Robber’s Cave State Park

The Tahoe wouldn’t start. Ben turned the keys several times just to make sure, effecting only the sound of robots giving each other the Heimlich maneuver.

I immediately blamed raccoons. I am locked in a lifelong struggle against these insidious rodents. Raccoons thwarted multiple Boy Scout meals by knocking over our coolers and dry packers, no matter how many heavy rocks we stacked on top for protection. Whole packs of raccoons will wander into a campsite at night and go through the contents of a backpack, looking for cigarettes or spare change. I expressed to the group my fear that raccoons had waited until we fell asleep, then siphoned out all of the gas. Evan noted that he thought they had probably climbed into the car and listened to rock music for several hours until the batteries died.

To the credit of the group, no one panicked. Evan and I, without missing a beat, directed everyone up the hill and toward the entrance of the state park, where we would find dense clusters of campers, and with them jumper cables.

As we marched on toward the prospects of automotive salvation, we took in the majestic scenery around us. Robbers Cave State Park truly is a gorgeous location. It is particularly stunning to people like myself, familiar with central and western Oklahoma, who can conceive of the state only as one vast, non-undulating pancake splashed with wheat and cows. To see a pristine, cobalt lake backing into rolling hills is unexpected and beautiful. They are not only lovely, but a source of pride. A testament that Oklahoma has its own dynamic splendor beyond largely moribund expanses of amber.

After a few minutes of walking we arrived at the cluster of facilities denoting the administrative hub of the park: a park ranger HQ, a snow cone stand, a miniature golf course, and a vacant café which the park has not sold. Its head park ranger only recently retired, and spent the last several months of his reign avoiding headaches like “screwing around with trying to sell that café.”

We introduced ourselves to the park ranger and walked toward his pickup. “Can I ride in the back?” I asked. I still get excited at the prospects of riding around in the back of a pickup truck. Will the Frenchman, who before Friday had probably never touched a vehicle capable of holding more then two at once, was absolutely ecstatic. Along with Ben and Evan, we clamored into the clunky old Chevy and took note of the many dangerous pieces of equipment we shared it with, most notably a rusty chainsaw.

Brett’s truck could not initially recessitate the Tahoe, but he returned a few minutes later with jumper cables which did not indiscriminately spark whenever he revved the gas. The SUV sputtered to life, amidst our enthusiastic cheers. We thanked Brett, offered to buy him a beer if he found himself in Heavener that evening, and drove to the opposite end of the park to visit the Robbers Cave which gives the location its name.

Incidentally, loafers were not the best of idea for hiking. This was my logic: grizzled loafers look outdoorsy. Gazing down my jeans to the tied leather laces of my shoes, they appeared to be the sort of thing a guy in a flannel shirt from Eddie Baur would wear before jumping into a canoe. In the future, I think I will wear tennis or hiking shoes. The blazer I brought on the campout with me, though apparently superfluous, is actually quite useful. Not only warm, it served as a comfortable pillow both evenings. And stylish.

We made our way up the trail, through a small cave corridor, and over several boulders. Robbers Cave is famous because many of Oklahoma’s less reputable men have hid out in it at one time or another. Originally Union and Confederate deserters spent time in the cave, then later guerrilla fighters. Eventually garden variety outlaws took up residence in between raids.

Most notable are Frank and Jesse James, distant kin of the Heaton family, through my dad’s paternal grandmother. Great Grandma could recall her parents occasionally ordering her to hide under her bed, because “the James cousins” were out in the barn, getting drunk and indiscriminately shooting at things. Had a stray bullet whizzed through a window and brained her, a whole line of colorful, gun-toting relatives would have been erased from the annals of history and state law enforcement records.

The cave itself is a little anti-climatic. As I mentioned earlier, the surrounding countryside is gorgeous, and more than compensates for the dwarfed cavern my outlaw kinfolk once sobered up in. Effectively a large dent in the side of a hill.

Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.