It’s not really lost.  Gone is more like it. There is a difference. Being one of those nuances of the English language we wallow with on occasion the issue must be wallowed, else I can’t move on. Consider this a divertissement to the rest of the post. So if I lose a ring fighting a 2 lb. trout while flyfishing the Yellowstone River, it’s lost from me, but not gone.  The trout got away too. Bad day. I’d consider the fish to be gone but not lost. If I’d landed him and made streamside ceviche, then he’d be gone. Say I lose my way. Definitely not gone. If it were gone I’d never find it again. I’ve tested that one.  What about lost at sea? Possibly lost and gone. And all for the point Oklahoma once had a sea but now it’s gone. But not lost. And yes I think and write like this stone cold sober.

Oklahoma's Lost Sea

Sundown. Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.

A day hot enough to create mirages on the searing highway provides a vivid imagination the creative force to visualize the sea that once flooded the Great Plains. The tangible remains of the sea are now an expanse of salt flats. The only place in the world where chocolate brown selenite crystals with hourglass sand inclusions are found.  Beats me why the state of Oklahoma hasn’t pounded home that travel destination highlight.

A shallow sea covered western Oklahoma during the Permian Period (200+ million years ago). The mountains worn down, sand and mud eroded from land in the eastern half of the state and were carried by rivers flowing westward. The climate becoming warm and dry resulted in deposits of gypsum and salt from the evaporating sea water. The salt layers still underlie much of the area, but at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge they’re dissolved by natural ground-water flow, the resultant brines drying and crusting on the surface.

One of nine National Wildlife Refuges in Oklahoma, the refuge is designated as the “largest such saline flat in the central lowlands of North America”. As well as being habitat for over 300 species of birds, the refuge has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area, a Member of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and critical habitat for the endangered whooping crane. Hourglass sand inclusions and whooping cranes. I believe that noteworthy.

Oklahoma's Lost Sea

A certain area of the 10,000 acre salt flats at the refuge still has gypsum concentrations high enough to continually grow the selenite crystals. From April to October, rotating designated areas allow a free-for-all dig, with a few restrictions on what amount of crystals can be removed. Bring your shovel, sun screen, and plan to get dirty.

The gate leading into the crystal digging area is located six miles west of Jet, Oklahoma on US 64, then north on a dirt road for three miles, then east one mile. Don’t get lost.

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