June 13-16, 2008: The Texas Folk Life Festival in San Antonio
May 6-14, 2008: A Trip to Florida
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Page Index

May 30 Activities (Map/Overview)
     Mt. Scott
     Prairie Dog Town
     The Narrows Trail
May 31 Activities (Map/Overview)
     Elk Mountain Trail
     Visitor Center
     Lunch in Meers
     Charon's Garden Trail
June 1 Activities (Map/Overview)
     The Boulder Avalanche
     Medicine Park

May 30 - June 1, 2008
A Trip to the Wichita Mountains


 


For a couple of weeks, Fred and I have been planning a trip to the Wichita Mountains, specifically to introduce our friends, Mario and Steve, to this beautiful natural area. We had wanted to go a bit earlier in the year, before it got hot, but one thing after another intervened, and this weekend was the earliest we could all get our schedules in synch so that we could go.

The trip was a cooperative effort. Fred supplied the vehicle and most of the planning, I arranged for the hotel, and Mario and Steve picked up the gas and meals; all in all, things evened out nicely. Steve did not have to be at work until Sunday night, and was free before that. Mario arranged his schedule so that he was free beginning at noontime on Friday. So that gave us a full, open weekend.

Mario and Steve arrived at my house about noon, and we got Fred's vehicle loaded up, and headed off about one. The route to Lawton is quite easy, although Fred and I have driven it so many times it is a bit boring for us. From my house, all we had to do was go out Northwest Highway to I-35 and then take that north all the way to Gainesville. There, we headed west on US 82 to Wichita Falls, where we picked up I-44 north to Lawton.

I'd arranged for accommodations at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, just south of Gore Road and west of I-44 in Lawton, so we went there first to put most of our stuff in the room. Then, since it was only about five in the afternoon, we headed up to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.


 

Activities on May 30th (Map/Overview)


Getting up to the park from the hotel was easy enough- just a short trip up I-44 to Highway 49 and then west to the park.

I have marked the map at the left with the approximate locations of the stops we made this evening, and I think that we all thought that for getting started so late, we got quite a lot in.

My favorite place in the park is Mt. Scott, not because the drive to the top is so great (which was the first thing we did), but because the bouldering is so much fun- and that was something we left until Sunday. After going up Mt. Scott, we drove on into the park along Highway 49, stopping first at the prairie dog town and then at the trailhead for the Narrows trail.

We finished the Narrows trail about eight-fifteen, and thought that we would try to eat at a local hangout in Meers; they are supposed to have great burgers in a setting unique enough to be mentioned on the Food Network. Unfortunately, it also closes early, and we just missed it. We ended up eating on the way back to the hotel, at Fisherman's Cove.

So, we headed into the park on Highway 49, and soon came to a turnoff to some exhibits right near the entrance. Here, Fred got out his tripod so I could take a group picture of all of us at the entrance to the Refuge. (While Fred was getting the tripod set up, I made a movie of Steve and Mario kidding around at the entrance sign, and you can watch that movie using the player at left. And, finally, before we headed on in, I took another picture of all of us with Mt. Scott in the background; have a look at that picture here.

 


 

A Drive Up Mt. Scott


The first stop we made was to take a drive up to the top of Mt. Scott, the tallest (2500 feet) point in the Refuge. In the aerial view at left, you can get an excellent idea of where we were when various pictures were taken. We passed by the boulder avalanche; I like doing it very much, but there would not be time this evening, and Fred had it planned for Sunday. But as we came around to the east side of the mountain, we stopped at an overlook so the guys could appreciate the beautiful scenery, such as the artificial Lake Lawtonka at the town of Medicine Creek east of Mt. Scott. Both Fred and I took group shots; you can see the shot that Fred took here, and you can see the picture I took here.

I also took a movie of the entire valley spread out before us (and caught the guys clowning around as well).

 

The second overlook we stopped at was around towards the north side of the mountain, where we could get different views, such as this one of the north end of Lake Lawtonka. Here is Fred taking a picture at this overlook, and, just before we drove on, I thought I'd capture Fred and the RAV4 (with the guys waiting inside).

Fred and I hopped back in the vehicle and headed on further up Mt. Scott.



