Wichita Mountains

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Wichita Mountains
Elk Mountain, OK.jpg
Elk Mountain, in the eastern Wichita Mountains
Highest point
PeakHaley Peak (officially unnamed)
Elevation 2,481 ft (756 m)
Coordinates 34°50′22″N98°48′13″W / 34.83944°N 98.80361°W / 34.83944; -98.80361 Coordinates: 34°50′22″N98°48′13″W / 34.83944°N 98.80361°W / 34.83944; -98.80361
Length60 mi (97 km)northwest-southeast
Width10 mi (16 km)
Color digital elevation map of southwestern Oklahoma; the Wichita Mountains are highlighted
CountryUnited States
Orogeny Ouachita orogeny
Age of rock Cambrian, Pennsylvanian, Permian
Type of rock granite, rhyolite, gabbro, conglomerate

The Wichita Mountains are located in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. [1] It is the principal relief system in the Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen, being the result of a failed continental rift. The mountains are a northwest-southeast trending series of rocky promontories, many capped by 540 million-year old granite. These were exposed and rounded by weathering during the Pennsylvanian & Permian Periods. The eastern end of the mountains offers 1,000 feet (305 m) of topographic relief in a region otherwise dominated by gently rolling grasslands.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.

Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen A failed rift in the western and southern US of the triple junction that became the Iapetus Ocean

The Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen(ah-lah-coh-jin)  is a failed rift, or failed rift arm (aulacogen), of the triple junction that became the Iapetus Ocean spreading ridges. It is a significant geological feature in the Western and Southern United States. It formed sometime in the early to mid Cambrian Period and spans the Wichita Mountains, Taovayan Valley, Anadarko Basin, and Hardeman Basin in Southwestern Oklahoma. The Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen is primarily composed of basaltic dikes, gabbros, and units of granitic rock.


The mountains are home to numerous working ranches and quarry operations, the state reformatory, recreational homes and campsites, and scenic parklands. Fort Sill, home of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School, occupies a large portion of the southeastern end of the mountains.

The Oklahoma State Reformatory is a medium-security facility with some maximum and minimum-security housing for adult male inmates. Located off of State Highway 9 in Granite, Oklahoma, the 10-acre (4.0 ha) facility has a maximum capacity of 1042 inmates. The medium-security area accommodates 799 prisoners, minimum-security area houses roughly 200, and the maximum-security area with about 43 inmates. The prison currently houses approximately 975 prisoners. The prison was established by an act of the legislature in 1909 and constructed through prison labor, housing its first inmate in 1910. The facility is well known for the significant roles women played in its foundation and governance, most notably having the first female warden administer an all-male prison in the nation.

Fort Sill military base

Fort Sill, Oklahoma is a United States Army post north of Lawton, Oklahoma, about 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. It covers almost 94,000 acres (38,000 ha).


The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, a favorite for hikers and rock climbers in the region, is located adjacent to Cache, Medicine Park, Indiahoma, and historic Meers, and is a short drive from Lawton and Walters. Bison, elk and deer are protected on the 59,020-acre (23,880 ha) wildlife refuge. The refuge also manages a herd of longhorn cattle. A scenic highway traversing the park permits leisurely views of these and other fauna.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge protected area

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, located in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton, has protected unique wildlife habitats since 1901 and is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service system. Measuring about 59,020 acres (238.8 km2), the refuge hosts a great diversity of species: 806 plant species, 240 species of birds, 36 fish, and 64 reptiles and amphibians are present. The refuge's location in the geologically unique Wichita Mountains and its areas of undisturbed mixed grass prairie make it an important conservation area. The Wichitas are approximately 500 million years old.

Cache, Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, United States

Cache is a city in Comanche County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 2,796 at the 2010 census. It is an exurb included in the Lawton, Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is the location of Star House, the home of the Comanche chief Quanah Parker, the major leader of the Quahadi Comanche in the years of Indian Wars and transition to reservation life.

Medicine Park, Oklahoma Town in Oklahoma, United States

Medicine Park is a town in Comanche County, Oklahoma, United States, situated in the Wichita Mountains near the entrance to the 60,000-acre (240 km2) Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Medicine Park has a long history as a vintage cobblestone resort town. Medicine Park is located near the city of Lawton and Fort Sill. It is an exurb, part of the Lawton Metropolitan Statistical Area. Many of the original structures are constructed of naturally formed cobblestones—these red granite cobblestones are unique to the Wichita Mountains. The population was 382 at the 2010 census.

