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Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Since moving back to my childhood home of Wichita Falls, Texas, I have rediscovered the great playground of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in south central Oklahoma. The mountains are only a little over an hour’s drive away from me so I don’t have to take a long, exhausting, eight-hour drive to find my kind of fun.
The Wichita Mountains are the oldest mountains in the Great Plains. About 300-320 million years ago, limestone and dolomite folded and uplifted to form this chain of mountains. In the Pennsylvania Period, the Wichitas were 5,000-10,000 feet above land and sea. However, 250-270 million years ago, the mountains wore down and the Permian Sea covered them in sediment. The peaks are all that is left and what fun peaks they are. Along with hiking, biking, picnicking, and sightseeing, there is a small amount of caving that can be done restricted mostly to historic shelters and mines.
So far, I have been able to find a 50-foot waterfall called Post Oak Falls, the "Apple and Pear" rock formations, a 45-foot natural arch, the "Forty-foot Hole which is a forbidden swimming hole, a shelter called Nature’s Dwell, Bat Cave also known as Wind Cave, Spanish Cave, and a wealth of scenery. As mentioned, this is a wildlife refuge and the elk and bison roam free adding an even more fantastic aspect to the Wichitas.
On my way to see Bat Cave, I found in the side of Bat Cave Mountain a shelter hollowed out in the granite called Nature’s Dwell. It is a 20-30 foot concavity with an overhang protruding from the above cliff. I climbed in to the shelter and found a crack leading up. Being the curious caver that I am, I crawled in and found that it led to two separate entrances close to the mountain’s top. Satisfied that I had seen all that I could see including some icicles hanging like stalactites on the ceiling, I set off in search of Bat Cave.
I found the entrance to Bat Cave. It is 36 feet deep, 8-11 feet high, and 15 feet wide. It seems to be too shallow to have ever harbored bats. Upon reaching it, I discovered a pole cut with footholds used to reach the entrance some 20 feet above me which was terribly unsafe. I didn’t want to die that day so I climbed the side of the mountain trying to decide if I could climb down in to the cave from the top. No way! The drop is too shear. So I sighed, gazed at the amazing view around me, and decided to just climb to the top of Bat Cave Mountain instead.
When I returned with my caving gear several months later to the cave, I was quickly surprised to see that a rope knotted with loops had been newly put in place from above the cave's entrance. Trusting the maker of the knotted rope, I swiftly tossed my rope aside and scrambled up the rope. It wasn't the easiest climb since the loops were placed a little too far apart for me. I think a giant must have tied these loops. Nonetheless, it got me to my destination. I had read about there being bats in the cave but I didn't see any. Inside the cave is the usual spray painted graffiti and trash. It's unfortunate that some people see caves as places to desecrate when they are clearly places to enjoy. Native Americans have referred the cave to be a ghost house but the only ghosts I felt that day were the ghosts of history roaming the Wichita Mountains. Friendly ghosts I'm sure because I can't imagine a place so beautiful harboring anything else.
I had read about another cave in the mountains with a significantly more historic past. Spanish Cave is alleged to have three Spanish-type markings made with cinnabar on the walls by Spanish explorers. They are to be two Spanish crosses with either a sun or turtle between them. The markings are said to still be visible but when I looked for them I couldn’t find them. The cave walls are destroyed with graffiti and campfire soot. The Spanish cross is known to mean the existence of buried treasure but other opinions lean more to religious beliefs. In 1902, a mummified Indian boy was found in the cave along with Spanish coins and leather bags. So, the mystery of this cave continues.
Some think Spanish Cave is a hard cave to find but I seemed to hike right to it. The cave is basically 20-feet deep by 20-feet wide. The view from the entrance is a geologist’s dream. The boulders grown from the mountain side look incredible with references to them as poised gods guarding the serenity of the area. I searched a bit more for the elusive markings but still could find nothing resembling what I was searching for. It was exciting to find Spanish Cave and experience the ghostly history that this cave contains. It’s not much of a cave but it holds an intrigue that pulls people to explore its mystery and maybe even look for that buried Spanish treasure.
Following the cave theme, I also found a unique mine tunnel. The Pennington Mine Tunnel is a straight, horizontal shaft going back about 170 feet. Nestled behind a screen of trees on the side of a mountain, the handpicked tunnel is approximately six feet high and four feet wide. Hopes of a great gold cache were quickly shattered by the Pennington brothers in the early 1900s when the tunnel failed to produce much gold or platinum. Now, visitors don flashlights while splashing their way through the tunnel and disturbing the few bats that rest there. It was a short underground experience but an underground one no less.
The Wichita Mountains are a place of many wonders and great beauty too vast to mention in one single writing. The refuge and the land that follows it are green and wavy in all their glory. The eye is full just to hold the sight. A small town here, a bump on a log there, and all that nature owns is there for viewing. I will continue to explore this mountains range and certainly enrich my life as much as possible. I highly recommend to any nature lovers to make the drive and come see the wonders I have found.
Reference: "Outdoor Trail Guide To The Wichita Mountains of Southwest Oklahoma." Edward Charles Ellenbrook. In-The-Valley-Of-The-Wichitas House, 1983.