Oklahoma, meaning “Red People” may be nicknamed the ‘Sooner State,’ though, not official, but it could just as easily have a nickname pertaining to many beautiful Oklahoma mountain ranges. There are a dozen mountain ranges in the state that draw the awe and attention of travelers and locals alike. Each one has unique characteristics and qualities that make it an intricate and important part of Oklahoma’s overall topography and culture.
Sooner State Mountains
The Arbuckle Mountains are a range of ancient mountains that can be found in the southern portion of Oklahoma. These mountains are ancient because of what they are comprised of. It’s believed the granite rocks contained within the range date all the way back to the Precambrian Era. Reaching the great height of 1,412 feet above sea level, the Arbuckle mountain range in Oklahoma is as visually stunning as its rich history that weaves throughout the state. They are considered the oldest mountain formations in the United States, after the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. They were named (indirectly) for General Matthew Arbuckle, who was a career soldier from Virginia who was active in Oklahoma’s Indiana Territory in the later years of his life, so he was honored with the distinction.
The Kiamichi Mountains are another prominent and popular mountain range in Oklahoma. In fact, they are actually located within the much larger Ouachita Mountains (more on those later) and extend from Oklahoma into Arkansas. The Kiamichi sit inside Le Flore, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties. The mountain range got its name because it is within striking distance of the Kiamichi River. At its highest peak, the range sits up at 2,500 feet in elevation. It is also the namesake of Kiamichi Country, which Southeastern Oklahoma thinks of as an important tourist designation.
Much like the Arbuckle Mountains, the Kiamichi Mountains are also considered very ancient. Through the process of projecting from where the actual range is now, all the way down to its roots that span well below the surface, geologists are able to definitively say that the range actually was, at one point, as grandly tall as the Rocky Mountain range, which extends throughout North America and is a much younger range. Mountains like those, which are still considered relatively young, have tops that are jagged and very serrated. The Kiamichi Mountains, however, are much older and have become shorter over the years, worn down and extremely eroded by the longer span of years they have been suffering through the weather.
Along with the Kiamichi Mountains, there are a large number of other mountains also associated with the Ouachita Mountains, some of which are a lot the same as Kiamichi and all of which are located in the Southeastern area of Oklahoma.
Going north from the Kiamichi Mountains is the Winding Stair Mountains. This is a range of mountains that got its memorable name from the American explorers who early on were able to live and work among the mountains and named them so because of cascading appearance as a series of stair steps.
East of there are the Bok Tuklo Mountains, which some say are a part – or extension – of the Kiamichi Mountains, but they are far removed from the river from which they got their name. In the language of the Choctaw people, Bok Tuklo, when broken down, means ‘two creeks’ (Lukfata Creek and Yasho Creek), which are both found in McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Portions of these mountains are actually protected by the Kiamichi Mountains, which is why some consider them to be a set. The wildlife refuge located in this area includes much of the Kiamichi River’s higher portions.
Given the national popularity of the Kiamichi mountain range, the Oklahoma government designated the southeastern portion of the state is Kiamichi Country, so it can be better marketed to tourist groups. Several flood control reservoirs are located in the area, and are framed by views of the mountains.
The Ouachita Mountains are another mountain range in the same area of Oklahoma as the Kiamichi range. The range extends through Oklahoma and Arkansas, and some geologists think the roots may extend all the way to Texas. Along with the Ozark Mountains, the Ouachita Mountains form what is known as the ‘U.S. Interior Highlands.’ It is considered to be one of the only major mountain ranges between the Rocky Mountains on the west coast and the Appalachian Mountains on the east coast. Mount Magazine is the highest peak known on the Ouachita Mountains.
The word Ouachita – ouac (a buffalo) and chito (which means large) – essentially boils the name down to meaning ‘county of large buffalos’ and numerous herds of that great animal used to roam all over the prairies in Oklahoma.
The Ouachita Mountains share many physiographic commonalities with the Appalachian Mountains, which they are so often compared with. They are a fold mountain range. More than 300 million years ago, the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico actually ran through portions of Arkansas and as the South American Plate slowly moved upward, eventually riding the thicker North American continental crust, and created what geologists are calling the Ouachita orogeny. When the collision occurred, it buckled under the weight of the pressure and it created the folding mountains we now call the Ouachitas. These mountains were very similar in height to the elevations the Rocky Mountains, and like the Kiamichi Mountains, the tops of the Ouachitas are eroded and wasted away, leaving low formations behind along the sooner state landscape.