Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Deep Fork NWR Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk Trail Trip Report

Play these bird sounds I recorded along the boardwalk as you read my poetic conveyance of The Deep Fork.

We visited the Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk Trail at the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday, February 22, 2009. It was so cool I went twice in the same day. I think the area is the most densely populated, well maintained, easily accessible park I have been to yet. For Tulsans, it's 45 minutes even from Brookside, with zero turns. It's maybe a mile or less off of Hwy 75. For me, that means I don't have to make huge plans or deal with the wrath of my wife when I tell her I'm going hiking and gets a case of the redass. She rattles on about babies and diapers and I just tune her out. Just kidding. Actually, she has supported my new outdoor addiction pretty heroically.

Anyway, my entire time at the Deep Fork in the morning was as loud as a zoo. There were hundreds of birds calling at once. At no point could I ever not see a woodpecker nearby and there were always a number of other birds passing back and forth. For birders, this has to be one of the best spots around. I am hardly a birder, however. I took pics of 18 bird species, and heard or saw at least 5-10 others, not counting the rooster that belongs to the resident on the far side of the property's pond.

The boardwalk is very short (1/4 mile or so), but as my wife put it, it feels "strangely intimate" along the watch points. The swamp overlook is particularly amazing. Completely covered in Wood Ducks, Gadwall, and Green-Wing Teal when I visited, the swamp is a rare sight in Oklahoma and truly breathtaking. View the panoramic shot here to see the view from the trail after I scared off all the birds. It felt like I should be looking out for crocodiles. The grass in that picture is all in standing water. I have to think that snakes must be really thick out here when it warms up.

The boardwalk is very close to the parking area. I was afraid that with just a tiny trail advertised, the place would be a waste of time. You always hope a place like this gives you an opportunity to go a little further. I want to get as deep into the woods as I can within an hour or two, away from car noises, beer cans, and people in general. I like the idea of going where plants and animals are not bothered, fully aware of how hypocritical it is to think I should go to such a place.

The Cussetah Bottoms area definitely has room to roam. The bottomland scrub here is short and thus easy to walk through, even when there is no path. I think you could follow deer paths for miles, only being stopped by the property boundaries. The Deep Fork is divided into numerous decent sized, but not enormous plots of land, broken up by private pastures and houses. Be aware of hunting seasons as well, as many of the areas (not the Cussetah) allow hunting. I have a strange and unreasonable fear of being mistaken for a beautiful buck and getting shot by a hunter, since I never wear anything orange. I don't even have antlers though, or a tail.

There is a short, marked trail loop shooting off the boardwalk, but it won't keep you busy very long. One route is about 1/2 a mile, another seemed to be about 1/4 mile. If you are a bird watcher or photographer though, the short trails could keep you busy all day. You don't have to go far to be in pretty thick woods.

I only got about 100 yards off the boardwalk before I spotted two deer. I decided to just sit down and listen, as I could hear waterfowl calling from the pond and all sorts of birds that were moving around in the woods. I shot pictures of 3 woodpecker species after 10-15 minutes. My favorites were the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and the Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. Be aware that not everyone is a modern day Native American St. Francis like me, so your experiences may vary. I'm unusually peaceful and grounded and animals are often drawn to me, like that deer that turned it's butt toward us a couple weeks ago and took a big pee. We then shot that deer for sport and spite, not for food.

The boardwalk and paved trail leading up to it were strollable enough that I went back in the afternoon with my wife and son. The noise level had dropped to near silence, but there was still a lot of life fluttering around. My son, being a typical self absorbed 4 month old, was no help, making loud bird calls of his own as he became hungry. We took our stroller around the boardwalk, parked it, and hiked into the woods coming upon a couple armadillo and zero mountain lions to my sadness. I saw a website that has a bunch of Okmulgee/Deep Fork area sightings. It is embarrassing to me, for whatever reason, that I have never seen a Pileated Woodpecker, Black Bear, or Mountain Lion in the Oklahoma wild. They're all here and they won't let me see them and it sucks. I want to see a Barn Owl as well.

Overall, I'd rate the Deep Fork about as high as possible for wildlife viewing. It's the type of place that you can go to for 30 minutes and have a nice experience, but you could easily make a full day, at least, by walking around and just watching the wildlife. If you are as antsy as me, you would probably have time to visit several of the parking areas where you hike into the Refuge.

For hiking, I'd rate this area somewhere in the middle. It's flat, there are few short trails, but there is definitely the opportunity to immerse yourself in a nice, unbothered, natural ecosystem that makes you feel far from home. I love home, but it's nice to be able to take a short drive with your family and feel like you went much further. But, it is not the type of place where you take a lunch and set out on foot to hike a great distance. At least, the Cussetah Bottoms isn't that way. I'm going back in the next few weeks to look at the other areas of the Refuge.

GO HERE for a printable and GPS downloadable trail map and trip report

Getting There . . .
The refuge is located in Okmulgee County, 35 miles south of Tulsa and approximately 100 miles east of Oklahoma City.
Telephone: (918) 756-0815

To reach the Headquarters Office:
Take Highway 75 to Okmulgee, then 6th Street west to Grand. On Grand, travel to 4th Street. The Headquarters Office is located in the Post Office at 111 West 4th Street, Room 318.

To reach the Cussetah Bottoms Boardwalk Trail: Follow Hwy 75 about 5 miles south of Okmulgee and turn east on Cedar Road, follow the gravel road to the T, and turn left. The parking area will be a little ways down on your right.

Official Website

Deep Fork Bird Species List

Audobon Site

Trip reviews

Another set I found on Flickr from another user:


Patrick said...

I couldn't get the bird call thingy to work, so I am pissed, but impressed by your review of this area. In lieu of large dangerous animals with claws, lots of birds come in a close second. I am glad you are continuing in the tradition of getting out into nature and randomly slaughtering a woodland creature.

Tim Roberts said...

It looks like the sound works in Firefox but not in Explorer... Weird. I'll try to fix it tonight.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great post. Its going to be on the family to do list.

Okie said...

Now we're talking! Great blog idea. Makes me homesick.

Okie said...

I have one of your Arkansas pics as my desktop background.

Tim Roberts said...

Thank you!!! Those are big compliments. Kyle, next time you're in town, we will visit one of these places. It'll leave you with a lot to write about.

pc - the new fascism said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Post a Comment