The Longdogs

The Longdogs
Willy, Harley (back center), and Gretchen

Camping Memories (Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma)

The other day a friend was talking about unique experiences and mishaps while camping and it immediately brought to mind a wild experience we had at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.  It all started when......

As an Air Force family, most of our vacations involved visits home to family.  On one of our trips home to visit Dave's family in Michigan, we decided to buy his brother's pop-up camper when he told us he planned to sell it.  It was a big pop-up but our car could easily pull it.  Then people started asking if we were going to camp in it going home.  The neighbor next to my in-laws was having a garage sale so I went to have a look to see if there might be some things we could use to camp on the way home.  Next thing I knew she went back to her garage and pulled out a box of things that they used to use when they camped.  So we suddenly had dishes, a couple pots, silverware, a percolator, and a few other miscellaneous things.  My MIL quickly pulled out some old sheets and towels.  I bought some pillows and we were set.  It was July so we knew we wouldn't need to worry about a blanket once we left Michigan.

On the way home we went through Missouri to visit my parents where we also picked up my brother who was coming home with us for a longer visit so we had Tim who was 15 and our two boys Steve and Brian who were  9 and 3.  We headed off to spend a few nights at Table Rock Lake, Missouri.  We had a wonderful time with lots of swimming and campfires at night.  We decided we would also stop at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

Now on to the real adventure......

The reason for the visit to the Wildlife Refuge was that Steve's Boy Scout group was having a weekend family camp out there.  We arrived at the Refuge and headed directly to the group camping area.  Of course, it was only about noon when we got there and no one else was expected until suppertime.  Dave was on leave from the Air Force and we were only a little over an hour from Sheppard AFB.  So, we had already decided that Dave would drop us off and head into the base to sign in so it would not cost us any more leave.

After unhooking the pop-up, Dave was off to sign in at the base and Tim and I began to set up the pop-up. (Keep in mind that although the pop-up was new to me, I had been camping all my life in trailers.)  We quickly pulled out the first bed platform while Steve and Brian watched.  I was on the far side of the camper from the three boys when I turned around and looked behind me.  An entire herd of bison was ambling directly toward our camper.  Bison are huge and furry and have horns!  I quietly said "Tim, take Steve and Brian's hands and walk to the bathroom now."  Of course, I got the "but we don't need to go to the bathroom!"  "Do it right now, be quiet, and don't ask any more questions.....move it!"  I backed quietly around the camper and quickly followed them to the bathroom.  By then they were griping because these were pit toilets and it was in the mid 90s outside.  It was a pitiful little tin building but I figured it was a little more solid than the pop-up and the bison were used to it.  I told the kids to look back by the camper.  At this point, the bison were ambling around the camper.  They moved on past us and headed off to another point on the refuge.  Once they were out of sight, we finished setting up the pop-up and had a picnic lunch.  Dave was back before dinner and the rest of the group began arriving.

My boys and my brother have never forgotten their first camping experience at the refuge although we camped there many times after that.  Back then there were a number of campgrounds without hookups and the bison would wander through although it was usually at night.  Eventually, all those campgrounds became day use only because of tenters panicking and some people foolishly attempting to get too close to the bison.  Now there is only one camping area, the Doris campground but it does have some electrical hook-ups which is really nice during the summer in Oklahoma.

That is exactly how I remember that trip..........

If you are ever near the Refuge at Easter, you should go to The Holy City where they have a fantastic Easter Pageant which is the longest running Easter Passion play in the nation.


  1. Bison in camp is rather exciting. At the canyon people get really excited just about the mule deer.

  2. isn't it scarry when wild animals like bisons are in campsite?

  3. Those bison are definitely huge and I would give them all the room they wanted in my campsite. Can you imagine being in a tent when they wandered through at night. But how exciting for the boys. Nature up close and personal.

  4. Good thinking to get into the pit toilet. Stinkey... but safe!

    We had a group of wild turkeys hang out with us in Nebraska once, they would not leave the campground and made lots of turkey poo on the ground. ewwwww

    Karen and Steve
    The USA Is Our Big Backyard

  5. Camping sure makes the most fascinating memories doesn't it? That made me think of when we were in Colorado at Rocky Mtn National Park. There was soooo much Elk poop on the ground it was gross. You could not step without stepping in it. We didn't see any as it was hot out and I think they were up in the mountains. Loved your story.


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