What: Wichita Mountains Nature Refuge
When: Wednesday, August 6, 2015
There's not too much to do on base. My brother disappears early in the morning for work, while my sister-in-law runs a daycare in the house. So us visiting relatives (including Lincoln) jump into the car and drive for the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, not a half hour away.
Clumps of russet stone, splotched white with vulture droppings, "rises from the plains like a great bison emerging from the earth." It forms a decent-sized hill. The view is beautiful from here, and I spy juniper trees and sunflowers and purple thistle all mixed up in the ankle-high grass. A clump of bright blue flowers match my shirt. What are they? Bluebells? Indigo? I'm not familiar with the flora around here.
Along the way, I stare at long-horn cattle out the window. They're one of the four big herd animals in the refuge, along with elk, deer, and, of course, bison. I don't see elk or deer but I think I spot some bison. It's just a flash of two black wooly heads, but I count it as a buffalo sighting.
The mountains end before we get to the visitor's center and now we're in full on prairie: long grasses, short grasses, waving like a sea and pleasantly green. As I step into the grass, no fewer than three grasshoppers bounce away. Another step. Boing, boing boing. Off they go. Some have speckled orange wings. They're trying to disguise themselves as butterflies!
At the Visitor's Center, I learn that rock lands, prairies, oak woodlands, and water overflows form "a patchwork quilt" of landscape. Each type of land is recreated inside the building, complete with stuffed animals: a lizard basking on a rock, a beaver underwater, and a fox hungrily staring down a prairie dog. However, I'm soon distracted by real animals. Swallows dart back and forth just outside the glass window. My sister points out their nests in the rafters.
Since we've only visited two of the four landscapes, it's time to pile back inside the car. Oak woodlands are colloquially known as "cast iron forests" for their toughens. Hearty men that came before us have sliced through them, and we drive thoughtlessly through them on our way to a hiking ground.
We find an abandoned visitor's center where the picked-clean carcass of some large animal is sprawled on the dirt. Nearby a half-brown, half-green Collard lizard chomps on a bug. With all the sobriety appropriate to the scene, I lift up the skull and place it over my face.
"Who's that pokemon?"
The cicadas are noisy. They are chirping/ droning/ shaking like some giant rattlesnake curled up in the branches of the trees. We hike past bushes filled with some kind of dried up blackberry and find our way to the final environment: the wetlands.
Brown weeds growing underneath the surface of the pond give the water a murky pallor. I see lilly pads, but no frogs.
"Snake!" Jaime points.
Dark curves sidewinds through the water. The snake disappears into the depths.