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Arbuckle Wilderness is another Oklahoma wow

By Susen Foster

[Editor's note: Some Everyday Getaways are so special they deserve another mention! We hope you enjoy this column originally published in 2007.]

Just off Interstate 35 at Exit 51, about halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas, is one of the most intriguing attractions in America's Heartland. In fact, this awesome destination has been recognized as one of Oklahoma's finest.

We are headed into the foothills of the Arbuckle Mountains to the famed Arbuckle Wilderness (www.arbucklewilderness.com) to vicariously visit Africa, Asia and South America through the windshield of our touring vehicle.

We begin our Wilderness adventure in the tempting gift shop where we stop to receive our travel visas. It is here we experience our first wild animals, as brilliantly colored parrots screech their Latin welcome. The gift shop hostess then directs us to nearby glass enclosures, which house lazy iguanas and the largest pythons we have ever seen. No matter how "sweet" the keepers tell us they are, we are glad that a glass window separates us

After this heart-stopping escapade, we get back into our vehicle and drive through the welcoming gates of the Arbuckle Wilderness--destined for a safari of a different stripe. As we tour the 400-plus-acre Animal Park, single-humped camels gather at our passenger windows and wiggle their funny, slobbery lips at us.

From the driver's side we can see a brand new baby giraffe taking her first wobbly steps toward her mom. In the near distance, a herd of very long-horned water buffalo munch on indigenous grasses; while beyond them, we watch in fascination as an immense rough-hided rhinoceros keeps pace alongside the park manager's jeep.

In a couple of hours we have literally been face to face with zebras, elands, tigers, llamas, and gigantic flightless birds, just to name a few. There are so many of God's remarkable creatures in this one place that it is hard to grasp it all. The park is huge and exhibits an interesting variety of geology and topography. It is home to hundreds of animals who are living comfortably in environments similar to their far away native habitats. A drive-through zoo is one way to describe it, but it is much more than that.

The year-round fun at this unique attraction doesn't stop at the gift shop and tour. There is a one-of-a-kind petting zoo and walk-through enclosure where we get friendly with lemurs and kangaroos; and during the summer, lavish lakes on the property become the site for paddle boating. Once-in-a-lifetime camel rides are also on the agenda, along with a superb figure eight go-cart track.

This destination is one that deserves repeat visits. Bring the family down for a few days. It would be fun to rent a cabin at nearby Buffalo Gap or bring your RV. There are lakes and four-wheel trails nearby so load up the toys, too. Contact Arbuckle Lodging at 580-369-3543 and visit www.arbucklelodging.com.

You can stay near Arbuckle Wilderness, Turner Falls and the newly completed Chickasaw Cultural Center (www.chickasawculturalcenter.com) where Native American history comes alive.

Drive through lovely Davis and visit historic Sulphur where you will enjoy waterfalls, natural springs, and walking trails of Chickasaw National Recreation Area, which surrounds beautiful Lake of the Arbuckles. This is a vacation you will not soon forget.

Editor's note: Susen Foster is the owner of Pecan Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Pauls Valley, Okla. She is the author of numerous travel books. Susen can be reached at www.greatersuccess.com or call 580-622-5408.



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