Most people don’t know this, but when God made the Earth, he spilled a bit of Colorado in southwest Oklahoma. It was late on the 6th day, and he was tired, so he left it. That bit of Rocky Mountains in the Great Plains is now known as the Wichita Mountains, one of the hidden gems in America.
I recently spent three days in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, a 60,000-acre park of mixed-grass prairie, ancient granite peaks, oak forests, and freshwater lakes and streams that would not be out of place in the national park system. I hiked the numerous trails, stalked the bison herds, photographed the colorful springtime wildflowers, and at night, talked the the even more colorful locals in the gateway town of Medicine Park.
The Wichita Mountains are a glimpse into the past, when the Great Plains were covered in grasslands and filled with wildlife. The refuge is home to bison, Texas longhorn cattle, Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, collared lizards, prairie dogs, and over 275 species of birds. But it wasn’t always this way.
In the mid-1800s, there were an estimated 20 million American bison in the United States, but a massive hunting campaign drove them to the brink of extinction. In 1907, the New York Zoological Society donated 15 pure-bred bison to the Wichita Mountains refuge to establish a herd. Today, about 650 bison roam the sanctuary. Ironically, the bison that graze lazily in the meadows of the Wichita Mountains are here because of the Bronx Zoo.
If you are ever driving across America, make a detour to the Wichita Mountains. You’ll have the park almost entirely to yourself, and when you go hiking in this slice of Colorado in the plains, you won’t get altitude sickness or pay tourist prices for accommodation and food.
What are some other hidden gems in America that are worth visiting?