During Social Distancing, Escape to Lake Bixhoma
A few months ago, we could never have imagined the degree to which the coronavirus pandemic would impact our lives. It’s heart-wrenching to read about the alarming number of deaths, the record-breaking unemployment figures, and the uncertainty surrounding when some modicum of normalcy will return. For good reason, we are sheltering in place and juggling our own work while helping our kids with home school.
Normally, I have trouble sitting still, so I travel often. But, since I’ve been cooped up day in and day out and travel restrictions are vast, I’ve made a commitment to myself and my family to “go local” and check out nearby nuggets of nature that offer the chance to breathe in fresh air, get exercise and nurture mental health. That’s how I discovered Lake Bixhoma.
Have you ever heard of it? Until last week, I hadn’t either! When mentioning it to my native Tulsa friends, they responded with some version of “no.” It’s ironic that this well-kept secret is over 50 years old.
A Great Escape
Lake Bixhoma is roughly seven miles south of Bixby. You can feel stress shedding as you drive past cornfields, farm stands and ranches. The final approach is uphill and gradual and then quickly down dale. The small, unassuming lake (actually a reservoir that has supplied water to Bixby since the 1960s) sits almost 900 feet above sea level in a valley on the south side of Leonard Mountain.
The 110-acre lake has three miles of shoreline and is surrounded by hills, a densely treed forest, and a rippling stream complete with a waterfall. In addition to walking and hiking, visitors can enjoy fishing from several designated spots, sit under a gazebo to birdwatch, have a family picnic or put a small boat in to the glistening fresh water for a sunset cruise. An added bonus is the fenced-off field where grazing goats and donkeys reside. It’s a great escape that offers lovely views from most any vantage point.
Get Those Legs in Gear
Walking and hiking opportunities run the gamut, from a leisurely stroll to more intense hikes. There is a paved road on the east end of the lake that takes you past the goats, eager anglers and marvelous, high shale and sandstone bluffs. This is an especially casual jaunt if you have small children.
To ramp up the steps on your Fitbit, there are hiking trails that wind around the lake’s perimeter and head up in to the hills.
The Bixhoma Lake Loop is a 3.3-mile trail. The first half is easy and good for small children while the second have is more difficult, with rugged inclines and declines. Take note of the water crossing, requiring some balancing across a series of uneven rocks so wear appropriate hiking shoes and, when water is running high, expect to roll up your jeans.
Bixhoma Waterfall Trail, on the east end, is a 1/3 mile out and back trek, featuring a cascading waterfall at midpoint, which is most impressive when there is sizeable runoff during the rainy season. With kids, beware of large slippery rocks, mud and overgrowth.
The Ichabod Crane Trail, built by Boy Scouts in 2007, is accessible on the west end beyond two gates and a donkey pen. The first part of the trail is fairly steep. At the top of the hill, you’ll reach the loop. Turn left or right and follow the easy trail around the loop. Look for orange markers. At the southern point of the loop, you can connect to the brand new Bixhoma Bluff Trail.
Not Just Your Average Fishing Hole
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the lake’s abundant fish stock including crappie, bass and catfish. With a city fishing and boating permit*, you can drop a line from one of the fishing posts or from your boat. Small craft with 5 mph wake limits are permitted. If you don’t care to fish but want to spend time on the water, bring a pair of canoes, kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. Please note though that, although tempting, swimming is prohibited due to steep drop-offs and too much wild growth along the shoreline.
A few years ago, the City of Bixby fenced off a section along the lake to house goats. When the decision was made to bring the goats in, the city anticipated that not only would the goats cost taxpayers less money than hiring people, the animals would also be more environmentally friendly.
Live the Good Life Outside
As the famous outdoor gear company, REI says, “A life outdoors is a life well-lived.” So, live your life well by heading outside during this picturesque time of the year with leaves of green, flowers in bloom and warm sunshine on our faces. During these days of social distancing, Lake Bixhoma can serve as a soothing little oasis. It might not be as grand as Lake Tahoe or the Colorado Rockies, but it sure provides a convenient outlet for getting reconnecting with yourself, your family and with nature.
For more information about trails and maps, go to www.travelok.com, www.alltrails.com, www.hikingproject.com and www.trailrunproject.com. Leashed dogs are allowed.
*Daily fishing/boating permits are $5.00; yearly $15.00. Normally, permits can be purchased at Bixby’s City Hall but note that Wildlife Department offices are closed. Therefore, licenses can be purchased online.