A friend and I decided to get some much-needed time away from Dallas Metropolis, so we planned a short overnight trip to Oklahoma . We enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities so I looked for a place that would accommodate all of our needs within a short trip. I was looking for a place that offered hiking, overnight camping, and rock climbing. I found much to my happiness, that the Wichita National Wildlife Refuge was only about three hours north of Dallas . According to the internet it had many outdoor amenities. With the info provided it seemed like a nice, new quick place to visit.
We left early Sunday morning, way before the sun had even thought about coming up. If you’ve ever driven west and north Texas it’s pretty darn flat. As a matter of fact, you'll know when you’ve left Texas because you'll start to see the landscape change. Two and a half hours into our trip the sun yawned and said good morning and off in the distance we saw the beginnings of what looked like a mountain. I was born and raised in the Rockies and the closer we got there was hills, very different hills, but they were hills. Boulders the size of houses all piled together in a neat way. We arrived at the visitor center a few minutes before eight so I took my camera out and, WOW, I began shooting the wild Bison roaming the nearby pasture.
An elderly grey bearded man that resembled Gandalf the grey from Lord of The Rings opened the doors promptly at eight and greeted us with a smile as he dumped the trash and made us laugh the whole time with his charming humor. He had a wealth of knowledge of the refuge and made it a point to say, “Were not a park, were a refuge!” with a great big smile. He gave us a tour of the park through actual pictures and directed us to where we wanted to go. He had extensive knowledge of the refuge because he had worked there for fifteen years. He was an amazing guy. We set out with all our maps and literature, and talked about how he was such a great fixture of the refuge.
We drove to where we decided we wanted to camp, next to a small lake, right off the water, and close to a restroom so we wouldn’t have to hike double time if need be. I backed the truck into the space, and we stepped off the truck and low and behold our second brush with nature, two deer’s laying in the underbrush and fallen leaves! I reached for the camera and again began shooting. Apparently because it’s a refuge and you cannot harm them their pretty friendly, I was able to get within fifteen or twenty feet without them moving. Then from the brush out pop a couple of raccoons! So many people never get to see wildlife in their natural setting.
About half past nine we adorned our forty-pound hiking packs complete with rock climbing gear and set off for the day. Up, down, around, over, under, we went on this trail that would put us at the base of the two-thousand-foot boulder hill we were attempting that day. A small clear pond at the base with slowly moving clear water welcomed us as we cleared the trees and bushes. Then we looked up, way up, from where we were standing it appeared to be no problem. We picked a path up that did not appear as if it had ever been chosen before, or at least this year and started ascending the rock face. We climbed for about an hour and a half, when that sun was straight over our heads the temperature was already 110 degrees in the shade. We found some shade and took a break just long enough to catch a bit of a breeze. We were both carrying about six liters of water and by that time I was halfway through my water. So, we decided to drop the packs and gear and climb the rest with no ropes just harnesses and two one-liter bottles of water. We found the freedom of not having the packs hurried us along and we reached the summit much faster and happier. The sun was trying to turn us to raisins, so we took a few pictures and double timed it back down. A few other climbers and hikers enjoyed the sun and trails that Sunday afternoon in July, not many, because of the heat. All in all, it was great to see all the wildlife and great to be able to see things that many wont and most of all being able to get in touch with nature. I can’t wait to go back in October!
Lorenzo's Adventure Travel's
OKLAHOMA: IN TOUCH WITH NATURE
Telluride or Bust
by Lorenzo Vigil, Adventure Traveler, Global One Journalist
I started by planning this trip with the best intentions , hoping that all the things that I’ve read and seen on TV and the internet will give me a firsthand experience. I hoped for the kind of story that will give you a “magical” and full of beauty incite. You know the kind of stories that start out as, “Once upon a time!” Well, what if I told you this place is dubbed the Swiss Alps of America and I found it to be exactly that and much...much more.
Destination, Telluride or Bust!
The only planning that took place was the day and approximate time that we would leave and like all the best laid plans we ended leaving way earlier and more loaded down with a huge four-wheeler and more building materials for my dad.
