November 24th, 2017 was an incredibly busy day for both of us. Chris had just returned from a week long trip to Oklahoma for work and Emily was checking the last boxes on our list of tasks and prep for the big trip while working a busy week! At 9pm it was finally time for us to fuel up Gerald the Tacoma, and hit the pavement hard. We contemplated sleeping and waking up early, but that just wouldn’t cut it, we wanted to get a jump on our 9 day trip as fast as we could. We pushed on through the night, taking turns and napping if we could, this proved difficult given our excitement. Most of our drive was spent fighting the intense wind that was barreling across most of the Midwest, from St. Louis, all the way to the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, full attention was required when driving. We had initially planned to make a stop at Johnson Shut Ins on our way, but our late departure prevented that from becoming a reality. The wildlife refuge landscape is something that sort of pops up out of nowhere, we were cruising down the turnpike through beautiful, rolling hills of high grass, and popped up over one last hill to see a few mountains littered with windmills. Driving into the refuge is quite beautiful, one should certainly mind the speed limit and watch the road as wildlife is not afraid to cross your path. We were quickly able to find the visitors center, and received a free, easy to read map along with some fantastic recommendations on where to hike for the best views! For any second amendment supporters, with the correct carry license/permit it is legal to carry in the park however, be sure to disarm before entering any of the on site facilities as they are federal buildings and do not allow concealed or open carry inside. For more information on Oklahoma’s firearm carry rules and regulations, click here.
After acquiring our map, we proceeded to the campgrounds as the sun was starting to set. We really, really liked their setup, allowing us to survey open sites and return upon selection to inform them. The sites were also very well kept, given that we were right in the middle of autumn, the leaves and debris were cleaned up and made setting up very easy for us. They are also spaced just far enough apart that you aren’t on top of the next site, and you have some privacy. Each site is equipped with a large concrete picnic table and a rock lined fire pit. Firewood is available at the entry to the campsites. We picked a corner spot and got to work, after unpacking the truck bed, removing the tonneau cover, and setting up our Napier Truck Tent, only 20 minutes had passed, leaving plenty of time to stretch out and relax while preparing dinner! That was one of the most beautiful sunsets we had seen in quite a long time!
About an hour later, we realized that we had forgotten to let our loved ones know that we arrived, When entering this park, you will have cell service for quite a while, after passing the visitor’s center, service drops off quickly, keep in mind that the gate shacks and other buildings around the park do have cell boosters, so if you absolutely need to make a call or check email, those services are available by simply standing close to one! Cell service and 4G LTE data are also available on top of the mountains that you can hike, we skyped Chris’s parents to share the view with them, checked email, made some Facebook posts before heading back down!
As we got ready for bed, we grabbed all of our blankets (we brought a lot) and crawled into our truck tent which we would like to talk about for a minute. We purchased the Napier Sportz 57 tent for the Tacoma Short bed(5ft), and this was our first night camping in it. Given that we used a full size, queen air mattress, we were up pretty high in the tent(1.5 ft), yet still had plenty of room, our only concern being rolling out of the truck as we were now even with the Tacoma’s low bedsides. Our oversize mattress filled every inch of the Napier’s footprint, but we were able to get in and out just fine (Emily needed a boost because she lives the short life). We are considering several pad/mattress options that aren’t so thick, to give us a little more vertical room. The tent actually blocked out the cold wind quite well, our only mistake being that we forgot to open 2 flaps for ventilation and woke up feeling sort of drowsy and getting dripped on by condensation from the concentration of CO2. More about the tent; The awning provides plenty of covered space for a small step stool and putting shoes on. We really like the small gear loft/hook combo as we can hang our tent fan/lantern. The loft was strong enough to support 3 phones, an Apple watch, truck keys, and a large USB power pack to charge everything. Next time we want to try hanging our tablet from it to watch a movie before bed! The setup and teardown of this tent is a breeze, we elected to leave the tent laid out and rolled up with our gear in the truck bed as it was under a 3 piece tonneau cover that is removed in about 2 minutes. From this stage, we removed 2 totes, the cooler, 2 duffel bags a pop-up tent, and unrolled the Napier tent as seen below.
We can install the bed straps and all support poles in another 3-5 minutes with 2 people and with the in-bed power outlet that the Tacoma has, the mattress we left inside is inflated and ready for use in about another 2 minutes. Teardown is a reverse of this process that takes even less time! After our entire trip, we are incredibly happy with our investment in this tent and highly recommend it along with other Napier products (check them out here). We are looking to get their Sportz Link Tent that can be attached to our truck tent and provide an enclosed sitting area or room for extra campers, before our next trip.
When we woke up Sunday morning, we were greeted with a cool breeze and gorgeous sunrise that illuminated all of the fall colors in a beautiful way. We started cooking breakfast, Chris definitely burned the bacon, and we sat to enjoy the view of our quiet campsite for a while.
Using the free trail map provided at the visitor center, we decided to hike a route that had been recommended to us by the park staff–we couldn’t possibly hike all the trails, so we asked which one had the highest viewpoint. Elk Trail was listed at 1.2 miles each way, we made sure to pack our bag light and mostly with small snacks and water. When adding elevation to the mix, water really does determine how far you can travel, 2 of us consumed about 80 oz of water and were still very thirsty when we returned to the bottom! A good rule of thumb is to drink 1 liter (32 oz) of water each hour that you’re actively hiking. On our wish list for our next trip are some Camelbaks and/or better disposable water bottles.
If you ever happen to travel to the Wichita Mountains and want to take The Elk Trail, be careful–about 15 or so minutes into the hike, the trail becomes somewhat unmarked for a section and it’s difficult to tell if you’re following it or not. We know this because we ended up full on amateur free climbing on what was meant to be an intermediate trail. After a half hour of climbing over boulders the size of Volkswagen Beetles, we popped back out on the trail and continued on to the top of the mountain. The rock formations were crazy.
It took us about an hour and a half to get to the top including our detour. Chris likes to climb the biggest rock in the park, so we spent a considerable amount of time jumping over giant gaps and crawling up steep inclines to try to get to the highest point, but alas, a huge ravine stood between us and what appeared to be the tallest rock. However, possibly the best moment came as we rounded a corner and came face to face with a giant elk. He was grazing in a small thicket of trees with trails full of hikers surrounding him on all sides, but we’re sure he was used to the company. We gave him as wide of a berth as possible on our way up and our way back down.
After Skyping Chris’s parents at the top of the mountain, we made our way back down. We should mention that this trail is also dog friendly–many other hikers had brought their canine friends along, and we were escorted down the mountain for some time by a pair of friendly hound dogs.
Once at the bottom, we decided to take the back way out of the park that cuts through a military base, and stop at the scenic drive up Mount Scott, the highest point in the park, which is only accessible by car. The views were breathtaking, which is a cliché word to use, but there’s simply not a better word for it. Emily struggled to get an unobstructed photo of the sunset because there was a maternity shoot, three engagement shoots, and some family portraits all being photographed simultaneously on various footpaths and outcrops. However, we did manage to get some decent pictures. After enjoying some of our meatballs and chicken skewers on the tailgate, we headed off into the night for the next leg of our journey. Chris reconnected with an old childhood friend in Amarillo, and then we spent the night in the truck, catching a few hours’ sleep before setting off for Big Bend, the destination we were most excited to reach. Our next two blog posts will be dedicated to our time there.