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Wichita Lineman: Taking a Hike in the Wichita Mountains

8:00 AM EST on November 7, 2019

My father lived in Oklahoma most of his life, yet I’m pretty sure he had never really seen most of this intrinsically moving state before he died, probably due to a mixture of punishing loneliness and crushing laziness. But, after my own brush with the flames of Hell, I made a vow that I would take every opportunity to, if not see the world, at least see my home state.

My most recent trip took me to the Wichita Mountains and, conversely, their National Wildlife Refuge. Backpack loaded with bottles of lukewarm water, a couple of granola bars and, for some reason, a whole roll of toilet paper, my girlfriend and I set out like many of the explorers of old, but without all of the colonizing bullshit that traveled with them.

Before we hit the Wichitas though, we drove through the slightly creepy town of Medicine Park, known for their cobblestone houses which, for a house, were mildly entertaining. Passing over thin one-lane bridges and general stores advertising long-lost sodas, I almost stopped for lunch at the Old Plantation or Riverside Cafe, but knew that much later I’d be choking down Longhorn meat at Meers instead.

After a second stop at the visitor’s center—be sure to boil that water, kids—we drove into the Refuge, almost immediately seeing a pair of grazing buffalo on the side of the road. Keeping a safe distance, I parked and got out of the car, staring at these majestic gods of the prairie, almost wiped out by the U.S. government in a plan to exterminate Native Americans. Look it up.

Less political but just as godlike were the hole-diggers of the plains (copyright pending), prairie dogs, and a full community dedicated to these rascally rodents. According to the informational sign, these creatures like having their picture taken; truth be told, I was secretly hoping for a Michigan J. Frog-type situation, but it never really happened.

Ditching the car in the ancient parking area, we met up with a pair of trailblazing pals who were far more knowledgeable about the area, something that a novice like my piss-poor self needed in case I was to find myself either Blair Witched or 127 Houred, both scenarios that I had thankfully avoided until this very day.

The road to our original stop-off, Mt. Scott, was closed, so instead we ended up a little further down to Treasure Lake on the edge of Charons Gardens, which, sadly, contained no treasure, unless you count falling deeply in love with Oklahoma’s bodies of water a treasure. I don’t, but it was a breathtakingly beautiful view from the ridge where we stood dangerously close to tumbling to our deaths should a strong breeze come.

After a view minutes of forced reflection, we took off down a steep path that was filled with thorny bushes and whiplike branches that snapped you in the face at every available moment. As we headed further down, it appeared that we were now making our own path, sticking close to the water in order to find a mystical waterfall that, hopefully, will grant wishes or something.

Moving down the rocky terrain, it was mostly filled with a couple of hours of me constantly slipping, sliding and tripping down the terra firma, losing my glasses in the process—they made me look like a nerd anyway. But, still, for a guy who doctors said a little over a year ago would never walk again, I think I was doing pretty fan-fucking-tastic.

When we reached the waterfall, even though it was but a trickle, still, it was a thing of kinetic wonder as I stood there mesmerized, just watching; it was when I was going in for a closer look that I lost my footing and tripped into the foot-high water. While not a life-changing incident that anyone would bother to make a film about, I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to hiking back in soggy shoes and damp jeans.

The walk back, though uphill, seemed a bit easier to me, mostly because this time we stuck to the marked trail. By the time we made it back to the parking lot, a woman was walking around to all the hikers and campers to let them know she had just seen a rattlesnake that was this—she held her hands out about three or so feet apart—big.

A lot of help the info is now.

As we said adios to our trailblazing pals, my girlfriend and I, with an hour or so left of daylight, decided to walk the trail a few miles away at Burford Lake. Finding the proper lake entrance, we weren’t more than a few yards in when we came face to face with a stray Longhorn, just chilling in the brush. While my girlfriend was a tad worried, my proud Indigenous blood was completely at peace with this serene creature.

I’m just kidding—I was actually pretty terrified of getting gored to death.


Photos courtesy of K.Y. // Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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