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Oklahoma Outdoor Must Sees for New Year



By Michael Newell

As a Biologist, I value diversity. It measures the health of an ecosystem.

            There might not be any other state that has the diversity that we have in Oklahoma. Make it a point to get outdoors this year and see some of the unique offerings that the Sooner State has to offer.

It is extremely difficult to pick out the top things to experience, but here are the top 10 things for you to put on your list for the new year:

  1. Swamps of Southeast Oklahoma – Step into a world that resembles Jurassic Park as you head to the far southeast corner of the state. Red Slough is an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) wildlife management area, located six miles south of Haworth, that more resembles the marshlands of Florida or Louisiana than Oklahoma. 2,400 acres of wetlands are home to more than 312 species of birds, such as the roseate spoonbill, that can be seen nowhere else in the state. It is also a home to a good population of American alligators and other swamp-like creatures. There are viewing platforms scattered across the area to give birdwatchers a better vantage point. Package this trip with a stay at the cabins at Beavers Bend State Park for a great weekend getaway.
  2. Be a spelunker – Or just immerse yourself in the past of the wilder time when outlaws like the James Gang and Belle Starr hid out in the caves of Robbers Cave State Park, just outside of Wilburton. Climbing, caving, hiking or rebelling all await this adventure in the Sans Bois Mountains. Cabins are available for rent and the lake and fall foliage are postcard worthy.
  3. Medicinal mineral springs – In 1092 the U.S. Government purchased 33 mineral springs near Sulphur from the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations to create a national park. The springs are cold-water with high levels of sulphur, bromide and iron and stay a refreshing 65 degrees even in the hottest summer heat. Be sure to pack the swim trunks and take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear pools. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area, as it is called today, boasts over 18 miles of paved hiking trails with beautiful scenery.
  4. Mountains in the prairie – Back before Oklahoma was a state, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a law creating the first “Game Sanctuary” located in the Wichita Mountains. Home to American bison, elk, deer and other game species, today the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge encompasses nearly 60,000 acres of mixed grass prairie and granite mountain outcroppings. 240 species of birds, 50 species of mammals and 64 species of reptiles and amphibians, including the “mountain boomer” the official state reptile, can be seen here, along with a strain of Texas Longhorn cattle to preserve the cultural and historical legacy of the breed. Located just 20 minutes north of Lawton, stop by the visitors’ center for maps and static displays.
  5. Surf the sand dunes – One of the craziest sights is driving north toward Waynoka and all of a sudden, a desert appears in the middle of the prairie. The Little Sahara State Park is so named for its resemblance to the Sahara Desert. 1,600 acres of sand dunes, some of which rise 75 feet, greet visitors and offer some of the best ATV riding in this part of the country.
  6. Going batty – Looking for a summer excursion to take the kids? Then just head to northwest Oklahoma to Freedom and the Selman Bat Cave. Every evening during the summer more than one million Mexican free-tailed bats exit the cave in search of insects. The tour provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife gives information about the bats as well as transportation from Alabaster Caverns, which I recommend touring,  to the secret location. But the tours fill up quickly, so register early. Combine this stop with a tour of Alabaster Caverns State Park, one of the largest natural gypsum caves in the world. Daily guided tours are offered
  7. Can you dig it – Great Salt Plains State Park is one of Oklahoma’s most unique state parks. The barren landscape of the nearby Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of salt leftover from an ocean that covered Oklahoma in prehistoric times, and the saltwater lake in the park, Great Salt Plains Lake, is about half as salty as the ocean. The selenite crystal dig area is located southwest of the lake in the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, and access roads are available six miles west of Jet or three miles south of Cherokee. The crystal digging area is open from April 1 to October 15 from sunrise to sunset. Located just under the surface of the salt plains, these crystals usually form into an hourglass shape. Oklahoma is the only place in the world where the hourglass-shaped selenite crystal can be found. While searching for crystals, look for some of the over 300 species of protected birds that live in and can be seen in the refuge. In the fall, ducks, geese and cranes use Salt Plains as a rest stop on their migration. It’s not uncommon to see more than 100,000 of these migrants in one viewing, as well as bald eagles and other bird species.
  8. Mountains of glass – While they are not truly made of glass, the Gloss Mountains, just outside of Fairview have that appearance due to high selenite crystal content. While you cannot dig these crystals like at Salt Plains, you can see some beautiful vistas and spectacular scenery. Horseback riding, hayrides, hiking and fishing are all available at this small but unique state park.
  9. Grass as high as an elephant’s eye – well maybe not an elephant, but certainly a buffalo, and you will find tall grass and buffalo at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie preserve just north of Pawhuska. Nearly 40,000 acres of protected tallgrass is owned by the Nature Conservancy, and they use bison and “patch-burn” fires to protect this unique and disappearing ecosystem. The preserve is open to the public and has a 10-mile bison loop with hiking trials and scenic turnouts. The preserve has a visitor center/gift shop, and you can find out about the research initiatives and more than 180 publications in scientific journals that have been published about the preserve.
  10. Oklahoma’s tallest waterfall – If you have ever read “Where the Red Fern Grows,” the images that the book conjures up might have come from Natural Falls State Park. In fact, the 1974 movie was shot here. Formerly called Dripping Springs, this state park, located about as far northeast as you can go while still being in Oklahoma, features a 77- foot waterfall cascading through rock formations and creating a hidden, serene atmosphere at the bottom of a narrow V-shaped valley. Hiking and nature trails are available, and for a unique experience rent one of the park’s five yurts to stay in.

