Wichita Mountains was the first National
Wildlife Refuge in the nation! It's free, they have a great visitor center and
camping is very reasonable.
We had made plans before we left out to stay at an AirBnB about 45 minutes away because of the high rain chance. It did not rain overnight, but just after we arrived to check it out, a massive storm passed over with wind, rain and hail the size of baseballs. We got a few pings, but nothing that big. We hid out under the awning at the visitor center once the hail started. The next day when we went back, we were talking to some boys working on the trail and they said just across the lake (about 4 miles away) there was hail the size of oranges!
Spiderwort but with FOUR petals! Ours has 3
Leg stretcher after the ride in from OK City
The terrain had looked more or less like 'here' for the drive out. More open skies and less trees, but still pretty familiar looking. As soon as we crossed into the Wichita Mountains, things changed!
Hiding out by a little tree during the worst of the blowing rain.
We sneaked under the carport at the visitor center and left the van and wandered around inside. It was a NICE visitor center!
We did not see any of these guys the whole trip! Well, we saw one. He was road kill.
Their memoir is going to be titled "Just Humor Your Mother"
The rain went through FAST so we headed on through the main road in the park to get to our lodgings before dark.
The park maintains a herd of 550 bison, culling and selling the extras at the start of fall.
They also have around 450 elk and 450 longhorn cattle. The cattle have been bred for generations to carry the closest to the original genetic strain as possible.
They have hunts and sales for the excess animals, keeping the population to the level the grasslands can support is vital to the health of the ecosystem.
None of the animals are fenced, they can walk on any trail or cross any road with the huge refuge.
These guys were passing through, they crossed the road and were gone in under a minute!
It was time to head to Olustee for the night!
We got settled into the student hostel at
Jeff's house and he was an interesting character. He's retired, from New York.
Moved to Olustee, a town of 400 in an economically depressed area.
The local school runs K-12 and some grades only have 7-8 students. He rents out several houses in the area, he has a pool that's open to the local kids, he has a rack of bikes he checks out to them like a library system. there's a foosball table, coin operated laundry and drinks and a snack machine. He has a token operated slot machine and the tokens are marked to work in the machines, so the kids can get tokens from him (free) and 'win' tokens for drinks and snacks. When the nearest gas station is 12 miles away, it's a nice thing to have.
He's really involved in the community, he and his wife keep an exchange student, we met Sally, their 6th student. She is from China and is only 16, but is headed to Canada to start college next fall and they will get in a new student from Spain soon after. They brought us in and fed us and we talked a long time. It was really nice to hang out with a family while out traveling.
In a town with literally nothing much at all to do for kids, he's providing an amazing service. He lets the teams wash uniforms, he sponsors the year book, he keeps an exchange student, he gives the kids a way to get exercise and a place to hang out and he's watchful-he gives all the kids chores and small tasks, keeps up with what they are doing, their plans and so on. Sally was on the basketball team, softball team and involved in church and in her spare time, he had her crocheting WalMart bags into bedding for the homeless! He's a whirlwind and it's focused on his tiny town.
I walked around the town myself for a while and Matt and the kids found me and joined my stroll. I had spent the half hour they were riding bikes messing with the van organization. It was NOT working the way I had it!
We crashed that night and slept hard!
The next morning we left out early, Matt had tea with Jeff while we loaded the van back up and Chan drove us back to Wichita Mountains for the day.
Back to Wichita!