it did. It’s a sweet reward, almost as sweet as the post-run feast, which is really the best part of race day.

How did you do in your last race? Gimme a shout in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Running the Von Franken Family Food Run: Tulsa runners are pretty awesome

Runners gather for the Von Franken Family Food Run, with the downtown Tulsa skyline in the background.

Runners gather for the Von Franken Family Food Run, with the downtown Tulsa skyline in the background.

Thanksgiving tends to be flooded with turkey trots in runner circles, and I’ve enjoyed running in more than a few of them.

We’ve got a few here in the Tulsa area. But there’s one run in particular that stands out as a little different. There’s no entry fee. No bibs. Not timing chips or clocks. And no medals.

The Von Franken Family Food Run is a 5K run (not a race) that takes place every Thanksgiving Day, starting and ending at the River Parks West Festival Park. There are two main purposes for this one: To collect food for the Salvation Army and pet supplies for area animal shelters, and to go run with a few hundred like-minded people.

It’s pretty simple: Show up with a bag of food or pet supplies, go run a few miles, and eat free pancakes when it’s over.

We filled the truck. Tulsa runners rock.

We filled the truck. Tulsa runners rock.

We had an awesome day to run (40s to 50s and sunny). Several hundred folks showed up, and we filled the Salvation Army’s box truck with food. A pyramid of pet supplies also got stacked up near the parking lot.

Me and a dude named Robert ran and chatted it up for the last couple of miles. We talked about running the previous weekend’s Route 66 Marathon, how we did, and what we might do to get faster. A pretty cool way to spend the morning.

I like the vibe of this one. Lots of people of varying abilities and ages were there. It seemed half the runners brought their dogs (I stopped to give belly rubs to a bunch of them). And plenty of kids. As an untimed event, it didn’t have that crowded rush to break from the pack or people grinding out the miles in pain just to shave off a few seconds for a PR. Nope, just an easy run in the park, and that’s a good thing because my legs are still a little dead from the weekend’s half marathon (more on that in a later post).

Part of the route took us over this cool and fairly new pedestrian path over the Arkansas River. (Clint Green photo)

Part of the route took us over this cool and fairly new pedestrian path over the Arkansas River. (Clint Green photo)

All that is to say I’m proud of the city’s running community. It’s an awesome collection of road warriors, casual runners, dirtbag trail runners and regular working stiffs like me. I’m grateful for these folks, and on a holiday like Thanksgiving, a show of gratitude from so many is pretty cool to see.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks. I’m grateful for all of you, as well, for reading stuff I post on this site and sharing your thoughts on all things outdoors, running, fitness and life in general. I hope your holiday today is a good one.

Bob Doucette

Previewing the 2016 Route 66 Marathon, Tulsa

Marathon starting line stoke: It's real, man. (Kirk Wells/Route 66 marathon photo)

Route 66 Marathon starting line stoke: It’s real, man. (Kirk Wells/Route 66 marathon photo)

I haven’t raced a bunch this year, but it’s hard not to get excited about running in the Route 66 Marathon. Organizers do a great job in setting up an interesting and challenging course through midtown and downtown Tulsa, with good course support and a sweet finish line party to boot. Not to mention the race’s always-epic medals.

The race weekend starts off with a 5K event on Saturday, and the half and full marathons are on Sunday.

Before I get too far into it, one special note about one of the race’s longtime organizers, Chris Lieberman.

Chris made this race become a reality for Tulsa. Before Route 66 was born, there was no major marathon here. Chris, along with Kimi Hann, changed that in a big way, growing the event into what it is today, one of the state’s most-loved long-distance running events.

Chris has also been instrumental in bringing in other big-time events to Tulsa that have nothing to do with running. Case in point: The Center of the Universe Festival, where great national and local music acts converged on the city for three days of rock ‘n’ roll.

In March, Chris suffered a traumatic brain injury after taking a 10-foot fall off a ladder. It’s left him in a lengthy recovery process, one in which he’s making progress, but it’s a tough deal nonetheless.

Those close to Chris are asking that if you can, honor him by signing up to be a volunteer for the race. You can do that here. If you want to know more about Chris’s situation, check out this site. You can also follow his progress on Facebook: Just do a search for “Chris Lieberman Updates” and “like” the page.

Chris has been an amazing supporter of all things Tulsa, as well as to runners here and in many cities and states. It would be good to send him some love, through volunteering, or prayers, or good vibes. You can also donate to help with his recovery.

OK, on to the details of the race…

First off: the packet pickup and expo. The expo takes place at the Cox Business Center in downtown Tulsa. You can pick up packets for your race from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 19. At the expo, there are going to be a ton of vendors, speakers and a bloggers’ forum. If you’ve got time, check ’em all out.

Second: Let’s talk about the course. It’s the same as it was when the race changed its format to finish in the Brady Arts District downtown, right by Guthrie Green.