      We hope these ideas have been enlightening and helped you to realize the great abundance of outdoor activities all around us. But the key for any of these is to get outside. Grab the family, load up the SUV and introduce them to the great diversity to be found in Oklahoma.

Read more in the January 2020 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Inventions of Agriculture: The Cotton Gin



A few centuries ago, the landscape of farming and ranching looked quite different than it does today. There were no tractors for plowing, airplanes for spraying or even barbed wire for separating cattle.

There are inventions that have come along and changed the face of agriculture across the United States. One of those inventions was the cotton gin. It was invented during a time when the agricultural industry was struggling after its most significant crop, tobacco, saw revenues begin to plummet. But while it saved the profits and livelihood of many farmers and plantation owners, it also led to the increase in slave labor, making it an invention that significantly changed both our economic and social past.

The cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney. Whitney was born in Westborough, Mass., on Dec. 8, 1765. His father was a farmer, and his son would prove his talents as both an inventor and a mechanic at a young age.

Whitney graduated Yale University and even considered becoming a lawyer, but life took him down a different path, one that would change the lives of farmers forever. He made his way to the south after graduation with plans to tutor, but upon arrival, he accepted a position with Catherine Green in Savannah, Ga. Greene was the widow of American Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene and owned the Mulberry Grove plantation.

At the time, tobacco was falling in value due to both soil exhaustion and abundance. Farmers began turning to other crop options, including cotton. Unfortunately, the only variety that could be grown inland contained seeds that were time-consuming to pick out.

During the colonial times, cloth derived from cotton was more expensive than wool or even linen due to the difficulty of removing these seeds from the fibers. It took an entire day just to detach seeds from one single pound of cotton. Whitney’s employer, Greene, urged the young Whitney to find a solution to this problem. Her support was crucial in Whitney’s success in inventing the cotton gin. Some even suggest that it was actually Greene who was the true inventor of the cotton gin, but at the time, women were not allowed to apply for patents in the United States.

On March 14, 1794, Whitney succeeded in obtaining a patent for the cotton gin. While similar devices had been around for many years, his was the first single device that could clean short-staple cotton. The introduction of the new technology made cotton a profitable crop in the United States for the very first time.

The device worked much like a strainer. The cotton was run through a drum, made of wood, which included hooks similar to teeth along the perimeter. Those hooks caught the cotton fiber and drug them through a mesh, which was too small to allow the seeds through. However, the hooks pulled the cotton through easily.

