October 23-28, 1996: A Camping Trip to Big Bend National Park
August 3, 1996: Fred's Birthday Party
Return to the Index for 1996


October 5-6, 1996
A Weekend in the Wichita Mountains

 

 

Transition Note

Much has happened since Fred's birthday party in August. For me, the primary change has been an end to my year of idleness, as on September 1st I accepted a job with the consulting arm of Deloitte and Touche- DRT International. It is a 1000-member firm with offices across the U.S., including one here in Dallas. My first consulting project as an employee of DRT will be for our parent company, Deloitte and Touche. I am going to be the Data Administrator for a major project they have going here in Dallas. This has brought to an end my fairly frequent trips down to Florida, but that is no problem at all, as the condo there pretty much takes care of itself. Now, though, Fred and I can do things only on weekends, unless both of us take actual vacation. This page contains the pictures for the first weekend trip we have taken since I once again joined the ranks of the employed.

On the 5th of October, Fred, Mike Racke, Mikeís friend Brooks McBryde and I took a weekend trip to the Wichita Mountains.

 

Getting to the Wichita Mountains

We got an early start, and met Mike and Brooks at Mikeís house in Irving and then rode to Lawton in his large truck.


If we had been going from Fred's house, we would have gone north to Sherman and then taken US Highway 82 across to Henrietta to pick up US Highway 287 to Wichita Falls.

But from Mike's house in Irving, we worked our way up to Texas Highway 114 west to its intersection with US Highway 287 and from there right on into Wichita Falls.

From there, it's an easy trip up Interstate 44 to Lawton.

When we got to Lawton, we checked in to a motel just east of the expressway and then headed up to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.


At right is a map of this area. You can see that Fort Sill and its accompanying military reservation occupies most of the land area north and northwest of Lawton. The National Wildlife Refuge is northwest of Fort Sill.

To get to the Refuge, you take I-44 north through Fort Sill and then, once you leave the military reservation you take Oklahoma Highway 49 to the west towards the town of Medicine Park. Just past that town you reach the boundary for the Refuge, although the actual visitor center (a small affair) is some miles into the park past Mt. Scott.

 

The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has protected unique wildlife habitats since 1901 and is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service system. Measuring about 59,020 acres, the refuge hosts a great diversity of species; 806 plant species, 240 species of birds, 36 of fish, and 64 reptile and amphibian species are present. The refuge's location in the geologically unique Wichita Mountains and its areas of undisturbed mixed grass prairie make it an important conservation area. The Wichitas are approximately 500 million years old.

We did quite a few things on our two days here in the Refuge, and it might be helpful to show you a diagram of the Refuge with some of the things we did marked on it:

We didn't take a great many pictures this weekend, so what I'll do is just have a little section for each of the stops, not worrying much about which day it was- today or Sunday.

 

The Wichita Mountains Refuge Buffalo Herd

Another stop we made in the Refuge is also one Fred and I have made before- at a point near the center of the Refuge where it is often possible to observe buffalo.


Fred, as you may already know, has an abiding interest in buffalo. I have never actually found out where this interest came from, but if we ever have an opportunity to see the animals live, we take it. You probably know the story of the almost-extinction of the North American buffalo; it's not necessary to recount that here. Today, there are only a few herds left- none of them with hundreds of thousands of animals. Notable ones are in Montana, in Yellowstone and here, in the Wichita Mountains Refuge.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was important in saving the American buffalo from extinction. In 1907 the American Bison Society transported 15 buffalo, six bulls and nine cows, from the New York Zoological Park to the refuge. On arrival, the Comanche leader Quanah Parker and a host of other Indians and Whites turned out to welcome the buffalo. At that time, buffalo had been extinct on the southern Great Plains for 30 years.

The herd wanders throughout the Refuge, but fortunately one of the places they can often be found is right in the middle of the Refuge, on the grasslands west and north of the new visitor center. You can see it in the aerial view above, right, but keep in mind that the aerial view is from 2014; the new center won't be constructed for some years yet.

Since they were brought here, the herd here in the Wichitas has grown slowly, and today numbers about 600 on the refuge. In fall, buffalo in excess of the carrying capacity of the refuge are rounded up and sold. Visitors usually only see twenty or thirty animals at a time; the herd is not one big mass. Sometimes, like today, there may be only a few buffalo in these easily accessible grassland areas.


We drove down the Quanah Parker Dam road, parked by the side of the road, and went a short distance out into the grass to take a couple of pictures of the pair of buffalo that were grazing there today. The picture at left was the best of the ones I got, since I only had my wide-angle lens with me. Fred, however, had his telephoto lens handy, so he was able to zoom in on the pair:

 

Hiking Along the Narrows Trail

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has an extensive trail system. Many of these trails lead to rock-climbing locations, and the Refuge has become the local go-to site for that activity. But there are numerous trails for the casual hiker as well, and one of them is called The Narrows trail.


The Narrows Trail is one of the most popular in the Refuge, mostly because it follows a watercourse- the stream coming down the hill from a small lake at the top of the narrow canyon- Lost Lake.