Courtesy Route 66 Marathon

Courtesy Route 66 Marathon

The marathon and half marathon follow the same initial loop right up into the 13th mile, when marathoners head out of downtown for their second loop. So here are some things you need to know…

Don’t be fooled by that first mile. It’s mostly downhill, so it’s fast, and the excitement of the race will amp up a lot of people’s paces. Soon after reaching 15th Street, you will meet a really big hill, and the hilliness of the course won’t stop for while. Running through the neighborhoods of Maple Ridge and near Woodward Park is really scenic, but there is a lot of up-and-down between Mile 2 and Mile 7. Pace yourself accordingly.

The hills will relent as you go through Brookside, then turn west on 41st Street. Turning north on Riverside will remain flat, but the course ducks back east, then north again on Cincinnati Avenue and into a neighborhood. Mild elevation gains and losses prevail from Mile 8 to Mile 10. After that, it’s a good, flat section of Riverside Drive into Mile 11. And then it gets real.

At Southwest Boulevard, you will begin the climb back into downtown, and it’s not small, lasting the better part of a mile. Just past Mile 12, you’ll turn north at Denver Avenue and start heading north and downhill toward the Brady District. Marathoners will turn back east at Second Street to begin their second loop while those doing the half will continue north on the last mile — one more climb, then a mostly flat finish.

For those going the full 26.2, it’s another trip out to midtown, but in different areas. You get to avoid the hills of 15th Street to start, instead eventually making your way south on Peoria between Mile 13 and Mile 15. Here, you’ll turn back east on a familiar road, south past Utica Square, but then farther east into different neighborhoods. I’ve found these areas not as hilly as Maple Ridge, but that will change soon enough. The mellower grades continue from Mile 15 through Mile 18 as you head north toward the University of Tulsa.

You hit one small but steep climb on 21st Street, then a long, gradual uphill slog toward the school between Mile 18 and Mile 20. The uphill continue through the school, then relents a bit as you leave and go back south on Delaware.

And then, my friends, comes the biggest mental test of the full, at least in my estimation. Just before Mile 22 begins, you hit 15th Street (also known as Cherry Street), and its sizable hills. Between Delaware and Peoria, they are big and somewhat steep.

Just when you think another huge hill awaits, you turn north back on Peoria (between Mile 23 and Mile 24) to start the trek back downtown. Fortunately, the hills of Midtown are behind you. If you have any gas left in the tank, you can make some time here. If you don’t, at least gravity won’t be devouring you the entire way there. A slight grade up take you from Mile 24 to Mile 25, then a gradual downhill on First Street to Denver Avenue lets you coast.

If you want to do the Center of the Universe Detour, it pulls off the course in the middle of the First Street stretch. It’s a party up there, and they give you a commemorative coin for your trouble. Back on the main course, you go downhill fast on Denver Avenue, under a bridge, then one last, short uphill climb to the Brady District and the final, mostly flat portion of the course to the finish.

Last few observations…

First, I hope you did some hill training. Though only a few of the hills are big and there are some sizable flat spots, this is not a flat course. At all.

Second, expect good course support. Organizers have lots of aid stations along the way, well-stocked and well-manned.

Third, watch the weather forecasts. So far, it looks really good. A cool start in the upper 30s, and a high in the mid to upper 50s. Dress accordingly, and keep watching the forecast. Weather in this state can be fickle.

Last, enjoy it! I’ve run this one a couple of times, and it stacks up really well with any race I’ve done. The course is scenic and challenging, which always makes for a good time.

Bob Doucette

Sooner State scenery: My favorite images from Oklahoma

 

Fall views of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Fall views of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve posted some of my favorite photographs from certain areas: The San Juan Range, the Sawatch Range, the Front Range — all from Colorado — and so forth.

But while I grew up in Colorado, I don’t live there. My home state is Oklahoma, a place outside our borders that is not seen as one of those “outdoorsy” states. I realize it will be a hard sell to change minds. We’re more known for prairie vistas, big oil, college football and so on. But if you’re not from here, you’d be surprised at what you’ll find. So here goes, a sampling (there is so much more I haven’t seen or documented) of my favorite scenes from the Sooner State…

These first few are from close to home, Natural Falls State Park.

Natural Falls.

Natural Falls.

Mossy oak.

Mossy oak.

A creek running through Natural Falls State Park.

A creek running through Natural Falls State Park.

On the other side of the state is another state park, Glass Mountains State Park. Far different scenery from a much different ecosystem.

Glass Mountain on a December day.

Glass Mountain on a December day.

Even farther west are the remains of ancient lava fields that now make up the Black Mesa area of the far western Panhandle. Mesas, hoodoos and more.

Hoodoos near Black Mesa State Park.

Hoodoos near Black Mesa State Park.

No tour of Oklahoma’s natural scenery would be complete without  heavy dose of the Wichita Mountains, some of the oldest mountains in the world and a patch of earth known for wildlife, hiking and rock climbing. Unbelievable scenery here.

