The cold, dry, and colorless winters of Texas are what pushed me off to explore a new location this month. The destination for this trip was the Lower Mountain Fork, a beautiful whitewater river stretching through southeastern Oklahoma, which is one of the many small tributaries that eventually connect to form the Mississippi River.
I headed out early, at 4:30 in the morning, greeted by overcast skies and fog. The low clouds caught the orange glow of street lamps, bringing a moody aura to the streets outside. Once I escaped the metroplex, the drive was peaceful and dark, with only the faint glow of far-off towns and the low growl of passing southbound engines to distract from the peace. The Red River seemed much higher this month than it was in January, but my eyes may have been deceiving me in the low light.
When I arrived, I heard the rushing, yet calming, water flowing through the rapids. The area was completely empty; it was only me. Trodden trails were nowhere to be found, so I followed the edge of the river downstream in search for some peace and solitude. I had never seen any place quite like this before; in some places the river was smooth like glass, and in others, boulders peppered around the rapids acted as strongholds for the growth of bald cypresses. The projecting roots of these trees were like knees, holding up soft ground and carpeting moss. Walking through the edge of the forest was like walking through another world. Moss grew on every surface imaginable, and vines hung down from trees like the Amazon. Through the moss and trees, I saw a waterfall, small, but pristine and beautiful, flowing down the rocks of the riverbank. I knew I found my composition. Setting up the tripod and Mamiya, I captured several long exposure shots, accentuating the movement of the waterfall.
A few hours later, I returned to the car and took a maze of logging roads to head northwards towards Broken Bow Lake. I had written out directions beforehand, but none of these roads were marked with any sign or name, so I had to resort to a road map I had saved on my phone. It was absolutely shocking to see the stark contrast between the sections of the logging area. The right side of the road was densely forested with massive, colorful, 50-foot trees, while the left side was entirely desolate, brown, with nothing but dead underbrush and rotting leftover logs which had escaped the captivity of the frequent logging trucks. Another mile down the road, however, I was pleased to watch the desolation of the left side slowly transform into hills upon hills of bright green saplings, reaching upwards into the sky to repopulate the area in another several years.
Re-entering the forested area, I peaked over a hill and began driving down the gravel trail when suddenly, the road abruptly ended. I could see the road continue up the next hill, but there was a wide gap. A section of the road had been washed away by a stream, and had left a gap at the bottom of the hill. The stream was still gushing through the roadway, but it appeared fairly shallow. I didn't want to take any chances. Parking the car and stepping out, I walked towards the rushing stream, and taking a step into the passing water, it didn’t reach above my ankle. I put the car back into second gear, and drove through. It was safe.
Then I arrived at Beavers Bend State Park, a terrain packed with a North Texan’s mountains, and a true westerner’s hills. After taking a short hike and exploring an overlook of the lake, I decided it was time to head out.
Although this would mark the end of my time in Oklahoma, the trip was not yet over. Driving back to Dallas, I stopped in Paris, TX, to explore a few locations I had scouted out prior. One of the few, a derelict drive-in theatre, was situated only a short detour off of Paris’s main street, and out of my interest for abandoned places, I stopped by. As I stood there, at the foot of the screen, I could feel the memories of a past generation rush by, the memories of what once was. The vision was so real, yet so distant. Oh, the worlds we leave behind to chase new dreams, and to create new worlds. What dream, what world, will be the next?
Ryan Palczynski is a self-taught fine art photographer from Dallas, Texas. Ryan produces work in landscapes, architecture, abstracts, and astrophotography, all displayed in Ryan's personal portfolio on this site.
Ryan was born in McKinney, Texas. He discovered his interest in photography in Boston through the lens of a 35mm Kodak in 2004, and has been passionate about the art ever since. In 2015, Ryan converted his family bathroom into a full photographic darkroom, and experimented with pulling and pushing film, dodging and burning prints, manipulating chemistry, and even multiple-exposure negatives and multiple-negative prints.
His passion for photography brings him around the world in search of pristine wilderness, untouched lands, and ultimately, the perfect shot.