My new Oklahoma Hiking Trails book recommended the Charon’s Garden trail at the western end of the Refuge, running south from Sunset Pool to Treasure Lake. So on Friday evening I drove to Oklahoma City to visit my parents. On Saturday morning I took the H.E. Bailey turnpike to Lawton. Soon Quincy and I were driving northwest out of Lawton with Sunset Pool as our destination. We never made it.
As we drove along the south border of Fort Sill, we saw a rocket launch from a ground unit, sending a long contrail off to the northeast. The only Southern Plains fort built during the Indian Wars which is still an active Army installation, Fort Sill trains marine artillerymen. Back in 1989, while searching for Geronimo’s grave at the fort, I managed to drive into one of the fort’s live shell areas. Decades later my navigation skills are now bolstered by GPS, but as Quincy and I drove up highway 115 through the fort toward the main part of the Refuge, soldiers blocked our way. They politely informed us the road was closed, perhaps wanting to ensure I did not blunder into rocket fire.
So we ducked back westward and took Indiahoma Road to the Treasure Lake Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, which employs 16-24 year olds in vocational and academic training. That way we could simply reverse our intended hike, trekking northward from Treasure Lake toward Sunset Pool. We parked between Treasure Lake and Post Oak Lake and began our northward trek through Charon’s Garden. The mountains there are about 300 million years old, composed of coarse granite that formed about 500 million years ago. The central peak is Elk Mountain.
The trail took us above Treasure Lake, with Elk Mountain visible to the north. I made sure to have Quincy pose in front of both Treasure Lake and Elk Mountain and I included him in a panorama, since I’ve worked with his mother at BHS for over twenty years and knew she’d want some shots. Some of the fall foliage was quite beautiful, although the cacti did not participate. Quincy was allowing me to lead, so it wasn’t long until I managed to veer off the main trail onto one skirting along Post Oak Creek. We stopped to snack at a pool along the creek and then strode into a relatively open area on the southern flank of Elk Mountain where a stream came in from the east. The eroded boulders atop the mountain were striking.
Knowing I’d already left the main trail some time back, I decided to head eastward along a side trail toward a peak separating our little side creek from the headwaters of Fawn Creek to the east, where the Bonanza Mine operated in the early 1900s. These creeks carried runoff westward and eastward from Elk Mountain to the north and Mount Lincoln to the south. Up ahead we spotted a huge boulder that had rolled down from the mountain. The trail eventually wound over to it, and Quincy posed to provide some scale.
We climbed the slope between the two mountains, paralleling the eroded ridge of Elk Mountain. But the trail petered out and we could not safely scale the peak separating us from Fawn Creek. So after a breather Quincy and I headed back west to the big boulder and then bushwhacked to the southwest, splitting briefly to follow two parallel trails on the mountainous terrain. He took the high road and I took the low road, which might just reflect our respective characters. Up atop the mountain I could see the landmark rock called the Pear, with its companion, the Apple, snuggled behind it. Directly to the west were a series of other smaller mountains. Soon Treasure Lake was visible to the south.
When we returned to Post Oak Creek my erring navigation skills had me leading us back north again even though we had abandoned our quest to reach Sunset Pool. Quincy politely hinted that we were going in circles, but it wasn’t until we were back at the snack spot that I caught on. Soon enough we were heading back south, with a family of hikers on our heels. This time we followed the main trail all the back to Treasure Lake. That trail ran on higher ground to the west of the creek trail we took on our northward trek. We ventured over to Post Oak Lake, which served as another reminder that what they call a lake in the Wichitas we’d call a pond elsewhere.
We then drove north and east through the Refuge, declining to take the road north to Meers. That little mining town boomed to perhaps 500 in the early 1900s but all that is left these days is a dilapidated restaurant about a half mile south of the original town site. It is known for its huge thin hamburgers served in pie pans, but neither Quincy nor I had been impressed by our separate visits to the establishment in prior years. So we drove on east and took the three-mile-long road up Mount Scott, which looms 1000 feet above the flat plains to the east.
The summit was swarming with people, including a couple enjoying the view of Elmer Thomas Lake to the south and another couple looking westward while boys scrambled about the slope. The Wichita range stretched out to the west just as it has for uncounted years. But the view to the north had changed dramatically with the addition of a large wind farm.
Descending Mount Scott, we drove into the resort town of Medicine Park to dine at the Riverside Cafe. Driving about town, I spotted a mountain lion sculpture, but it did not compare well to one I snapped in Estes Park, Colorado a decade ago. That brought our excursion to the Wichita Mountains to a close and I dropped Quincy off in Lawton, returning to Oklahoma City for the night so I could head out the next morning for a hike at Roman Nose State Park just north of Watonga.