Adventures

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Today, Hubby and I had to go into Lawton to have a tire replaced. The town we live in is repaving the roads and he wound up with a nail in the tire. It was in the sidewall so, new tire was needed and it could not safely be repaired. Since we were already out that way, I asked him to go through the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge on the way home. We have been experiencing EXTREMELY high temperatures and a record high was broken this week. It was 113° at one point while we were exploring the refuge.

We spent a few hours driving around. All of the hiking trails and picnic areas were closed due to the extreme temperatures. However, we were still able to explore a bit and see some of the local wildlife.

The refuge is home to a number of animals, but the two most popular species are the American Bison and the Texas Longhorn. These are roaming freely around the refuge and the only things keeping them inside the refuge are miles upon miles of fencing and cattle grates across the roadways. If you have never seen a cattle grate, it’s a metal grate that stretches across a roadway and the animals do not cross it because their hooves will get stuck in the grate.

The bison were all hanging out under trees or anywhere they could find shade. This particular bison was hanging out next to one of the education center facilities. He/She was outside of the fencing for the facility, but others were inside the fencing, for one reason or another, and unable to roam around the refuge. I was maybe 5 feet away from this bison. I was inside of the truck and I did not exit the truck. These are very large, very dangerous animals. There are signs all around the refuge stating the danger and the possibility of them ramming your vehicle if you agitate them in any way. I was only able to get this close because of the temperatures. Hubby stopped the truck, turned off the radio, and I rolled down the window to take this picture before we quickly left the area. The last thing we wanted, was to have the truck rammed by a bison.

These bison were inside of the fencing. They were segregated from the herd. They could have been segregated/quarantined for a number of reasons. Possibilities include injury, illness, some type of medical treatment, or simply for research. They are beautiful creatures and I am very glad that they are protected from harm on the refuge.

The Texas Longhorns are another of those dangerous creatures roaming around the refuge. I realize that there are probably hundreds of ranches in Texas, which have huge herds of this particular type of cattle. However, these are not domesticated cattle. These Longhorns are wild and free roaming. They will also ram a vehicle if agitated. These guys were hanging out a short distance from Quanah Parker Lake and Dam. They were approximately ten feet away from the truck. Again, we stopped, turned off the radio and did not exit the vehicle. They did not seem to mind having their picture taken. One was rubbing his horns against the tree bark before we were able to stop. We watched them for a few moments before heading to Quanah Parker Lake.

I apologize in advance for the quality of this photo. We were standing by the lake and heard mooing. There was a longhorn in the lake, eating the lilypads. He was neck deep at one point, just happily mooing and munching away on lilypads. He is in the center of the photo and cream colored.

We were pretty far away and I only had the camera on my phone to take photos as the trip through the refuge was entirely unplanned. My zoom feature on my phone causes blurry photos sometimes. The photo above has 2 times zoom enabled.

This one shows the longhorn from the other side of the lake, we drove around to the other side to get a better view. I was using the maximum level of zoom available and all that is visible is a small blob of an almost tan color.

My favorite part of the refuge is Prarie Dog Town. This is the best place to watch the prarie dogs. They can be spotted all over the refuge, but they have a tunnel structure, which is massive, in this particular area of the refuge. I love watching them run around and pop in and out of their burrows.

It is actually called Prarie Dog Town. There is a wooden fence separating the small parking area from the prairie dog habitat. Hubby had to be careful when he pulled in because there were prarie dogs running around in the parking area.

There is a fine for harassing the prarie dogs. I am thrilled that this is considered an illegal act. Prarie dogs are adorable little critters and I cannot fathom why anyone would throw rocks at them or bring their dogs out of their vehicle in order to terrify these tiny creatures. It is sad that this sign has to be posted, but I am thankful that it is and that there is a quite costly fine, which is enforced, for tormenting these creatures. They really are adorable.

This little guy walked right up to me when I walked over to the fence. He kept creeping closer as I stood there taking pictures of him and the other prarie dogs. He was chattering at me and chattering at a smaller prarie dog nearby.

They are so small. They have these round little bellies, which make them look kind of ridiculous when they stand up on their hind legs. They look so skinny when they are on all four legs.

This one was eating and looks like a ball of fur in the grass.

They almost resemble a chipmunk or a squirrel. They don’t have fluffy tails like a squirrel or stripes like a chipmunk.

They stand up when they hear something that makes them go on alert.

They are rather small compared to the entrance holes to their burrows. To the left is the prarie dog and to the right is a burrow entrance. When something scares them, they all run straight towards the burrow entrance. They also have members of their little groups who are stationed at specific spots as lookouts. These lookouts watch for predators, food sources, and any form of danger. They are very social creatures.

We spent a bit watching the prarie dogs running around, entering and exiting the burrows, and munching on goodies found in the short grasses. They are one of the smaller mammals found in the refuge, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching them. I had to get back into the truck because the sun and the heat started to affect me and I was overheating. (Yes, I wore oodles of sunblock and no sunburn this time. I also drank plenty of water.)

As you can see, there are multiple smaller creatures than Bison and Longhorn. While this sign only shows a handful of examples, there are quite a few species of animal calling the refuge home.

It occurred to me that the map boards may provide a sense of the refuge in relation to the photos. I zoomed a bit for the second picture so, it may be legible if you zoom in on your end. I hope it is.

We then, headed towards the Jed Johnson Lake and Dam, which is one of the larger lakes located within the refuge.

The dam was not overflowing as it normally is due to the extreme drought Southwest Oklahoma has been experiencing. It was disheartening to see the lake levels so low. Many of the small creeks were completely dry. These lakes and creeks are water sources for the wildlife living in the refuge. So, seeing dry creekbeds, which are normally flowing with water is distressing because it causes problems for the wildlife, forcing them to leave their usual areas in search of a new water source.

