Barely an hour southwest of Oklahoma City is one of the state’s most distinctive landscapes. To me, the Wichita Mountains are the real Oklahoma.
When I think of the Sooner State, I think of buffalo grazing in a prairie field with the rocky Wichitas looming in the distance. One of my professors at the University of Oklahoma was from New York, and was so taken with this breathtaking setting that each time he had guests visit from out of state he would drive them down to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and show them what Oklahoma looks like.
My family visited the Wichita Mountains recently to find out what Oklahoma looks like. Here’s what we saw.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge & Visitor's Center is home to roving herds of Texas Longhorn cattle, which it considers a significant cultural and historical resource. The Texas Longhorn eats a wider range of grasses than most cattle breeds and it possesses a natural resistance to the most common cattle diseases and parasites. A living symbol of the Old West, the Texas Longhorn also thrives in the hot, dry climate of the Wichita Mountains and the American Southwest.
One of the special treats of driving through the Wichita Mountains is the sheer number of scenic vistas. Mount Scott offers visitors any number of views along the drive to its summit, but breathtaking scenery is found in all parts of the refuge. This primitive, unspoiled terrain appears much the same as it has for hundreds of years. We stopped the car to better enjoy the view on this cool, delightful day in early spring.
A trip to the Wichitas is fun for the entire family, and especially for kids. A primary reason for this is the amount of rock hopping available. Just stop the car, get out and turn the kids loose. Don’t try to keep up with them; you can’t. Kids just gravitate to this kind of terrain, and the sooner you recognize that the official definition for “kiddo” includes something to the effect of “…able to spend hours or even days at a time scrambling over boulders at the Wichita Mountains, while you sit and nurse a sore back and scuffed knees…” life will make so much more sense.
Now, along with rock hopping, there is also a great deal of rock climbing to be enjoyed during your trip to the Wichitas. Rock climbing necessarily requires some degree of elevation change, and even if you’re afraid of heights, chances are your kids are not. Just let them go and enjoy themselves. Some of the easiest places to climb are the rock faces along the drive to the summit of Mount Scott. We took our time and made numerous stops so my son could enjoy the climbing.
While rock climbing we stopped to admire the view of the plains below. Part of this view includes Lake Lawtonka, the oldest reservoir in Oklahoma. If you’ve never been here, you should stop by for a visit, even if only to see the old dam. Lawtonka also is a fine lake for walleye fishing, so bring your tackle. If you’re serious about it, then fish during February or March, or in October or November, when you’ll have the best chance to catch large walleye.
When you visit the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, you just have to visit Mount Scott. We did, and so did lots of others on the day we were there. I’ve been coming to the Wichitas for a long time, and every time I visit the summit of Mount Scott is full of people. I think folks gravitate here for the spectacular views of a largely unspoiled natural landscape, which is fast disappearing from this world and so all the more precious.
We were fortunate during our visit because we found a herd of buffalo without too much searching. They were close to the road, which made for easy access to them. It’s only right that the American bison roams free here because this is its native habitat. When you visit and see the herds of these magnificent creatures, you’re witnessing living history. These animals are muscular and wild. Consequently, you’re encouraged to view them from the safety of your car. Be careful, but enjoy!
Fire once was an integral component of our landscape. For thousands of years fires occurred naturally from lightning strikes, and with no one around to stop them they burned the landscape. This was a good thing, however, for fire promotes the growth of native grasses and shrubbery, and it helps eliminate invasive plant species that may be harmful to an ecosystem. These days we have to create our own fires, which is a science unto itself. This display at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center reveals the components used in controlled burning.
We wound up our day-long visit with a stop at the nearby Meers Store & Restaurant for a hamburger. As always there was a long line to get inside, but the food was worth the wait. Once a thriving mining town, today only the Meers restaurant and store remain. Along with its famous longhorn-beef hamburgers, the store also sells steaks, brisket, ribs, Polish sausage, chicken and thick-sliced bacon. But bring cash because Meers does not accept credit or debit cards.