Tifnotes: The Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge is a free, family-friendly outdoor location for any season with wild herds of Longhorn cattle and buffalo, prairie dogs, and lizards. Mt. Scott is the tallest mountain there about 2400 feet above sea level. There are easy places to pull over and catch the view on the way up, and ample free parking at the top. This is a great place to bring a picnic and jump around the rocks. There are hiking trails all throughout the park, lakes, camping, fishing, waterfalls, and many opportunities to see wildlife in its natural environment.
If you go, bring change for the turnpike, sunblock, lots of water, and a cooler or lunch. There are restaurants nearby in Medicine Park, Meers, and Lawton, but if you want to enjoy the entire day in the park, it’s best to bring your own food. The restaurant in Meers is famous for it’s 1/2 pound Meers burger and people drive over an hour just for that. The lines are long, they don’t take reservations or credit cards, so bring cash and prepare to wait in a long line (we waited 90 minutes on a quiet day) just to get a table. I personally don’t think it’s worth the wait and I’ve since heard that though their fame lingers, the quality has gone downhill.
Cell phone service is spotty. There is a Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Information Center with information, maps, and a video about the park.
Ever since we saw the Passion Play, I’ve been wanting to come back, see the buffalo, and explore a bit, so today we left at noon without a plan other than to go, explore the park, and eat a burger in Meers.
The drive goes fast. For some reason my GPS always says it’s a 2+ hour drive, but we always get there in 90 minutes or less. Today I was smart enough to remember my change purse so that we could pay our tolls along I44 and soon enough we were driving through Medicine Park and into the reserve.
Mt. Scott is the first thing you see on the right as you drive in from the east. A narrow road spirals up with small pull-offs where people parked, took pictures, and climbed on the huge sandy rocks piled among grasses and scrubby trees and shrubs. In some areas, it almost resembles Spain. Instead of stopping, I drove straight to the top, parked, then ran to a dusty trail to climb on rocks that would lead us to the edge. We split up. Kirk went one way, Arianna another, and Luci and Elise stayed with me. This is a place for grippy shoes and surefooted climbers. I’ve got the latter in spades, but wore flip flops. Still, jumping from rock to rock brings out the adventurous child in me no matter what the footwear.
We all jumped around the perimeter of the mountain top, hopping from rock to rock and challenging ourselves to scale the tall ones. Scrapes and scratches are nothing but happy souvenirs of our day. Eventually we met up on one spot, then continued together to climb rocks as a family, Elise slightly nervous trailed behind a bit, but was helped in turn by each of us and by the end she was sad to go. Another fear conquered. 🙂
As dry and rocky as it is up here, flowers are prolific now before the summer heat and lizards are already out sunning themselves. In Meers I was told that rattlesnakes are prolific on Mt Scott too, but I didn’t see or hear any (thankfully).
Hungry and thirsty after rock hopping, we drove 10 minutes to the once busy gold rush town of Meers to enjoy the wildly famous Meersburger and equally renown peach cobbler at the Meers Store & Restaurant. Legendary, loved, and jam packed with every table filled, this restaurant is what remains of the entire town. Nothing else is left, but this family run restaurant with their own herd of Longhorn cattle, known to be leaner than chicken and tasty. They don’t take credit cards of checks, but an ATM machine sits just inside under an old snakeskin mounted on the wall. They don’t take reservations either, so the line went out the door and we just stood there. The people behind us had driven from Blanchard about an hour away – just for the burgers. We waited nearly 90 minutes just to get to the front where a greeter asked how many would be in our party. Five was hard to seat, so we ended up at a table for 4 with an extra chair at the end.
The place is rustic, but that fits in with the skeletal town. Prices seemed reasonable and the menu, though not extensive, has enough to interest us. Arianna ordered Texas Toothpicks, deep friend strips of jalapeños, and I ordered the fried green tomatoes. Both were delicious. The ribs were good and we enjoyed the chicken wings, but the burger that people drive so far for fell flat. Served on a huge bun and cut into quarters, it was supposed to be 1/2 pound patty, but it wasn’t. Skimpy, thin, and not even close to filling out the bun, it was frankly bland which surprised me. After all the build up, I expected something at least good. The cobbler is made up of either peaches or cherries sandwiched between serveral layers of thin pie crust and baked. It’s served with a liberal mound of ice cream – gluttony at its finest. The prices are so cheap – even the dollar add on ice cream side order for Elise was as much as three scoops, and it was good. May be I’d go back for that, if there wasn’t a line. To their credit, and our pocketbook, we did leave tremendously full and ready to tackle more of the Nature Reserve.
Kirk hadn’t seen the The Holy City of the Wichitas and we hadn’t been able to peruse it, so we headed there next and walked around. The chapel is painted with the 12 apostles along the wall and angels on the ceiling. A local woman made paints from local plants and painted the interior herself. To the right of the chapel in front of another building lies a series of huge hummingbird feeders where at least 20 birds swarmed, playing, chirping loudly, zooming in and out, and then resting on the branches right above our heads. We sat and watched a few minutes, amazed to see so many so close, then walked through the rest of the city, a series of buildings that portray scenes from Christ’s life.
This city is set within the reserve itself. Dried buffalo patties show that they come here often. Cactus and flowers sprouted up at random. It’s very much rugged and in nature.
Just outside of the Holy City, I saw something move, slowed the car, rolled down the window, and looked closer. Nearly the same color as the red dirt they burrow in, the ground moved with hundreds of chubby barking prairie dogs daring in and out of holes, standing on their hind legs barking, and being wildly entertaining. Beyond them stood one lone buffalo. There are large red lettered warning signs around the park informing visitors that both longhorn cattle and buffalo can be very dangerous. This part of the park, we’d stay in our car and watch from open windows.
The visitor center had already closed, so we didn’t have a map, but drove along the main road spotting herds of buffalo and longhorns in the distance.
Eventually the road split and we turned right, and we decided to stop and hike a bit taking a short trail up and around one end of Burford Lake where it ends up high above a falls. It’s a small lake, but pretty. We paused at the end while the girls climbed rocks and I watched a heron walking in slow motion on the water’s edge while a scissortail flycatcher darted back and forth snatching flies from the surface of the water.
While we were hiking, I saw three buffalo near the ridge high above the lake and at one point, I saw a man near them, so I hoped they’d be near a road. When we got back to the car, we drove just a bit further to see several buffalo in a tiny triangular field, very near the road. One kept rolling on his back in the dirt with his legs in the air like an overgrown dog. The others munched on the grass, their heads so large it’s a wonder they don’t tip over, but they have very expressive faces. It was getting dark, but watching the buffalo in the wild is so mesmerizing, we’ll be back.