Closer than Colorado, the Wichita and Quartz Mountains offer miles and miles of hiking trails, camping, and fishing in southern Oklahoma.
The region of southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma along Highway 281 has a fairly similar agrarian lifestyle, culture, and landscape. However, if you drop down a couple of hundred miles south of the border and head west or east half of a meridian or so, you will encounter a dramatically different landscape: the Wichita Mountains and their sister to the west, the Quartz Mountains. In fact, the longitudinal line that runs through Pratt also slices through the Wichita Mountains.
My wife, Kathie, and I recently spent a couple of days exploring both mountain ranges as part for our wedding anniversary.
Upon arriving at the Lost Cabin, our destination for the first night, south and east of Granite, Oklahoma, I asked the caretaker about hiking around the area.
“Do you have a pistol?” she asked. I said that I didn’t have one with me. She said she wouldn’t go hiking in the rocks, which formed the nearby mountains, as there were a lot of rattlesnakes in the area.
If there are rattlesnakes—and fortunately, we didn’t see any—they must be fairly thirsty. This area is dry, dry, dry. As we hiked around the large expanse of private property, sun-bleached grass crunched and disintegrated beneath our feet. For miles and miles, since we had left Elk City, the landscape appeared parched. Fortunately, our Lost Cabin had a nearby pond, apparently fed by underground springs. This oasis attracted a variety of wildlife.
The heart of the Quartz Mountains had some fairly healthy looking plant growth, but the water level at the lake by the lodge is down significantly. The most telling indicator of this was a sign that appeared several times while we crossed a pedestrian bridge, which spanned across a field of grass below: “Diving from bridge may result in injury or death.” No kidding.
By traveling 45 minutes or so to the southeast, you will find dramatically different conditions. The Wichita Mountains are lush and green, comparatively. The Wichitas have water flowing throughout with abundant wildflowers and other plant life. Our experience of hiking the Lost Cabin Valley offered an austere kind of beauty with an army of small grasshoppers rising up with every step. In the Wichita Mountains, we hiked trails lined with grasses and other green plants taller than our hips, flowing water, and small lizards that shot across the trail.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a 35 square mile expanse of rocky hills and mountains that rise from a farming and ranching landscape which is mostly flat with some gently rolling hills. Visitors may see a variety of wildlife, including bison, elk, wild turkey, river otter and prairie dog, all of which have been reintroduced to the area.
Other than the heat of summer, which wasn’t too bad on the day of our visit, it is easy to mentally transport yourself to the mountains of Colorado or Wyoming as you gaze up at the large mountains throughout the area. The Quartz Mountains are similar in appearance to the Wichitas and public access is available through a state park, which features quality lodge/resort, south of Granite.
All in all, a trip down the meridian connecting Pratt and the Wichita Mountains yields many pleasant surprises. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days for an anniversary, or just to get away from it all. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, has an impressive Visitor’s Center that is well worth a stopover. The Visitor’s Center, especially during the summer, has regular activities that take visitors into the refuge. Camping is also available at designated campgrounds.