Hoot Owl Ranch: Wrangling the Western Experience
This working cattle ranch in the Oklahoma panhandle provides the inner cowboy with some archaeological history, a bed and breakfast stay and a down-home dinner.
|Photo: David Fitzgerald|
Related VideosView Videos
George Collins will tell you that the Hoot Owl Ranch is quiet. Really quiet. And that’s what makes it a great place to visit.
“We’re one of the quietest places on the face of the Earth,” Collins says. “If somebody wants to get away from the hustle and bustle and noise and have some quiet, this is this place to do it.”
Near the town of Kenton in the Oklahoma panhandle, the Hoot Owl Ranch was once part of the huge, historic Miller brothers’ 101 Ranch, the home of turn-of-the-century Wild West shows and the site of the oil discovery that launched Marland Oil Company, later known as Conoco.
But the connection to the famous 101 Ranch drills down only a fraction of the history of Hoot Owl’s 1,400 acres and nearby sites.
“There is quite a bit here, and a lot of history in the area,” Collins says. “I think we live in one of the most hidden secrets of our state. We live in canyon country; it’s really pretty here. It’s a lot different than what people expect.”
Collins’s grandfather, Joseph “Pard” Collins, was grading a road with a team of horses in 1931 when he unearthed a bone that turned out to be part of the largest Apatosaurus (very similar to a Brontosaurus) skeleton ever discovered. This skeleton is now part of the centerpiece display in the Hall of Ancient Life at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma.
More recent than the Dinosaur Age, Native Americans carved writings into the sandstone cliffs in Hoot Owl’s north pasture. The famous Autograph Rock, bears the 1541 signature of Spanish conquistador, Coronado, along with many signatures of those who traveled the Santa Fe Trail in the 1800s.
If somebody wants to get away from the hustle and bustle and noise and have some quiet, this is this place to do it.
Just 3.5 miles west of the Hoot Owl Ranch is the spot known as Robbers Roost, an outlaw hideout that dates to the mid-1800s when the Oklahoma Panhandle was still No Man’s Land. Captain William Coe made the most use of this hideout, arriving in 1864 and building a 16-by-30-foot hideout with three-foot-thick walls. Instead of windows, the building had openings that were 18 to 20 inches wide on the interior, narrowing to four inches at the exterior, allowing those inside to shoot at intruders from a safe position. Coe’s gang kept horses in a canyon north of the hideout, where they operated a blacksmith shop, giving the area its still-used moniker, Blacksmith Canyon.
Collins’s uncle, Lewis Williams, bought the Hoot Owl property in the late 1940s, but was persuaded by his father-in-law to sell the land and move to Minnesota to run a dairy farm. Williams wasn’t a fan of running the farm, but when he returned to the Cimarron Valley, the ranch was no longer available.
Collins, a fourth generation Kentonian, left the area and, with his wife, Terry, spent a decade as the proprietor of the oldest steakhouse and saloon in Tucson, Ariz.
“I won’t recommend that to anybody,” Collins says.
When they sold the steakhouse business, the couple decided it was time to return to their cattle business roots in Oklahoma. And, as luck would have it, the Hoot Owl was up for sale when they returned home in 2005.
They combined what they knew best: raising livestock and cooking meat.
Terry cooks at Hoot Owl on Friday and Saturday evenings, but it’s by reservation only; the Collins’s only book 32 patrons a night and encourage their diners to stay at the table and visit well after dinner is done.
The menu includes a large rib eye, a flatiron steak, salmon, chicken and Terry’s specialty, baby-back ribs.
“That’s what makes her famous,” Collins says. “She manufactures her own barbecue sauce and sells it all over the country.”
And, for dessert, there’s the Stampede, a pair of homemade brownies with ice cream, real whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
“That’ll really ruin you at the end of the night,” jokes Collins.
The Collins couple lives in the original ranch house, which was built, along with the barn, in 1889. For guests, the Hoot Owl has two new cabins with queen beds or a newly restored sod-roof cabin, complete with outhouse, last used in 1921.
Activities at The Hoot Owl and surrounding area are plenty. The working 1,400-acre cattle ranch offers deer and turkey hunting. Astronomy enthusiasts find the dark night skies a perfect spot for stargazing. Hikers enjoy Hoot Owl’s trails as well as nearby Black Mesa State Park, including Robbers Roost and Oklahoma’s highest point, Black Mesa at 4,973 feet. You’ll even find a thee-state marker where Oklahoma meets Colorado and New Mexico. Horseback riding is available next door at the Hitching Post Ranch. And archaeologist wannabes will treasure the dinosaur tracks and dinosaur quarry nearby.