By Krissie Mason
Slept a little later, hopped in the shower, breakfast downstairs with a pancake machine. Sun shining bright hinting at a warm day. We notice lots of Halliburton oilfield service guys in red jumpsuits at breakfast. This is oil well country. That is evident.
Once Mari has eaten her short-stack, and I am done with hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, and coffee, we are off to Walmart to get a belt for Randy’s pants. He forgot his. I remembered my belt, but I am certain I’ve probably forgotten something else…I just don’t know what yet.
Being so close to the Witchita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge we side tracked just out side of historic Fort Sill to check it out. On the way in one first encounters the tourist spot called Medicine Park.
A tourist’s attraction, the hamlet has some quaint shops, like Basecamp Adventure Outfitters . Unfortunately for us, they were closed because it was shoulder season and it was a Monday. At this time of year they are only open on weekends. I note an old iron bridge with questionable wood decking, cottages from stacked rocks, red earth, warm colors. I am warm inside. A widening of the worries gap.
Over and back across the bridge for some photo ops for the Chevy Equinox. The workers are busy emptying garbage cans and cleaning the walks and streets. The posters on the band stand have a noticeable western in feel. I liked the graphic art.
Venturing further into the Refuge, the terrain is different than just a couple miles back. Big lake/ reservoir and the Cat Fish/Angler warning sign. Different then Minnesota lakes. Replaced by sprawling views, rocks, and grasses waving in the mounting breeze. The conifers and birch are absent. Large rounded boulders as I turn sharp right to make an ascent to the top of the mountain.
From down below we could see lines that looked like hiking trails drawn into the side of the small mountain, but as we approached it is clear those lines are a road to the the top. 3/4 up we stop for photos. Sweeping 360 degree view. Feeling so alert and keen and noticeably happy and free. In discovery mode. New territory. Vista lust.
I flip on the Gopro and go for a short walk among the boulders. Needing to climb and scamper in the outdoors. I’ve always liked high desert environments with warm colors, rocks, and boulders and canyons. This is very much like that, but with a cowboy twist. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Wind is stronger at the top, like alway. Feels good. Really good. Spent about 2 hours inside the park before heading out and on to Benjamin. A wonderful dose of outdoors. I feel so alive, and authentic, and light.
It wasn’t long before there was a notable shift in the roadway. Rather than riding above the landscape the way a traveler does on a built up highway, the road near Holliday, TX is at ground level. The pavement changed too. From smooth asphalt to a numbly rough pavement causing the tires go from treble to a loud gravely baritone, or bass. It’s two lane travel here with alternating passing lanes every two miles. It feels like I am driving into a movie. A modern day western like the ones I watched as a kid; Gunsmoke, Wild Wild West, Bonanza. Side roads carry names like Republican Road. Buildings and small weather worn wood sheds are covered with corrugated galvanized aluminum rusted by the elements and twisted by wind. Prickly pear cacti make their entrance in grand fashion.
Once you pass Witcha Falls you really feel like you are in Ranch country. Sparse building, lots of mesquite scrub, prickly pear cactus, ground level driving through what seems to be private land. An untamable beauty to the landscape. Vibrant red/orange soil. Can almost spot legendary cowboys riding horse through the sage and mesquite with a Winchester lever action resting in cracked and worn leather sling fastened to the saddle.
Pull in to Spike box and are welcomed by Spikebox’s Hunting Manager, and my personal guide for the trip, Anthony Ainsworth. He drives one of the Ranches dual wheeled 3/4 ton pick-up to greet us, opening a cattle gate as he does to let us into the property.. He seems less cowboy, more southern gentleman with a starched crisp press in his shirt, and a Spikebox ball cap on his head. And what look s like a dip in his lip. He is pleasant, smiles easy, refers to me as “Ma’am”, and to my brother as “Sir”.
The hunting camp sits in the middle of a black angus bull pasture. We will soon discover that historically cattle have driven the economy and activities of the ranch. Hunting here was a way to manage predators, and varmints that threatened calves, and whitetail deer, and the general management of crops, and operations that make up 4th largest ranch in the the state of Texas. Now target rich hunting opportunities and land leases are contributing handsomely to the bottom line. But first and foremost this is a very large working cattle ranch. The Bulls quietly wander through camp at their leisure, sometimes finding their way to your bedroom window. They seem to peaceably graze and display no aggressive behavior.
Anthony shows us our accommodations; comfortable, clean and homey. We off load our gear and then off to the gun range that is part of the camp to sight in my gun. I discover the nuances of Winchester 150 vs 170 grain bullets. I shoot at metal targets of wild pigs and imagine they are real to get my mind focused. The rifle fire echoes. And puffs of dry soil explode and rise behind the targets helping to fine tune placement and whether I should bead higher, or lower.
It’s all very really, now. I’m here to hunt a wild pig. My Keen hiking boots kick up dust and the bull bellows, and I hear the sound of gravel moving under my feet with each step. In a matter of 12 hours my first hunt in 40 years will be underway. In this vast unforgiving, untamable landscape. My worries and stresses locked up in my bungalow in Saint Paul. I have left them behind for now and feel very present in this adventure with my daughter and brother. I’m imagining a boar in its environment, wondering where they seek shelter, where they hide, and how I’ll go about hunting one. And what the moment will feel like if I get one in my sights.
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