Pic of the Week 2/22/18
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK
Date taken: 2/18/18
I photographed this magnificent old tree on my recent hike in the Wichita Mountains. When I go hiking I always take my camera just in case I find something worth shooting, but when I’m hiking my goal is not photography—at least not my main goal. My main goal is to scout potential locations and look for interesting scenes that could be photographed under more photogenic conditions. So, while I have been taking my camera on these hikes, I haven’t really pulled it out much. But this hike was going to be different. I had planned a more ambitious hike; a hike in the backcountry. If you have followed me for a while you know I enjoy spending time in the Charon Gardens Wilderness Area of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. It is so isolated and generally untouched by human hands that you really are in a wilderness. While I have been through some areas of the Charon Gardens, there is so much I have not explored and a lot of these places require off trail hiking. I am not that experienced in off trail hiking as I generally hike alone and I try to stay in areas people travel. However, I have been getting more and more into off trail hiking and bushwhacking, but nothing with the length and intensity of this planned hike.
I had spent a good few weeks planning out my route for this hike studying topographic maps and using Google Earth for locating key waypoints and landmarks. The original plan was to start near the western boundary of the park by the Indiahoma Rd gate entrance. I was going to try to reach the Badlands, the big quartz crystal, the Big Cedar, Spanish Cave, and Ison’s canyon. The 6.5 mile loop would take me through the heart of the Charon Gardens Wilderness Area. I knew for a fact I wanted to make it to the big quartz crystal and the Big Cedar, but I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to reach Spanish Cave and Ison’s canyon. So, to make a long story short, I did reach the big quartz crystal and the Big Cedar, but after backtracking, climbing over and squeezing my way through massive boulders I decided to try Spanish Cave and Ison’s Canyon another day. I will say that I was not disappointed in this decision, because I did reach the goal I had set out for and that was to photograph the majestic Big Cedar.
I first caught a glimpse of the Big Cedar from a local hiking group on Facebook. I saw images of people standing next to this massive, gnarled cedar tree what they appropriately titled “The Big Cedar”. It had caught my attention and I knew I wanted to photograph and document it. Thanks to the help of one of the members, I was able to see a map with the exact location of the cedar. Now that I knew where to find it I could plan my route. And after a few weeks of research I had the hike planned. Things don’t always go as we hope though. For instance, my good friend Kyle was going to join me, but got sick the day before. Not only that, but when I drove out to the refuge that morning the entire area was covered under dense fog. I knew I couldn’t find my way if I couldn’t see and identify the mountains and landmarks on my route. But something inside of me kept urging me to press on and as I drove over the cattle guards and entered the refuge I made a promise to myself. The promise was if I could see Granite mountain, Charon Gardens Mountain, and Mount Mitchell from the parking lot than I would go ahead with the hike. I pulled up to the Indiahoma Rd gate and sure enough I could see the tall peak of Granite mountain directly in front of me. Off to the north I could see the distant peak of Mt Mitchell and to the west Charon Gardens Mountain and I knew I could reach my destination—provided it didn’t start raining. Thankfully the rain never came and I was able to reach the big quartz crystal and the Big Cedar. But reaching the cedar was no easy task. Once I got to a waypoint where I would begin my climb I could see near vertical cliffs of Twin Rocks Mountain and the steep ascent I would need to make. Towards the top I could make out my marker rock and just to the right of it was a crevice, that was my entrance to the Big Cedar hike. When I reached the crevice, I found I had to do a little bit of scrambling and climbing over smooth granite boulders to get access. After some determination and careful foot placement I had made it through the crevice and as I came over the top of the rocks I could see the top of the Big Cedar.
Honestly, it didn’t impress me that much it looked much smaller from where I was. But as I made the tricky descent to the base of cedar the actual size of this monster became apparent. I placed my hand on the trunk of this old cedar tree and it was instantly dwarfed by the size, texture, and depth of the bark. I read on the facebook group that they measured the trunk to be thirteen feet in circumference and saw images where it took three people to wrap their arms around the entire base. It is a very large tree. Photographing it was going to be a challenge and I knew I wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon to the tree so I needed to get some shots of it. Due to the overcast conditions and texture of the tree I wanted to shoot for a black and white image. I carefully scanned up and down the tree marveling at its unique shape and patterns and found a tight composition that would work for a black and white image. I was mesmerized by this one branch (?) that seemed to coil and curve like a snake slithering up the tree. The curvature of the branch interrupting the straight vertical lines of the trunk created a lot of tension in the scene, but at the same time the delicate placement of the curves and moss resting on the bark made it also look tranquil. It was balanced in perfect harmony.
© Ben Jacobi
This image is not my typical style, but the subject was not my typical subject and I feel it needed a unique perspective for a tree with such character. I almost approached it more like I would a portrait. What story did this tree want to tell me? What wisdom was locked away in those knots and twists in the bark? There’s no telling what things this tree has seen, the storms it has weathered, the droughts faced, and yet, here it is still standing hidden away in its own oasis resting in the canyon on a mountain. Seldom seeing any visitors, but to those that are willing enough to reach the ancient cedar, perhaps they can find peace and renewal in the experience. Its these isolated areas and relatively unknown places that I’m drawn to. Throughout my hike in the Charon Gardens I did not see another person. All I saw was the flora and fauna of the wilderness and that was good enough company for me.