My annual pilgrimage to the OKC State Fair usually involves three things: spend over $5 scraping coins into a catch basin in a feeble attempt to win an incredibly cheap prize, consume a hot giant ear of corn wrapped in its own husk and rip apart a smoked turkey leg.

My annual pilgrimage to the OKC State Fair usually involves three things: spend over $5 scraping coins into a catch basin in a feeble attempt to win an incredibly cheap prize, consume a hot giant ear of corn wrapped in its own husk and rip apart a smoked turkey leg.

This year my family partook of the corn but passed on the $9 turkey leg. Instead, we toured the auto show then looked for the ‘Made in Oklahoma’ (MIO) section. MIO was inside another huge building within a fake log cabin. Several Oklahoma vendors were selling jams, peanuts, wines, salsas and other goodies, but our fudge people from Shawnee did not come this year.

While hunting for sweets, we stumbled across the winner of the OKC Giant Pumpkin Contest. The Atlantic Giant weighed 870 pounds, missing the state record by 23 pounds. It was grown by a 9 year old from Woodward as a 4-H project! If you want to grow a huge orange ball in your field, give the vine at least 1,000 square feet of space, select the best pumpkin and pinch off all flower buds and other little pumpkins. Feed plant regularly. Make sure the star performer always has fresh sand underneath to keep it from rotting. Simple.

The bees and goats in the Agropolis were doing their thing, the midway was brilliant as darkness descended, and I could not find the coin machines. A similar game was “Land of Oz.” Metal walkways connected several electronic coin machines. Tokens were funneled into a counter which indicated your score. No coins fell out to be collected. Prizes were dependent on the points you accrued during your stay. The weathered attendant told me the old woman who owned the ancient coin empire had died and Oz was the new replacement. Not the same.

Have you ever visited the Quartz Mountains? Friday evening, Sept 20th, began the annual meeting of the Oklahoma Native Plant Society. Quartz Mt Park Naturalist Sue introduced us to the unique area after we had gathered in the Bobcat Pavilion sheltered from the rain. Most of the park is under Federal jurisdiction, but the state does own 1,600 acres. The Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche winter bison hunters as well as the year-round Wichita tribe farmers formerly occupied this zone between western and eastern climates.

The area was somewhat parceled out to the tribes before 1900 with the remainder opened to homesteaders. No land run here. Thirteen thousand applicants were drawn out of 151,000 in the Great Lottery of 1901. The town of Lugert became a lake in 1902. The residents abandoned their town after one tornado too many. Lake Altus-Lugert dam, part of an irrigation-flood control project of the Bureau of Reclamation, was completed in 1947. The lake has 49 miles of shoreline but its elevation varies dependent upon the cotton crop. From 100% capacity months ago, the lake is now down to 42%. Cotton runs all the communities.

The Quartz Mountains range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. Formed from solid granite, the rocks have weathered to sand and clay. Rose and Smoky quartz abound. The north side has wooded sand dunes and sloughs (swamps) with gypsum mesas that expand to the west. Flooding and droughts seem to be more frequent in this mixed grass prairie of the Great Central Plains Ecoregion. Droughts occur every 4 to 7 years and wet cycles 3 to 5 years. The hardy wildlife and flora is quite diverse. Porcupines, Texas live oaks, and Canyon wrens live here. Texas horned lizards (fond of runways) from nearby air bases are often released in these hills.

Early Saturday morning a small group of us birders, led by Mark Howery, Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, ventured out after the rains. Immediately we heard the sweet song of the Canyon wren. Never saw the bird, but did see an Osprey in flight, the Great Blue Heron, several Great white Egrets and a Spotted Sandpiper. The trill of cherry, cherry, cherry of the Carolina Wren came from the trees. The wolf spider’s abdomen was loaded with so many babies it looked fuzzy. Hop trees (Ptelea trifoliate), twining milkweed and a Giant swallowtail resting in a redcedar were found….and we were late for the first talk. Birders.

Dr. Mike Dunn, University of Cameron, discussed the diversity of Oklahoma plants. He spoke of the impacts of short time weather versus climate, the average of weather patterns, and how plants must deal with extremes. Biozones form between tree and grass boundaries. His idea is to form potential wildlife corridors which link sensitive plant areas. Why not a wildlife corridor between the Quartz Mts and Wichita Mts, sixty miles long? Oklahoma needs a National Park and this could be it!

Sue Ball lives off the grid, 40 miles from where we were sitting. This woman is a true pioneer in so many ways. Grounded in Colorado and Montana, the retired wildlife biologist has adopted a “Hunter Gatherer” lifestyle in Oklahoma. Her home is 200 acres of granite boulders and 200 acres of rough farmland with multiple ponds and a Depression-era canal. Her house was a thousand square-foot building moved to site. She discovered chiggers, gumbo clay, snakes, fire risks, and the powerlines were a mile away. She and her husband went solar with a backup propane system and gas generator. Water is stored in a 550 gallon above ground cistern caught from roof rain runoff. They have a low flow shower and low flush toilet. Laundry is done in town. The couple hunt their food, either wild plants, animals or fish (90% wild harvest). The family rule: If you kill it, you must clean it and eat it.

The last speaker before afternoon field trip was Katy Hawk of The Nature Conservancy. She presented an update of the Oklahoma Monarch and Pollinator Collaborative or “Okies for Monarchs.” 477 Monarch Waystations now cover Oklahoma. 294 Oklahoma farmers and ranchers have pledged land to become pollinator habitats.

The post-lunch outing turned into a herpetology session with dozens of lizards, some snakes and a few turtles making their appearance. Canadian wild rye “bows to the queen”, a trait used to help identify the wheat-like plant ripening along the path. Elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens), a western shrub, got its name because the branches come off at right angles.

Ending note: On a sandy spit next to a willow tree between Quartz Mt Lodge and the lake surfaced a skeleton in 1964. Cavalry buttons lay alongside. Research revealed the 19th Kansas Cavalry was in bivouac with supply train on March 5th 1869. The regiment was starving and had eaten a few of their horses. Twenty year old William Gruber, Chief Bugler, was killed by a bullet meant to bring down a prairie dog. Talk about bad luck.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.