Our visit to Oklahoma is quickly coming to an end. The realization that my field trip goals might not happen if I don’t make them happen now is forefront in my mind. I can’t believe that I haven’t made it to Stillwater yet?! Stillwater is filled with some of my most precious memories and I savor returning there from time to time.
I had three field trip goals while I was here:
- Meet an Internet friend who lives in Stillwater
- Go Dust Bowl exploring
- Visit the prairie grass preserve and buffalo
On a whim yesterday, we checked off the last one. We drove to Northern Oklahoma to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. The preserve has a large herd of bison (around 2,500 – 3,000) and an expansive preservation of native grass. Prior to the Dust Bowl, much of Oklahoma was covered in these native grasses. They were strong and drought resistant. When the waves of pioneers came through to cultivate the land, they stripped away these native grasses to primarily grow wheat. When the drought hit in the 1930’s, the people had gotten rid of so much of the surrounding native plants. Their crops couldn’t sustain the harsh weather thus all the crops dried up and the infamous Dust Bowl occurred. We watched a documentary on the Dust Bowl a couple of years ago. It is probably my all time favorite documentary ever. They did a phenomenal job illustrating the conditions the people lived through during those years and why people left in hope of a better life in California. I wanted my kids to see a glimpse of the native Oklahoman ecosystem. I plan to study pioneers next year with the boys and we’ve been reading several Little House on the Prairie books so I thought this would be a fun field trip for the kids.
We packed a picnic lunch and hopped in the van for a short drive. (Short for us anyway.) I put on an audiobook – The Grapes of Wrath – to listen to while we were driving.
Ummm….yeah….not really appropriate for little kids. I ended up turning it off after a few chapters because Niki had to keep turning down the volume to censor the book. There’s a very long section talking about sex. Lots of swear words too. I’m all about using books as a teaching tool but my boys are not at the point of having these type of conversations yet. Any of the Little House on the Prairie books and Out of the Dust would have been an appropriate substitution. (We’ve already listened to them but I would have put them back on again if I had them in the car with me.)
We were able to take the highway for about a third of the drive and the last two-thirds were on back roads (the last 15 miles was on a dirt road).
It’s quite exciting to drive over the cattle guard and be on the search for bison. There were several signs telling you the “bison are loose” as you drove into the preserve.
Our first priority was finding the preserve visitor’s center. Bathrooms. The volunteers at the visitor’s center are some of the sweetest greeters I’ve ever met in my life. They showed my kids the animal bones and chatted with them as we walked around the small gift shop. Before leaving, they offered suggestions on where we might possibly find the buffalo but it is really a hit or miss thing since the nature preserve is so large and roads don’t go through all of it. We drove off hoping to find them during our buffalo hunt.
Less than a minute down the road, we parked the van. We had a picnic lunch on the mowed grass and read a book about prairies we had just bought at the gift shop.
Time for some buffalo hunting! With my camera, of course. The boys had picked out the nature identification books they wanted to bring with us on the hike:
We had fun identifying the plants and birds along the way on the trail. The trail was about a 6 foot wide strip of the prairie that was mowed. On either side of us, the grass grew to the boys’ waists. The boys actually stayed on the trail because I had told them that snakes might possibly be hiding in the tall grass. They ran up and down the trail but never went off of it. Quite amazing, really.
I have to rethink allowing my kids to lure in squirrels and blue jays at the park because Chris decided to lure in the turkey vultures circling in the distance by laying on the ground and pretending to be dead. The scary part is – it worked. One of the vultures started circling above him and I told him to get up immediately!
We came to a fork in the trail. Do we go west towards the setting sun or do we go north?
Zach votes going west
Rest of the kids vote going north. Sorry Zach.
Then it happened! A buffalo in the distance! We were walking slowly and quietly to get closer – but as we got closer, the buffalo got smaller. What? Then the realization washed over us. It was not a real buffalo. It was a statue of a buffalo. Such a disappointment.
Can you see the buffalo in the photo above?
We were talking about how the pioneers had to travel through these prairies and how hard it must have been for them. We think of walking through grass as no big deal but when it can get as high as a grown man, it becomes a big deal – especially when you have dangerous animals hiding in it. (Snakes, bob cats, etc.) It also takes more effort than you realize you have to walk through something that’s constantly causing friction. The best analogy I can think of is like walking in a swimming pool. This isn’t quite the same but…you get the point.
Chris is an all or nothing kinda guy. He was running at full speed all over the trail and then decided he couldn’t go one step further. His siblings came to his rescue though.
We headed back to the van after this to go driving around to look for the buffalo. We drove for at least 45 minutes looking for them…but to no avail. Is it bad when one of your kids has to tell YOU, “Maybe you’ll get to see the buffalo next time mom”? Made me chuckle anyway.