Backcountry camping is available in the Charon Gardens Wilderness area. [2] The park is home to a small number of popular fishing lakes. There are numerous trails for hiking. The Treasure Lake Job Corps site is located here. Additional points of interest are the refuge's visitors center, Holy City of the Wichita, Quanah Parker Lake & Dam, Lake Jed Johnson, and Lake Lawtonka.

A wildlife refuge, also known as a wildlife sanctuary, is a naturally occurring sanctuary, such as an island, that provides protection for wildlife species from hunting, predation, competition or poaching; it is a protected area, a geographic territory within which wildlife is protected. Refuges can preserve animals that are endangered.

Lake Jed Johnson lake of the United States of America

Lake Jed Johnson, named for Jed Johnson (1888–1963), is third largest of thirteen small reservoirs in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, located in southwestern Oklahoma. Lawton, Oklahoma, southeast of the lake and the fourth largest city in the state, is the nearest major population center. Smaller communities of Cache, Medicine Park and Meers lie north of the lake.

Lake Lawtonka lake of the United States of America

Lake Lawtonka is a lake in Comanche County in the state of Oklahoma in the United States.

Great Plains State Park is located near the geographic center of the Wichita Mountains, north of the town of Mountain Park.

Great Plains State Park

Great Plains State Park is a 487-acre (1.97 km2) Oklahoma state park located in Kiowa County, Oklahoma. It is located near the city of Mountain Park, Oklahoma. Located south of Hobart off Hwy 183, Great Plains State Park is nestled between the Wichita Mountains and the Tom Steed Reservoir. The area offers water sports, boating, boat ramps, camping, RV parking, swimming beach, playground, picnic areas, cycling, mountain biking and hiking trails. The campground spans approximately 460 acres (1.9 km2) of park land with 56 RV hookups and 30 tent sites. RV sites consist of 14 modern water, sewer, and electric sites and 42 semi-modern sites with water and electric. Located on the shores of Tom Steed Reservoir, a large lake with 31 miles (50 km) of shoreline.

Quartz Mountain Nature Park and Arts Center is a noteworthy recreation area located north of the city of Altus.

Quartz Mountain Nature Park

Quartz Mountain Nature Park is located in southwest Oklahoma at the western end of the Wichita Mountains, 13 miles (21 km) east of Mangum, Oklahoma and 20 miles (32 km) north of Altus, Oklahoma. The nearest community is Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, about 9 miles (14 km) northeast of the park. It is operated by Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. The park began as a 158.3 acre tract adjacent to Lake Altus donated to the state by local residents, who had bought the land for $51.58. It was designated as Quartz Mountain State Park, one of the original seven Oklahoma State Parks designated in 1935. Additional land has been donated since then, and the park now encompasses 4,540 acres (18.4 km2). The park occupies land on the west side of Lake Altus-Lugert, which was originally built in 1927, then expanded in 1940 and renamed Lake Altus-Lugert. The park contains 4,284 acres (17.34 km2) of land and more than 6,000 acres (24 km2) of water.


At 2,464 ft (751 m) Mount Scott is the second highest mountain within the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge boundary. Mount Pinchot in the Special Use Area [lower-alpha 1] is 12 feet (4 m) taller. [3] [4] A paved road leads to the summit of Mount Scott, offering a stunning view of the granite promontories to the west, the wind farm on the Slick Hills to the north, the lakes to the south and east, Fort Sill, and Lawton. The highest peak in the Wichita Mountains (including areas outside the refuge) is Haley Peak, at 2,481 ft (756 m). Haley Peak (officially unnamed) is located on private property just outside the northwest corner of the refuge. [5]

Wichita Mountains Narrows Wichita Mountains Narrows.jpg
Wichita Mountains Narrows


When the area was part of Indian reservations and therefore off-limits to non-Native Americans, the Wichita Mountains were rumored to contain rich gold deposits. When the area was first opened up for settlement, many prospectors staked mining claims, and towns were laid out to serve the presumed bonanzas, but no economic deposits were found. The gold boom was prolonged by some unscrupulous assayers who found gold in every sample, but the miners eventually gave up, leaving behind ghost towns such as Wildman, Oklahoma. [6] [7]