From a parking area, you can walk either along the rim of the canyon to the lake, or you can get down into the canyon itself, and walk or climb up along the watercourse to the lake. We did a bit of both.

We left Mike's truck in the parking area, and began the hike which first took us through a wooded area and some open grassland that led over and up to the rim of the small canyon.


The first part of the hike is best done up on the top of the cliff (maybe fifty feet above the water below). During that part of the hike, the water is more of a long, very thin lake than it is a stream, and trying to make your way along the edge can be a bit difficult, since it is mostly vegetation.

But after a short ways, the lake comes to an end and the canyon turns into a rocky affair with the small stream running down and over the rocks at the bottom. Here it is easy to hike along, and the first chance I got I scrambled down the hillside to the bottom and walked along there, the the other guys up above me. Then we came to the first of a couple of very nice waterfalls. Before the other guys came down into the canyon, Fred took the picture at right of me down by the waterfall.

I said that this was a popular area for casual hikers, and you can see a group of them sitting on the ledge of the waterfall above me. There are lots of little falls along the way up, which is a bit steeper than this shot, which Fred took from the top of the canyon, would indicate.

After taking that picture, Fred, Brooks and Mike came down into the canyon to join me.


At left are Fred, Mike and Brooks at the bottom of the canyon enjoying the coolness of the flowing water. (It was very warm for October, even in Oklahoma, and putting your feet in the water was a pleasure).

There was a section here at the Narrows where the route up the canyon was easy, and always took you right along the water. As I said, there were lots of little waterfalls all the way up to Lost Lake. Being down here in the canyon was certainly a lot more fun that being up on the cliff- where it was a lot warmer.

About an hour after we began our hike, we came out on top of the canyon to Lost Lake (more like Lost Pond). Here, we found a small rock and cement dam that held the pond back. As you can see in the closeup, the dam is made of rows of small rocks which were then cemented together:

 

On Boulder Mountain

When we eventually got back to the parking area from the Narrows Trail, we could see that right across the road there was another mountain, which looked to be a few hundred feet higher than we were, and while we didn't see a marked trail, our brochure said that hiking to the top of it was allowed. So we crossed the road and spent the better part of an hour clambering around on our way to the top; this mostly involved more boulders, so we didn't have to fight our way through much vegetation.


It was very warm now, and switched out my polo shirt that I'd had on in the Narrows for a t-shirt instead. When we got to the top, Fred snapped the picture at left of Mike and I.

The views from the top were good, but as you can see, the weather was deteriorating (this was pretty late in the day on Saturday anyway):


This was about all the hiking we did on Saturday. We did some more driving around, and then went back to the motel for a nice dinner and a relaxing evening.

 

The Prairie Dog Town

Along the road that runs east-west from the visitor center to all the trailheads, you pass a prairie dog town, and have a chance to observe these interesting little critters.


This happened to be one of the first stops we made in the Refuge, so it might be a good time to introduce Brooks McBryde. He is one of Mikeís oldest friends, but this is the first time we have met him. He lives near Washington and works, I believe, for the Government. Mike had told us ahead of time that Brooks had been ill recently, and in fact he did seem to tire easily, but not so much that it kept him from doing everything save go up the boulder avalanche at Mt. Scott on Sunday.

He was a nice guy, but quiet and very reserved. Fred likes to ask a lot of questions, but Brooks didnít seem ready to answer many of them. Mike has told us that Brooks can be something of an oddity at times, sometimes being out of touch for long stretches of time. But we certainly enjoyed his company, and perhaps we will have an opportunity to see him again.

Anyway, as far as the prairie dog town was concerned, it was fun to watch the little animals chatter away and go in and out of their little dens (which are all connected underground, we are told). Fred used his telephoto lens to get a picture of a prairie dog up close and personal.

 

Elk Mountain

When we returned to the Refuge on Sunday, we drove out the park road to the northwest, past the prairie dog town to the trailheads for the Elk Mountain and Charon's Garden trails. The Elk Mountain trail features a trek up to the top of Elk Mountain where you can explore and enjoy the views. The weather was still cloudy from yesterday, but it improved continually as the day wore on.

The hike is about a mile up and back, and it can be steep in places, but it was an easy hike, and a little cooler since it was cloudy. Here are a couple of the pictures we took on Elk Mountain:


Fred and I always like hiking around here, as there is enough to keep things interesting- lots of boulders, cliffs, water features and the like. This was a particularly nice time of year for the vegetation, too. We have done this hike before, but it was a first for Mike and Brooks.

Here areFred, Brooks and Mike atop Elk Mountain. As you can see here, the terrain is really not very precipitous, and this makes the hikes easy even for families. So you get exercise and scenery without any danger at all. The buffalo herd is down in the valley to the right.

Wandering around on top of Elk Mountain is neat; since you are on a kind of broad mesa, you can always tell when you come to the edge, for the land will slope steeply down, and you know enough to go back and find the actual trail. Here are a couple of the pictures we took atop Elk Mountain:


Atop Elk Mountain
(Picture at left)
From the top of Elk Mountain, the views were tremendous. Although the area at the top of the mountain is not large enough to get lost, it is large enough to get out of sight of others. Occasionally, we had to call out loudly to find each other again.