Small cotton gins could easily be worked by hand, while larger ones included the use of horses to power. Even the smaller gin could remove seeds from 50 pounds of cotton in one day, a much larger amount than the results of doing it by hand. In fact, the gin allowed 1,000 pounds of cotton to be cleaned in the same amount of time it took a worker to do five pounds by hand.

Due to Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, along with other inventions of the Industrial Revolution such as machines to weave it, the price of cotton plunged and production of it doubled each decade after 1800. It even began being shipped overseas, and soon American farmers were growing 75 percent of the world’s supply of cotton.

However, Whitney’s invention was not all good news. While it did increase the production and profits of crops in America, it also established the cotton plantation culture of the south. The cotton crop became so lucrative for plantation owners, the demand to make more significantly increased. As it did, so did the use of slave labor for growing it.  

As for Whitney, he struggled with patent-law issues that prevented him from significantly profiting from his invention. He managed to overcome that obstacle when he secured a contract with the United State government in 1798 to create 10,000 muskets.

While it would take him a decade to make those instead of the two years originally planned in the contract, he began endorsing interchangeable parts. In other words, identical parts could be quickly assembled while making for easier repairs on machines. Many objects, from machines to guns, were constructed by individuals. While Whitney is most known for his invention of the cotton gin, he also is credited for the development of mass production within America.

In his personal life, Whitney did not wed until his 50s, when he married Henrietta Edwards in 1817. The pair would go on to have four children before his death on Jan. 8, 1825, at the age of 59.


History. (2010, February 4). Cotton Gin and Eli Whitney. A&E Television Networks.

National Archives and Records Administration. (2021, December 16). Eli Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin. National Archives Educator Resources. (Text adapted from an article written by Joan Brodsky Schur, a teacher at Village Community School in New York, N.Y.)

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Let’s Take A Trip – Part 1



After almost two years of Covid, testing, vaccinations, boosters, illness and death, wearing masks, staying indoors and away from others, severe thunderstorms, tornados, and now war in Europe, it’s time to get out and away from it all for at least a day.

    Let’s get on I35 North of Ardmore and begin our trip in the Arbuckle Mountains.  Stop at every scenic turnout to enjoy the awe-inspiring views of the trees, valleys, and rocks that according to archeologists formed during an earthquake eons ago.

     Reached by a narrow twisty highway, a sight comparable to a miniature Niagara Falls is soon revealed. Cascading 77 feet, Turner Falls is majestic. Formed by Honey Creek, it empties into a beautiful blue lake.

     Although it may be tempting, climbing to the area behind the falls and sliding down the falls is prohibited by law because more than one person has drowned attempting lt.

     Be sure to visit Collins Castle, built in the early 30`s of native materials as a summer home for Dr. Elizabeth Collins, a professor at Oklahoma University. It was once headquarters for the Bar C Ranch.

     The entire park covers 1,500 acres and includes swimming areas, camping areas, cabins, hiking trails, caves, a water slide, trout fishing, and Look Out Point, featuring telescopes allowing you to view the entire park.

      A zip line, diving, scubas, and floating on inner tubes entertains many visitors.

     Children play areas, a trading post and majestic scenery attract more than 250,000 visitors each year.

         Come for a day or a week and enjoy all the park has to offer.

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A Versatile Venue



Fields that once were prolific with wheat have now found a new purpose at P Bar Farms in Hydro, Okla. Now, colorful sunflowers abound, attracting visitors from all across the state who come for photo opportunities. In another 10-acre section, specialty corn is grown specifically to be mowed to a specific pattern, transforming into a maze that sees upwards of 15,000[LM1] visitors annually.

It’s not that Loren and Kim Liebscher couldn’t make a traditional farm work; it’s more that they were looking for something fun to do for a few years.

