Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

This was the bison we sat and watched for about a half hour.  In
the background is Quanah Parker Lake.

So here I sit at 4:30 a.m., awake and unable to get back to sleep.  It isn't waking up that's the problem, but my mind waking up.  It won't shut up and let me get back to sleep.

So, anyhow, leaving Mount Scott, we continued into the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.  Elk were reported to be in the area, as well as buffalo.  The 59,000 acre wildlife area runs along the north boundary of the Fort Sill Military Reservation.  The artillery explosions continued all day, every day, and signs along the roadway, reading “Caution, Impact Area”, warned against getting out and wandering about.  Also, this is still a wild area in spite of the presence of humans passing through, and an artillery officer had been struck and killed by a rattle snake just before our visit.  We saw buffalo, properly called bison, but elk are best spotted at sunrise and sunset, and we missed out there.

Flocks of wild turkeys wandered about and just seemed as unconcerned
about us as could be.  For the best pictures, we could just move ahead of
them and wait for them to come to us.   Pretty cool!

At one time the American plains were home to 60-million buffalo.  They were hunted and slaughtered to near extinction, and by the turn of the 19th century, could be found only in two small herds making a total of 550 buffalo in the entire country.  In 1905, a move was begun to acquire and reintroduce buffalo to the Oklahoma plains.  I thought it was hilarious that they had to turn to the New York Zoological Society and the Bronx Zoo to acquire 15 buffalo, 9 cows and 6 bulls.  Maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but I equated that with an eskimo having to go to Zimbabwe for ice cubes.  They were crated and loaded in boxcars for a seven-day, 1,500 mile trip to the railhead at Cache, OK.  Hundreds of people, including the Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, came out on October 18, 1907, to see their crates reloaded on wagons for the 13-mile ride to the wildlife refuge.  From 550 bison nationwide, there is now a healthy herd of 650 bison in the Wichita refuge alone, and annual auctions are held to sell Texas Longhorn cattle and bison to maintain proper herd populations.

Everyone has seen a colt frolicking in a sand patch on its back, feet flailing in the air as it dusts itself and scratches its back.  Seeing a 2,000 pound bull bison doing the same things is something else again and makes a significantly greater impression.  He’d lay on his back and twist and turn until he had gyrated out of his dirt patch, then get up, move back to the best spot, and do it again.  After he had resolved all the itchy patches on his back, he rolled onto his hunches and knees (carpus), and rocked forward and back scrubbing his belly on the ground.  With all that taken care of, he got back on his feet, had a good shake all over, and returned to grazing.

This is Antelope Flats, a prairie region in the refuge where the
wildlife roam free.

During all this I made an inspection tour of the lakes in the wildlife area.  There were Lakes Elmer Thomas, Johnson, and Quanah Parker.  We also found another campground we hadn’t seen mentioned before, Camp Doris, which puts you right in the middle of the wildlife refuge.

Here's that elk I missed seeing.  I borrowed this picture from the
wildlife service photo file.

Okay, wish me luck.  I'm going back to bed.

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