On a clear day you may be as far away as 35 miles when you first see the red granite dome of Quartz Mountain on the horizon, rising from the southwestern plains. As imposing as it and other Wichita Mountain peaks are, you’re actually seeing only part of them: Millions of years of weathering have covered their bases with eroded rock to a depth of many thousands of feet, leaving only their tops showing above ground.
Quartz Mountain is a strikingly attractive place, its rugged, boulder-strewn slopes in sharp contrast with the blue of Lake Altus-Lugert. This juxtaposition of rock and water, mountain and plains, produces great diversity in the wildlife and vegetation—which also shows the influence of the park’s location in the country’s midsection. You could, for instance, see an Eastern collared lizard sliding past a pecan or an Eastern redbud here, where, ecologically speaking, north meets south.
What to See and Do
Stop first at the park office for information or the Nature Center where exhibits introduce Quartz Mountain’s natural history. The area’s granite, you’ll learn, came to the surface as magma more than 500 million years ago; a shallow sea covered it in sedimentary limestone (long since eroded away), and later was uplifted far higher than its present worn-down elevation. Kids will enjoy the touch table, where they can handle feathers, cattails, rocks, and—if they’re brave enough—animal bones and skulls.
The short Wichita Interpretive Trail leads from the office to Live Oak Campground, crossing an intermittent stream. The muddy banks often reveal tracks of wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and even bobcats, which come down from the mountain to drink but are seen by only the luckiest visitors. The park’s 0.5-mile New Horizon Trail begins at a parking lot just beyond the office. It heads rather steeply up Quartz Mountain to a lookout point about three-fourths of the way to the top; you’re free to continue up and to pick another route back down. Be aware that rocky hillsides are a favored habitat of rattlesnakes; watch where you step and put your hands. Another fearsome looking—but in this case harmless—reptile found here is the horned lizard, armed with sharp spines over its body. You may see this little “horned toad” sunning itself in sandy and rocky areas on hot days; it skitters away with surprising speed when you come too close.
Wildflower-lovers note that long-haired phlox, a species endemic to the W’ichitas, can be seen here in spring. Try to visit during the May Wildflower Festival—it’s a great time to observe some of the park’s 80 varieties, including coreopsis, larkspur, prickly pear cactus, and the beautiful Indian blanket or firewheel, a sunflower relative with red-and-yellow flowers.
In winter Lake Altus-Lugert can host a dozen or more bald eagles; ask a naturalist about the best viewing locations. Another species seen on the lake in spring and fall, to the surprise of some visitors, is the white pelican; although many people think of it as a seabird, this bird migrates through the park on its way to and from breeding grounds in the northwestern United States and Canada.
Quartz Mountain also offers various activities, ranging from paddleboats on the river to golf to an off-road vehicle area (April-Sept.).