P Bar Farms is named for Travis Payne, Kim’s father. “We used to farm traditionally here. We were farming and her dad got sick. I kind of lost my love to farm, so I began praying that God would give me something to put the fun back into farming,” Loren shared.

It was just two weeks later that God delivered a sign that would change the course for P Bar Farm. “I read in a Progressive Farmer magazine about a guy doing a corn maze in Nashville, Tenn. We found out that the first Annual Corn Maze Convention was only two or three weeks after that,” he said. “So, we drove to Salt Lake City for the first convention, and that’s how we got started.”

Loren and Kim admit they knew nothing about corn mazes, but they learned plenty during the convention. “The Convention was actually part of a franchise company that was looking to add farms. We joined, and for the fee they gave us all the secrets and designs for the maze and everything,” Loren explained.

After a few years, the Liebschers opted out of the franchise. “We felt like we knew what we were doing by then,” Kim said.

The first P Bar Farms corn maze was grown and cut in 2001, but then 9/11 happened. The uncertainty that plagued the country made its way to Hydro, and it wasn’t a given that the corn maze adventure would even get out of the gate. “We thought that was going to be the end. We had hoped that if we got 1,000 people to come during that first season, at $5 a person, we’d be doing well. A $5,000 addition to your income is pretty good for a farmer,” Loren said. “That first year we wound up having close to 5,000, even with 9/11. We had one customer explain it to us. She said, ‘I’ve never felt so safe having my kids so lost, but it’s a family farming operation, and nothing’s going to happen here on the farm. It has that good feeling where people feel safe and comfortable.”

Kim added, “We just wanted to have something fun that was light-hearted. We didn’t anticipate being busy – we were just having fun. We thought we could do it, but if not, we don’t have anything to lose.”

With the success of the first year, the Liebschers knew they would do the corn maze again. They built a barn and added a new concession stand. They also interviewed some tough critics; teachers that came out to the farm. “We had a retired schoolteacher that worked for us, and she said if you want to get the truth to interview teachers. So, we created a survey that all the teachers filled out, and everything that came back said it was wonderful, a great concept, and a great idea,” Loren said. “But, they added they weren’t coming back until we got indoor bathrooms. That was the number one request from the teachers, so we definitely made that change.”

As the interest in the corn maze grew, P Bar Farms continued to expand. First a petting zoo was added, and then a new barn. With more requests for parties, more buildings went up. The Liebschers wanted the property to resemble an old family farm, so they purchased an old home in Hinton, Okla., and moved it in. “We wanted to use it as a bed and breakfast. That never really worked out, but we rented it for a while. Now it’s regularly booked as an Airbnb. People like to get away and get out in the country,” Kim shared.

There have been very few noticeable failures in the past two decades. The only other memorable one was a venture with a greenhouse. “With the wind in Oklahoma, that didn’t work for us. We had put asphalt in the bottom of our greenhouse, so we used that and put in a new party barn,” Loren said.

Soon a pumpkin patch was added to compliment the maze and the rest of the farm. “We’ve always had a pumpkin patch. The problem is pumpkins can be really hard to grow if you don’t rotate them, so we don’t do that real well. Our first year we had more than we could sell, but after that we really were going through them. Now we’re going through 15-20,000 pumpkins a year, and we can’t grow that many, so we just buy them,” Loren added.

It was only a few years ago that the Liebschers added a sunflower patch to the mix, taking up a few more acres covered by the pivot. “The first year they were fun and pretty, but we didn’t have a lot of visitors. This year has been different, and I think our daughter is probably the reason for that success. She has a marketing degree and it’s been unbelievable,” Kim said. “Oklahoma Tourism did a post about a ‘mystical sunflower patch.’ Now people are here all the time while they’re blooming to take photos.”

The sunflower patch is just a few acres, but the Liebschers feel it’s the perfect size. “We have found that the smaller the patch, the better people take care of it,” he said. “Plus, sunflowers are tricky. They either make it or they don’t, but this has been a very good year for them.

Read more in the October issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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