Crab Eyes [Crop] — Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The two boulders are each about the size of a minivan and are balanced on a narrow granite spine.

Trekking thru the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge with a 4×5 Field Camera

Hiking thru the Wilderness

Shaggy Beasts, Three-Legged Beasts

Last Sunday [Sidenote: Wista 45DX 4×5 field camera, extended, with Schneider Kreuznach Symmar-S ƒ5.6/150 & Copal No. 0 shutter — OKIE-X (Oklahoma Musicians on X-ray Film) Wista 45DX 4×5 field cam­era. This is the same cam­era I use for OKIE-X .] I drove out to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton with cus­tom leather­worker and hik­ing enthu­si­ast Michael Parham. We intended to pho­to­graph the wilder­ness, and espe­cially the rock for­ma­tion called Crab Eyes, with a large for­mat cam­era. Michael acted as guide and sherpa, car­ry­ing my Wista 45DX, a lens and shut­ter, six film-hold­ers, and other cam­era gear in a Domke F-3X cam­era bag. Additionally he car­ried a small pack for my dark cloth, water, and snacks. For most of the day, I car­ried the Ries tri­pod. [Sidenote: Weighing a lit­tle over twelve pounds (5.45 kg), includ­ing the lev­el­ing base, geared head, and quick-release plate, this maple­wood tri­pod is a beast. I still have bruises on my scapulæ from car­ry­ing it on my shoul­ders. Michael and I each used one of the tri­pod legs as a trekking pole. For the Crab Eyes descent, we switched loads.]

After leav­ing the vis­i­tors’ cen­ter we turned back on the main road. We set up on the shoul­der to cap­ture a scene of a small bison herd graz­ing near the road, keep­ing a respect­ful dis­tance. [Sidenote: National park reg­u­la­tions require vis­i­tors to main­tain at least 25 yards dis­tance from bison and elk. We fig­ure that holds for state parks too. If we had seen any of the ubiq­ui­tous long­horn cat­tle we would have kept the same dis­tance.]

Crop from Bison, Grazing. Near the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center
Crop from Bison, Grazing. Near the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center

Next we hiked the Kite Trail to Forty Foot Hole, a series of cas­cad­ing pools on West Cache Creek. Lack of rain had reduced the some­times impres­sive water­fall to a mere trickle, with storm debris and floata­tion devices left by care­less hik­ers mar­ring the oth­er­wise pic­turesque view. A light breeze made the heat bear­able and the bur­bling creek gave us a feel­ing of peace­ful calm.

Dropping blood sugar and heat took their toll on me dur­ing the return descent. We stopped about ¾ way down so I could rest. Reaching the car, we both drank copi­ous amounts of water and decided to drive to Medicine Park for lunch. We ended up on the patio of the Riverside Café. As the name implied, we had a view of Medicine Creek. We watched tur­tles, geese, and giant carp fight­ing for the potato chips some­one had tossed on the water while we waited for a pleas­ant and fill­ing meal, then headed back to the refuge.

Reservoirs & a “Haunted” Tower

We stopped at Lake Jed Johnson and took the stairs to the dam, where I set up the cam­era to cap­ture the lake and the decom­mis­sioned fire watch tower. Although a trail leads to the tower, hik­ers are pro­hib­ited from enter­ing it due to its dan­ger­ous state of dis­re­pair. [Sidenote: The 60-foot tower resem­bles a cas­tle for­ti­fi­ca­tion. The Civilian Conservation Corps built it from native stone in 1941. Numerous ghost sto­ries sur­round it and the lake.]

Next up, we drove to Osage lake, another of the numer­ous arti­fi­cial reser­voirs dot­ting the park, and hiked down to the dam, where I took two images of the lake and the rocky cliffs and islands sur­round­ing it. Finishing that, we hiked back to the car and drove to the Crab Eyes/Charon’s Garden Wilderness Trail.

