Oklahoma

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6/6/2007  Oklahoma

Can’t believe we are in Oklahoma!  Immediately upon crossing the border, we could sense a different culture.  People were quick to refer to themselves as ‘Western’, rather than ‘Southern’. The air was drier and the wind was very strong, blowing about 30-40 mph.  It was interesting riding along the highway tilting the bike into the wind. 

We had spent some time working on the website and wanted to get it uploaded, so we went to a Hotel that advertised wireless Internet in West Siloam and sat in the lobby.  We had some technical difficulties to work out, so it took us a few hours to complete.  The staff was really relaxed about it and very friendly.  It was after lunch before we started heading west on Interstate 412.  Although Snowdale State Park was on our route, we chose to go further north to Spavinaw State Park to get away from the highway.  There was construction being done on the dam at the state park and this reduced the appeal of the place.  Speaking to another camper that had visited the area before, the river that runs through the park was usually much higher with 2-3 feet of water rushing down the dam wall.    

6/7/2007   Spavinaw to Wah-Sha-She

We picked up the TAT again in the town of Salina.  It didn’t take long for things to get entertaining.  Three cows (2 calves and a mother) wanted to enter a field on the left side of the road, but the gate was closed.  Darren rode past before they entered onto the roadway.  They moved onto the road as I was approaching and they just hung around hoping that we would let them into the field.  Being a city girl, I have never had to the opportunity to get to know much about cows or their behavior.  Although I could tell that these animals had no intention of injuring me, I was also certain that their size and power could easily result in an unfortunate accident…so I decided the best thing to do was to stop and wait, then slowly advance forward while Darren took some photos from the top of the hill.  The came down the hill clapping his hands to try to get them to move along, while they just looked at him with sad and curious eyes.  The finally moved slightly to the left and I zoomed past them.  

Further along the trail on a paved road I noticed Darren stopped at the top of a hill that had a caution sign stating ‘dangerous hill’ preceding it.  I pulled up next to him and looked over to find out what was wrong and there were two camels looking back at me from a fenced area.  They were very curious about our bikes and us.  As we continued down the same street, I noticed that there were more camels in a field to the left and a small area with two bison to the right. 

The roads became very dry and dusty, but the wind was strong and helped to keep my vision clear as I rode along behind Darren.  We had entered into ranch country and crossed our first cattle grids into open range roads.  (For those that are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, ‘open range’ roads lead straight through cattle grazing pastures.  In order to keep the road open while keeping the cattle in their appropriate fields, they use cattle grids – metal grids in the road that the cattle will not walk across.)  I found it a strange mixture of joy and fear as I rode along past the cattle.  They all raise and turn their heads to look at the motorcycle with curious eyes. 

We also passed through a few open range goat farms.  I crossed over a hill to see Darren slowly riding through a huge collection of goats on the path.  There was a fence to his left, so the goats were all running (a bit half-heartedly) to the right to get out of his path.  As I approached, there was one large, proud billy goat with standing over a newborn goat left on the road.  The infant goat was still covered with birthing fluids.  Apparently we had just interrupted a birthing and this proud father looked ready to defend his offspring if necessary.

As we continued heading northwest, the land became flatter and we began to see more and more small oil pumps in the fields.  The roads were dry, flat dirt and we were able to travel very quickly.  We passed signs welcoming us to the Cherokee Nation, and later in the day, into the Osage Nation. 

We finished the day in the Wah-Sha-She State Park.  Wah-Sha-She means ‘The water people’ in the Osage language and sits besides Lake Hulah.  Hulah means ‘eagle’ in the Osage language and brochures claim that eagles can be spotted on the lake in the winter. 

Taking a walk through the camp area, I noticed a large collection of people at picnic tables in the center of the camp, near an open building.  I walked past and casually said good evening to the other guests.  As I continued to walk, a woman approached me and asked me if I needed help.  I gave her a funny look and said no, my husband and I were camping up the road.  They explained to me that all the other guests in the park were there for an annual family reunion and they just wanted to be sure that I was okay – apparently they had witnessed some stranded women in the past.  It was a nice gesture.  Later in the afternoon we met our camp neighbors.  Rusty shared some cold beer and chatted with us for a few hours.  He was staying in an RV with his Aunt and other relatives, but lived nearby and was also attending the Dean Family Reunion.  The annual reunion has been consistent for over 25 years and, in some years, has drawn nearly 200 relatives.  Everyone in the Dean family and in the state park was extremely friendly and I found it impressive that they had kept their family ties so strong. 

