Sharon and I were noodling west up US Highway 287, which goes from Dallas to Amarillo to catch I-40, when we saw stuff on the forecast we didn’t like – snow in Amarillo. When we head west in late February or early March we usually stick to the southern I-10 route, but after so many trips we decided to mix it up a bit since we were well into March, and tried I-40. Well into March wasn’t good enough – there was still some winter weather on the high plains.
So a couple of hours west of Dallas we got out the laptop and looked around for a place to hang out a few days while the dusting of snow melted, and spotted Lake Arrowhead State Park about ten miles southeast of Wichita Falls. In Texas, Wichita is a river, not a town like in Kansas, and Lake Arrowhead is a reservoir on the Little Wichita River, a tributary of the Red, the border between Texas and Oklahoma. It’s pretty much open plains – the trees had disappeared soon after we left Dallas – and about a thousand feet in altitude. We decided to check it out because it was early in the season and wouldn’t be crowded, and Texas parks are reasonably priced, even for out of state folks.
As luck would have it, all the non-electric spots were down on the water, and the people who needed plugins were in little circular layouts up the hill, so we plunked down the ten dollars plus three per camper (cats are free) for a very reasonable total of $16 per night. A few tent campers showed up Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday lunchtime we had the place to ourselves, a lovely stretch right along the water with a few mesquite trees short enough not to interfere with solar or satellite dish function.
It was beautiful spring weather with bluebonnets blooming and much prairie dog activity, which kept Fiona entertained, although she got a few scoldings. They’re hyper-vigilant about anything that looks like a dangerous predator, and I guess Fiona fit the description close enough because she sure got an earful. The mockingbirds were at the top of the trees, staking out their territories for the season by singing away, and we had a few egrets down by the lake.
The only bad thing about the Texas plains in spring, though, is the weather. All the warm moist air gets lifted by periodic cold fronts sliding southeast, and huge thunderstorms can develop within hours. We had one scare the first night with talk about the possibility of half-dollar-sized hail, so I covered my windshield and stayed up late, watching the storm hit the town of Wichita Falls and pass us by.
We stuck around another couple of days, exploring the lake shore, wildflowers, and some of the other attractions, like an oil well with and old fashioned single-cylinder motor operating the pump jack. It must have been gasoline – it had a spark plug – but features like external pushrods and a strange oil radiator on top indicated that it must have been 1950s technology they never bothered to improve. Most of the oil wells now have electric motors; this one was a display model and historical curiosity. But it still worked – you could hear it chugging away late at night when things quieted down. Texas is proud of their oil patch history, and there was a plaque in front of the oil well extolling the virtues of petroleum.
After another couple of nights here there was another disquieting forecast- hail the size of tennis balls. Not wishing to press our luck we enjoyed the first time the storms blew through, we packed up around lunchtime and headed on up the road to Amarillo, which had a less exciting forecast.