Ah… spring has arrived in southwest Oklahoma. And it’s only sticking around for 2 weeks! So ready, set, glamp!
If you’ve ever been to southwest Oklahoma, it may bring back memories of flat short grass prairie that seemed to stretch for miles. Maybe you dodged a tumbleweed or three. Maybe you saw a dust storm turn the sky a strange haze of purple. All those things are here, but there are also little gems of simple camping joy just off the main road.
Quartz Mountain Nature Park is near no big town or interstate, but it is a nice place to see if you are in the area. The park is situated within the western-most outcropping of the Wichita Mountains and along Lake Altus-Lugert, a dammed (note, not damned) section of the North Fork of the Red River. Not only are there nice little hikes, all suitable for families with younger children, but the lake offers boating and fishing and the lodge plays host to all sorts of events, including the Oklahoma Arts Institute. Now, I have to tell you, this part of the state has been in a drought for years, and the lake level is really low, like only 10% full. It’s so low, you can see the remains of the original settlement of the town of Altus which was relocated to its current location after (wait for it) flooding in the early 1900s. It’s so low, the fishing piers are standing like towers over dried lakebed and 100 feet from any water. Yeah, it’s dry out here.
The campground is large, lots of spaces for tents and RVs. They do offer sites with full hook-ups and even have a pull-through camp ground, but we like the water and electric sites in the “River Run” area along the river. There is no reservation system so it’s first-come, first-serve and in the couple of weeks of spring the campgrounds do fill up.
So there we were, setting up camp, walking down to the river to mess around on the grassy banks. The kids enjoying their favorite camp games: rock piling and acorn throwing. Oh, do bring a shovel, apparently the lack of fire rings at each site is due to campers with sticky fingers. And they must be really sticky, because those things are heavy! However, the ranger said just to keep your fire to one of the sandy areas, so TJ started digging.
Have you ever seen an Oklahoman sunset? They are simply spectacular.
There are lots of trails up the hillsides, which are really fun for our kids because it feels like rock climbing to them, but is really a little scramble and do not induce parental heart palpitations. However, many of the trails are not well-marked, you get the general sense of where people frequently travel, but you do get the feeling it’s pretty much a make-your-own-way kind of thing. Also, there are LOTS of prickly pear cactus out there. Our morning hike was cut short when something with thorns slashed my leg and the puppy found a prickly pear with her face. TJ and our youngest pressed on a bit farther but did meet with a cactus in an experimental fashion and we were still picking small spines from her forehead the next day (she doesn’t want to talk about it).
There is a little commercial mini-golf course and paddle boat rental near the park entrance. If you have young kids who aren’t really into rules, or waiting for turns, the mini-golf offers a nice 30 minute activity, but if you are really into competitive golfing, this might not be the place for you (there is a real golf course just down the road from the park). The paddle boating is also nice, but the navigable portions of the river are small, so again, good with kids who would be done with an activity after a short splish splash, but not the best way to really see large portions of the river.
All this being said, this is a lovely park, especially for families with young children. Everything there is just fine to do with them, and there is good bird watching to be had plus, deer in groups of 5 or more are frequently seen in the campground. So go, go with friends. Make a few martinis (or maybe more) and sit around your campfire hole and watch the kids have a blast, and laugh and talk until late in the night.