(Hi All- I am back with another exciting installment of 'Go' (Follow the link to the last chapter)... where do AGP and I find ourselves now? Oklahoma!)
As our friends headed east towards home, we headed just a little bit north in order to go straight west- all the way across Oklahoma, into the panhandle, and then right out the other side!
Oklahoma is a state that I have long wanted to explore, kind of like the way I felt about Arkansas. I knew I would love it- long, grid-like roads cutting through miles of wheat and faded nothingness- have you ever seen Twister? Absolutely one of my top five movies. Plus, before the trip, I tore through Prairie Women: Women of the Kansas Frontier (Joanna Stratton) and The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (Timothy Egan). I recommend both of those very highly if you are interested at all in frontier life or the dust bowl. I was definitely prepped as we headed onto the prairie.
We cleaned up from our festival debaucheries at Kettle Campground in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, another town famous for its groundwater. Our trip had finally begun!! We still had a lot of technical things to work out regarding the packing method of our car and general campsite set up, so we spent the evening unpacking, cleaning, and finding a home for everything. The next morning we took a small side trip through the unique village of Eureka Springs, which has distinct curving streets with stores that have street level entrances on more than one floors. Then we hunted around for magically healing groundwater springs, took a quick trip up the fire tower to catch a glimpse of Christ of the Ozarks and a stop at the Thorncrown Chapel, an architectural jewel designed by E. Fay Jones.
And then Oklahoma at last! We hit the highway out of Fayetteville, AR towards Tulsa, OK and then jumped up into the Osage Nation to Pawhuska (home of the Pioneer Woman!). The small towns that we passed through really captured the essence of life on the remote plains. As a girl who grew up in the prolific suburbs between Boston and New York, it was strange to find myself in a supermarket devoid of fresh meat and with the produce selection of a corner bodega in the city (I would later learn in South Dakota that I was in what is called a “Food Desert”: despite miles of farmland, none of it was being dedicated for human consumption and with little to no access to grocery stores). In all of my travels across the United States and northern Canada had I yet to come across such isolated towns whose historic significance had all but faded away. (And please don’t think that I am trying to discount the personal significance that of course still bolsters each unique community!) Naturally, I was enraptured. I could have spent the whole summer crisscrossing Oklahoma, living off of kielbasa and frozen vegetables if I had to.
Our first stop was the Great Salt Plains Lake State Park, north-central Oklahoma, famous for two things: red sandstone cliffs and… well, the second thing I am going to keep that a secret for now! (Geology buffs should start getting excited!) Our campsite at the state park was not entirely secluded (abutted the only neighborhood in town), but was right on the lake edge and never mind that we didn’t see or hear from anybody the whole night. It was pretty sweet. Even better, the night was alive with cicadas! And I don’t just mean singing from the trees, but alit in a way that might be considered a swarm by those sensitive to insect proximity. Cicadas are clumsy and harmless, and extremely fun to chase around with sticks. Just a little tap and out of the air they fall. (Absolutely no harm was caused to any of the cicadas who were involved in my game… they seemed notorious for flying straight into things (read: faces, trees, parked cars) and falling on the ground anyway).
(Brussels sprouts for breakfast? Yes, please!)
We also consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have been witnesses to a remarkable celestial event that happened to occur the exact moment we were star-gazing over the lake. On that night, June 5th, at around 10pm, we were treated to a bolide meteor fireball! It was a like a green shooting star, bigger than anything I have ever seen in the sky!! Truly an extraordinary event. Since we obviously didn’t get a photo of the fireball, enjoy some pictures of us playing with our headlamps and imagine they are meteors streaking through the sky:
In the morning, before we left for the panhandle, we made a quick stop on the opposite side of the lake to do a little gem-hounding and satisfy the trained geologist inside of me. Yay! What I was keeping a secret was that the Great Salt Plains Lake is a mine for hourglass selenite crystals, which are unique to only this locale and completely free and easy to gather. Selenite is a form of crystallized gypsum, which when combined with the clay sediment from the Great Salt Plains Lake, form a unique hourglass shape inside. I gathered quite a few that chilly, wind-swept morning, and had such a good time (between that and the cicada chasing) that I would absolutely make a point to return to the Great Salt Plains Lake on a future trip. The following are a few pictures of me having a blast digging in the salty mud for crystals:
Our goal for the day was to make all the way to the western point of the panhandle. We cruised aimlessly around a bit to try to catch a glimmer of Gloss Mountain, which is also known for its high selenite content that makes the mountains shimmer like glass, and then we took a quick visit to the Sod House Museum in Aline.
(It was overcast while we passed Gloss Mountain so we didn't get to see very much glimmer!)
Then we entered the heart of the dust bowl! Amazingly, we could even still see the old drifts of dust built up around surviving fences from that time. Most impressive were the power lines that stretched the entire 200-mile span, bringing power into the lives of the people in towns like Guymon and Boise (pronounced like boy) City. And Boise, was it flat (I’m so funny!). Technically, the panhandle of Oklahoma is flatter than a pancake! We had a good time on the flat, quiet roads, just us and the waving wheat.
We made it all the way to the state park that contains Black Mesa, which at 4,973ft is the highest point in Oklahoma, and lies at the westernmost edge of Oklahoma and dust bowl territory. Today, it is a state park that marks where the Rocky Mountains meet the short-grass prairie. We took a day hike up to the peak through the land of black lava rock and spotted with juniper and cholla cacti.
(Oh yea, then we got to see some fossilized dinosaur footprints!! Though it might be hard to imagine, those aren't muddy puddles, but exposed mudstone with perma-dino tracks!)
Ah, Oklahoma. I was greatly impressed with my trip there. Despite its reputation and lack of obvious attractions for those from the crowded east coast, each day was long, eventful, and informative. Oklahoma plays an immense role in our country's history and I am grateful for those who endured the hardships then and now. Even now as I recollect, I long to be back to the flat, golden lands, sneaking with cacti and a-buzz with desert life. Maybe I could have been an effective pioneer, had I been given the cosmic chance!
Here is this chapters route-- so much happened in two days!:
A: Eureka Springs, Arkansas
B: Great Salt Plains Lake, Alfalfa, Oklahoma
C: Black Mesa State Park, Kenton, Oklahoma
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After the break, follow along as AGP and I head into Colorado in