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Morning Comes to Elk Mountain

Dispatches from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Gary Lantz

Publication Year: 2013

Organized as a series of monthly journal entries, Morning Comes to Elk Mountain is Lantz’s response to ten years of exploring the rough and unexpected beauty of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. A combination of memoir, natural history, Native American history, and geology, this book is enriched by 20 color photos and a map to appeal to the seasoned visitor as well as the newcomer to the refuge. The national wildlife refuge that’s the focus of the book was among the first established by President Theodore Roosevelt. He helped save the Wichitas from miners and land speculators, and instead the harsh yet scenic area became the nation’s first bison refuge, established to keep this American icon from slipping into extinction. Today the refuge hosts more than a million visitors a year, most of them coming to hike the trails, climb the rocks, photograph bison and prairie dogs, or simply commune with a beautiful, wild area that remains a spiritual landscape for the Kiowa and Comanche Indians who call it home.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Southwestern Nature Writing Series


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

In June 2012, I had the good fortune to meet Gary Lantz at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. When driving up from Dallas by way of Wichita Falls, the mountains slowly overwhelm the northwest horizon. In an area defined by flatness, these granite projections are the focal point going north on Hwy. 46 from Texas. ...

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pp. 1-8

The Wichita Mountains are an oddity in a region better known for barrenness. You’ll never run across a ski lift here, nor very much snow, for that matter. The weather is fickle to the point of being problematic. Numbing blizzards interrupt mild winters. ...

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pp. 9-30

Charon would want his overcoat this morning, or more appropriately, a buffalo robe drawn tightly around his burly shoulders as passengers lined up near his ferryboat for a final, dreaded ride. ...

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pp. 31-42

Last night striped skunks were on the prowl, evidenced by the number of carcasses along the roads leading into the refuge. It’s skunk breeding season and the animals haven’t learned that a glandular chemical defense system won’t deter a charging automobile. ...

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pp. 43-60

The first week of March arrives in the refuge somewhat springlike, but with a bit of an edge. The weather has been cool, temperatures held in check by low overcast, and the northeast wind has a bite to it, especially on the open prairie. ...

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pp. 61-80

It’s April, a time of both natural and spiritual renewal in the Wichitas, and therefore a perfect time to seek seclusion in the refuge’s Charon’s Garden Wilderness: a rugged, exposed jumble of granite boulders, water-carved canyons, and small streams bouncing over slick stairways of small waterfalls. ...

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pp. 81-108

Most of the time May in these mini-mountains is a month of rainfall, of storms and high winds, hail and tornadoes, water sometimes descending in torrents. During May the refuge averages around five inches, a little more than two inches over the average for April and about an inch more than the average for June. ...

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pp. 109-124

If the rains have been generous, June in the Wichitas is generally a time of plenty. Each day the sun hangs over the land a little bit longer, edging towards the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year arriving around June 21. Wild fruits borne on April and May flowers are ripening, grasses are growing lush and small herds of buffalo cows graze ...

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pp. 125-142

It’s a hot July day in the Wichitas, and a buffalo bull, sleek, fat, and the color of a chocolate brownie, has retired to the shade of a solitary oak for a siesta. The afternoon high temperature will reach the mid-90s, and the time for grazing and strolling to water was much earlier, with the sunrise. ...

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pp. 143-162

The view from atop the refuge’s Mount Scott takes in a large slice of the Southern Plains, with most that meets the eye rolled out as flat as the proverbial pancake. The exception is this jagged backbone of granite rising over 2,000 feet in elevation in places, a stark contrast to the lowland prairie below, ...

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pp. 163-174

Tarantulas are on the move this morning. These large, hairy brown spiders, some with leg spans reaching four inches, most likely have left their burrows to search for female companionship. Males in a mating mindset seek out lady tarantulas in their bachelorette digs, make the appropriate moves to break the ice, ...

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pp. 175-192

Where the majority of monarch butterflies went in autumn, and why, was a mystery until 1976. Then, following nearly 40 years of pursuit, Dr. Fred Urquhart revealed in the pages of National Geographic Magazine that millions of these insects wintered in the highlands of Mexico’s Michoacan. ...

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pp. 193-204

According to legend, Spanish explorers were in the Wichitas, known then as the Sierra Jumanos, as early as the 1600s, searching for gold. The same legends have it that lost treasure is scattered throughout this jumbled granite uplift. My guess would be that the gold in question, and maybe the impetus for all that misguided searching, ...

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pp. 205-216

On the morning of the sixth of December the temperature is barely above freezing with wind blowing strongly from the south. The wind chill is such that walking in thick oak timber is more comfortable than walking across open prairie, especially oak timber on the north side of a tall ridge. ...

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Conclusion: A Last, Great Place

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pp. 217-226

A spring day, cool and party cloudy. A morning in the mid-forties that’s morphed into the seventies by mid-afternoon. Rain fell the week before, and the Wichita Mountains grass is green, flowers bright red, blue, and yellow, buffalo calves a playful reddish orange, prairie dog pups the color of pale sand and as frisky as little terriers. ...


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pp. 244-259


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pp. 231-234


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pp. 235-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781574415360
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574415278

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 20 color illus. 15 b/w illus. 1 map.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Southwestern Nature Writing Series