On Memorial Day weekend, we headed west to the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. We arrived at Camp Doris much too late to stake out a camping spot, so we went on to the pasture doubling as registration area for the annual Tour De Meers bike ride. The next morning, cars parked all around us as we staggered around our campsite, changing our clothes and cooking our breakfast. We set out to ride the longest loop, 67 miles, which would have taken us through the wildlife refuge and up through the country north and east of the park; we were turned around at about fifteen miles, though, by a bad thunderstorm. We were disappointed that our ride was only thirty miles long, but happy that this change meant we got to ride through the refuge twice.
It was a warm day, but we had plenty to drink. We have to remind Mandy to drink enough; it helps to keep powdered drink mix to make the water taste better.
Whose idea was it to give the little kid the number 69? It wasn’t ours; we each got a bag full of goodies with tshirts, water bottles, ink pens, tourist junk, and our race numbers. The bag that said “Mandy” included a tag with her number on it.
One of the Wichita Wildlife Refuge’s big attractions is the buffalo that range across big portions of the park. The entrances are protected by cattle guards, which means that the huge animals roam freely up to and across the roads within the refuge. We rode up about fifteen feet from this fellow and another male buffalo; later in the day, we counted nearly sixty females with their calves on a hillside as we passed. Every time we visit we have a buffalo encounter; last time it was a big male heading toward us on a trail in the parallel forest. (We stepped politely aside to let him pass.) This time, the night after our ride, we finally found a place to camp at Doris but unwittingly set up our tent in a favorite buffalo supper spot; Mandy and I ended up stuck inside the tent as we watched a big male buffalo crunching his way slowly toward us. We sat stock still in the tent door and listened to his breath against the grass; he came within about five feet of us before calmly moving on.
There’s a long-abandoned rock bungalow along one of the roads in the refuge, complete with a cellar, this outbuilding, and what appears to be the remain of a roadside stand of some kind. The shade of the porch made a good picnic spot on Sunday morning, and the hill behind the house proved excellent for kite-flying and lizard-watching.
Just a we tucked the green kite under our arms to return to the car, a rangers’ truck pulled up into the driveway. Two very serious people came across the yard toward us. “Is everything all right?” I asked. “Is this a non-kite-flying area?” They weren’t sure how to respond to that; apparently not, they supposed we could fly a kite here, but most people don’t, and they thought we might be digging up cactus or something. Apparently we just looked suspicious. I’ve never been almost arrested for flying a kite before.
On Monday morning, before leaving for home, we left our camp set up and climbed up Little Baldy, a short hike with a very impressive view of the Wichitas including a lake or two and the visitors’ center. We always leave before we want to.
Here’s a little guy we met on Monday morning. The warm pink granite boulders in the Wichitas shelter lots of lizards, and they tantalize Mandy; they’re friendly enough to be interesting and ALMOST slow enough to catch. Also on Monday, I frightened a snake sunning itself in my path; he slithered quickly up a nearby tree and almost lost himself in its branches. Another favorite of Mandy’s is the prairie dogs in the “town” near one of the roads; she could sit, stock still, and watch them for an hour or two if we’d let her.