When going on a long car ride to escape the urban confines of Wichita, KS only leads to another Wichita
It is interesting to look at regional patterns in place names. For example, New England borrows most of its names from….Portugal. Just kidding, of course, but there are themes like New England’s all across the country. In the very middle of the United States, there is the ‘Wichita’ theme. The Wichitas, or Kitikitish, lived in the area of the Wichita Mountains in the 1850s and had to move in order to avoid conflict, which amazingly, they did effectively for long enough that they were ‘given’ a reservation to call ‘home’. In truth, a lot of places borrow native names, almost as a reminder of who was here and the bloody conflicts that led us to be here. The names are like tear stains across the landscape.
Out on the plains, any natural feature that towered over the grassy abyss was often held scared by local native groups. Devil’s Tower [aka Bears Lodge] is a great example of this. Although I can’t seem to find any information on the Wichita Mountains and what views were held of them, just looking at them poking above the prairie would lead you to believe that there is a good story behind them.
Stories of Rocks
If only rocks could speak. It would be more than an earful that you would get. You’d learn more from the wise, old rocks than from any sage, book, or Google search. But, alas, they are silent or we are deaf. Either way, geologists are the hearing aids for our deafness to blabbering rocks and their stories.
We’ll start in the Cambrian, about 500 to 550 million years ago. There was an uplift that created the red granite rocks that form Mt. Scott. This uplift also aided in the erosion of the older rocks that were on top. Mt Scott contains areas of this older rock, a gabbro, and it is happens to be where the trees grow. These gabbro remnants create interesting patterns of tree rows that crisscross across the faces of Mt. Scott.
Though not as geologically active as it once was, the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge borders a rather active Fort Sill. When you get out of your car, or even perhaps while you are in your car, you will hear jets making their runs over head. You, if sitting in the right place accoustically speaking, will hear the occasional bomb detenate as well. It does indeed answer the question as to why the opposite hills from the refuge lack trees.
Wichita Mountain Wildlife
As a modern example of natural history, the Wichita Mountains are a surviving remnant of what the Great Plains used to be–not the ploughed fields lined with barbed wire that they are today. Grazing on the prairie are elk, bison, prairie dogs, deer, and, as a historical species, longhorn steer.
The bison are an interesting story. Conquistadors in the 1500s commented that while traveling the Great Plains, they were never out of sight of the massive bison herds. Today, there are very few left that aren’t genetically compromised by domestic cattle. There is also only one free ranging herd in the United States, and in comparison with their historical range, it can almost be argued that they aren’t really free ranging. These are the bison out at Yellowstone. Lucky for the bison at the Wichita Mountains, they were taken from a zoo in New York at the turn of the previous century. Although they are not fully free, if they were capable of appreciation, I’m sure they would be happy to be on this little patch of grass and not caged in concrete. That being said, these bison are probably pretty close to being 100% genetically pure.
Introduced into the refuge as a historic species, the longhorn are probably the most visible species on the refuge. It would be interesting to learn the difficulty of managing two species that have the potential to interbreed in one fenced in area. I think they have mitigated some of this difficulty by placing all the female longhorns in the northern section and the males in the southern. You can often see them socializing through the fence that runs near the road.
Fishing is a popular activity at the Refuge [by permit, of course]. There is plenty of lakeshore where you could cast your rod, and it seems that in the past, fish management was very active. Perhaps it still is today. The fish ladder pictured needed a flushing out before use. It was clogged full of tumbleweed and other plant debris.
Aside from fishing, there are also hunting opportunities [by permit], a very nice, modern Visitor Center, picnicking and camping, and hiking trails of all lengths. If you really want to stretch your legs, climb up Elk Mountain. The trail is one mile to the top, but over 500 feet in climb. The trail is well maintained and not as roughed as it could be. The view from the top offers a panoramic of the valley and a nice, windy resting spot, just remember to hold on to your hats and bags!
The Holy City is also worth stopping by. They have a stage for the Passion Play [occuring in April this year] that borders on the grand side of the scale. I believe the seating is on the opposite hill, judging on where the loudspeakers are pointed, and the stage consists of large rock and mortar constructed full-size buildings. There is a prairie dog town close by and bison were present when we drove through.
The Wichita Mountains offer a compact space crammed full of natural wonders and some extras. Even though our intent was to get out of the crowded city, we welcomed the nature-packed scenery and the other appreciative visitors that populated the visitor center and trails.