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Tales from the Trail
Robbers Cave Stables in Wilburton offers the full day-to-night cowboy experience.
By Karlie Ybarra
Published July/August 2018
Clomping along the rocky forest trail atop a bay roan paint mustang named Champ, it’s easy to slip into daydreams about the journeys of cowboys and outlaws.
“When I was about nineteen, my uncle and I were riding along that path,” Glen Cook says as he points about ten feet south. “He told me about how Jesse James took that exact trail more than a hundred years ago.”
Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton is as rich in history as it is in natural beauty. Belle Starr, the Dalton Gang, and others hid from the law in the caves throughout the woods. Cook—whose white mustache and ten-gallon hat give him the appearance of one of those pursuing lawmen—knows all the stories, and he has quite a few himself.
“I was exploring the area and came upon an eight-foot-deep hole,” he says. “Inside, I found two old whiskey bottles from the mid-1800s.”
But as proprietors of Robbers Cave Stables, Cook, his wife Misty, and their son Cody aren’t only in the business of sharing legends. Their authentic overnight pack trips allow folks from all over the world to create their own Wild West tales.
The adventure begins with a two-hour horseback ride through the park led by one of the Cooks. Towering cedar and dogwood trees dot the landscape, allowing shafts of golden sunshine to peek through. The serene waters of Lost Lake reflect the blue sky above. Even the rocks—from pebbles to boulders—covered in a mossy, antique patina lend the area the look of a place outside of time.
Of course, one of the most popular stops is the park’s namesake cave. Although it requires dismounting and a bit of a hike, standing on the ledge above allows a 360-degree view of one of the most scenic parts of the state, while a tour of the bottom offers visitors a chance to walk in the footsteps of some of the West’s wildest figures.
Afterward, the smell of an authentic chuckwagon dinner beckons riders to their own campground. After a day of riding, fresh sweet tea, buttery potatoes, corn on the cob, and a steak charcoal-grilled to perfection is about as welcome as any sight could be, except possibly for Misty’s apple cinnamon fritters.
With rumbling bellies quieted, guests can focus on the singing and strumming of musician and poet Robert Beene.
“He’s a get up every day / and ride for his pay kind of cowboy,” he croons in one of his original songs.
Once the performance is over, the dinner plates are cleared away, and the sun starts to dip below the horizon, the Cooks—along with two of their Australian shepherds Wrangler and Punchy—head back to their own abode a couple of hundred yards away, unless campers want someone to stick around.
As guests admire the star-filled sky while roasting marshmallows over the campfire, the call of the covered wagon and its comfortable bunks becomes hard to ignore. The sounds of cicadas chirping and horses roaming in the distance lull cowboys and girls to sleep while providing the perfect accompaniment to dreams of the days when outlaws traversed these lands.
Robbers Cave Stables overnights start at $175 per person. Starr Trail and Ash Creek Road, (918) 465-1500 or robberscavestables.com.