Route 66, Day 4: Oklahoma City is So, So Pretty (You’ll see!)

Finally, I’m caught up! Check out @tamarasiuda on Twitter for photographs and various musings as they happen (and/or at the nearest rest stop to where they happened). Once I get to California, I’ll update these entries with links and photos. (ETA: Links and photos added February 11, 2012).

Tulsa onward across Oklahoma was more interesting than I expected it to be, and occasionally amusing. A sign proclaiming Oklahoma to be America’s Corner immediately had me wondering “which corner?” The answer seemed sort of like that corner where all the businesses are shuttered and there are some people waiting on a bus that never comes. In driving through little towns I could see that my area of Illinois has been sheltered from some of the vagaries of the bad economy. There were so many businesses for sale, and so much of the old Route 66 gone from closed to ruined.

Landscape-wise, I went from hills and trees to really orange dirt and rocks. I mean orange, not red like they have around Atlanta, but bright orange. Even the unpaved roads are this bright orange, almost the color of a sweet potato. I don’t think it’s iron; going to have to read up to find out what it is (zinc, maybe?). In Oklahoma City (which is indeed pretty, in its own way) I stopped for a short tour of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. All jokes aside about it better named Many Winchester Rifles And Statues of Horses Museum, it was nice, much larger than I expected, and of course I didn’t have enough time to go through it all. During my hour, I did see some Remington bronzes (aforesaid statues of horses), lots and lots of weaponry, and some gorgeous paintings of the West. While not everything was cowboys or actors who played cowboys, plenty was. I feel a little like I’ve entered a new country; it was also awkward, as a native, to go through exhibits that included nothing but whooping savages or “dime store injuns,” or the noble savage immortalized in white plaster. To be fair there was a section with lots of beautiful Plains beadwork and items of native life, but it was also the Cowboy museum and not the Indian museum….

Down the street from the Cowboy Museum, I had intended to eat lunch at a restaurant that had once been a speakeasy and purportedly Pretty Boy Floyd’s favorite, only to find it closed. So I continued on. Before lunch, I got to El Reno, one of the places I’d noted I wanted to take a look around. Drove through the town (passing such interesting signs as the one for the “Squawk and Scoot Chicken Restaurant”) and ended up at Fort Reno, or what is left of the fort where anti-Indian forces, Buffalo Soldiers, and even WW2 German prisoners of war spent time. I saw the officers’ house and wandered over to look into a church that the German POWs had built to pass the time in the camp. Fort Reno was also used as a “quartermaster depot” – housing and training the US Army’s official cavalry horses, including Black Jack, the horse that walked alongside the hearses of several U.S. Presidents and other dignitaries. The USDA took over the fort and put a grazing project there some years ago, so much of the landscape is covered with grazing animals (I saw cattle and some sheep). According to the docent at the officers’ house, they had also been tearing down the buildings, and the historical society was desperately trying to convince them to save the fort and its buildings. I think it’s a worthwhile thing to preserve, given almost two centuries of various history. In talking with her, she also mentioned that the fort and its land are caught up in a continued argument/litigation between the US Government and the Cheyenne-Arapaho nation. Will be interesting to find out more about what is going on there, and how its history will be preserved or not, depending on who ultimately is in charge of the land and what they put as its value.

On my way out of Fort Reno, I passed under a huge eagle sitting on a low branch watching me. After an hour or two wandering around the ruins of the fort, suddenly I realized I still hadn’t had lunch, so I stopped in Calumet a few miles up and had an Indian taco. If you’ve never had one, I can’t recommend them enough – it’s a taco made on frybread instead of a tortilla. I get to have frybread about once a year and it’s never enough! (Of course, this probably totally blew my diet for today, but it was so very worth it, as was the cup of buffalo chili that went with it). I got back on the road and crossed the Chisholm Trail, noticing how the “short grass prairie” rolls along, and then starts climbing, the closer I got to Texas.

I passed by Lucille’s near Hydro, but of course, she is only there in spirit, now. Wondered what it’d be like to hear stories of the road at the Roadhouse in the Middle of Nowhere, as this part of Oklahoma really does sort of feel like the end of the earth. I wish I’d had time to stop in Weatherford to see the Stafford Museum (astronauts and all!), but since I’m so far behind schedule, I opted not to stop there, or in Clinton or Elk City. By the time I got to Sayre, I did have to stop for gas, my third tank since the Gemini Giant.

Sayre is famous for hosting the courthouse featured in the beginning of the Grapes of Wrath movie. I saw the courthouse, and a town that time has forgotten, pretty much. Got a photo of one of the neon motel signs still in good repair, and considered staying the night at that motel as it was getting darker and there was no way I was going to make it to Amarillo tonight, but something told me to continue. Passed through the shells of towns and deteriorating road, and into Texas.

At Shamrock I wanted to see some of the things mentioned in the guidebook, so I stopped, and am now sitting in a room at a hotel typing this blog. For dinner I went across the street from the beautifully restored Conoco gas station/”U Drop Inn” restaurant complex to a place called “Big Vern’s Texas Steakhouse.” Once again, just as at the hotel, mine was the only car in the lot. Someone makes an awful lot of money selling Ford pickups here in north Texas….

Got inside the door and was chuckling at a Christmas decoration that said “Howdy Santa” and some life-size statues of the help when Big Vern’s wife, Jackie, asked how many were in my party. I said I was eating by myself, and the family of five standing next to me said “why don’t you eat with us?” Figuring that this is my Route 66 adventure, I shrugged and said sure. Turns out the family is from Toronto, and is also moving to California. We had a nice conversation and a very tasty dinner with “beer rolls,” as well as a few laughs around their trying to get a bottle of wine in a beer establishment (“We were dry for seventy-five years you know,” Jackie explained), and how Kristen’s husband seemed to be the only guy in the entire restaurant not wearing either a hat or a beard. I was touched that they insisted on buying me dinner, and wished them well as they had decided to continue on to Amarillo tonight. Now I’ve made some new California friends, and I’m not even in the state yet. (But I have to explain to my mother why I was talking to strangers….)

Bedtime for me. Tomorrow: New Mexico!

About tsiuda

Check out my "about" page at tamarasiuda.com. In one word? I'm curious.
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