Tucked away in Southwest Oklahoma is a small mountain range, a hidden gem, that few people outside the region have heard of. The Wichita Mountains are a collection of rugged granite peaks rising about 1000 feet above the surrounding plains and about 2500 feet above sea level. That may not sound that impressive to people who’ve visited the Rockies or Alaska, but its what we have for mountains in Oklahoma, so back off!
A large chunk of the Wichita Mountains are preserved inside the 60,000 acre Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to about 50 species of mammals, including the American Bison (the largest North American mammal), elk, white-tailed dear and Longhorn cows.
The refuge offers excellent hiking, fishing, wildlife watching and cycling. It is most spectacular during the growing season when wildflowers bloom and the tall grass prairies are verdant.
I drove down to the Wichitas this weekend. It is February. This is not the right time to visit. The dormant grass is gold, the oak trees are denuded of leaves and even the evergreen trees are a melancholy shade of brown. But the refuge is still a great place to visit. I just have to return in April when the fields are green and take some photographs to prove that my home state does indeed have some special places.
Being in the Wichita Mountains makes me think about the past, like 75 years before I was born. I wonder what the area would be like before the mass slaughter of the bison, the genocide of the Indians and the development of every square inch of arable land. If enormous herds of bison, pronghorn, deer and elk still roamed the plains, accompanied by wolves, coyotes and mountain lions, would this region, which bears resemblance to the African savannah, be a tourist attraction for people seeking wildlife? If some of the Indian culture truly remained, as does the Indigenous culture in South America, Asia and Africa, would people travel great distances to see it?
If you feed wild animals, I HATE YOU!
I know that none of my readers would ever do anything as ignorant or thoughtless as feed a wild animal in a wildlife refuge or national park. I am also not worried about the people I yelled at today reading this online, because I think they are so stupid that they can’t read.
At the refuge, there is a prairie dog colony off the side of the road. There are signs telling people not to feed the prairie dogs. The rodents don’t drink water and thus cannot flush the sodium from human food out of their systems. Human food also makes them fat, which kills them.
I was pulling out to leave when I saw a couple of kids jump from their car, run over to the animals and start flinging pieces of bread like frisbees. I pulled my car back in and yelled at them. “YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO FEED THE PRAIRIE DOGS!” My self policing worked. They looked at the wild-eyed stranger, who hadn’t shaved all weekend, with unkept hair pointing in a variety of directions, and they put the bread back in the car. I watched them for a bit longer, and when I was confident they were not going to feed the animals, I left.
Later, after I liked to the top of Elk Mountain, I stopped again to take photos of the prairie dogs in the softer afternoon light. I saw two children running amok between the prairie dog mounds hurling hot dog buns. I was appalled and offended on so many levels. First, where were the dumbass parents? Second, the fence separating the human and animal habitat should be enough to let the kids know that they should stay out of the animals homes. And lastly, there are (Expletive Deleted) (Expletive Deleted) signs telling people DON”T FEED THE ANIMALS!
I yelled at the kids. They retreated to their car and left. Later on I saw the family again. About six American bison were grazing off the side of the road and the parents were walking the kids out into the grassland to get a closer view. Bison stand six feet tall and can weigh 2000 pounds. It is unwise to walk out next to them with your kids. They are wild animals. On second thought, get closer. Go pet them.
And lastly, if you plan to visit the refuge, note that you cannot drink martinis. You must rough it in the Wichita Mountains.
Are there any hidden gems in your part of the world that few people know of?
Have you ever yelled at people who were breaking rules?
If so, I’d like to hear your comments. Comments, with the exception of yelling at strangers who feed prairie dogs, are some of the only human interaction I get.
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