Our next stop was around the west side of the mountain about two-thirds of the way up. I had noticed some really neat roadside rock formations and just beyond those rocks was a turnoff for the overlook. Right beside the road, on the right-hand side, was a small pile of boulders, and Fred thought that having us stand on top of them and using the view to the northwest as a backdrop would make an excellent picture, and he was right. From right beside the vehicle, Fred could also get a good view looking north of the northern end of Lake Lawtonka.

I also thought this was a good place for a movie, and so I made one of the panorama north and west of Mt. Scott.

 

But the rocks on the other side of the road were the most attractive thing (to me, at least) of this particular overlook; they just seemed to be calling to me. So I went right across the road and started climbing, and in a minute or two was up quite high, looking back down on Fred and the vehicle.

And while I was climbing those rocks, Fred was directing Mario and Steve to the top of a roadside boulder so that he could take some pictures looking up at them. He took two good pictures of them on their perch, and you can look at those pictures here and here. From my own perch, I could also see Steve and Mario on their boulder, far below and a bit up the road from me.

I continued to climb up the rocks, and eventually Fred, Mario and Steve also came over to the place where I had climbed and clambered up partway. Fred got good pictures of me and the guys, and I got some really beautiful views looking along the rock face towards Lake Lawtonka, and also a picture or two looking down on the other guys. I have put thumbnails for some of these pictures below; just click on them to view the full-size pictures:

As I was coming back down to meet the other guys and head on up to the summit, I found that Mario had scraped his head on one of the overhanging boulders; I am sure it stung. I didn't catch the actual accident on film, but I did make a movie of the immediate aftermath. Mario had gotten his first "battle scar" of the weekend. We'd done about all the damage we could do here, and so it was back to the car and on to the summit.

We reached the summit only a little while after our rock climb. Fred and I have been to the summit of Mt. Scott any number of times. A few times, like today, we have driven to the top. But, more often than not, we have climbed the boulder avalanche to reach the summit; doing it that way just feels like more of an accomplishment. In any event, we all got out at the summit and wandered around looking at the impressive views. There is a platform at the very top, and all of us got our pictures taken there. In addition, Fred and I took various pictures of the surrounding area, including a couple of Lake Lawtonka. And each of us took our own movie.

Beginning with the movies, keep in mind that the wind was quite strong at the top of Mt. Scott, strong enough to cause a great deal of sound interference with our narration (more in my movie than Fred's).

My Movie from the Top of Mt. Scott

 

Fred's Movie from the Top of Mt. Scott

 

As for the pictures, they are pretty self-explanatory, and you can pick out all of us and the major elements of scenery below. I have put thumbnails for these pictures below. Click on them to view the full-size images:

We spent a few minutes at the summit, and then headed off to see what else we could do this afternoon elsewhere in the Refuge. As I was driving us down Mt. Scott, I made a movie of the view from the car which I think you may find interesting.

 


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The Prairie Dog Town


You can follow our route on the map for today to our next stop- the prairie dog town located north of the junction of highways 49 and 115. Although it has little to do with the prairie dogs, just before we got to the prairie dog village, we passed quite close to a grazing buffalo, and Fred got a very good picture of it. Then we arrived at the parking area for the prairie dog village.

The prairie dogs are always fun to watch as the scamper around into and out of their holes. There were quite a few of them today, and Fred got some good pictures of them. Click on the thumbnails below to see these pictures:


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Hiking the Trail to the Narrows


We got to the trailhead for the Narrows Trail about 7:15, but we still had a lot of light and were still pretty fresh, so Fred and I thought that we would go ahead and do this trail today, rather than save it until tomorrow.

So we all started off, and I recorded the beginning of the Narrows Trail.

 

The trail leads a short way through the woods, climbing a bit, until it comes out on a bluff overlooking the small stream that runs from a lake about a mile away and then down through the narrow canyon to a broad, slow-moving creek. While we were standing on the bluff, I took some pictures of the water below, one looking upstream into the sunlight, and the other looking downstream towards the park road. I believe that the water from this stream ends up in Lake Lawtonka (when there is enough flow to keep it moving). I understand that, in the late summer, it can stop flowing completely for a time.

