Lightening Creek is so named because of the frequent flash flooding. It was that way before it was settled and development only made it worse. The Wikipedia article is wrong, of course; the source is technically Brookside Golf Course at the corner of SE 89th and Shields Boulevard (correct Google Maps link). A topographical survey would indicate this used to be a swamp with poor drainage. By opening a drain that connects to Lightening Creek (image right), it becomes defacto the source as the longest branch. If you glance at the satellite image above, you’ll see the golf course on the right and you may be able to pick out where a water course runs across that north-south divided highway, and then pops out the other side and runs around an industrial lot and into Catchment Basin A, AKA Crossroads Sports Complex. Refer to the satellite view again for the sheer size of that massive pit, but the image above left here shows how high the retaining wall around it is. That little steel building is probably the gate house.
Like magic, the creek simply pops out from under the other side of the street and enters a tortuous route through a pair of ritzy neighborhoods where every house has a high wood fence to block the view of the creek from the street. I believe the area is generally called “Ranchwood.” About the only way you get to see the creek is where it enters Brookwood Park. What you see in the image is stagnant water this time of year and you might see some waterfowl swimming around. From there it turns around behind an equally ritzy apartment complex and comes out alongside SE 89th Street.
The sharp turn (image right) shows the creek has been pushing and washing out the dirt, so we should expect some complaints after the next couple of heavy rains when it starts to undercut the street. However, today there was almost nothing flowing yet, just a few stagnant pools here and there. Eventually it turns under the street and runs northward behind a shopping center and several more businesses before crossing under Western Avenue. It runs behind some more businesses and it should be clear by now the course is no longer wholly natural. It zigzags some more on the west side of Western and eventually crosses back over into Catchment Basin B (image left), which is also used as a sports field called “Lightening Creek Park.” It’s just a little smaller than Basin A and the image shows where the creek now has just a trickle of water running along the north edge of this field. Obviously these fields are evacuated when storms hit this part of the city because they flood some.
This is the last time we get this far west, as Lightening Creek seldom wanders far from Walker Avenue. Indeed, you can see a sluice gate of sorts in the background of the image from where it runs between some more businesses and apartment complexes until it ducks under Interstate 240 (image right). On the other side is a peculiarity in OKC: the Southern Oaks district. There isn’t much on the exterior main routes around it to tip you off, unless you happen to notice that it hosts one of the few remaining operative drive-in movie theaters in the US — The Winchester Drive-in Theater. That huge blue thing in the background there is the projection screen. This part of town hosts some very old homes, too, that were standing way back before OKC annexed this area. Somehow they escaped a lot of regulations, because there remains a hidden cow pasture in the middle. And not too far north of here are some folks who have chickens in their backyards. There’s lot of ratty old places mixed in with opulent old-money mansions.
Here we see the creek (left side) joined by a rather substantial tributary (coming in from the right), and I’ve seen pictures of both carrying flood waters up near the top of the concrete walls. Now keep in mind that we’ve already passed two massive catchment basins that can hold incredible lake-sized volumes of water before we got this far. The creek continues wandering among suburban sprawl, across SE 59th and then back across Walker into the South Walker district (image left), which also contains pre-annex housing with chickens, cows and so forth. It was quite refreshing to hear them inside the city limits.
Eventually we come to Draper Park, which starts near SE 44th and strings along the creek banks all the way up near SE 29th. It’s here in this park where most of the folks get caught by flash floods, because the creek is quite accessible and very popular with kids when the water is running just a little. As we follow it farther north toward Grand Boulevard, we can see where a short section is without the concrete bottom, a low spot that stays full of water year-round. It’s used as an unofficial swimming hole, but I’m not sure I could tolerate the odor of the stagnant water.
For today I stopped the survey at the Grand Boulevard Bike Trail and headed home. I’m not sure how far I rode, but it took about four hours for today’s part.