Forty Foot Hole, W Cache Creek, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Forty Foot Hole, W Cache Creek, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Crab Eyes & Good Night

Arriving at the trail­head at about 6:30 PM, we entered the for­est. Coming upon the trail fork, we turned right, away from the Charon’s Garden Trail and toward the Echo Dome/​Crab Eyes trail. Continuing through the woods, we slowly gained alti­tude, even­tu­ally com­ing into the open. 

From there we boul­der-hopped and climbed, occa­sion­ally cross­ing nar­row almost-creeks and muddy slashes fed by recent rains. Fatigue con­vinced us to stop below a rocky out­crop, where we enjoyed the shade and drank a lit­tle water. Resuming our trek, we crossed a short dis­tance to the vista over­look­ing the gorge carved by Post Oak Creek. Below us lay Boulder Field, and to the west, the sun already behind it, stood our objec­tive: two mini­van-sized boul­ders bal­anced on the mountain’s nar­row gran­ite spine.

I made three brack­eted expo­sures (+1, 0, and -1 EV, or 2, 1, and ½ sec­onds, respec­tively), [Sidenote: I had hoped that com­bin­ing them in NIK HDR Pro would yield sat­is­fac­tory results, but the soft­ware cre­ated unpleas­ant arti­facts in the sky, notably a dark band along the moun­tain ridge and notice­able halos. I ended up using only the -1 EV expo­sure, with tonal adjust­ments made in Adobe Lightroom 6 and NIK Silver Efex Pro.] then packed every­thing up. We descended the moun­tain and walked through the for­est in twi­light. Michael checked the time about ten min­utes before we reached the park­ing lot: it was 8:00 PM.

Chris Zähller carrying a 12-pound Ries tripod on the Kite Trail, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
Author Chris Zähller car­ry­ing a 12-pound Ries tri­pod on the Kite Trail, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Copyright © 2018 Michael Parham. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From there we drove to Meers, hop­ing to grab a bison burger, but the restau­rant had closed for the day. We opted to take the back roads home. Stopping in Elgin, we shared some mediocre short­ribs at a local fran­chise bar­beque restau­rant. [Sidenote: I won’t name names, but the restau­rant chain bears the name of a promi­nent Oklahoma sports­ball fig­ure.] It wasn’t good — soggy ribs, any­one? — but it filled our bel­lies. We arrived in Norman late and said good­bye, vow­ing to return. 

Blood-Sucking, Skin-Dissolving Arachnids

We plan to camp on the other side of Crab Eyes this fall and hike back to its east side to pho­to­graph the for­ma­tion at dawn. On my to-do list: obtain per­me­thrin to insect-proof cloth­ing and per­caridin to insect-proof myself (ticks and chig­gers abound), and buy bet­ter hik­ing boots (already ordered). Optional: buy a Tilley “Endurables” hat and leave the cow­boy hat at home.

Want to know when I post pic­tures from the next trip? Sign up for the newslet­ter. In the mean­time, here are the pic­tures from this trip.

Thanks for reading,

Gallery: Bison, Water, Granite, Sky

Gallery: Bison, Water, Granite, Sky

Here are the best of the twelve pho­tographs from the out­ing. Technical details fol­low the gallery.


Ries J100, maple­wood with optional bronze knobs
Tripod Head
Manfrotto 438 lev­el­ing base, Manfrotto 410 geared head, & Hejnar Photo extended plate with F63 Arca-type clamp
Wista 45DX cher­ry­wood field camera
Schneider Kreuznach Symmar-M 150mm ƒ/5,6 in Copal 0 shutter
Hoya 25A (deep red)
Bison, Kite Trail: ¼ second
Forty Foot Hole, Lake Jed Johnson, Osage Lake: ⅛ second
Crab Eyes: ½ second
Exposure Index (3-stop adjustment/​filter fac­tor = 8)
All images except Crab Eyes: 25
Crab Eyes: 50
Ilford Delta 100
Pyrocat-HD 1:1:200
~60 min­utes semi-stand in an HP-Combiplan day­light tank
Epson Perfection v850
Adobe Lightroom 6
NIK Silver Efex Pro (selected images only)

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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