Here, I parted company with the other guys. I have hiked with Fred along the trail that stays on top of the bluff for about a half-mile before, and Fred thought that would be best for Steve and Mario, they're being novices and all. I, however, wanted to descend to the streambed and walk along the rocks up to the narrows, intending to meet them at the small waterfall that we knew existed up there. So I left Fred, Steve and Mario and climbed down the bluff to the stream.

Along the Narrows Stream

 

Fred, Steve and Mario continued along the bluff. On the way along that trail, Fred got two good pictures of the other guys, and you can see those pictures here and here. Fred also got two very good closeup pictures of some of the many desert lizards that we saw all weekend long. One of them was pretty much a dull, brown lizard, but the other was a brightly-colored lizard.

As I said, I went down to the stream to walk along in the same direction as the other guys were heading. When I got down there, I made a movie of the lower canyon here at the narrows- a movie that you can watch using the player at left. As I walked along up the stream, climbing mostly over rocks and trying to avoid the poison ivy that I could see occasionally, I took some pictures of the stream and its many pools. I've put thumbnails for three of these pictures below; you can look at the full-size pictures by clicking on those thumbnails:


When I got to the actual waterfalls at the narrows, the guys had arrived at the top of the bluff immediately above me. I was able to capture both the waterfalls and the guys on the bluff in one movie, which turned out pretty well.

 

While they were up there, Fred got a good picture looking down on the series of waterfalls here at the narrows. Then the three of them started down the rocky bluff to join me here at the water's edge; you can watch their progress using the movie player below.

The Guys Come to Join Me

In my movie, you'll notice that Fred is taking a picture of the guys coming down. You can see the picture he took here.


 

Once we were all together again, I led the way and we clambered, climbed and walked our way up the stream bed to look at all the little waterfalls and pools. Both Fred and I took quite a few pictures as we moved along, and I've put thumbnails for the best of them below. Look at as many of the pictures as you wish by clicking on their thumbnails:

I also took two movies of the other guys down here as they walked along the rocky streambed. You should look at those two movies using the movie players below:

In the Narrows

 

In the Narrows

 

We walked a few hundred feet upriver until the beautiful, rocky part petered out, and then we turned around and headed back. At the falls, we again split up, with the other guys going back up the bluff while I continued down the streambed as I had done coming up. When we met up again downstream, we returned to the parking area together. I think that Steve and Mario enjoyed the hike. It was not too strenuous for a first time, and being late in the day the temperature had moderated some.

We got back in the car and decided to try to have dinner at the hamburger place in Meers where Fred and I had tried to go once before, but when we got there it was already closed. So we headed out of the Refuge and back to the Interstate, stopping to have dinner at Fisherman's Cove.


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Activities on May 31st (Map/Overview)


On Saturday morning, we all had some breakfast in the hotel; it was one of those free breakfast bars that has stuff like coffee and juices, cereals, yogurt, bagels and breads and so on. This one also had a waffle iron where you could make your own waffles. I got up before the other guys and spent some time in the breakfast area talking with some of the other guests who, I found out, were in town for an ACBL Sectional Tournament. We talked for a while about bridge and stuff.

The other guys came down a bit later and had their breakfast, and then we all got cleaned up and headed out back to the Refuge. Today, there were three things we wanted to do. The first would be the Elk Mountain Trail, a moderately strenuous hike for about a mile up the side and onto the top of Elk Mountain. The views should be good, and we know there are some rock arches and stuff to find up on top.

After that hike, we thought the guys would appreciate a rest, so we were going to head to the Visitor Center, walk through the museum and watch the movie about the Refuge and its origins. After that, it would be time to get a late lunch, and we hoped to be able to get into the hamburger hangout in Meers that we'd been turned away from last night. Finally, we thought that if we still had time and the guys weren't totally exhausted, we might return to the Elk Mountain area and this time do the flatter hike to the "boulder houses" at the foot of the mountain on its south side.

It was an ambitious day, and the first thing we did was to stop just off I-44 on Highway 49 to gas up and buy some sandwiches to take with us on our hike up Elk Mountain so we could have lunch up on top.


 

Hiking to the Top of Elk Mountain

 

The Trail to the Top of Elk Mountain


The Elk Mountain Trail begins at the Sunset Parking Area (as does the trail to the boulder houses). We arrived at the parking area about eleven, and we were on the trail shortly thereafter. You can watch a movie of us starting out using the movie player below:


 

Right at the trailhead sign, we stopped to take a couple of group pictures; here are Mario, Steve and myself and here are Mario, Steve and Fred.