Another issue caused by the drought and extreme temperatures is the algae that is covering large areas of the lakes and creeks. This area is just below the dam. Water from the lake normally causes this to be a flowing creek. As the lake levels are so low, this creek has become stagnant, causing large amounts of algae to grow freely.

The lake itself had areas of algae, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the creek below the dam.

An area close to where we live, within the area referred to as Texoma, is referred to as Red Rock. This area is home to the Red Rock River. This is an example of those red rocks. I was very careful to check for rattlesnakes prior to taking this picture near the shoreline of Jed Johnson Lake. I definitely didn’t want to deal with a snakebite from a highly venomous rattlesnake today or any day for that matter.

I took a few more pictures of the lake before heading on towards the next location.

I will never understand how some plants in Oklahoma even exist. This was growing in an indentation on a boulder, which was filled with bits of rock. There is no soil in this indentation. So, this plant is growing in rock, on top of a rock. That should not be possible, but here is a plant, doing just that, the impossible.

This is the bane of my existence. I cannot even count the number of these prickly pear cacti I have dug out of my property, only to have them return. I almost stepped on this bad boy. The thorns on this sucker would have gone straight through my tennis shoes. Another thing seen in this picture is the disgusting habit of many Oklahomans, littering. I took this piece of garbage with me and deposited it into the provided trash receptacle, which was seriously three feet away.

Alcoholic beverages are prohibited inside of the refuge, but that doesn’t seem to deter Oklahomans. I picked up about fifty beer cans and beer bottles throughout the day. I cannot stand a litterbug. Littering is a disgusting habit and a disgraceful example of Oklahoma. It seems to be deemed acceptable all over Oklahoma. This is especially true regarding beer cans and beer bottles. Not only did we see these items littering the wildlife refuge, but they are seen everywhere across Oklahoma. People throw them out of the window of their vehicles. This of course means that drinking and driving is a widespread issue in Oklahoma. I pick up approximately twenty beer cans and bottles from the ditch in front of my house each week. I was saddened to see so much litter in the refuge, but it honestly did not surprise me. I will always pick up litter as I am exploring because this garbage, which has been carelessly tossed, threatens the wildlife. I pick up other people’s garbage because the wildlife cannot remove it from their habitats themselves. If you are one of the people who is part of the problem, please, stop throwing your garbage on the ground and out the window of your vehicle. It takes two seconds to toss a piece of garbage into a trash receptacle. If you see litter, pick it up. Otherwise, you are still part of the problem, even if you aren’t one of the people littering. By ignoring litter, you are accepting living in a garbage filled world. By picking it up and not littering in the first place, you are a step towards a cleaner world. Please, don’t litter and if you are a smoker, throwing your butts out the window of your vehicle is littering. It is also one of the major causes of wildfires. Get a smokeless ashtray that contains your butts.

The trail to the Jed Johnson tower was closed because of the extreme temperatures so, unfortunately I was unable to take a photo of this tower, which resembles a castle tower. It looks completely out of place in the middle of the refuge. I plan of returning in the fall so, I will be taking pictures when I return. (In the fall, wildlife is visible everywhere. It’s my favorite time of year, especially for visiting the refuge.)

Heading towards the next area, hubby pulled over so, I could take a few pictures of the bison hanging out under a tree. They were approximately 150 feet from the road. We were near French Lake when we spotted these guys. The bison and longhorn were all doing their best to stay in the shade and stay cool.

French Lake was gorgeous today. As you can see, theres algae (this type was a reddish brown) covering the water around the perimeter of the lake. The water levels for this lake were also far lower than normal.

This was such a quiet spot. I stood under a tree while taking this picture. It amazes me how being in shade drastically changes the colors in a photo. This picture is far more true to the natural color than the one just above of the same exact spot. The only difference between the two is where I was standing when I took the photo. Its almost like the difference between polarized sunglasses and regular sunglasses.

These are the trees I was standing under.

One had a big bubble of hardened sap, which glinted in the sunlight when the wind blew, catching my eye.

This little guy was flitting between blades of grass and sticks, joined by hundreds of dragonflies (a few species) and butterflies at the edge of the lake. I kept having them land on my head, arms, and phone as I was trying to get a clear shot of this one. As his wings were moving, this was the best shot I was able to get with my phone.

My last shot for the day was of the minnows swimming in the shallows of the lake. I always enjoy a visit to the refuge. I don’t get to visit it often even though it is not terribly far away from our home. It is just out of the way when we head into Lawton and we are usually in a hurry to get back home. Today, I was thrilled when Hubby agreed to take me through the refuge. He had asked if there was anything that I wanted to do since we were already out and about.

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6 thoughts on “Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge”

  1. So you made it. Brave people to venture out in 113 degree weather. Great photos – very different from the scenery we see in our area. The prickly pear cacti surprised me. Those, along with the rattlesnakes, would make me very wary wandering around. Thanks for sharing your excursion.

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    1. It reached 115° at one point. We mostly stayed in the air conditioning inside the truck. The scenery is definitely different and even more so in the fall. I love fall because everything dies back and makes the critters much more visible. They are also out in the open more, which makes for better viewing and photos. Oklahoma is normally very hot in the summer. This was a bit more extreme than normal, but triple digits are normal. I will eventually get out to Mount Scott and take some pictures. That is by far, the best spot for views. You can see for miles up there. 🙂

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        1. A lot of ranchers here also have them at the ends of their driveway as well. So, I’m fairly certain that they are the same thing. I may actually be calling them by the wrong name but, it is the only thing I have ever heard them called. May also be local terminology.

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