Pic of the Week 6/25/21
Location: Robbers Cave State Park, OK
Date taken: 6/10/21
Today brings us to day 4 of our honeymoon adventure. We had spent the previous time exploring the Lake Eufaula area and while we were saddened to leave our tree-top cabin oasis, the drive for more adventure leads us through the Sans Bois Mountain range and into the depths of Robbers Cave. Once a hideout for notorious outlaws such as Jesse James and Belle Starr, Robbers Cave is an area of Oklahoma I have always wanted to visit. Not just for the fascinating history, but the rocky terrain and thick pine forests have intrigued me for some time now.
The drive to the park was mostly uneventful as we wound our way through the forestry catching glances of some of the peaks of the mountain range. The Sans Bois mountains are part of the much larger Ouachita Mountain chain and mark the “frontal belt” of the range. I have visited the Ouachita’s in the past, and I was excited to be back in the territory. Though last time, I was much further south. After entering the park, we checked in with the main office and got the keys for our room. We would be staying one night at the Belle Starr View Lodge. I thought this would be a more peaceful and relaxing way to enjoy the park. Although now that I have visited, I would like to return for a proper camping experience.
The Belle Starr View Lodge resides high up on Coon Ridge overlooking Coon creek and the reservoir 175 feet below. The lodge is more primitive and dated, but they are working on a new one that will be open in 2022. We got to our room, unpacked our gear, and opened the window to find a male Summer Tanager tapping on the sliding glass door. This was an exciting way to be greeted to the park! Ashlee managed to capture a few nice images of the persistent bird. His bright red plumage gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. The view from our room was quite nice. Although we didn’t have expansive vistas in front of us, we could see the distant Sans Bois mountains and hills framed by the branches of loblolly pine trees. A short walk from our patio brought us to edge of a cliff where car-sized boulders collapsed and tumbled down the hill 30 feet below. Ashlee and I both felt the sense of exploration and adventure welling up inside us.
After a quick lunch we decided to head down to the main attraction of the park—the infamous Robbers Cave. The trail here is not long (at least if you just want to visit the cave) only about .8 miles, but it looked to be quite rugged. We gather our gear and start off on the trail. The trail starts flat as small trees and rocks line the path. Very quickly we start to enter the rough terrain as we ascend the hillside traversing loose rock and stepping over tree roots. Following the trail blazes and signs we reach the pathway to Robbers Cave. We stair step our way up over a slab that slopes sharply downward into the entrance of the cave. The rock is glistening from a recent rain and the wear from hundreds of previous hiker’s boots polish the rocks surface to a smooth but slippery state. We carefully walk ourselves down the steep slope. From the mouth giant rocks, tall vertical cliffs, and lofty pine trees block out the entrance to the cave. Its easy to see why fugitives picked such a place to hide in.
The cave itself is not very large and only goes back about fifty feet, though this is quite large by Oklahoma standards. At first, we can stand when entering the cave, but the roof starts to lower the deeper we go. Now, I am forced into an uncomfortable crouching position and must remove my pack to move freely. We reach the back end of the cave where one can’t go any further. Above my head, I can see the different layered rock of the karst topography. Water intermittently drains through the rock and causes the rock to collapse in sheets forming the cave. I can hear the “plink” of a water droplet falling into a nearby puddle and I wonder when the next caving will occur—hopefully not too soon. I started scouting some possible compositions and I found one that interested me.
From my angle the mouth of the cave has shrunk into an upside-down triangle shape. Directly in my view I see a similar upside-down triangle in a puddle on the cave floor. Another puddle reflects the trunk of a pine tree guarding the main entrance. The black wet rock envelops the rest of the scene; its smooth glossy texture only disrupted by the brilliant green moss clinging to the cave walls. I pull out my ultra-wide-angle lens and turn my camera to a vertical orientation to capture the scene. Since I was so close to the puddle, I needed to focus stack to ensure a sharp image throughout the photo. It takes more time, however, we had the cave all to ourselves and I was able to work unhurried.
© Ben Jacobi
After I grabbed my shot, we headed back on the trail to complete the loop. Here the trail takes you up on the top of Robbers Cave with a great view of the park and the Sans Bois valley. Then the trail brings you through more forest before leading you back down through rocky descents that require some scrambling and bouldering before you connect back to the main trail. We left Robbers Cave feeling tired and hot. The early summer sun was just reaching its highest point as we climbed back into the luxury of our airconditioned vehicle. We decided to “beat the heat” with a dip in Lake Carlton. Then after properly cooling off, laid on the grass drying in the sun. Fully exhausted from the day’s adventure we return to the cabin for showers and dinner. Our day ends to the sounds of crickets chirping and sight of fireflies flickering into the night. There’s still plenty more stories and photos to share from our honeymoon trip.