"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Favorite Oklahoma places--a small cave

Quartz Mountain cave spirits, 9 by 12 watercolor
I think there is something ancestral and genetic that draws people to caves. Places of mystery, places of refuge, places of memories.
So it is with me with a small, shallow cave in the ancient granite hills of Quartz Mountain park and resort in southwest Oklahoma, another of my 15 favorite places in the state.
I've been there several times in the past 50 years, though I "discovered" the cave a dozen years ago. 
You enter a different, almost mystical, world from the surrounding prairie when you see the granite clumps rise from the  flat Oklahoma prairie. It has a long history, and prehistory.  
Mount Baldy, the tallest
The rocks are old, remnants of ancient mountains that have eroded and  been covered by sediment. They've been doubtless used by native peoples for shelter and game for centuries. With the coming of the white man, the army explored the area in the 1834 dealing with Indians. Veterans of the Texas war of independence claimed the area for Texas as Greer County, in 1852, but the Supreme Court attached it to Oklahoma Territory in 1896.  With the Oklahoma land runs in 1897, settlers mixed with Indian residents. 
Drought takes its toll
The little town of Lugert was founded in 1902, and later blown away by a tornado ten years later. In 1927, the town of Altus, 17 miles south, began building a dam on the North Fork of the Red River for water supply, and eventually the state took over, planning an irrigation district. It was the site of a CCC camp. In the 1930s it became a state park, covering about 4,200 acres, not counting the lake. The lake covered the old town.
Years of drought have reduced the water level of Lake Lugert/Altus to just 12 percent of capacity. There's more sand and mud than water, and at low water you can sometimes see the foundations of the town.
What makes the place special is the state park, where you can camp, rent a cabin, or hike, and the Oklahoma Arts Institute where high school students attend sessions on the summer, and teachers in the fall.
Quartz Mountain lodge
The new lodge (the 1955 lodge burned in 1995) is a work of rustic art itself, filled with the artwork of students. UCO used to pay the way of a few professors every year, and I was privileged to be selected for the four -day sessions.  I studied black and white photography twice, printmaking, and watercolor, with nationally renowned artists.
In addition to the art classes, the best part was meeting, sharing ideas, and partying with artists and high school and college teachers from around the state, and making new friends.
It was there that as a relatively new watercolor painter that several of us traveled to the cave, not far from the main lodge. I'd been trying to paint what I see, and the work was fair to ok, because I still get caught up in details, rather than what I feel. 
But the cave led to a break-out painting. Inside, looking out at the autumn colors, I turned out something different, something spiritual, visceral.
There are other stories, like hiking to the top of the highest mountain, 2,041 feet, in the dark with a group, to see the sunrise. The skies were daily populated by soaring vultures, who nested in some remote area up high, stretching their wings once the air warmed. We didn't go to try to find their nesting cave.
It's still wild there. Your imagination is set free,  and it's hard not to imagine native people huddling in the cave for protection against a winter storm.That's why I think my painting is free, and why it's such a favorite place.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying your favorite places series. I've never been to Quartz Mountain, my loss.

    ReplyDelete