 

 

 

(Picture at right)
I thought this rock looked very much like a petrified tree trunk- right down to the coloring. The other guys werenít with me, and I wanted them to see it too.


A Petrified Tree?

The day wasnít actually all that warm, but Fred wanted me to take this picture of him while we were on the top of Elk Mountain. Note the vegetation- particularly the prickly pear. Before we descended from Elk Mountain, Fred gathered all four of us together, set up the tripod and took this shot with his panoramic camera:

 

Post Oak Falls

Back at the trailhead for Elk Mountain, we also decided to go and see Post Oak Falls, which are just a half mile from the parking area along the Charon's Garden trail.


Post Oak Falls is down below Elk Mountain; in fact, the falls come from the south slope of the mountain- probably from springs. This was just a short hike to this small waterfall and pool. The water pool is down below where I am standing; I was able to get up here by climbing up and around the rocks to my right. A little stream leaves the pool and runs down the small canyon, finally disappearing. I always like getting up high; one of these days Iíll regret it.

Even though this waterfall is spring-fed, at this time of the year there is only a small amount of water going over, as we are usually coming off of a dry summer and the fall rains have not yet arrived. As you can see, climbing up to the top of the falls wasnít very hard. Brooksí head is poking up from the bottom of the cliff below me.

We took a couple of other pictures on this short hike, and you can see them below. One of them shows Brooks and Mike far below me, as I have hiked up almost to the top of the falls. The other, showing me at the top, will give you a good idea of how small this particular waterfall actually is. Barely enough to keep the rocks wet.

I could have gone on up to the top of the hill in front of me, but there were some other stops we wanted to make today.

 

Mt. Scott and the Boulder Avalanche

Mount Scott is the second-tallest (by 12 feet) mountain in the Wildlife Refuge, and is 2,464 feet high. Most folks get to the summit by car; there is a spiral road that snakes its way up the mountain. On the north face of the mountain, which is fairly steep, rock climbers can make the ascent. It is a popular area for climbers to practice their skills. We could have stopped here on our way into the Refuge on Saturday, but since the weather was cloudy, we thought we would wait and see if Sunday was better so we could get the best views from Mt. Scott.


It was better on Sunday, so that's when we made this stop. Hiking is allowed all over the mountain although there are no formal trails and the paved road is closed to pedestrians. Mount Scott was named in honor of General Winfield Scott. The most fun way to the top is found on the south side of the mountain. Just a few hundred yards from the beginning of the spiral road to the top is the lower portion of what is locally known as The Boulder Avalanche.

The avalanche is an extremely interesting feature. From the bottom it looks as if someone emptied out a gargantuan container of boulders (some of them would only fit into a cube twenty feet on a side) near the top of the mountain so that they cascaded all the way down to the base. The boulders are of varying sizes and shapes, and one can imagine them cascading down the mountainside, finding the path of least resistance to the bottom. Once the flow had stopped, then the boulders would be pretty stable, wedged in and around each other. Only the very smallest ones might still rock back and forth.

The avalanche may well have followed the course of a small stream flowing down from the top of the mountain; as you climb up, you can sometimes hear water way beneath your feet. Boulder-hopping up and down Mt. Scott is one of our favorite things to do; this will be the second or third time we've been here and done this. Hopping from one to another requires a bit of care, but is not particularly dangerous (although people have lost their footing and fallen into spaces between the boulders).


Usually, when we climb the boulder field, we leave our cameras in the car, usually, because having something around your neck swinging back and forth as you boulder-hop is disconcerting (you need both hands for balance and to block a possible fall should you lose that balance). On a previous trip, when I did take it with me, it accidentally hit one of boulders. Though not damaged, I thought it better on subsequent climbs just to leave it behind.

The boulder field heads straight up for quite a ways, and then curves around to the east to continue all the way to the top. At two points, it crosses the spiral road. It takes about ninety minutes to get to the top, and perhaps a little more to get down (since hopping DOWN onto boulders has to be done a bit more carefully so your forward momentum doesn't cause you to pitch forward and go further than you intended).

Mike and Brooks took the truck up the roadway to the top, and Fred and I did our usual bouldering to get to the top. Itís always fun for me; this being my second or third time to do it. When we got to the top and rejoined Mike and Brooks, we all enjoyed the views, and I asked Fred and Mike to go down from the parking area just a bit so I could take the picture at right.

If you would like to see other pictures from the boulder avalanche, you can visit some of the other pages in my photo album (since we have been here so many times). You might want to find an album page from 2004 or later, when I had a digital camera small enough to fit securely in my pocket.

In late afternoon, we piled into the truck and headed off for home, eating dinner when we got back to Irving. It was a fun weekend, and we enjoyed meeting Brooks. We exchanged email addresses and planned to stay in touch.

You can use the links below to continue to another photo album page.


October 23-28, 1996: A Camping Trip to Big Bend National Park
August 3, 1996: Fred's Birthday Party
Return to the Index for 1996