There were the usual warnings for me to ignore, and then the trail began by crossing a metal bridge over a small stream to begin the ascent on the far side.

The trail up to the top was steep in a few spots but on the whole was not hard at all, which was good for an introduction for Mario and Steve. The only problem was that summer was definitely here, and it was very warm, which took a lot out of everyone. Fred took the lead, and he got a number of good pictures looking back at us; here is one of us early on the trail, and here is one of us in a wooded area about a quarter of the way up the trail. Both Fred and Steve were very interested in all the flora along the way, including the flowering cactus and some sort of sage-like plant with purple flowers that had some sort of fragrance.

I, too, got some good pictures of the other three guys- one here in the wooded area and another in an open area about two-thirds of the way up to the top. I enjoy taking movies, too, and there were a couple that turned out well.

Out Progress up the Rock Stairs

 

Valley Panorama to the Northeast and North

 

 

At the Peak of Elk Mountain

It took us about 45 minutes to ascend the trail to the top of Elk Mountain, and by the time we got there, we were all pretty hot and winded. It was fortunate that at the top of the mountain there was a constant breeze, and that made it pretty nice.

As soon as we came out onto the top of the mountain, I made another movie panorama of the view from the top.

 

Of course, one thing that we did at the top was to take lots of pictures of each other to record the fact that we had successfully performed the ascent. These pictures were taken from all different angles by Fred and I, but all were taken at or around the summit. Below are thumbnails for these pictures; you can click on any of them to view the full-size picture:


When we came out on top, the trail actually continues across the top of the mountain to the rocky peak that is actually the highest point. Fred, Mario and Steve followed the trail around to it, while I took a straight path across the rocky, boulder-strewn slope. I did this mostly because it was more fun than the trail. I did see some interesting things along my way, including this balanced rock (note the hole you can see through). I also got a really good view to the south along the side of Elk Mountain. For his part, Fred got his own good views of the valley below Elk Mountain, and you can see his two best pictures here and here. He also got some good pictures of me clambering around on the rocks below them as I crossed over the face of the mountainside to come back up to where they were sitting. You can look at a couple of good examples of these pictures of me here and here.

We sat at the top of the mountain for a while just enjoying the scenery (and the breezes). But the top of Elk Mountain is really not just one peak, but a series of them spread out over quite a wide area. There is a lot to explore here at the top, and we thought that we would go try to find the natural rock arch that we'd seen on another trip and show it to Mario and Steve. As usual, Fred and the guys thought that they would follow the fairly level part of the mountaintop, but I wanted to cut across the boulders, rocks, hills and valleys. So we parted company again for a while and, just before we did so, I snapped their picture.

 

Hiking Across the Top of Elk Mountain and Lunch


I suppose that this is more detail than anyone would want, but I thought I would try to be precise about what we did next. For the next 45 minutes, I was separated from Fred and the guys. They had taken a fairly direct path across the top of the mountain, going mostly west- maybe a little over a quarter mile. I, on the other hand, made a beeline for the southern edge of the mountaintop; there were lots of neat boulders over there that I had seen before but thought that I might scope out to get the guys over to see them, too. At one point along our separate routes, we came back relatively close to each other, and I was able to get a picture of them as they made their way along the route they had chosen.

Along my route, I was happy bouldering- jumping from one to another and climbing up and down the bigger ones.

At one point, I took a movie panorama of the area south of Elk Mountain, and you can watch that movie (I've removed the sound due to the extreme wind noise) with this player.

 

I also got some very good pictures of the rock formations and the valley to the south of Elk Mountain. To see these pictures, just click on the thumbnails below:

Fred only gave me one picture that he had taken from their route, that one of Mario and Steve climbing down a large boulder. After a while, I could hear them close by again and, not able to entice them out to where I was, I joined up with them in a shady stand of trees and we had lunch. While the three of them were eating, I was trying to get rid of a clump of tiny spines that had attached themselves to my socks at some point while I was coming across a ravine to meet up with them. That's where Fred caught us- Steve and Mario done with lunch and me still trying to clean off my socks and shoes. You can see that picture here.