Granite knob in the Wichita Mtns. Granite knob in the Wichita Mountains.jpg
Granite knob in the Wichita Mtns.
Granite overlying gabbro - a view of Mount Sheridan from the northeast Mount Sheridan, Oklahoma.jpg
Granite overlying gabbro - a view of Mount Sheridan from the northeast
American Bison Wichita Mountains Bison.jpg
American Bison
Wichita Uplift fault map Wichita Uplift fault map.png
Wichita Uplift fault map
Wichita Uplift fault cross section, with the Anadarko Basin to the right of the fault zone Wichita Uplift fault cross section.png
Wichita Uplift fault cross section, with the Anadarko Basin to the right of the fault zone


In simplest terms, the Wichita Mountains are rocky promontories and rounded hills made of red and black igneous rocks, light-colored sedimentary rocks, and boulder conglomerates. The Wichita Mountains were formed in four distinct geologic episodes following a failed continental rift.

  1. Magmatism induced by continental rifting just prior to and in the Cambrian Period produced the granites and rhyolites (the red rocks), gabbroic rocks, anorthosites, and diabases (the black rocks).
  2. Subsidence resulted in burial by sandstones and carbonates (the light-colored rocks) during the early Paleozoic.
  3. Uplift during the Pennsylvanian Ouachita Orogeny brought these rocks to the surface as mountains.
  4. Weathering and erosion during the Permian Period flattened the mountains and produced a mantle of conglomerates.

The mountains themselves are Permian landforms covered and preserved by river-borne sediments in the Permian and partially excavated only in recent geological times. Exposure of these fossil mountains is greatest towards the southeast; much of the western part of the Permian range remains buried under sandstones and shales.


The geologic history of the region began with the deposition of late Precambrian to early Cambrian sandstones collectively known as the Tillman metasedimentary group. [8] These sediments were intruded by a coarse mafic layered complex about 575 million years ago [9] [10] as the region began to rift apart in an aulacogen during breakup of the Neoproterozoic continent, Pannotia. [11] The exposed portion of this unit, named the Glen Mountains Layered Complex, consists of gabbro, anorthosite and troctolite. These are the dark gray rocks found throughout the Raggedy Mountains, the central region of the wildlife refuge, and to the immediate north of the refuge. [12]

Uplift and erosion followed, as the layered complex is uncomformably overlain by the extensive lava flows of the Carlton Rhyolite. [8] This is an brown-red to orange porphyritic rock with 5–10 mm orange-colored alkali feldspar crystals. Most of the rounded hills on Fort Sill are made of this rhyolite, including Medicine Bluffs. Additional exposure of the rhyolite is found in Blue Creek Canyon, where Oklahoma Highway 58 cuts through the Slick Hills. Tabular intrusions of granite and hydrous gabbro exploited the boundary between the layered complex and the rhyolites. [13] The granites, collectively named the Wichita Granite Group, vary slightly in composition and texture. The granites form the peaks and highlands in the eastern Wichitas and the isolated peaks of the western Wichitas. Some are equigranular, others are porphyritic. The Mount Scott Granite is the most extensively exposed Wichita Granite. It forms the topographic feature from which it takes its name, and it is distributed throughout the northern half of the wildlife refuge. Dark rounded alkali feldspars, typically one centimeter or less in diameter, dominate this rock. [14] SiO2 levels in this granite range from 72.8% to 75.8%. [15]

Relatively small and compositionally distinct plutons, known as the Roosevelt Gabbros, are found in the eastern and central Wichita Mountains. Like the layered complex, these are dark rocks. Unlike the layered complex, they contain appreciable amounts of biotite, a mineral that forms in magmas with elevated dissolved water. One of these bodies, the Mount Sheridan Gabbro, is exposed in roadcuts at Meers and underlies the Mount Scott Granite on the north side of the wildlife refuge. Weathered gabbroic soils are thicker and support more vegetation than those generated on weathered granite, so the tree line on the north side of Mount Sheridan approximates the contact between the Mount Sheridan Gabbro and the Mount Scott Granite. Geologic relationships suggest that the granites and gabbros intruded at depths no greater than half a kilometer in the crust. [8] Minor uplift ensued, and magmatism concluded with the intrusive emplacement of subvolcanic features: rhyolite and diabase dikes. [8] These are poorly exposed, with the exception of a large diabase dike in the Mount Scott Granite revealed during the recent widening of Oklahoma State Highway 49, just west of Interstate 44. Following the cessation of magmatism, the region subsided and was inundated by a shallow sea, resulting in the deposition of detrital sediments followed by carbonates. [16] The light-colored rocks exposed in the Slick Hills are lower Paleozoic marine sediments.

