Other than the colors of the fields and foliage, it was like spring or summer this morning with warm sunshine and blue skies. I left Pratt late morning and drove south into Oklahoma, heading for the Salt Plains NWR. The land got noticeably more flat, as in utterly table-top flat. I remember the panhandle of Texas having this topography.
|Western Oklahoma near Salt Plains NWR|
This is Carry Nation territory, the bar-smashing zealot. There was a historical marker about her in Kiowa, Kansas where she "attacked" three saloons on June 1, 1900.
In fact, there were numerous historical markers, mostly about Native Americans and the military, but also of the the pioneers and the Santa Fe trail. And I was also near or on Route 66 occasionally. The traveler is constantly reminded of the past, all the while seeing the present in agriculture and ranching, and the oil industry with wells, rigs, storage facilities, trucks and processing plants never out of sight.
My impression remains of how arid this country was. I saw no water at all at Salt Plains except for the large Great Salt Plains Reservoir. All the creeks and marshes were dry so there were no easily seen birds other than small passerines. I drove to the VC which was closed on weekends and picked up a few free selenite crystals, one of the attractions of the refuge.
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is the only known site in the world where unique selenite crystals with hourglass inclusions are found. Because these crystals form in wet soil, sand and clay, particles are included within the crystal giving them their unique "hourglass" shape inside.
It felt like a 1950s summer Dutch Sunday afternoon at the headquarters with inactivity, warm sun and the feeling of waiting for something to happen. A sign noted an underground Tornado Shelter, which is one reason I am glad I'm in Oklahoma this time of year rather than spring.
|Salt Plains NWR - OK|
But Salt Plains does have an abundance of wildlife. While I didn't see any on the reservoir, I only saw a small part of it. The birds undoubtedly were somewhere or will be, as this is a major migratory sanctuary with as many as 400,000 birds stopping by. It is also a breeding bird sanctuary for threatened western Snowy Plovers, American Avocets, and endangered Least Terns. Whooping Cranes use this refuge and geese alone can number 50,000. The birds come because of the water but also the food sources - the invertebrates, like salt brine flies that breed in the saline habitat. (I also saw these in thick clouds along the causeway to Antelope Island in Utah in the Great Salt Lake.)
But, I wondered if the dry marshes were a seasonal event or a man-made one? The auto route meandered through shrubs and mature trees, including Eastern Redcedars laden with their distinctive berry-like bluish fruit. (This cedar is actually a juniper BTW, and is an invasive species out here, spread by birds.)
I read that: "Tony Holthuijzen, a biologist who studied cedar waxwings – named for their fondness for eastern redcedar berries – found that it takes 12 minutes for a redcedar seed to pass through the digestive system of a cedar waxwing."
Trivia of the day...
I considered camping here but it was too early to stop, so went on south to Weatherford, a staging stop for the large Wichita Mountains NWR to the south. There was a Walmart on the edge of town. I walked a bit noting a lot of plastic trash in the adjacent fields but also a grand sunset. Perhaps Walmart could hire one person just to pick up the litter, generating local goodwill, in addition to doing the right thing since most of it comes from their stores.
Along the route today, I passed an area with wind turbines in the process of installation:
|Blades of a wind turbine waiting for installation...|