Camping in the Wichita Mountains, Southwest OK

In all my years on this beautiful earth, I have only camped twice.  Both times, it has been in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Reserve and Campgrounds in southwest Oklahoma.  Getting me to a campsite to “rough-it” in the woods would have been an act of God in the past.  I am not a huge fan of bugs, especially spiders, bees, and wasps.  The thought of sharing a stinky, rarely maintained, campsite restroom has also never been high on my list of life-long dreams.  I have always loved nature, how beautiful it is, and how it can create the perfect backdrop to amazing moments that may or may not make you cringe on the reflect.

Work has been really busy since the end of last year and finally, I have been able to take some time and enjoy my paycheck.  When the opportunity to escape the city confines to camp with my boyfriend’s cousins in the Wichita Mountains presented itself, I mentally already had my bags packed.  In reality, I packed a couple of hours before the trip because I am a procrastinator and I needed some of my items for everyday use. Don’t judge me.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Reserve and Campgrounds are a two-hour ride from Oklahoma City. We left around 3:30 pm to try and beat the height of the rush hour traffic. Ace of Base was jamming on the radio as we pulled onto the road that would lead us to the campgrounds.  Since it was around 5:30 when we got there, the golden hour was just beginning.  Crested hills and mountains curved to reveal secrets hidden in the plains.  Buffalo and long-horn cattle roamed freely and comfortably along a grass-lined riverbank.  We slowed to watch their majestic grazing on the sweet grass. A buffalo looked up to check us out. He obviously wasn’t impressed by our gawking and picture-taking, so he strolled across the street to hang with the other herd of longhorns.

Onward we went to Doris Campground.  A chipper park volunteer greeted us at the gate. Bubbly and warm, she explained to us where our campsite was, gave us a map, highlighted our area, and spilled some campsite secrets, such as they have ice if we need it. Doris Campground has premium electric, individual electric, individual non-electric, and semi-primitive camp sites. Our group had an individual non-electric campsite. Honestly, I have no idea what the difference between the non-electric and semi-primitive sites are. All I really cared about was that I was a short walk to the bathroom and that our campsite was well-shaded.

Night 1

We shared the campsite with my boyfriend’s cousins. We were nestled up next to the Quanah Parker Lake, a skip from our tent. Tranquil water is beautiful to gaze at, but it brings with it all the bugs. I showered myself in bug spray and helped my boyfriend Phong put together our tent.  If you have never put a tent up in the Oklahoma heat, it is not for the prissy people.  This particular 90-degree day had absolutely no wind. By the time we were finished, I was caked in sweat and dead bugs and could probably be the poster child for a new Bath and Body work’s body spray called “Deet n’ Mosquite.” Thankfully, I had lots of wet wipes and hand sanitizer to clean up with before prepping dinner.

One thing is for sure, we packed enough food for multiple feasts.  There was no shortage of delicious ingredients. We had pre-planned our meals and who was bringing what. So refreshing going on a trip with people who have a plan and have experience and lots of gadgets. The men started the rumbling fire while us ladies cracked open ice-cold beers and prepped dinner. Everyone had a task, even the kids! Hammocks were strung between the trees, air mattresses were inflated, and of course pictures were taken for the Instagram.  In between the grilling of the brats and sipping of the beers, Phong and I strolled to the edge of the lake and were amazed at the view. The setting sun painted a pink and purple sky which the still lake mirrored. Birds chatted, probably laughing at the “Deet Girl” and her skin o’ dead bugs. In that moment of stillness and calm, it was easy to forget that I had stresses two hours away.

That night we feasted on brats, hotdogs, wagyu hamburgers, and Caesar salad. One of our camp mates had made homemade cinnamon rolls, so I ate one naturally. Not only would it be rude not to, but how does one just waste perfectly good hot cinnamon rolls with gooey frosting? You don’t. The hot sizzling wagyu beef mixed with the sweet soft cinnamon roll sent my insulin into drop mode and by 10, I was hitting a wall. A luke-warm shower and an air mattress were calling my name, and I answered. 

There is nothing like sleeping under the stars.  By the time my achy, freshly deet-sprayed body crawled into the tent, a slight breeze danced through the air. The lingering scent of burning camp fire was intoxicating and I sank into slumber in a matter of minutes. Thankfully, I was able to hold my potty time until the morning.

Day 2

Morning birds whispered in the trees, pulling me out of my light sleep.  I lay in the tent, spying on the treetops as the sun kissed it good morning. A gentle wind was playing about, bringing with it the scent of brewing coffee from a neighboring campsite. Rolling over to search my phone for the time, I caught a glimpse of the lake glimmering in the sunshine. This was pure peace. It was early, and other campers were already up and about getting ready to beat the heat with an early hike.  Naturally, I had to pee.

Gathering up my clothes and toiletries, I took the short walk to the powered restrooms.  Apparently, there was a youth group camping on the opposite side of the road from us.  All the young ladies were in getting ready for their day of camping fun.  Luckily there was an open stall where I could change and pee in the audience of some spiders and dead June bugs. I should have charged them a fee for the show.

Back at the campsite, everyone was up and about.  Water was being boiled in a kettle on the fire, frozen breakfast burritos were being warmed on a cast iron skillet, left over cinnamon rolls were being warmed on another grill, and I was making sure every inch of me was sprayed with more bug spray. After breakfast and coffee, we set out on a morning hike.

