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The Rita Blanca National Grassland (NG) is located in the
southwest corner of Oklahoma (15,639 acres) and the northwest
corner of Texas (77,183 acres). Except for two picnic areas
where camping is permitted, there are no developed campgrounds.
The Rita Blanca NG is an expanse of rolling grass prairie
reaching from one horizon to another under a vaulted blue sky.
On this national grassland, providing healthy endless grass for
cattle appears to be the grassland's primary purpose. There are
no developed campgrounds, no fishing opportunities, or maintained
hiking trails. Two lane dirt farm roads cris-cross the grassland
providing access to parcels of grazing land identified as a
"Unit." Each Unit is represented by an alpha/numeric number and
ranchers will lease it, for a specific period of time, from the
Forest Service to supplement their own grazing land. Maintaining
productive quality grazing land, a.k.a. forage, is an important
responsibilities of the Rita Blanca NG. However, not only does
it help to ensure a supply of beef for the public and game for
hunters but grass and other forage plants help to stabilize the
soil ensuring continued quality forage for the wildlife and
It might be hard to imagine the Rita Blanca NG as anything other
than what it is today. The area now designated as "grassland"
was settled in the 1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts,"
which opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to
settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s
into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a
location receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to
literally dry up and blow away. During this time, Congress
established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought
homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public
land status. The Work Program Administration (WPA) and Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees helped to stabilize the
eroding soil. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the
USDA Forest Service and they were tasked with management of these
sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service established
some twenty National Grasslands from those lands. "The
designation of the area as National Grassland is not a
description of the area as much as a statement of policy and
effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits."
The Rita Blanca NG, a patchwork of public and private land, has
come a long way from a land devastated by drought. At the
beginning of the 21st century, the area experience weather
conditions as bad, if not worse, then those of the 1930s.
However, because of the USDA Forest Service's land management
practices and the support of the local ranches and farmers, there
were no massive dust storms or related damage to the land - a
good indication something is being done well.
Although the Rita Blanca NG lacks the recreational opportunities
found on other grasslands, there are two. In Felt, OK,
convenient from US Rt. 56, the Felt Picnic Area (1/) offers good
birdwatching opportunities and a nice spot for overnight camping.
Northeast of Texline, TX is the Thompson Grove Picnic Area (2/)
with big, grand old cottonwoods and endless prairie all around.
Not convenient to any major highways, Thompson Grove with all
that shade and endless prairie stretching to the horizon just
beyond the trees, is also a good location for a temporary,
camping stay. Both picnic areas have a vault toilet.
The Rita Blanca NG doesn't have outstanding recreational
opportunities but it is a special place. A place of endless
grass rippling in the wind. A place where livestock and wildlife
are fat, happy and healthy. It is a place where visitors will
find the "lone prairie" of song and folklore.
1/ GPS coordinates - N36 33.56, W102 47.60
2/ GPS coordinates - N36 24.878, W102 48.256
2113 Osuna Road, NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
Kiowa and Rita Blanca
714 Main St.
Clayton, New Mexico 88415