Two and half hours northwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex actual mountains exist. They pass all the requisite tests for mountains. Their granite heights rise far above the surrounding Oklahoma prairie. They feel like mountains, not foot hills, and they have things that we love in mountains like huge chunks of granite outcroppings, mountain streams with trout, water falls, elusive elk, and even bison wandering around the base. No longer do we have to drive four hours south to Austin to find some foothills, or trek way north to Talimena. We don’t have to pretend the hills of Palo Pinto are mountains.
March 15th was a chilly overcast morning. My family and I had arrived in Lawton, Oklahoma the previous night and were looking forward to a vigorous hike through several trails. However, with the rain and a family not used to hiking in nasty weather, we decided instead to check out Medicine Park, Oklahoma for a few hours until the rain abated.
Medicine Park is a small community located just east of the Wichita Mountains, south of the dam on Lake Lawtonka. The town is stunning! It could easily be picked up and dropped in the Black Hills without seeming out of place. On our drive in, we saw cool things like wild turkeys wandering near the road and the “Chaps My Ass” biker outfitting store. Yep, mountain stuff, like we were expecting. We also saw a dedication to folk art, with many people having unique statuary like this bad looking prey mantis.
The town is centered on the river downstream from Lake Lawtonka. We spent a little time here watching a fly fisher work the trout on the last day of trout season. The river itself has some nice waterfalls and cascades situated within the brownish red granite. In addition we saw more statues, like the bison statue below. Later we came back to the town to have lunch at the River Cafe, which was good river view dining. My wife, being from the Black Hills felt like she was home again, and we started lightheartedly discussing retirement here.
After hanging around the town, we headed upriver to Lake Lawtonka and the Lawton dam. Here we got our first unimpeded view of the Wichita Mountain range with Mount Scott, which sits just behind Lake Lawtonka. Lake Lawtonka itself was a spectacle with its water fowl, ducks, geese, and especially pelicans. We waited until we caught a pelican in flight and snapped some shots of it landing. Meanwhile we monitored the activity on the dam, where the fishing was crowded and they steadily pulled in fish. We made our way up to the dam to get a view of Medicine Park from above.
Leaving Medicine Park, we headed straight to the Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Upon entering the park, we located the visitor center and mapped out what we wanted to cover. We were planning on doing the Charon Garden Wilderness trail and perhaps Elk Mountain trail. The rain at this point had only been light and had nearly died down completely. The visitor center is well worth a stop. It has all the history of the mountains, descriptions of the local plants and animals.
When we arrived at Charon Garden Wilderness Trail, we could not find it. In the parking lot we noticed a sign for Elk Mountain, but no sign for Charon Garden. We decided the unmarked trail at the end of the parking lot was probably Charon Garden. Starting on this walk, we first crossed a bridge over Cache Creek.
Crossing over we continued down the trail for about an eighth of a mile before finding a sign for the official start of the trail. The trail at this point is flat and goes through a wooded area following a creek. The surface is mainly dirt with small rocks. Off to the left Elk Mountain lies. Eventually, we left the woods and worked ourselves into an open area dominated by many large boulders.
As we went further in, the boulder fields got larger and the path less easy to follow. Yet the beauty of the place was unsurpassable as well. Far off we could see the apple and pear formation, which this path is famous for. We walked about one and a half to two miles in before the boulder field was so dense that we felt uncomfortable walking it in the light rain.
Eventually the rain become too heavy and the boulders too slick, so we made our way back to the parking lot. We were very satisfied with our trip to this point and decided to explore by car. We drove over to the Mount Scott area, and took photos of a wild turkey, and a lone buffalo. The next morning we returned and drove up to the top of Mount Scott. It was so windy that we didn’t stay on the mountain for long. We also checked out Quanah Parker Lake and dam.
At the end of the weekend, we were very ecstatic to find a new place to explore. We promised ourselves we would come back for many camping and hiking trips. With fall coming up, we need to start planning.
Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gerry D. White and Trail Buddy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.