Places I like: Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area, southwestern Oklahoma

Is it possible for a place to be cursed by its blessings? In some ways, I think it is.

I live in Oklahoma, which in many ways has been blessed. Its rich soil makes it ideal for farming and ranching. Oil and gas below ground still make people fortunes. And its geography has made it an easy place to settle and develop.

What that means, however, is that the vast majority of the state is accounted for – planted, grazed, fenced in or otherwise incorporated. That leaves precious little land left in its natural state.

That’s why I’m grateful for a place like Charon’s Garden.

Southwestern Oklahoma is a vast, flat expanse that is mostly reserved for agriculture far from the state’s bigger cities. But near the military town of Lawton is a grouping of ancient granite peaks, rugged canyons and wild places known as the Wichita Mountains. In the heart of this little range is the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area.

In Oklahoma, this small slice of wilderness is about as wild as it gets.

The mountains themselves stand in defiance to the flatness of the southern plains. They are old – really old. They predate every other range in the country, by some estimates dating back as far as 600 million years. Eons of water and wind erosion have whittled them down to bare granite, broken up only by the persistent cedars and blackjack oak that dominate the landscape. Miners tried to find gold and other minerals here decades ago, but left mostly empty-handed, giving it back to nature.

It’s in this venerable slice of wilderness I have found my happy place. Venture deep enough inside and you find yourself alone to soak in fresh air, natural sounds and just think. It’s atop mountain summits and craggy overlooks where I’ve been able to find peace, if even for just a few moments.

People travel far to find such a thing. Peace. Stillness. A break from the machinery of manmade life. I’m grateful I don’t have to go that far.

Many poets and writers have written much more eloquently about communing with nature than I ever could. There is a joy in putting those experiences to paper, but it’s not nearly as great as actually experiencing it firsthand. In the spring, I’ve been treated to the colorful carpeting of wildflowers and lush greenery that appear in Charon’s Garden after seasonal rains. In the winter, its rugged beauty shines through. In every season I’ve been able to look into the eyes of some of the grandest creatures of the prairie – buffalo, elk and deer.

I’ve been to some amazing places, both here in the U.S. and abroad. But every time I go into Charon’s Garden, I’m reminded how great this place is. Just down the road from my own doorstep, I am also reminded that one of the biggest blessings of my home state is something that is not harvested or extracted, but left wonderfully alone.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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