My travel companion is a native to Colorado so we both knew that the drive from Dallas, Texas would be quite an undertaking. This was to be a boy’s trip. NO kids, no girlfriends. I need the bathroom every fifty miles, no I’m hungry, no one screaming he touches me. Just me and a cooler full of beer and food for five days.
If you’ve ever taken a drive in any direction in Texas you know that its flatter then the bottom of a hot iron, the dirt is red as the stripes of the flag and the rivers have a murky sandy color, but for now it’s home and even when I’m gone for a few days I still miss it.
We Set Out Early
So, we set out in the middle of the night to purposely reach the top of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico by daybreak. My family owns a ranch in Colorado, so I make the drive (with kids) a few times a year. Reaching this spot by daybreak is always my goal. You can see off the top of the mountains for 40 or 50 miles. Looking out onto the rolling prairie for miles and miles like the explorers Lewis and Clark did for the first time. The mountain air is so crisp and clean and smells of Pine and Douglas fir like an unending Christmas smell that brings back childhood memories of family and ranch life.
An hour or so later were on the family ranch and rest for the night before pushing further into the western slope, but not before we stop and hug on Granny’s neck and tell her what the plans are, so she doesn’t get mad that we didn’t see her on our way. That night it was steaks grilled on an open fire, cut from the family stock of cattle. My favorite is the rib eye cooked to perfection, the marbling melting in your mouth with the hint of garlic butter and salt. Sitting here now as I write this story suddenly my mouth begins to water.
The morning came early but the smell of a fire in the kitchen and the smell of fresh coffee revived me. The kitchen window is framed with a 14000 ft peak in the distance and the pastures below it are green and ready to cut the first bales of winter cattle feed. This is, by far, one of my favorite things in life. Like every other day Dad was cooking fresh red potatoes and eggs and even at 46 I still felt like an elementary school kid waking up to watch Saturday morning cartoons on the living room floor with a blanket.
Back on the Road
We left dad with the materials we brought for him and left after breakfast driving with a much lighter load. Another five hours of twisting and turning, driving in the mountains, through fields of hay next to cool rivers that are clear and sweet tasting. Have you ever put you face into a cold stream and taken a drink? Have you tasted what home feels like?
Personally, this will be my first time to visit Telluride but, to my benefit, my buddy Brandon is a native and knows all the secret spots. I took so many pictures driving north on highway 145 that it felt like I had never seen mountains before. The sights are all so awe inspiring. July in Colorado is a sight to be seen. As the road summits over high mountains there is so much color everywhere in every direction. I know I wouldn’t be the first to say its Gods country.
We Embraced Mother Nature
As we were about thirty minutes from town, we began descending next to Trout Lake.
There is a heavy cloud lumbering just over the water only letting hints of the blue water sneak past its grasp. The more we descend the mirror sheen begins to reflect the cove of mountains surrounding its hidden treasures. Even with a light mist people on kayaks and paddle boards are strew about enjoying the privacy only known to those willing to suffer just a little for the richer reward of Mother Nature’s embrace.
Simply put, driving into town is a feast for the senses. First you see the buildings of Main Street but THEN… you see the mountains that hold Telluride in its gentle embrace. The town is situated in a canyon with towering mountains on 3 sides. Standing in the middle of the street looking straight uptown there is a bright white waterfall that tumbles down the face of the mountain.
I stand there dumbfounded and simply jealous that people live here every day. I have found my Valhalla….my heaven. Then I remember how hungry I am, and my hunger brings me back to earth. The little shops are selling all kinds of sweet-smelling treats. Vendors are everywhere selling all kinds of food. The crisp air you feel on your skin even in July is calming.
I Had to Have A Burger
There was one thing that I wanted, and I had to have it…a cheeseburger! Mere feet from where we were parked there was this burger place on main that I wanted to try so away we went. I also noticed right away that everyone on the street that appear to be locals are all wearing sportswear. The only traffic are people coming and going into and out of town. Everyone that lives here are riding bikes and walking. You also notice that because of this fact for the most part everyone is in relatively good physical condition….they’re healthy!! This would be the only day that we eat on Main Street. Two burgers, two fries and two cokes came to the awesome total of $60.00. Don’t get me wrong the food was delicious but I’m still on a budget.
