June 28-30, 2002: At the San Antonio Folk Life Festival
April 19-21, 2002: A Trip to San Antonio
Return to the Index for 2002

June 1-2, 2002
A Weekend in the Wichita Mountains


Every few years, Fred likes to visit the Wichita Mountains up in Oklahoma. He introduced them to me shortly after we met, and we have been there a number of times since. We like to do many of the same things repeatedly, but every hike is a bit different each time we do it. My favorite thing is the boulder avalanche on Mt. Scott, but I don't like carrying a camera when I hike it because I need both hands for balance as we jump from rock to rock. (Later in this album, after both Fred and I start using digital cameras, I will have one small enough to fit in my pocket, and I will take pictures of the avalanche then.)


Getting to the Wichita Mountains

This isn't our first trip to the Wichita Mountains, so you may have seen the route on an earlier album page.

I drove up to Fred's house on Friday afternoon to be there when he got home. We loaded up his SUV and headed north on US 75. At Sherman, we went west on US 82, taking that familiar route all the way to Wichita Falls. From there, we headed north on I-44 to Lawton, the nearest big town to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

The Super 8 Motel where we were going to stay was on the north side of town, so we just continued past downtown on I-44 to get off at Cache Road; the Super 8 was less than a mile on our right. We got there just about midnight.

The next morning, we got up and took off for the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Getting there takes about 45 minutes, and consists of a ten-mile trip up I-44 to Oklahoma Highway 49. This leads west to the town of Medicine Park, and the entrance to the Wildlife Refuge is a few miles after that.

The actual Visitor Center is a good ways inside the park by Quanah Parker Lake, although we understand that a new one is going to be built a couple of miles southeast of the lake, east of the intersection of Highway 49 to the northwest and Highway 115 that heads south into west Lawton.



Saturday in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Just after entering the park, we came to Mt. Scott, and we took the time to climb the boulder avalanche all the way to the top of the peak and back. This is always a great deal of fun, and it takes us about two hours to complete. It is pretty much a ritual anytime we visit the Refuge.

View from Mt. Scott

Although we have taken pictures here before, we didn't today; boulder-hopping is a lot easier when you aren't carrying anything (even if it is around your neck). But you may wish to see what the avalanche looks like anyway. So if you want to cheat a bit, you can visit the album page for our trip up here in May of 2008 and take a look at the avalanche. If you want to do so, just click here.

We're going to make a number of stops and do a number of hikes in the next two days, and so it might be helpful if you have a park map to look at.

I have put one at left in a scrollable window. If you will use the horizontal scroll bar to go all the way to the right, you will see our first stop, Mt. Scott, just north of the highway into the Refuge. The other hikes and stops today will be in the western part of the Refuge, so you'll have to scroll to the left to see them.

Today, we
(1) Hiked the Baldy Trail
(2) Stopped to see the buffalo
(3) Hiked to Charon's Garden
(4) Stopped to visit at the prairie dog town.

Each of these are marked on the map.


Hiking Along the Baldy Trail

The Baldy Trail began at the end of a dirt road that runs alongside Quanah Lake, just north of the Highway 49/115 intersection in the center of the Refuge (well, not really the center, because there is a large amount of land that the public doesn't access to the north), and follows a streambed for much of the way.

The trail wound across mostly open land, following the streambed higher and higher. There were little pools, desert flowers in bloom and the occasional interesting ruin. On our way back, we stopped to eat the lunch that we'd brought with us. I got a nice picture of Fred with Mt. Scott in the distance.

To see the rest of the pictures we took along this hike, just click on the thumbnail images below:


Observing the Buffalo

It's impossible to predict whether or not you'll see any buffalo when you visit the Refuge; sometimes they are brought down towards the areas tourists visit, but other times they are in the special use area to the north. So it is always a pleasant surprise when they are visible. The buffalo that roam over the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma are direct descendants of 15 American bison who traveled by train from the Bronx Zoo over 100 years ago.

Itís estimated between 30 and 60 million American bison roamed North America from central Canada down to Mexico two centuries earlier. After mass slaughter, sport-hunting, and encroaching settlement, that number was brutally brought down to just over 1,000, both in the wild and in captivity, by the beginning of the 20th century. Aiming to save the bison from disappearing completely, William T. Hornaday, the first director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Theodore Roosevelt formed the American Bison Society at the Bronx Zoo, then called the New York Zoological Park.

On October 11, 1907, the first 15 bison to leave that breeding program boarded a train to cross the country to Oklahoma. When the train pulled into Cache, Oklahoma, seven days later, the bison were greeted with much fanfare by a party including Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. The huge crates were loaded onto wagons and the bison then traveled 13 miles to the Wichita Mountains where they went went on to flourish, so much so that there were even annual auctions to keep the herdís number in check. By the 1930s, the American bison count was up to 20,000. Thanks in no small part to the American Bison Society, there are now around half a million bison in North America.

I took the picture of Fred at left just as he was getting ready to use his zoom lens to capture an image of the buffalo in the distance, which he did shortly after my picture was taken. You can have a look at his image here. Sometimes we see lots of buffalo here by Quanah Lake, but today there was just the one that we could see. While we were in this area, Fred took a picture of me with Mt. Scott in the background, and he also got a very nice picture of a cactus in bloom.


The Hike to Charon's Garden

From the observation of the buffalo, we took the north park road, Highway 49, northwest past the prairie dog town where we will stop later and all the way to the road in to the sunset campground. It is from the parking area for the campground where the trail to Charon's garden begins.

We parked the car and headed off on the Charon's Garden trail, which begins by heading through the meadow just above the parking area. We walked for a ways through the bright sunshine and the early summer wildflowers, and ahead of us we could see the valley down into which the trail would lead.

