A Wildlife Refugee, October 2022

A day of hiking and contemplation in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Your host poses for a shadow selfie on the edge of Crater Lake.
Your host poses for a shadow selfie on the edge of Crater Lake.

I’ve been hiking and exploring the Wichita Mountains for more than 50 years.

Here is a frame of 8mm film of my sister Nicole, our cousin Lori, and me at the Holy City of the Wichitas in about 1971.
Here is a frame of 8mm film of my sister Nicole, our cousin Lori, and me at the Holy City of the Wichitas in about 1971.
My first stop was McClung's Grocery, which has a nice painting on its south end.
My first stop was McClung’s Grocery, which has a nice painting on its south end.
McClung's is constructed of the native round granite stones.
McClung’s is constructed of the native round granite stones.
McClung's is about 10 miles east of the Refuge, on the Meers-Porter Hill Road.
McClung’s is about 10 miles east of the Refuge, on the Meers-Porter Hill Road.
This lone chair might be the spot where clerks smoke.
This lone chair might be the spot where clerks smoke.
Arriving at what we once called the "Glacier Rocks," you can see a formation popular with engagement photographers called "Heart Rock."
Arriving at what we once called the “Glacier Rocks,” you can see a formation popular with engagement photographers called “Heart Rock.”
A short climb up a steep, dome-like rock face takes you to this small alcove where I had my first kiss as a teenager.
A short climb up a steep, dome-like rock face takes you to this small alcove where I had my first kiss as a teenager.
Right next to the spot where I had my first kiss are these two rocks that look like they are kissing.
Right next to the spot where I had my first kiss are these two rocks that look like they are kissing.
Near the top of the first rock face is this handsome view looking back at the road. You can see my truck parked on the turnout.
Near the top of the first rock face is this handsome view looking back at the road. You can see my truck parked on the turnout.

I spent much of my time practicing route finding, poking around old routes and finding new ones. I also thought a lot about all those years exploring and photographing this place.

A vista is framed nicely at the top of the slope.
A vista is framed nicely at the top of the slope.
Turning to face west, there is a valley and a peak which we nicknamed "Sitting Rock" decades ago.
Turning to face west, there is a valley and a peak which we nicknamed “Sitting Rock” decades ago.
A vertical composition reveals a pothole. Many of the potholes in the Refuge were full from recent rains.
A vertical composition reveals a pothole. Many of the potholes in the Refuge were full from recent rains.

Amazingly, when my friend Michael and I hiked in the Wichita Mountains decades ago, we drank from potholes and never got sick.

The water looks clear enough in this image looking south, but as an adult, I learned how dangerous unfiltered water can be.
The water looks clear enough in this image looking south, but as an adult, I learned how dangerous unfiltered water can be.
A hazy sun shines on this pothole.
A hazy sun shines on this pothole.
Cactus are a common sight on the Wichitas.
Cactus are a common sight on the Wichitas.
Another pothole near the top of my hike has water in it. There are some forms of life that spend their entire reproductive cycle in the time it takes for this water to evaporate.
Another pothole near the top of my hike has water in it. There are some forms of life that spend their entire reproductive cycle in the time it takes for this water to evaporate.

I saw a sign on the way in saying “Burford Lake,” but I honestly didn’t recall ever hiking there. I turned in and parked at the trail head, where a kiosk informed me that, “…in the 1920s the lake was named in honor of Judge Frank Burford… but it never made it onto the map, and was largely forgotten for many years. Burford Trail was ‘rediscovered’ after the wildfires of 2011 .”

Portions of the Burford Lake Train are quite lush compared to much of the semi-arid Refuge.
Portions of the Burford Lake Train are quite lush compared to much of the semi-arid Refuge.
I found this interesting burned tree - maybe it had been struck by lightning - on the Burford Lake Trail.
I found this interesting burned tree – maybe it had been struck by lightning – on the Burford Lake Trail.
I reached Burford Lake Dam, which was originally called Panther Creek Dam.
I reached Burford Lake Dam, which was originally called Panther Creek Dam.
This view looks south over Burford Lake.
This view looks south over Burford Lake.

I had an interesting encounter with longhorns on the Burford Lake Trail. A couple of people coming the opposite direction told me, “when you see the cow patties, they’ll be on your left.” They were on the way in, but on the way back to the trail head they had moved down to drink from the lake.

I wasn’t really there to photograph longhorns or I would have brought a bigger telephoto, so I made just a couple of images with my FujiFilm HS30EXR.

As I started my return trip, a small herd of very large longhorns, including this huge longhorn bull, had crossed the train behind me to get to the water to drink.
As I started my return trip, a small herd of very large longhorns, including this huge longhorn bull, had crossed the train behind me to get to the water to drink.
I came within about 30 feet or so of the longhorn bull. I made lots of noise on the trail, so none of the animals would be surprised by my presence.
I came within about 30 feet or so of the longhorn bull. I made lots of noise on the trail, so none of the animals would be surprised by my presence.
A female longhorn and her calf drink from Burford Lake.
A female longhorn and her calf drink from Burford Lake.
This view shows a stone outcropping in Burford Lake.
This view shows a stone outcropping in Burford Lake.

My last stop for the day was Jed Johnson Lake, which I had passed many times over the years, but never stopped to photograph until now. I was impressed with the high layers of stairs above the dam.

Immaculately constructed stone stairs lead to the Jed Johnson Lake Dam.
Immaculately constructed stone stairs lead to the Jed Johnson Lake Dam.
Stairs and stone invite the eye at Jed Johnson Lake.
Stairs and stone invite the eye at Jed Johnson Lake.
Returning to my truck, I was struck by this handsome stone island in the parking lot.
Returning to my truck, I was struck by this handsome stone island in the parking lot.