 

A Buffalo Encounter

It was about time to go see if we could find the stone arch, so Mario adjusted his shoes and we headed off together. Only a short distance from where we'd stopped for lunch, we literally ran across a buffalo sitting in the grass (also shown here in a closeup taken by Fred). Idiot that I am, I walked slowly towards him to try to get a really good picture, but when he stood up I and everyone else thought I should make my exit. So I did, backing slowly away from the animal. I took a movie as I was retreating, but I couldn't hold the camera steady and the movie did not turn out well enough to include here. Once I was again at a safe distance, I took one more picture of the buffalo.

 

The Natural Arch and Tunnel


After our encounter with the buffalo, we ran into a few other hikers who directed us to where the stone arch was; without their help we might not have found it. To get to it, we had to cross a small valley and then go between two huge boulders and out onto a broad, flat mass of rock. From my vantage point well above where Steve was in the previous picture, I could look back past Steve to the rock outcropping where Fred had taken that previous shot, and beyond that to the valley below. I took a picture in that direction, and you can see that picture here.

The natural stone bridge turned out to be right alongside the large mass of rock that we were all walking on when Fred snapped our picture. You can only actually see it if you approach the mass of rock from the northwest; from any other direction, the bridge blends in to the level of the rock mass. But once you get around the far side, it is easy to spot. We took quite a few really good pictures of the rock arch, but I winnowed all those pictures down to five, and I have put thumbnails for them below. I hope you'll click on those thumbnails and look at the full-size pictures.

Very close to the stone bridge there was a much smaller bridge, which was actually more of a tunnel through the rock mass. I have no idea how the tunnel formed, but it was very interesting. To demonstrate, I asked Mario to lower himself to the tunnel entrance and then crawl the three or four feet through the tunnel so I could get a picture of him emerging from the tunnel at the end nearest me.

The natural stone arch was our other objective for climbing Elk Mountain (other than simply getting to the top). But before we headed back around the north side of the top of the mountain to pick up the trail down, both Fred and I took more pictures of the scenery we saw, and I want to include some of those pictures here. So click on the thumbnails below to view the full-size pictures:

 

The Hike Down Elk Mountain

It took us a while to find the trail back down. When you wander around the top of the mountain among all the boulders and little valleys, it all begins to look the same. Were it not for the fact that we could look off the mountain at the surrounding valleys and lakes, and match up those views with the views we'd seen when we first arrived at the top, it might have taken longer than it did to pick up the trail. I know that Mario and Steve were getting winded; and they weren't the only ones. A cold drink was sounding mighty good. But, finally, we found the trail, and Mario and I gave Elk Mountain a last wave, and Fred took one last picture of a multi-colored lizard and we all started hiking down the trail.

I tried to get ahead of the pack so I could get back to the vehicle first and get out the cooler; I wanted to have drinks ready for everyone when they arrived. I just made it, and the refreshments were certainly well-deserved and well-received by Steve, by Mario and myself and, of course, by Fred. We relaxed for quite some time at the vehicle. Looking back on it now, I think that the Elk Mountain hike was probably a bit much for an introduction to hiking for Steve and Mario. It wasn't the length of the hike so much as it was the unrelenting hot sunshine. Steve and I, particularly, tend to sweat a lot, and so we lose electrolytes faster than, I think, Fred and Mario do. The hike probably would have been fine, and we would all have enjoyed it more, had we been here a month or so earlier, but we did the best we could. I should certainly point out that Steve and Mario did very, very well under trying circumstances, and they deserve a great deal of applause for their performance in this initiating hike. Kudos to them both.

After we had all recovered, I cooled the vehicle down, Fred took a picture of the dam and bridge just upstream from where we were sitting in the picnic area, and we headed off for a respite in the air-conditioned Visitor Center.


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At the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center


At the Visitor Center, we had a chance to relax and recuperate in air-conditioned comfort. Fred and I did some shopping in the Refuge store, Fred finding some buffalo stuff that I could buy and set aside for birthdays and Christmas. We also wanted to get Steve and Mario each a memento of their achievement today, and their likely achievements later and perhaps tomorrow, and we settled on some Wichita Mountains caps. We'll present them to Steve and Mario when we return home tomorrow.

