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Oklahoma Weird & Wonderful
The Red Slough Wildlife Management Area near Idabel is home to several American alligators. These reptiles use their massive tails as weapons and to propel themselves through swampy waters.
Photo courtesy OUACHITA NATIONAL FOREST
Think you’ve traveled down every tourist trail in Oklahoma? Lived long enough in the Sooner State that museums and roadside attractions have become ho-hum, you’ve marked them off your to-do list so many times? Now that spring’s in sight, dust off those walking shoes and gas up the family car for a less conventional road trip through some of Oklahoma’s quirkier attractions.
By SHEILAH BRIGHT
Published March/April 2012
For the American alligator, the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area at the southern tip of McCurtain County is an all-inclusive resort with all-you-can-eat buffets and multiple natural swimming pools. Except for the bird watchers and scientists eavesdropping on breeding activities, a band of ten to twenty native alligators have the run of the place.
“Most people don’t realize that the American alligator makes its home here in Oklahoma. We are at the very edge of its northwestern range,” says Robert Bastarache, district biologist with the Ouachita National Forest. “They are generally going to be about in the three to seven-foot range, but we’ve had some up to eleven feet long.”
People have been spotting the American alligator around southeastern Oklahoma for many years. The earliest written record dates to 1866, when a man who lived near Clear Lake, a community just southwest of Red Slough, bragged of killing an alligator.
Inactive and likely in hibernation chambers during the winter, the alligators come out to bask in the sun when the temperature climbs above sixty degrees. After emerging, they snack on snakes and rodents and lounge around in Red Slough’s 397 acres of water.
The best chance to see them is between March and June, when the vegetation isn’t overgrown. Although some people try to spot them on their own, the best plan is to call the Ouachita National Forest and arrange a free tour.
Red Slough personnel emphasize a couple of tips that seem obvious but are often ignored: Don’t approach an alligator. And don’t attempt to feed one. The gators of Red Slough are fun to look at—from a distance.
For a guided alligator tour, contact the Ouachita National Forest office at (580) 494-6402. For more Oklahoma Weird and Wonderful destinations, pick up a copy of Oklahoma Today’s March/April issue.
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