During the Pennsylvanian Period (330–290 million years ago) the region was subjected to intense pressure during the continental collision or orogeny which produced the Ouachita Mountains to the east. [17] This resulted in faulting and folding striking along a WNW direction and includes the Arbuckle and Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma and the Amarillo Uplift of the Texas Panhandle. [17] Up to 20,000 feet (6,100 m) of local uplift occurred during this time. [18]

This uplift locally created rugged mountains reduced by erosion to their present state largely during the Pennslyvanian & Permian Periods. Extensive weathering produced the tors of the Charon Gardens region and the "river" of boulders that descends the west slope of Mount Scott. Likewise, weathering produced the bowling-ball sized boulders in the Permian-age Post Oak Conglomerate locally found in and around the mountains. In addition to outcrops of the conglomerate, the boulders are preserved in the distinctive rock buildings of Medicine Park. As the Permian progressed, river sediments buried the Wichita Mountains, preserving them from further weathering. Recent geological erosion has removed these sediments, excavating these once buried fossil landforms. [8]


  1. The Special Use Area is a part of the WMNWR that is closed to the public.

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  1. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Wichita Mountains
  2. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Wichita Mountains Charons Garden Area
  3. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Wichita Mountains North Mountain Area
  4. Splinter, Dale K. and Marston, Richard A. "Wichita Mountains". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Accessed May 16, 2016.
  5. Haley Peak Elevation information from records stored at USGS/NSDI Standards Team/NGTOC III/Mid-Continent Mapping Center, Rolla, Missouri.
  6. Plazak, Dan (January 31, 2010). "A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top: Fraud and Deceit in the Golden Age of American Mining". University of Utah Press. pp. 198–200. ISBN   978-1607810209.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. Morris, John W (March 15, 1978). "Ghost Towns of Oklahoma". University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 204–205. ISBN   978-0806114200.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 M. Charles Gilbert, 1982, Geologic setting of the eastern Wichita Mountains with a brief discussion of unresolved problems, in Gilbert, M.C. and Donovan, R.N., eds., Geology of the Eastern Wichita Mountains, Southwestern Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geological Survey Guidebook 21, p. 1-30.
  9. David D. Lambert and Unruh, D. M., 1986, Isotopic constrains on the age and source history of the Glen Mountains Layered Complex, Wichita Mountains, in Gilbert, M.C. ed., Petrology of the Cambrian Wichita Mountains Igneous Suite, Oklahoma Geological Survey Guidebook 23, p. 53-59.
  10. http://www.fws.gov/southwest/REFUGES/oklahoma/wichitamountains/geology.html US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Geology
  11. D.A. McConnell and Gilbert, M.C., 1990, Cambrian extensional tectonics and magmatism within the Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen, Tectonophysics, 174 p. 147-157.
  12. Roger W. Cooper, 1986, Platinum-group-element potential of the Glen Mountains Layered Complex, in Gilbert, M.C. ed., Petrology of the Cambrian Wichita Mountains Igneous Suite, Oklahoma Geological Survey Guidebook 23, p. 65-72.
  13. Hogan, John P., Price, J.D., and Gilbert, M.C., 1998, Magma traps and driving pressure: consequences for pluton shape and emplacement in an extensional regime., Journal of Structural Geology, 20 pp. 1155-68.
  14. Clifford A. Merritt, 1965, Mt. Scott Granite, Wichita Mountains, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geology Notes, 25, pp. 263-72.
  15. http://ogs.ou.edu/docs/guidebooks/GB38PIIRP9.pdf Jonathan D. Price, The Mount Scott Intrusive Suite, page 305.
  16. R. Nowell Donovan, Ragland, D., Rafalowski, M., McConnell, D., Beauchamp, W., Marcini, W.R., and Sanderson, D.J. 1988, Pennsylvanian deformation and Cambro-Ordovician sedimentation in the Blue Creek Canyon, Slick Hills, southwestern Oklahoma, in Hayward, O.T., ed., Geological Society of America, Centennial Field Guide, 4, p. 127-34.
  17. 1 2 Kiver, Eugene P; Harris, David V (June 15, 1999). "Geology of U.S. Parklands". Wiley. pp. 732–743. ISBN   978-0471332183.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  18. USGS America's Volcanic Past