There were actually two buffalo (I presume they were real at one time) in the museum- the one in the inset picture at left, and this one just outside the theatre. In the theatre, we watched a short movie detailing how the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge came into existence, and the efforts of the people here to protect and extend the number of buffalo, Texas longhorn cattle and elk that have been brought to the park over the years.

There is also a fairly large exhibit hall and Steve and Fred spent some time looking at all the exhibits. You can watch a short movie of the exhibit hall here.

 

Mario and I got a bit tired of doing that, so we just sat down and waited for them to finish. Then it was time to head off and get some lunch.


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Lunch in Meers, OK

We'd arrived too late to eat at the Meers Hamburger Restaurant in Meers last night, and it looked as if today's schedule wouldn't allow us to get there right around dinnertime, so we settled on a late lunch. You can see on the map above where Meers is- it is just six miles north of the park road, highway 49. So we headed up there after finishing at the Visitor Center.

At the Meers Hamburger Restaurant

 

We had to wait a while, even though it was four in the afternoon, but eventually got seated. We had some confusion as to whether this would be lunch or dinner; I thought it was way too early to eat dinner, but was quite willing to let everyone make their own choice. In the end, the decision was to split one of the restaurant's largest burgers (a full pound of Angus beef), a couple of orders of fries, some fried green tomatoes and a cobbler. While we were waiting, Fred and I switched off and took pictures of our party, and you can see those pictures here and here.

Even after we put our order in, it seemed as if we had to wait an inordinately long time; I was definitely not impressed with the service. And if you'll use the player at left to look at the movie I made of the restaurant interior, you'll see why I wasn't impressed with the cleanliness or decor or ambience or any of that, either. But the restaurant was supposedly famous for its food, after all, but even when that came I thought it was all very ordinary. All in all, I could not fathom why the restaurant had the reputation it does. After three tries at eating here in the past, when we finally did get to do so, it was a bust- at least as far as I was concerned. Oh, well.


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An Evening Hike to the Boulder Houses


Well, after having something to eat in Meers we were faced with a decision. That was either a very late lunch, an afternoon snack, or an early supper- I don't think anyone is sure just which. But it is only about six in the evening, and we can either head back to the hotel or try the hike to the boulder houses. Steve and Mario seem OK with another hike; at least no one has said they want to pack it in. Fred and I remember this hike as being fairly level- at least compared with the hike up Elk Mountain, and we recall from the trail sign earlier that the hike is about 45 minutes to the boulder houses. So, hearing no objections, we've decided to give it a try, for not the least reason that we can walk off some of the burger, fries and cobbler.

We drove back around through the park until Elk Mountain came back into view, and we turned back to the Elk Mountain trailhead. But this time, instead of crossing the stream and heading up, we took the trail along the stream.

Walking Along the Stream

 

This brought us around the base of the mountain. We found that the bridge we needed to cross was under reconstruction, but that there was a detour that took us around to a low-water crossing where we could get across the small stream. From the low-water crossing, Fred took a picture looking back downstream to the bridge.

After crossing the stream, the trail headed south through some woods.

 

It then crossed two more dry streambeds, went through some more woods, and finally rose gently upward and out onto a plateau between Elk Mountain and another low mountain to the southwest. As we were traversing the plateau, Fred got a picture of the rest of us on the trail.

We had come about twenty minutes along the trail now, and unlike our memories of it, the trail began to descend into the valley between the two mountains; it was not the level trail we remembered it. Mario and Steve had relied on our saying that the trail was, indeed, level when they acquiesced in a second hike. Since we turned out to be wrong, though, we couldn't blame them for not wanting to continue; they had certainly done their fair share of strenuous hiking earlier in the day. So we all decided that this would be as far as we would go.

Instead of immediately heading back, we took a few minutes to relax in the early evening sunlight and get some pictures. Behind us and to the southwest there was another mountain, made all the more interesting for the two balanced rock formations that Fred got an excellent view of with his extreme zoom lens. While I was making a movie of this end point of our evening hike, Fred got a picture of the southwestern side of Elk Mountain, and was able to include me on my picture-taking perch when he did so.