Our plans for the day were to go on some simple hikes as we had children and pups with us.  Afterwards, we were to bypass the heat with a lunch in Medicine Park, then back to camp to have adult beverages, take naps, play games and do more memory making.  I really liked this plan as it meant that I would not be having to keep up with advanced hikers trying to make me climb unsteady rocks, causing me to pull my old muscles. It also meant that our schedule wasn’t so packed that we couldn’t relax.  I had my favorite Eddie Bauer hiking pants on, my sporty top, and my bright pink hat.  I was good to go. 

The first hike we went on was a quick one taking us to Buford Lake.  A woodsy entrance opened to a field with trees. The trail ended with a calm Buford Lake at the end. Pictures were taken and a bumblebee started to stalk me.  When I say stalk, I mean that it literally would not leave me alone. I must have smelled amazing because the damn thing kept coming back. Did this bee know that I am terrified? Why was it only coming after me?

The next stop was the Lake Jed Johnson Tower trail. We spilled out of our vehicles, coating our skin with another layer of sunblock, only to be stopped by a rude tourist.  “You can’t take dogs on these trails. It’s a nature reserve.” Listen here lady, we called and checked. Leashed beasties are allowed on the trails.  Of course, we didn’t say this aloud. She went to her car and spied on us as we trotted up the sandy trail.  This trail was not too challenging. A few steep steps up the side of the hill to reach the tower will leave you sweaty and reaching for your water.  In my case my strides seemed to call to the bumblebee from the last trail to come and hunt me down again. What the hell? “Babe, I think it’s your bright pink hat,” says my boyfriend, Phong. Like the gentleman that he is, he gave me his had and he tucked mine into our backpack. Now I could properly enjoy the quiet vista of Lake Jed Johnson. The tower provided a wide leg of shade for us to cool off in before making the hike back down.

By the time we got back down to the vehicle, Rude Tourist had left.  We were hot, thirsty, famished, and needed to use some facilities.  We all piled in the cars and headed towards Medicine Park to find a restaurant with patio seating on the river. Medicine Park is a small, quaint touristy town smack dab in the middle of the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Reserve area. It’s filled with restaurants, inn’s, bars, and other fun shops. This particular weekend there was a bike event, and it was filled with excited bikers.  Thankfully, we were ablet to snag a table on the patio at the Riverside Grill. As we settled into our seats, a musician was serenading the crowd with acoustic versions of 90’s songs. Ice-cold restrooms soothed our bladders while ice-cold beers quenched our thirst. We all plowed through nachos, fish and chips, taco salads, and corn nuggets! The pups were snoozing under the table when our server brought out a doggie bowl of water.  A cool breeze from the river eased our sweaty bodies from the summer heat as we mingled with table neighbors. We were comfortably full from the feast, but our mouths were craving something more: ice cream. Sluggishly, we waddled down the street to Cobblestone Creamery, where we created our own ice cream sundae indulgence.  Conveniently forgetting that I am lactose sensitive, I got me a small scoop of the Orange ice cream and topped it with oreos. One bite and I knew there was no turning back.

After a long day out and about, we headed back to home-base to relax under the shade trees and relax.  By this time the sun was in a good spot in the sky that our tree canopy was doing it’s job.  The guys revamped our campfire, ice cold beers and waters were cracked open, and some tunes were started up on the wireless speaker. While the pups quietly snoozed on their pet cots, us adults reminisced of times past, rehashed funny moments, and evaluated our favorite K-dramas.  Dinner time was fast approaching, and it would be nothing short of an epic feast.  We grilled steaks and veggies and made homemade cornbread and apple cobbler over the fire. The scent of sizzling meat and cooking cobbler penetrated the entire campgrounds. I was chewing my last bite of steak when my body began seeking revenge on the ice cream I ate earlier. What’s a good camping trip story without some drama, right? The summer night embraced us with a cool, breezy blanket and a clear sky. Vermin could be heard spying on us in the distance, but we were not to be distracted from our family bonding time. That night we all slept like babies, savoring one last night under the stars while nature sung us lullabies. 

Day 3

I awoke early the next morning to the sound of clatter and chatter from the campsite neighbors.  They were up and damn it, everyone else at the campground should be up to!  I roused from my nature-induced slumber, hungry, thirsty and ready to get home.  Although the day and a half of tranquility was therapeutic, I missed my fur kids, a hot shower, and bed.  I longed to not smell of bug spray and sweat.  We had a great breakfast of eggs, bacon, left over cinnamon rolls, and leftover steak and veggies from the night before. This delicious feast gave us the nourishment needed to tear down our temporary homes and clear the campsite.  As the morning heat intensified, we were taking the trash to the trash bins and hitting the road.  All in all, not a bad camping experience.  I didn’t have to dig any holes for potty time. No snakes tickled my feet while I slept.  No bears joined us for dinner. No one robbed our campsite. I would call that a success.  As we left the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Reserve, I took a mental picture and began dreaming of our next camping trip to a new spot.  Adventure was awaiting and I was ready.

Tips for camping at this site:

  • Bring flipflops for the community showers
  • Bring lots of bug spray
  • The primitive camping bathrooms are scary.  Use the ground or walk to the powered bathroom.
  • Do not rely on cell phones for your form of communication…there is little to no service in this entire area.
  • Bring a hiking backpack for your hiking and exploring needs.  Pack lots of wet wipes, hand sanitizing wipes, and band aids.  Most places you stop at don’t regularly clean and stock the restrooms with toilet paper and paper towels.

Have you been camping here? What were your favorite things to do or trails to go on?  Please leave a comment on this blog!

Until next time, keep life zesty!

Danna

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