Pic of the Week 8/11/22
“Panther Creek Canyon”
Location: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK
Date taken: 7/21/22
Panther Creek CanyonLooking into the chasm carved by Panther Creek. These cliffs reach heights of over 100 feet above the creek. The mountains of the Northern Wilderness can be seen in the distance. © Ben Jacobi
Last month Ashlee and I made a spontaneous decision to drive to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge…for sunset…on a weekday! I have to say it really paid off and I am so glad we did it. From time to time, I’ll get a wild hair and the desire to explore/ photograph becomes too great so I will disregard my current obligations and just go for it! We had spent the last few weeks in the sweltering north Texas heat, so when some storms brought much needed rain and cooler temperatures we wanted to be as close to the action as possible. Plus, these weather events tend to create the most dramatic skies.
While driving home from work, I noticed the wispy clouds of orphaned thunderstorm anvils stretch over the northern horizon. Small cumulus clouds billowed on the western horizon while the south and east were all clear. The ingredients for a spectacular sunset were coming together. When I arrived at the apartment, I heard the phrase every husband in the world wants to hear. “Hey Honey, Lets go shoot the sunset. And let’s go to the Wichita Mountains!” We were out the door a few moments later. In the excitement and hurrying we forgot to eat dinner. A quick pitstop to Whataburger satiated our hunger and soon we were on I44 crossing the Red River into Oklahoma.
Arriving at the Refuge, we noticed there were very few cars out on the road—we had the whole refuge to ourselves! With no people to worry about, any location would be available. Ashlee and I discussed where we would go for sunset, and we settled on the Panther Creek Overlook. Panther Creek starts about 4 miles north from the overlook. The runoff from Moko, Cedar, and many of the unnamed peaks in the North Wilderness converge along Gray Wolf Crossing forming the creek. Gravity flows the creek southward past Greenleaf Canyon and Mount Marcy. All these areas are in the special use part of the refuge and are closed to the public, but eventually the creek crosses Highway 49 into the public use area. It is here, the creek flows into the small Burford Lake. I’ve hiked this area a few times before, and every time I’m drawn to the steep dramatic cliffs on the south side of the lake.
Just past the dam of Burford Lake, the creek drops into a deep canyon as it curls around the rocky cliffs. The creek makes a sharp 90 degree turn to the east and this is where the overlook is located. Several rock outcroppings and large boulders offer a fantastic view of the canyon from this viewpoint. Driving along the Boulder Picnic/Lost Lake road you can catch glimpses of the dramatic canyon between the oak trees. We arrived at the “secret” parking area, and I immediately started looking for the rock outcrops to find my composition. Originally, I was planning to capture the bend in the creek below the summit of Mt Marcy, but when I arrived to scout the location, I found a better scene.
I walked along the cliff edge looking for some interesting rocks to use as a foreground. Luckily, I found this blocky angular rock jutting out over the cliff. I would use this rock to balance the right side of the composition and use the creek as a natural leading line on the left. The eye jumps from these anchors and moves upstream following the creek and out to the distant mountains. The far-right distant peak is Moko mountain. Just beyond that mountain is where Panther Creek begins. I had found my composition, now I just needed to wait on the light.
The low angle sun was peering through the clouds sending beams of light across the landscape. Hints of warm glow began to “kiss” the edges of the rock and vegetation in my foreground. This created excellent separation between my foreground, midground, and background. Without that light, the whole shot falls apart. I was fortunate to capture a few images as the light on the rocks never returned. Thicker clouds smothered the sun and the canyon remained in the shadows of the clouds. The sky did come alive in an exuberant burst of color later that evening, but that’s a story for another time.