At the End Point of Our Hike

 

Then, done for the day, we headed back to the vehicle, reaching it in about twenty minutes. We headed back into Lawton via Highway 115 instead of Highway 49 so that the guys could see some different scenery. We were all of us happy to get back to the hotel where we could shower and relax and look at all the pictures that we took today. Perhaps I should have eaten more in Meers, but along about nine o'clock I got hungry, and so I suggested we go get some dinner. The guys seemed too tired for that, so Fred went with me to the Big Chef Diner- a restaurant he'd read about on the Internet that was less than a mile away. There, we each had a chef salad and copious amounts of iced tea, returning to the hotel about ten-thirty. We were all in bed fairly early; after all, we'd had a quite full day.


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Activities on June 1st (Map/Overview)


On Sunday morning, I was up early and first, and quietly went downstairs to have some orange juice and cereal and watch TV in the breakfast area. I returned about an hour and a half later to find the guys just getting up and around. While they went down to eat, I showered and started packing my duffel, and when they returned we all got ready to check out.

We got the vehicle all loaded and I checked out and then we headed out back to the Refuge one last time. Today, we had to be heading back no later than about one in the afternoon, so Steve could get back in plenty of time to get ready for his work shift at seven in the evening. So there were just three things on the agenda. First, we wanted to introduce the guys to boulder hopping at the boulder avalanche at the base of Mt. Scott. We knew we would not go all the way to the top, but we wanted them to see what it was like. Second, we wanted to stop at the Winery of the Wichitas, a place we'd seen along Highway 49. And, finally, we wanted to take a short drive through Medicine Park on the shore of Lake Lawtonka. All three of these destinations are marked on the map above.


 

Boulder Hopping on the Mt. Scott Boulder Avalanche


We took our normal route up the interstate to the Refuge, and in to Mt. Scott. We parked off the highway at the base of the mountain, and walked up the road to the beginning of the boulder avalanche, which is right by the road up the mountain. We learned that Steve felt the boulder hopping to be too dangerous, but that Mario was going to give it a try. That was fine; although I like it a lot, it does require a good sense of balance, and I would never want someone to get scraped or hurt worse by trying something he didn't feel comfortable with. Fortunately, there was a shady place where Steve could wait for us, and I also gave him the car keys so that if he got hot he could return to the car and use the air conditioning. I, for one, appreciated the opportunity to engage in my favorite activity here in the Refuge. It might have been fun to go all the way to the top, but I've done that a number of times before, so it is no great loss that we won't do it today.

While we were waiting for Steve and Mario to sort out the contents of the pack that Mario had brought, I made a movie of the beginning of our ascent.

 

When we started off, I went fifty feet or so up the boulders where Fred got a picture of me standing on a boulder. I went a little further to get pictures of Fred and Mario starting out and then a picture of Fred leading Mario through the boulders. Fred was a bit ahead of Mario testing the way up, and right about this point he turned to get a few pictures of Mario. To see these pictures, click on the thumbnails below:

I stayed where I was for a while, as Fred and Mario worked their way up the avalanche by going more to the side than I had done. Fred thought this would be an easier route for Mario to cut his teeth on. They were doing quite well. As they were progressing, Fred got another picture of me waiting on my boulder, and, after a few minutes, Fred let Mario lead the way. I stayed put and watched their progress until Mario got quite close to me- actually on the boulders just below me, when I asked him to pause so I could get a good picture of him climbing up. And, at that very moment, Fred captured me taking a picture of Mario's ascent.

Once Mario had reached me, I gave him some advice on the route he might follow through the boulders, and then I went up another fifty feet or so to stand on a new perch. While I was waiting at my new spot, both Mario and Fred continued their ascent. As they got closer to me, I went ahead and ascended yet another fifty feet or so, and stopped to look back at Fred and Mario. They seemed to have paused and were in conversation, so I took the opportunity to snap a picture of the view from the boulder avalanche.

I made a movie of the panorama beginning with Mt. Scott itself and then panning across the boulders and out across the valley below.

