If you are heading down to southwest Oklahoma and looking for a neat place to hike, camp, or sight see, then the Wichita Wildlife Refuge is your choice. This preserved wilderness is nestled just north of the town Lawton. During the right season it is a place of true beauty and wonder. It is not a large refuge, relatively speaking, but it boasts an incredible diversity of plants, animals, geography, and history. There are also several other attractions nearby at Ft. Sill or in the small town of Meers; for those who don't want to spend all day outdoors. I urge anyone going around that area to try to visit this place.
Why this place is special
Wichita Wildlife Refuge is unique from many federal parks. The word "refuge" is a big part of what makes it stand out. This is the home of many threatened and endangered species, plus, it shelters species that existed in the area historically but then through circumstance were no longer there. The government created the refuge for these species to live out their existence without fear of poachers, building development, or agricultural domination.
This sanctuary is home of the American bison, prairie dog, rocky mountain elk, white tail deer, burrowing owl, river otter, and many more. It has more than 50 mammals, over 200 bird species, hundreds of different plants, over 30 amphibians and reptiles, and lots of different fish. It is better than a zoo, if you can spot them.
This is not the only amazing parts of the refuge. It boasts of rolling grasslands, rocky mountain steps, enchanted forests, and flowing rivers. The refuge also maintains prairies that were once so common in the mid-west but are now disappearing at an alarming rate. Much of this is open to the public to walk through and enjoy but be careful because some of the beauty is dangerous.
There is still more to see. The refuge, and around the mountain range are various sight-seeing activities. The park has a fun visitor center, there are historical sites, a holy city, and lakes. Camping is available as is fishing. This was also once the home of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. Spanish and French traders passed through here and of course the U.S. military has a strong presence in the area even to this day. There is a history in these mountains and stories to tell.
There are a few negatives about the area. There are lots of bugs so bring your spray. Also, the heat and humidity in the summer months are a bit stifling so wear sun block and drink lots of water. I also wish it was larger.
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One of my favorite activities in the Wichita is hiking. As I mentioned before, the variety of terrain in this wilderness is refreshing. The park has 15 miles of designated hiking and it can range from very easy to strenuous and scrambling.
1. Elk Mountain trail is 1.1 mile one way. It is a short hike but it is steep and will get your blood pumping. Once you reach the top you get a rewarding view. Small, unnamed trails are scattered around the top. On the top of this hike is where a came within six feet of a buffalo. I didn't even see it till I was right up on it. I also nearly stepped on a sleeping rattler. The trail is definitely exciting.
2. The Kite trail is 1.2 miles one way. It is less strenuous than the Elk trail but still has a few spots of difficulty. It follows the river that is below the trail in a large ravine. It resemble a lot of scenes in an old western movie. The trail also comes across the lost lake which is kind of just a hole in the ground. A beautiful larger lake is found at the end or beginning of the trail depending on which side you start.
3. Charon's Garden is a 2.4 mile one way trip that takes you through a large part of the park. It will come across some other trail heads and like the rest of the park is full of diversity. The main trail is easy to lose. When I hiked it people built little rock structures as guides. Area's of the garden are suitable for rock climbing. The granite mountains provide excellent holds for any type of climber.
4. The Bison trail is the longest with 5.4 miles. I think it is also apart of the Dog Hollow Run trail. This trail follows along a river for part of the way and eventually reaches a wetland area. You will know when you reach the wetlands when the humidity hits you unexpectedly. This is the trail where I had a longhorn steer threaten to charge because I got to close. Those animals seem more aggressive than the bison so watch out because they are all over the park. Though they are tasty on a burger.
What else to do
If you don't like hiking, don't worry, there is much more to do. There is of course camping, which is up near a small lake. The refuge has some decent campgrounds for just about any kind of camper. Toilets, showers, trash dumpsters, firewood, grills, electricity, and picnic tables are found near most of the campsites. If you are looking at roughing it then that is available too. While camping there I have seen wild turkeys, deer, and the occasional longhorn tramping through the grounds.
One of the highest points in the park is Mt. Scott at over 2,400 feet. For those that live in the Rockies that may seem weak but in Oklahoma it towers over the agricultural fields that were once prairies. The view on top of the peak is spectacular. You can see miles of farmland, lakes, and windmills of all things. You also don't have to hike, it has a paved road all the way to the top.
Another neat thing to do in and around the park is to visit its tourist attractions. One of which is called the Holy City. It is a small area inside the refuge; set up to look like Israel in biblical times. It was built in the early 20th century and is really a stage for a yearly pageant around Easter. The Holy City gets a lot of visitors all year but it fills up during the pageant. The highest amount of people to see the pageant was in 1939. There were around 225,000 viewers. The stage and surrounding buildings were constructed with local rocks from the Wichita range. Even if you are not Christian, you may still find pleasure in seeing this site because it is just really neat.
Meers restaurant is a short ways outside of the refuge but it is worth going to. This is the place where you can eat a longhorn steer burger or steak. The meat is very tasty and extremely lean. The restaurant is very good about catering to your tastes. The meat comes fresh from their own ranch. They also brew their own beer and make a mean cobbler. The building is not much to look at but if you want to eat there for lunch get there early because it gets packed. I believe they close on Tuesdays. Also bring cash because last time I went they didn't take credit or debit cards.
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