Just before the trail descended into the canyon between the two hills, I noticed a little peak off to the right, and I had Fred take my picture sitting on top of that little peak with the mountain above Charon's Garden in the background; you can have a look at that picture here. While we were standing here, Fred also used his zoom lens to get a shot at some of the balanced rocks above Charon's Garden. Then we got back on the trail, descended into the canyon, and shortly found ourselves in the midst of the rock formations known as Charon's Garden.

I suppose that the reason this series of rock formations is known as "Charon's Garden" is...well, I guess I really don't know.

Charon, of course, was the pilot of the boat which, in mythology, ferried spirits across the River Styx, and what that has to do with some large boulders all jumbled together so that you can crawl through the crevices between them, I really have no idea. But that doesn't detract from the fact that climbing around here inside the huge rocks is fun, and we spent a good deal of time doing just that.

Below are thumbnails for some of the other great pictures that Fred took while we were here climbing around; click on them to view the full-size images:

From Charon's Garden, we went back on the trail a short ways and then followed a side trail that led almost due west from the valley we were in, climbing up and over a couple of high hills until we were a good half mile from Charon's Garden, where we were able to look back at the same balanced rocks we'd seen earlier off in the distance. Have a look at that view here.

This particular part of the hike was really interesting. Not only were the views really tremendous, but towards the end of the side hike we found a very large "tank," which is a depression in a fairly flat rock that collects rainwater. This particular tank was so large that it apparently contains water all the time- even into the early summer. You can tell this is so because of the vegetation that grows in and around the water itself.

We took a number of pictures here at the tank and also nearby, and you can click on the thumbnails below to have a look at them:

The hike to Charon's Garden was really neat, but we had one more stop to make today before returning to Lawton and our hotel.


A Stop at the Prairie Dog Town

After returning from the Charon's Garden hike, we had a bit of time left before it would start getting dark, so there wasn't time enough to do another hike but there was time enough for us to stop off at the prairie dog town that is right beside the highway on the way back to the junction.

The prairie dog town is an area of perhaps an acre right off the park road to the south where there are seemingly innumerable holes in the ground and usually five or ten prairie dogs running around and going into and out of the holes. Usually, there are a bunch of cars parked at the fence beside the road watching the little creatures scurry about.

That's what we did for a while. We saw some of the little animals acting as sentries while others came and went. It was interesting and funny, and Fred took one other close-up of one of the prairie dogs that you can see here.

When we were done watching the prairie dogs, we took Highway 115 south and back to west Lawton, and then east to our motel on Cache Road. We had a good meal that evening and got ready for our second day in the refuge.



Sunday in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

On Sunday, we returned to the Refuge to do some additional hiking up a canyon where we had been once before. It's called "The Narrows."

At left is a scrollable window containing another copy of the park map, and you can see the two stops we made marked on it. Just scroll left and right to view.

Actually, we did one short walk before going up to the Narrows hike. Just after we entered the park from the south on Highway 115, we stopped to take a walk we'd read about that led to an overlook from which you were supposed to get good views of Elk Mountain. We did take the walk, and we did get some views of Elk Mountain, but it turned out not to be as interesting as what we'd read had indicated.

We did take a few pictures at the start of the hike, and you can have a look at them by clicking on the thumbnails below:

We returned to the car and then headed off to the north to find the access road to Lost Lake and the hike through the Narrows.

From the parking area for Lost Lake, we hiked up through the woods and a short distance to the canyon that contains the stream forming the Narrows. The actual trail stayed up on top of the cliff, but the walking was more interesting down by the water, so that's where we went. Down near the road, the stream is actually a long, narrow lake- the one Fred is standing beside in the picture at left.

We walked along the "shore" of the narrow lake as we headed upstream, and if you will click on the thumbnail images below, you can see some of the pictures we took along this part of the hike:

As we hiked upstream, the lake got very thin and then basically disappeared and turned into a stream flowing gently across a rocky streambed. I took a picture of Fred at the point where the lake ended and the stream began, and you can have a look at that picture here. Eventually, all the vegetation that had been bordering the lake pretty much disappeared, and we found ourselves in a winding, rocky canyon. The walking had gotten a bit more challenging, in that the sides of the canyon were steep in spots, so we sometimes had to climb back up almost to the top of the cliff to find a way forward that didn't involve getting our feet wet.

Eventually, we reached the "head" of the canyon- a rocky amphitheatre with a waterfall at the upstream end.

In the picture at right, you can see how sheer the left-hand wall of this little canyon had gotten; we had to do our walking on the other side of it. While Fred was taking the picture you see at right, I had crossed over to that side of the stream and clambered up to the waterfall itself, crossed to the other side again, and sat down on a rocky ledge that you might just be able to see in the picture at right. When Fred crossed to the other side as well, he could get a good shot of me sitting there.

It was very pleasant just to sit in the shade (the day had gotten quite warm) and watch and listen to the cool water coming over the falls. Fred took some pictures of the falls and of me, and you can have a look at them by clicking on the thumbnails below:

Fred also made some movies here at the end of the canyon; his new digital camera gives him that capability. (One of these days, I will have to get a digital camera, too. Film is getting expensive and the digital quality is actually better. And I fancy myself something of a film auteur, and would like to be able to supplement pictures with action movies.) In any event, you can use the movie players below to watch the three movies Fred made here:

Our hike up the Narrows completed our visit to the Wichita Mountains this weekend, and we had a really good time. But we had to get back to Van Alstyne before too late so Fred could get some sleep before having to go back to work in the morning. It was a good trip, and I am sure we will be back again.

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

June 28-30, 2002: At the San Antonio Folk Life Festival
April 19-21, 2002: A Trip to San Antonio
Return to the Index for 2002