 

The discussion that Mario and Fred were having was, I found out when Fred joined me, that Mario thought he had done enough boulder hopping to get the idea of it and have some fun with it, but that he thought he should go on back down and meet up with Steve who was, presumably, still waiting in the shade at the bottom. (Unbeknownst to all of us, Steve had indeed gone back to the vehicle for which he can hardly be faulted- the day was hot and unless you were out in the open there was little breeze, so it must have been very warm even in the shade. Anyway, Fred gave Mario some final pointers, telling him to just take it very slowly and carefully, and started up to meet me. When he was only a short ways up from Mario, he turned to get a photo of Mario starting down. Fred came on up to meet me while Mario descended. As Mario went down the avalanche, both Fred and I took intermittent pictures of his progress, and you can see these pictures if you will click on the thumbnails below:

While Mario descended, Fred came up to join me on my final perch. We paused to take in the beauty of the surroundings, and debated whether we should go up any further. Although I might have liked to, I didn't want to leave Steve cooling his heels much longer; we knew that it mustn't be a whole lot of fun just waiting for us (even though Mario would soon be joining him). So we decided that we, ourselves, would start our descent. We were moving more rapidly than Mario but, even so, Mario reached the road way ahead of us, and we could tell that Steve had gone back to the vehicle. We took a number of pictures at our topmost point and during our way down, and you can see these pictures if you click on the thumbnails below:

When we got to the bottom, we walked back down to the vehicle to find Steve and Mario waiting for us. Without delay, we made a U-turn, cranked down the air-conditioning, and headed off to the winery.


 

The Winery of the Wichitas


We left the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for the last time this weekend, heading east on Highway 49. Just outside the park, we arrived at the Winery of the Wichitas.

There were no actual grapes growing here; the guy running the store told us that the actual vineyards are about six miles away up towards Meers. But he stocked all the bottles of pressed wine, and Fred bought two of them. We'll take one to Prudence as a gift when we go down there in two weeks, and Fred will keep the other. I imagine that it will be one wine bottle he does not discard when it is empty, since the label has a buffalo on it.

Also in the winery store, we found a lot of local artwork, much of it quite good, and I found two buffalo artworks that I thought Fred might like. His house is so full of buffalo art already that I usually try to get his approval for any new purchases. He did agree on a couple of the pieces, so we bought them and I'll put them away for future birthday and Christmas gifts. I'm so predictable.

While we were making our purchases, Mario was using the facilities and Steve was looking around the shop with me. When we were all done, we hopped back in the vehicle and headed off to our last stop.


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A Short Visit to Medicine Park


Medicine Park is a small town just off the highway. It is situated just below the dam that created Lake Lawtonka, and got its actual start as a small resort town on Medicine Creek. It went through a period of decline until Lake Lawtonka was created, and then it became a headquarters for boaters and weekend vacationers.

Two old bridges lead across Medicine Creek and into town. The central portion of the historic town is now very touristy and artsy. Many of the original rock homes have been preserved, and, on the whole, they've done a nice job keeping the rustic flavor of the town intact.

We drove through town and out past the dam, and then up and partway around the lake. There were lots of boaters and swimmers out, since it was such a warm weekend. We went far enough to get the flavor of the area, and then turned back to work our way through town again. We noted that they are building a walkway along the creek below the dam- kind of a very simple riverwalk through the center of town. I think it will be quite nice when it is done.

Just below the new, large dam, there is a smaller, older dam, and here there is a very pretty waterfall where lots of folks come to go swimming.

The Waterfall

 


 

The Trip Home

Well, that was it. Steve has to work this evening, and so he needs to be home no later than five-thirty, so, since it was almost one in the afternoon already, we started to head home. I've already described the route up here, and of course the route back was identical. We did stop in Henrietta, TX, just southeast of Wichita Falls, for lunch. It was a small, family-run restaurant, but they served good food and lots of really cold iced tea.

The drive back was uneventful, and by four-thirty we were back at my house, where we unloaded our stuff. Before Steve and Mario headed home, Fred and I presented them each a Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge cap to commemorate their trip, and in our appreciation of their being such good sports in trying so many new things- the hiking and climbing foremost among them. They were real troopers, and we can only hope that, even with the difficulties we encountered and the exceedingly warm temperatures, that they enjoyed themselves, and that perhaps we may be able to do something similar in the future.


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June 13-16, 2008: The Texas Folk Life Festival in San Antonio
May 6-14, 2008: A Trip to Florida
Return to Index for 2008