Upon arriving at the Keystone Ancient Forest near Sand Springs, keep in mind the old phrase “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” But what is truly fascinating is when you take the time to look at the trees, you are literally looking at some of the oldest living inhabitants in Oklahoma.
For example, one of the oldest trees found there is well over 500 years old. Where else can you go to see something that was perhaps a seedling or a sapling that was alive the day that Washington Irving passed underneath on horseback?
Sitting along the shoreline of Keystone Lake sits this beautiful 1,360-acre preserve just west of Sand Springs known as Keystone Ancient Forest. When you look at the trees, they are not giant redwoods, but instead are sturdy post oaks and cedars, hanging on for life on the rocky hillsides. They are the remnants of the Cross Timbers, a wooded belt that straddled Oklahoma from Texas to Kansas for centuries. But a good portion of the Cross Timbers has been lost to farming or development over the years.
Many may know Irving as the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but in 1832, he went along with a military expedition through what was then Indian Territory. His group camped in the Cross Timbers near the site of the Keystone Ancient Forest. It was not an easy trip through the forest because the thick growth was such an impediment to both man and beast. In fact, Irving wrote in his diary, “A Tour on the Prairies,” of the struggle through “forests of cast iron.”
These post oaks and eastern cedars are as tough as the rocky soil in which they grow. Through the centuries they have survived wind, fire and forestation to lift their twisted limbs skyward in defiance of the passage of time. And today, visitors from all over come here for peace, serenity and to gaze at the true beauty of nature.
If you enjoy birding, you can find scarlet tanagers, buntings and some of the migratory birds that use Oklahoma as their flyway, especially during the summertime. The area also has deer, turkeys, American eagles, butterflies and occasionally even a mountain lion.
Several well-maintained primitive hiking trails also can be found, and they vary from easy to challenging. There is a paved Childers Trail, and it is ADA accessible.
Volunteer trail guides can help you along the way and answer any questions. While you are looking for those birds, deer and mountain lions, you should pay close attention to the trees, for they are the real stars in this outdoor theater. They may have brushed Washington Irving’s hat from his head in his vexing journey through them to the open plains. They have escaped the axe, drought and weather for centuries, and if their gnarled trunks and limbs could talk, they would tell you tales of a time when they and their brethren were almost as numerous as the stars in the sky.
You can contact Keystone Ancient Forest office at 918-246-2561 for more information. Currently, it is are open Thursday through Sunday, but call ahead to make sure their hours of operations have not changed. And the hike dates are subject to change due to weather, so you can check their Facebook page for all the updates.
Dino Lalli is the co-host and one of the feature reporters for the weekly television travel show "Discover Oklahoma."
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Discover Oklahoma: Keystone Ancient Forest has 500-year-old trees