We Decided to Hike
Feeling rejuvenated we decided to take a short thirty-minute hike up Cornet Creek and find Cornet Falls. Just two blocks away from where we were sitting down eating, we walk past these houses that all look so perfectly manicured. I swear everyone here is OCD. The rocks, the leaves, the grass in the yards have all been tended to by Hobbits and I think I’m in the shire. As we pass the last house there a small path that begins leaning upwards and before long, I sound like a 20-year smoker sucking air with the weight of lunch weighing me down. Brandon passes me like I was standing still and as he does, I notice this (expletive expletive) is wearing flip flops. That pisses me off just enough to keep up with him in my high dollar hiking boots. The whole hike up we are seeing this rushing creek bouncing over granite boulders that over time have taken and washed them clean leaving makes of time. Passing the last few trees, we get the rush of wind from the falling water. The mist that hits your face washes away the sweat. It erases the need to pick up an email or the want of a desk. Standing the test of time at 80 feet high Cornet Falls is a must see. This is only the beginning of the trip what other gems will this adventure reveal.
We Had No Reservations, But Survived
We have no expensive hotel. What do we have is a cooler and camping gear? It’s getting late and we must find somewhere to sleep. Driving back to Trout Lake we skirt around following a dirt road not knowing where it leads but Brandon had heard there were some good spots to set up camp. We found a spot right from the pages of Narnia. A bubbling brook of clear water was surrounded by tall trees. A small clearing with short grass that I’m sure the elves themselves had planted because sights like these are for imagination and the movies far off places that only the wealthy can afford but here, we are with a hope and a prayer and willing spirit. After camp
was made dinner was eaten, I crawled into my tent feeling very happy. I remember that first night I was woken up by a thunderstorm shaking my tent with heavy rain and wind. I laid awake for a couple hours there on the ground just thinking. Thinking about how thankful I was for the trip, how amazing the earth smelled, and how I knew it would be over sooner than I wanted.
Hiking the Via Ferrata
The next day was breakfast with a bath and shave near the lake before we set off for the day’s hike. We planned on driving up the 4x4 road called Black Bear Pass and seeing Bridal Falls and then hiking the Via Ferrata. Now let me attempt the explanation of a Via Ferrata. You hike up a narrow death-defying path to an unspeakable height of oh let’s say 1500 feet above the canyon floor and carefully ease your way down a path only inches wide coming to a vertical face of rock and instead of continuing upwards you hike across it horizontally. This is where the real challenge begins. Anchor points have been established footrests and handholds have been installed but it doesn’t dismiss the fact that the path disappears. Yes, that’s right…. the path disappears into nothing but bars of steel.
Not for The Faint of Heart
If you have a fear of heights this might not be the best thing for you. You can do a lot of things that can give you an adrenalin rush, but this kind of hike took time and effort. Walking up the trail I remember having to convince myself over and over to keep going. There were moments of serious vertigo. I would have to stop and focus just on the rock face because seeing the drop off was making it hard to focus without getting dizzy.
You Can Do Many Things for Free
After we made our way back down to town, we did some sightseeing and bar hopping. There is a free chair lift that’s takes you all over the place including to the top of the mountain where there is a restaurant with a view and also to the other side where mountain village is full of shops and restaurants. There are so many things that we did that didn’t cost anything. We found a local “Hippie Dip”. They’re free thermal baths out in the woods where people go to relax have a drink or smoke a little something and enjoy one of the many attractions that make this place magical. We did so much with so little during this trip; we met bartenders and wait staff that were welcoming and insightful. We talked and shared drinks with townsfolk that loved living their lives in such a beautiful place. People here are happy.
If you ever want to take a trip and share it with someone you love, there are sights to be seen that are unforgettable. Your kids will remember the best day gaming but when you get them out of the house and show them things like this place, they’ll never forget that time you made them go outside and have an adventure. There are no nights out to dinner or drinking that compares to these memories.
I have learned how to live my life outside, feeling the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. I recommend you try it to. It’s the best.