A Saturday afternoon tour through the Wichita Mountains revealed the beginnings of a thaw from last week’s wicked winter storm.

While the landscape still carried patches of snow, temperatures in the mid-40s by afternoon allowed some semblance of spring’s hint to appear.

Reopened to the public Friday, the roadways leading into and through the Wichita Mountains were cleared for traffic and many shoulders offered space for those wishing to get out and stretch their legs.

A handful of hikers left Mount Scott following their trek up the mountain. A pair of cars parked on the side of the road and occasional glances of movement up the mountain revealed there were more taking advantage of the day’s sunshine. But good footing and footwear were needed to make the ascent on the still-patched with snow, slush and ice roadway.

Turning off the main roadway to the Lake Jed Johnson access proved that not all roads were cleared equally. With the day’s sunlight and temperatures projected in the 50s, they will prove clearer by Monday.

In following footsteps from parking to lakeside, a seeming well-worn path showed journeys taken across the frozen lake surface. Shimmering pools of liquid inside the slushy steps hinted at foolishness to follow if the path is taken now.

Those walking the Jed Johnson hiking trail kept careful steps as they ascended and descended the snow-covered path. There are places of snow and ice that will will remain for days to come. Straying from the path, you would sometimes forget the still prickly cactus protruding from the snow that line it just feet away.

The temptation to step onto the frozen top of Quanah Parker Lake proved too much for one couple out for the day. But as water appeared above the ice in places, it was more akin to skating on thin ice to make the journey.

As life appeared with visitors driving through, the wildlife the refuge is known for was sparse, save for a fraction of the longhorn herd who grouped around a patch of tall prairie grass.

With the Holy City and the Refuge Visitors Center closed, it was up to visitors’ devices for entertainment. Most chose to enjoy the drive.

The usually lively pace of Medicine Park had even slowed. Visitors still made the journey, but few were out and about on the streets, mostly choosing to visit one of the town’s restaurants. With Medicine Creek frozen to a standstill, even ice fishing was out of the question.

But hope glimmered for the spring that nears. Water began to trickle from under the frozen lake and along the cascading sheets of ice running down the waterfall from the Lake Lawtonka spillover into Medicine Creek.

Upon arrival to the Lake Lawtonka dam, it appeared more an Arctic port of call than a usually thriving catfishing spot. Frozen foam from roiling waters appeared like pearlescent blooms along the shore and at the base of the dock. The layers of snow atop the solidified liquid appeared like a sea of shaving cream. That would prove too tempting at other places at the lake. The Elgin Fire Department reported that at least two people had fallen through the ice Saturday. No one was hospitalized but the potential for hypothermia and worse remains. But with every degree warmer and every passing day, following through with that urge could turn deadly.

Enjoy the view and remember that spring is less than a month away.

Written by Scott Rains: scott.rains@swoknews.com.

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