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Backpacker Magazine – May 2013

First Night Out: Fauna

Three trails teeming with wildlife

by: Sarah L. Stewart and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Black Tailed Deer on the Olympic Coast (Tom & Pat Leeson)
Black Tailed Deer on the Olympic Coast (Tom & Pat Leeson)

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK
Charon’s Garden Trail

When North America’s once-millions-strong bison herd teetered on the brink of extinction at the turn of the 20th century, the Bronx Zoo sent 15 of the animals by train to this refuge in an effort to save the species. More than 100 years later, about 500 of the 2,000-pound beasts graze its mixed-grass prairie, which was spared the plow thanks to the patchwork of 500-million-year-old granite outcroppings littering the area. Camp smack in the middle of prime bison-spotting territory on this 4.8-mile out-and-back into the wilderness area at the refuge’s western edge, where your chances of glimpsing some of the refuge’s 600-member elk herd are equally high. From the Sunset trailhead, hike .5 mile to cross a dry drainage and reach camp in a rock-strewn valley, whose meadows offer the best odds for seeing bison—plus views east to 2,270-foot Elk Mountain (carry in extra water for cooking, as there’s no reliable water source here). Set up camp, then continue south on an easy scramble over, around, and under the house-sized rocks in a boulder field that would seem more at home at the foot of the Rockies than in southwestern Oklahoma. Retrace your steps back to camp when you reach the small lake at mile 2.4.

Go Spring for mild temps, September/October for bugling elk Get there From Lawton, take Cache Rd. northwest; it becomes US 62 west. Exit at OK 115 north. Continue on OK 49 west for 6 miles to the left turnoff for Sunset trailhead. Permit Required; $2/person Map USGS quad Quanah Mountain ($8, store.usgs.gov) or $4 map at visitor center Contact fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_mountains






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