Yesterday was a tough day! We decided to escape and visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska, OK, about a two hour drive from our home in Tulsa. Just south of the Kansas border, this is a place of rolling hills of native grasses – the largest area of protected tallgrass on earth (29,000 acres) with a bison herd.
It was a dreary overcast day which reflected our spirits. We needed to get out of the house and do some roaming but all in a safe way. What better option than a driving trip to see Bison?
The drive to the preserve took us through a typical Oklahoma countryside, which means a lot of Crosstimbers forest and some cleared fields for pasture. Crosstimbers is an strip through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas of scrub oaks and hickory giving way to grasslands. The trees here are not the size you see back east – something I missed dreadfully when we left Ohio to return to Oklahoma when I was about 12 years old.
I can see why the park has low traffic (which is probably good for the wildlife and land). It is not easily accessible from a main highway system and is more out of the way. The entrance switches to wide well maintained gravel roads, but someone driving out of the park at high speed threw a rock at my side window – luckily it didn’t crack it.
There is a double loop trail with a shorter trail that follows the creek and woodland, and a longer trail (the Earth path) that is 2.9 miles. Both have easy grades and the paths are well-maintained though were a bit muddy due to all the spring rain we’ve had.
Take both trails! It shows the interesting diversity that you find in Oklahoma. Wide, sweeping grass and suddenly heavy forest and bluffs along creeks and bottom land. It reminded me of a passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book The Little House of the Prairie where she describes traveling an area which would later be Independence, Kansas (Pawhuska is about 1.5 hours drive to Independence to show you the proximity).
Coming from the Big Woods of Pepin, Wisconsin in the 1870’s, the rolling plains of the west looked like a sea from the back of their wagon. But what was seen as flat would actually be rolling hills, and some valleys where trees would grow around creeks and rivers.
We saw some wildflowers and a lot of milkweed (the preferred food source for Monarch butterflies) but I think if you went mid June you’d see even more flowers as the some were still waiting to open.
What many call buffalo are actually bison. We didn’t get to see any entering the park but did get to see a bachelor band when leaving. Outside of mating season when a male will guard a harem, the group splits by gender. The males roam together, and the females with their calves in a separate herd. Both have horns with the females slightly smaller in size.
With binoculars we safely viewed them from the road – and boy, are these guys BIG! According to the data the males range from about 700 to 2600 pounds. From estimating the weight of horses I’ve owned, I can tell you these guys were at least 1,000 pounds and I’m guessing about 1500+!
They looked about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle! Being able to leap up 6 feet in the air, and run up to 35 mph you do NOT want to get out of your car! Observe safely and enjoy.
Be aware since the park is so large, seeing them might be a bit chancy. However, there are several turn offs for scenic viewing spots where you are likely to see them.
We also got to see a group of wild turkeys (always my favorite), and group of three deer. The leader, a buck, was a chunky guy who was having a hard time climbing the hill to get away from us! He tried to tell us it was a muscle, but I think he had many a good meal. He was followed by two does.
All three were quite a bit larger than what I usually see down here and I think they were Mule deer as opposed to the White-tail deer I commonly see around Tulsa. Looking through the binoculars they did seem to have really big ears!
This was an emotional day – just because of all the things happening in the world and personally.
I’ll share more thoughts, details and photos about my trip in my NEW Facebook group I’m putting together for my fans: Byrd’s Book Nest. At the Nest, I’ll be sharing videos, inside news, and doing some Facebook live sessions and giveaways!
Due to the state of the world, the visitor’s center and restrooms are closed. There is a picnic area under some big trees. Be sure to bring plenty of water to drink and sunscreen!