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Backpacker Magazine – May 1999

Oklahoma's Charons Gardens Wilderness

The bare rocks of Oklahoma's Charons Gardens will haunt and delight hikers.

by: Gary Lantz


The scene seems mythical: Acre upon acre of bare rocks rise from a prairie sea. Many are the size of houses, stacked like the ancient ruins of giants. It's no wonder this mysterious landscape is named for Charon, the boatman in Greek mythology who rowed the souls of the dead across the River Styx.

A geological boneyard of granite boulders, narrow cedar canyons, scrub oak, and spring brooks, Charons Gardens contains the backcountry portion of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. But don't expect this rocky territory to be desolate. Chances are you'll spot fresh buffalo tracks and hear elk bugling if you hike the Dog Run Hollow Loop Trail. Be sure to explore the eerie reaches of Styx Canyon (with compass and topo map in hand). If that's all too claustrophobic, climb Elk Mountain for bird's-eye views that stretch all the way to Texas.

This is tough country. Rough pink rock tears at your boots, and annoyed rattlesnakes buzz from hidden lairs. Hang in there, though, because relief is usually around the corner in the form of waterfalls and cool slopes shaded by blackjack and post oak. But if you encounter a hooded man poling an old, creaking skiff, don't ask for a ride.

Where: 87 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and 237 miles northwest of Dallas. Trailhead access is about 12 miles northwest of Cache, north on OK 115 then west on OK 49.

Maps: Outdoor and Trail Guide to the Wichita Mountains ($9.95, In the Valley of the Wichitas House, 580-536-7118) is a thorough guide.

Trail Info: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, (580) 429-3222.

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