Looking into the Boulder Field near Elk Mountain.

Looking into the Boulder Field near Elk Mountain.

Bison graze near Sunset Peak.

Bison graze near Sunset Peak.

Weathered cedar atop Sunset Peak.

Weathered cedar atop Sunset Peak.

Treasure Lake seen with Elk Mountain in the background.

Treasure Lake seen with Elk Mountain in the background.

Mount Mitchell, one of the remotest peaks in all of Oklahoma.

Mount Mitchell, one of the remotest peaks in all of Oklahoma.

 

Even within the city limits of Tulsa, there are some great scene of natural beauty. Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness is a hilly, wooded paradise for trail runners and mountain bikers, and there are even some good bouldering crags inside Chandler Park.

Crags in Chandler Park.

Crags in Chandler Park.

So there you have it. Just a sampling. Not pictured are the Kiamichi Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma (some of the most beautiful countryside you’ll see), Little Sahara and the sweeping natural tallgrass prairie that dominates much of the land.

Come on down. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

Bob Doucette

Micro-adventures: A day trip to Natural Falls State Park, Oklahoma

Not quite the prairie scenery people imagine when they think of Oklahoma.

Not quite the prairie scenery people imagine when they think of Oklahoma.

I’m still on this kick about finding local outdoor fixes. Even though the summer heat is kicking into high gear, that’s not a good reason to be stuck inside.

The last of these posts had me looking at what outdoor fun could be had inside the city limits of my hometown. Quite a bit, as I discovered.

Next up, making a drive farther east to see what many consider Oklahoma’s most scenic state park.

Natural Falls State Park is near the town of Colcord, and just west of the Arkansas state line. Out here, you’re flirting with the topography of the Ozarks while also getting into thick woodlands.

The park isn’t very big, certainly nothing like you would see of the great western national parks. It’s just 120 acres, and contains about 4.5 miles of trails.

Natural Falls. It reminds me of a cenote in southern Mexico.

Natural Falls. It reminds me of a cenote in southern Mexico.

What it lacks in size it makes up for in its star attraction. The park is named after a 77-foot waterfall that drains into a pool that is usually fairly clear, but wasn’t on a recent visit. Still, the scene itself reminded me of the tropical cenotes of southern Mexico: A deep, circular stone amphitheater, lined with trees and lush greenery, all surrounding the tall-but-slender falls.

Concrete footpaths lead you to an observation deck overlooking the top of the falls and also take you down to the base. Park benches allow for a place to rest and absorb the view.

A stretch of trail at the park. The trails are anything from flat and easy to steep and rocky.

A stretch of trail at the park. The trails are anything from flat and easy to steep and rocky.

I was going to be a little disappointed if all the trails were paved, but they’re not. The rest of the trail system is all singletrack dirt — some easy hiking, some quite steep, with sections that are somewhat rocky. It’s not a big deal to me, but for your average day trip visitor, some of the trails might be challenging. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The falls are awesome, but really, the entire park is extremely scenic. The falls and the stream that they feed are tucked into a small canyon, and every bit of bare earth is covered in greenery. You’ve got the typical mix of oaks that you expect in this part of the country, but also lodgepole pines that tower 60 or more feet and a good mix of shrubs and ferns everywhere else. If you’re into nature and wildlife, you’re going to enjoy this place quite a bit.

Some scenes from the trails…

The creek that runs through the canyon.

The creek that runs through the canyon.

Moss-covered tree trunks.

Moss-covered tree trunks.

Another stretch of creek, with clearer water.

Another stretch of creek, with clearer water.

A look up to the forest canopy, anchored by this huge pine.

A look up to the forest canopy, anchored by this huge pine.

Pine bark details. They look like scales of a huge reptile.

Pine bark textures. They look like scales of a huge reptile.

Green. Green everywhere.

Green. Green everywhere.

The topography of the park also makes it different from the woodlands that are more common here. It is its own ecosystem, and a fragile one at that. For that reason, park officials do not allow swimming in the ponds inside the canyon.

The park can accommodate campers on prepared tent and RV sites. There are 44 sites for RVs (seven of which have full hookups) and 17 for tent campers. There are showers available, and areas where you can play volleyball and basketball. Fishing is also on site, as is a nine-hole disc golf course and a playground.

The great thing about a day trip here is you can pack in a lot of outdoor fun without the commitment of a backpacking trip or a long drive. On that count, Natural Falls State Park scores high. Be sure to check it out.

Getting there: From Tulsa, take U.S. 412 east toward Colcord. The drive is about 90 minutes. Using that same highway, it’s anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour west of Arkansas cities such as Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville and Bentonville.

Extras: After a good day of hiking, there are plenty of places to eat in Siloam Springs (Tex-Mex, home-style, steaks), and there is a restaurant at the Cherokee-run casino in West Siloam Springs.

Fun fact: Ever seen the movie “Where the Red Fern Grows”? It was filmed here.

Bob Doucette