You've been to all the traditional tourist traps and now you're looking for someplace different to go. Stop flying over the flyover states and make a stop in Oklahoma to visit a part of America that has disappeared. You've seen the majestic Rockies and the beautiful beaches of Florida, now make a stop to see the subtle majesty of the Tallgrass Prairie.
Never heard of the Tallgrass Prairie? Understandable. Tallgrass Prairie once covered 140 million acres of the United states. Bison also roamed in the millions providing the Plains Indians with food and a nomadic culture. There is now less than 1% of virgin prairie left. The rest we plowed to feed the world. However, thanks to the Nature Conservancy you can experience a part of the original prairie in Osage County, Oklahoma.
Finding the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
- Turn north on Kiheka off of highway 60 in Pawhuska.
- I left Tulsa, OK headed north on US 75 and made a left in Bartlesville OK on to highway 6o headed west. I then stopped at a lovely convenience store in Pawhuska to ask directions. Or you could just get a GPS.
Entering the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
- Do not even think you're close to the visitor's center when you get to the entrance. There is still another 15 miles to go to reach the visitors center.
- Do stop and read the warning signs about the bison. This is not the Disney version of the prairie, bison can be dangerous. Repeat: bison are wild animals that can hurt you if you do not follow the simple safety rules. Do not try to set junior on the back of a bison for a great photo. Bison are big, they have horns and are surprisingly fast.
What to do in the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
- Enjoy the vistas. Remember, this is what the Great Plains looked like before John Deere invented the plow.
- Look for bison. If you brought young children with you, they can pretend they are on a bison hunt. Trying to find the bison will keep the young ones occupied. If you brought teenagers, well you should have known better.
- Tour the ranch house and gift shop. Not only can you get a better understanding how ranch hands lived, you may also find some unique souvenirs. Do not forget to pick up a map of the keep.
- Hike the marked trails. Stay on the trails. I'm not saying that ticks are bad, but you should definitely stay on the trails.
- Stop and enjoy the expansive views. If you are still, you can almost hear the ghosts of the past.
- Look for bison wallows. These are depressions made in the prairie from centuries of bison wallowing on their backs. They are a mini-wetland with their own distinct vegetation.
- Enjoy the birds and the butterflies.
Leaving the Tallgrass Prairie
- Look for bison. My best luck in finding bison have been as I left the preserve.
- Keep the map handy. At over 39,000 acres it is the largest prairie preserve in America. There are some signs to help you find your way out, but don't throw away the map.
This trip is for the traveler who likes to go where few have gone before. Although people from all over the world have journeyed to the Tallgrass Prairie, you can be assured you will be the only one of your friends to visit this unique keep. Those who have a true appreciation of nature in all of its forms will be glad to have visited this treasure of the United States.