Compared to the Rockies, Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains are molehills. They barely scrape up enough height to meet the standard definition. Three hundred million years ago, these mountains were much higher. Huge granite boulders, formed deep in the earth even more millions of years ago now constitute the major features of the range.
The area is home to one of the nation’s oldest wildlife refuges, one of Oklahomans’ favorite spots for viewing wildlife, hiking and camping. This is truly a home where the buffalo roam – even though the beginning of the herd came from the Bronx Zoo. Native bison (the proper name for this species) were practically eradicated by soldiers and buffalo hunters in the late 1800s.
Medicine Park is the perfect spot to begin exploration. Once a resort, the tiny town went through decades of decay but now is re-emerging as a great weekend destination. Many, if not most, of the shops are closed during the week, always check hours. You’ll find interesting spots like The Branded Bear, which carries authentic, hand-made Native American items. Chaps My Ass caters to bikers with equipment and clothing. There are a number of cottages available for rent in the town, but I love the Stardust Inn Bed and Breakfast.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is one of Oklahoma’s gems. For the view, a drive to the top of Mount Scott is a must. You could drive through the refuge on the main road, and probably see some wildlife, in two hours – but don’t! There are side roads to drive and trails to explore. Many people make a detour within the refuge to see the Holy City of the Wichitas, site of the longest running outdoor passion play in the country.
Adjacent to the refuge is LETRA – the Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area. This is actually part of Fort Sill property and you’ll need a pass from the Fort to enter. Bath Lake in Medicine Park is a charming throw-back to the old swimmin’ hole.
Fort Sill, on the north side of town, is home to the largest U.S. Army museum complex west of the Mississippi. Lawton has several museums. The Museum of the Great Plains covers regional history while the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center’s exhibits and interactive displays showcase Comanche history, heritage and achievements.
You could easily spend all your time in the Wildlife Refuge – hiking, fishing, rock-climbing, etc. Having a variety of museums gives you some other options.