Wow! What a week. If you don’t want to plow through all the yadayadayada, just skip around and take a look at some of the photos…we’ve had some interesting times. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record – for us – of our adventures. In a few years, when we’re in The Home, drooling on ourselves, we’ll be able to re-live these times. These are some of the things I hope we’ll remember.
We decided to leave Valley of Fires a day ahead of our plan, and shorten the lengthy drive to our next scheduled stop. Oasis State Park (NM) seemed like a good choice for an intermediate stop. Well, maybe….we drove through miles of flat territory, studded with cattle feedlots. Oasis SP is an odd spot – a small campground stuck out in a huge flatland. There is absolutely nothing nearby. I’m not sure why anybody would actually plan to camp here. It’s barren. The wind was roaring – we sat outside for a few minutes, and congratulated ourselves with having a shorter drive for the next day, then dove inside to seek shelter from the wind and cold. It wasn’t pleasant.
Several years ago, we stayed at Caprock Canyons State Park (TX), and my most best memory of it was the prairie dog village. With my cellphone camera, it’s impossible to get a decent photo of this experience – prairie dogs and their environment are nearly the same color, and I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. But this video gives you a great idea of what the experience is. Enjoy. It’s crazy. When I walked past the village with Jezzy, the activity and chatter between prairie dog ‘condos’ increases. Jezzy is entranced. Prairie dog is the new squirrel.
But, this trip to Caprock was all about the bison. Their stately presence is something we’ve enjoyed at Custer State Park and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but this was contact on a whole new level. (This guy is nuts for turning his back as he did.) They wander everywhere – disrupting traffic and foot-flow whever they pass. Our campground was a prime target. I awoke one night at 4am to a strange noise directly outside the window that I couldn’t identify. When I opened the shade, all I could see was the huge body of a bison, standing three feet from my reach – right at the edge of the trailer hitch! Apparently, the Campsh@ck was perched on some tender shoots he wanted to have. Although he never bumped the camper, it took a long time to get back to sleep that night. In the morning, we discovered a delightful ‘hostess gift’ which he left for us. Our new neighbor the next day had a similar experience. She rolled in with her small camper to the sight of the bison hanging out in her campsite. He was nearly as big as her camper. There was a bit of cat-and-mouse as she tried to wait him out before leaving on her bicycle. Nerve-wracking, to be sure.
It’s impossible to explore the Canyons without a bison encounter. We hiked the 6.5 mile Rim Canyon loop, and met up with a few surly-looking beasts. For sure, we gave them a wide berth, and moved on. But, I believe it was this same group who caught up with us as soon as we entered the enclosed campground for people camping with horses. Although it looks like I’m right next to them, we were (thankfully) separated by a thin strand of barbed wire.
Bison may look stupid and docile, but they are quick and agile. From the protection of our truck, we viewed one lone bison racing across the prairie – apparently waking up from a nap to find the herd had left him behind. Believe me, he was hauling ass! It was amazing to see. I was even attacked by a bison statue. Nobody was injured.On one particularly cold morning, we left in the truck to explore nearby Turkey TX. Upon returning, we met our neighbors who told us that we had a big bull bison using our electric post as his scratching post. He inadvertently turned on our water spigot (we had turned it off and disconnected the hose due to 20 degree temps the night before). Water was spraying everywhere! They waited for him to wander off, then turned off the water.
We hiked another day from the far end of the Canyon into a completely different landscape. Although we were plagued by fierce winds and plunging temps, I’d go back there in a minute. It’s so beautiful.We were sad to leave Caprock, but hopeful to find some warmer temps. The dry 30mph winds and below freezing temps at night were wearing us down. We couldn’t have a fire, it was too windy to keep our awning up to sit outside, and we were a bit tired of the close contact of being stuck inside a small space (small campers are even smaller after a few days of inclement weather)
One more curiosity about this area – on the road into the Park, there’s a fence stretching about 3/4 mile on which folks have decorated boots and hung them on the fenceposts. Here are a few of my favorites.
We didn’t have high expectations for our next stop – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. But, what an interesting spot! More bison, Oklahoma Longhorns, coyotes, turkeys, geese, a primo lakeside campsite for $10, and more.One big downside. This is the third time we have encountered a water-warning in a western State or Federal campground on this trip, and it’s worrisome. Twice, the warning was for high nitrates, but the e-coli warning to avoid all contact and boil water was scary. There were several pit toilets around the campgroud which had been de-commissioned, and I’m pretty sure that was related to the e-coli contamination. Creepy. Once our clean water is gone, what’s next? We had five gallons of drinking water with us (way more than enough), and we used water from our tank for dish washing. But, I did take showers there – yuck!
The Visitor Center in the NWR is amazing – videos and displays about rejuvenation of the prairie, saving the bison, and restoration of the prairie. Between 1830 and 1860, the American bison herd was reduced from 50 million head to a few hundred. For me, those numbers are incomprehensible. Old photos show settlers sitting in stacks of bison hides or amidst piled of bison-head skeletons. President McKinley signed the Wichita Mountains NWR into existence, and thus began the long, slow process of saving the bison from extinction. Hooray for that effort. Longhorn cattle are also prominent in the NWR landscape.In the middle of this National Wildlife Refuge in western Oklahoma is a curious area called Holy City. Although I can’t speak to the religious aspect of this site, it certainly was a fantastic photo op. Since is was just a week after Easter, I can only imagine what it must have been like the previous week. Holy City was built in 1926, and is the site of the longest running annual Passion Play in the US.
One other event affected our visit to the NWR. While we were there, there was a full-scale controlled burn of the prairie inside the NWR being conducted by the Forest Service. We planned to cycle to the Visitor Center, then on down to a trail around Scott Mountain. Once we passed the VC, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke. Soon, signs appeared about the burn. In this area, the Eastern Red Cedar is an invasive tree, which (left uncontrolled) would totally dominate the landscape. Burning is a method used to eliminate the cedar, since they perish, the native oaks survive, and the prairie grasses re-establish themselves within a matter of days. It’s easy to see the effectiveness of this tactic. Areas which have been burned are easily distinguished from those that have not, based on the scrub, and the trees. The area to the right of the sign in the above had been previously burned.The smoke from the burn was horrible though, and we were prohibited from cycling through the area we planned. Here’s what it looks like – I would love to go back in a month or two and take a photo from the same corner to see the difference.The hazy smoke affected all my photos from the day, although we enjoyed our ride and the sights.
We loved the historic stone buildings there. The photo below shows John near an early gas station. There are several dams in the area, and we found a terrific spot for lunch. The Wichita Mountains NWR turned out to be a terrific spot to explore, and we were sad to leave. There’s much to see here, and we will definitely be back.
Heading toward an old favorite site – Galveston Island State Park. On the way there, we’re staying at two new (to us) campgrounds. Stay tuned….