A Misty December Day in the GardenThis was a trip with Boy Scout Troop 275 of Choctaw, OK to visit the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Indiahoma, OK. This is a great area for rock climbing, Charon’s Garden Wilderness.
Originally we had planned to spend some time exploring the area, as well as playing in Valley of Boulders. But, the weather was not cooperative: While the temperature was mild, it was foggy, misty and everything was wet (making boulder hopping a dangerous venture). So, we decided to add a couple more destinations to the hike, and to limit the boys’ bouldering at Valley of Boulders.
We started our hike at Treasure Lake (Or was it Post Oak Lake? That depends on which map you look at; different maps have the names of the two lakes switched!). Even before exiting the vehicles we had stumbled on some wildlife, including several deer and a Texas longhorn (longhorns in the Wichita Mountains are true-to-type, and are allowed to roam freely because of their historical importance to the area). There were thirteen total on our crew (originally we were planning to divide into two crews, one starting at Sunset and the other at Treasure Lake, and meeting in the middle, but we had two adults drop out at the last minute so had to revise our plans). Because of the weather, no one else was at the parking lot. This was refreshing, but unusual: Even in December this is a popular area for hikers when the weather cooperates.
We hiked along Treasure Lake and found our way to Post Oak Falls. There was only a small dribble of water from this 20-foot (or so) waterfall. But the depth of the pool at the bottom surprised the boys – they weren’t able to probe its bottom with their walking sticks.
Our next stop was an abandoned mine that I knew about in the area. I’d only visited it once before, and it was not the Bonanza Mine which is marked on charts of the area. Rather, I’d been shown this one by two fellows with a GPS a few years ago. It’s located off the trail about 75-feet, but there is a boulder along the trail that serves as a good landmark. However, “trail” in Charon’s Garden is misleading.
We then headed north to visit Valley of Boulders. During this part of the hike one of the boys spotted a large, white animal high up on one of the mountains. “There’s a mountain goat up there, Mr. Doiron!” “Well, there aren’t any mountain goats in the Wichita Mountains. What you see is a longhorn that right about now thinks he should never have tried to act like a mountain goat!”
Normally as you approach Valley of Boulders you’ll be greeted by Apple and Pear, two striking boulders on the side of Elk Mountain. However, the low-hanging clouds obscured the view of the peaks in the area. By this time the rain had become somewhat heavier, though not heavy enough to make me want to don my rain pants. After about another thirty-minutes we reached Big Boulder Room at the bottom of Valley of Boulders. The boys explored it, and we even let them climb around on some of the lower parts of the boulder field. The crew decided to eat lunch here, particularly since Big Boulder Room offered some protection from the constant drizzle (though everything even under the boulders was quite damp). We also had the boys who had been to Philmont teach the boys who hadn’t (about half of them) how to purify water using a water filter.
After topping off everyone’s water, we headed for Little Falls. I hadn’t been there since my first visit to Charon’s Garden. I was uncertain that I could let the boys lead the way there without missing the small canyon that leads up to it. So, for the first time I took the lead from the boys until we had located it. Spotting what I thought was the canyon, I headed across a very narrow stream (perhaps 2-feet wide), mentioning to the boys that the rocks were very slippery. And it was about ½-microsecond after uttering those words of caution that I fell sharply on my rear end. My right palm took the brunt of the fall, and still has a bruise three days later. Fortunately, none of the camera gear was affected. Well, at least the boys knew I was serious!
About another 100-yards along we crossed a small boggy area. This was more bushwhacking as the trail up through this narrow canyon constantly disappears and reappears further upstream. During these fording maneuvers one of the boys stumbled on a rather large copperhead snake.
We continued on to Little Falls, which was also not flowing very much. After staying and relaxing there for a few minutes, we then continued by traversing around the pool below the falls, then headed straight back to Treasure Lake. It wasn’t until we reached the viewpoint of the lake about two hundred yards from the parking lot that we ran into other people; we’d had Charon’s Garden entirely to ourselves the whole day.
We had a little bit of time before we were to meet with the rest of the troop at the campground, so we took the boys for a quick visit to Sunset Pool (had we had more time, we would have climbed the hiking trail up Elk Mountain). We then returned to Fawn Creek campground, where the boys and girls prepared a Dutch oven feast for everyone to enjoy. It was a great day and everyone had a fun-filled time despite the weather.