Scuba Playground

Trip Start Aug 08, 2009
Trip End Aug 19, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Oklahoma
Friday, August 14, 2009

Lake Tenkiller State Park, OK
I had planned on going to Abilene, TX and diving an abandoned nuclear missile silo to the south, but wasn't able to arrangeon such short notice.
Instead I divert north and east to Lake Tenkiller State Park in eastern Oklahoma. I checked out it's description on the Diving USA website and liked what I read. It's popular with divers and 
even has a roped-off scuba park with submerged boats, a bus and even a small plane for divers to explore.

Nautical Adventures Scuba
But before getting wet, I drive to Cookson, six miles east of the park, to get an air fill at Nautical Adventures Scuba. It's easy to find with the shell of a large Coast Guard helicopter parked on the curb outside, destined to be sunk in Lake Tenkiller this fall, soon to be the newest ride on the scuba playground. The owner Tim Knight, gives me a fill, advice on the best spots and even a map with compass headings to the underwater vehicles. And when I tell him I don't have a diver down surface buoy--they let me borrow one of theirs.

Diver Death Trap
My first dive is at a site called Crappie Point, but I'm not optimistic--after all my driving I was arriving late in the afternoon--and Lake Tenkiller is also very popular with the boating and jetskiing crowd. That, combined with a moderate wind had kicked up the sediment to the point visibility was going to be an issue. 

I was right. My descent is a slow drop into green static. I can't see a thing until I get to
fifty feet--and then it is just the outline of large rocks. I set a compass heading and begin pushing forward into the murk, waving my dive light beam back and forth like a windshield wiper blade. It doesn't take me long to realize that with visibility so low--this site could be a diver's deathtrap. Out of inky blackness my beam highlights dark slender branches reaching towards me--an underwater forest. On closer inspection, I can see many of the trees are lashed with fishing line and rope. None of this makes me comfortable--thinking how easily any of this debris could snag my regulator or dry suit and turn this dive deadly.  Cautiously, I follow one of the large upright tree trunks, using it at a guide, to a lower depth, hoping the visibility will improve. Fifty-feet through the thermocline, 60-feet, 70-feet. I look at my computer at one-hundred feet--and still, it's all I can see in front of my face. Dive over. I set a reciprocal heading
and make my ascent, again using the tree trunk. I burn off a safety stop at 15, break the surface, relieved and backfin to the shoreline.

Da Plane, Da Plane
I decide to try my second dive in the scuba park--but the visibility isn't much better. Armed with the compass bearings given to me by Nautical Scuba--I head in the direction of the plane. At about 40 yards out--a white fuselage appears in the turbid waters. It's strapped in place with its wings removed, but still offers a welcome haven to curious blue gills. I swim through a hole cut out of the left side and through an enlarged window on the other. I hover over the top and toward the cockpit. Through the opening--I can see the pilot's seat isn't an empty.
A full-sized skeleton is still at the controls. Although just a plastic Halloween-grade set of bones, it still creates an eerie presence in the yellow haze of my light. After playing around a bit more and trying to shoot some video of the fish--I check my air and realize I'm at my predetermined turnaround point. No time for the bus or boats. I swim off my safety stop back to the shallows of the buoy area. As I break the surface--I realize what Lake Tenkiller lacked in visibility--it made up for in stimulating my imagination.
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