As we chatted, it was mentioned that the area was under a Tornado Watch.  I thought it was a joke at first because the sky was so clear, but as the evening progressed the wind picked up and the southern sky was constantly flashing with lightening going in all directions for over an hour.  Our camp neighbors and the camp host made sure that we knew where the storm shelter was located in case we needed it.  Rusty’s aunt called the storm shelter a ‘fraidy hole’ (a little local lingo).  Darren was getting very nervous.  The wind finally calmed and the clouds passed on.  A camper with a weather radio finally told us that the storm had hit Bartlesville, a city about 15 miles south of Wah-Sha-She and we were all safe.  What a relief!

6/8/2007  A tale of two Franks…

We got up slowly in the morning and decided that we would stay at Wah-Sha-She another night.  As we slowly prepared to ride into the nearby town, our friendly camp neighbors offered us some leftover pancakes.  Darren had been craving pancakes since we got on the road, so it was a real treat. 

We rode into the city of Bartlesville.  In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright, one of American’s most famous architects, completed his only skyscraper in downtown Bartlesville after being commissioned by the Price International Pipeline Company.  The architectural design was inspired by a tree and he referred to the structure as “the tree that escaped the crowded forest”.  I really liked the building’s design, although Darren seemed to be on the fence about it.  There was a museum in building, but we weren’t interested in paying to see it, so we just slipped into the gift shop and looked around in there. 

We took a walk through the downtown and was impressed that the entire downtown area was equipped with wireless Internet.  As we walked through the streets, we couldn’t help but notice that Phillips Petroleum Company owned every major building.  I figured that was why the streets were set up with wireless Internet – so these people could work outside in the courtyard if they wanted.  It was a nice little town.  I can imagine that it would be a good place to live if you were in mid-life, well educated, raising children and working for Phillips corporate office. 

We headed 12 miles down the road to visit Woolaroc Ranch, Museum and Wildlife Preserve.  Oil Barron Frank Phillips, founder of Phillips Petroleum Company, named his country estate after woods, lakes and rocks of the area.  This 3,700 acre preserve was Frank Phillips’ private venue to entertain wealthy investors, dignitaries, movie stars, etc.   There was an $8 per person fee to enter the ranch, but so many people had recommended it with enthusiasm that we decided to go for it.  We rode slowly through the 2 miles of ranch land that included some open range areas, as well as animals within fenced areas.  There were Longhorn Cattle, Highland Cattle, Tahr Goats, Llama, Emu, Ostrich, a variety of deer and of course, Bison.  We were disappointed that we did not see some of the interesting deer, but we had some interesting moments with the Bison on the open range.  These huge creatures are as big as an SUV and we were feeling rather exposed on the KLRs!  A group started to run along the left side of the road.  It was really amazing to see these massive animals run so quickly!  The museum is definitely one of the most impressive collections of cultural art, sculptures and artifacts of both American Indian and Western heritage.  Unfortunately it was late in the day when we arrived, so we did not have as much time as we would have liked to view the museum.     

6/9/2007  Tall Grass Reserve

We headed out of Wah-Sha-She and continued along the TAT, which led us down a road with a barrel sitting in the middle of it marked ‘High Water’.  We crossed a small river and thought – yeah, not a problem! A couple of curves later we found the road completely flooded by a swampy lake.  We had to take a diversion.  Not much further down the trail, we came to an impassible river crossing – much too deep and wide.  We had to divert again, this time into Kansas for a few miles, before returning to the trail. 

We diverted intentionally to enter the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Reserve, a vast 38,000 protected acres with 2,000 carefree Bison.  The tallgrass prairie was once one of America's major ecosystems, but was lost to the conversion of this land into farmland to create 'America's Breadbasket'.  Now less than 10% of the original tallgrass prairie remains.  As a functioning ecosystem, the tallgrass prairie is extinct.  The Nature Conservancy's goal is to recreate a functioning tall grass prairie ecosystem using prescribed fire and grazing bison.    As we rode through the open range gravel roads, we were grateful that the Bison herd was gathered on a far hillside.  Neither of us had the desire to disturb a Bison on the roadway. 

We stopped at a U.S. COE recreation camping area at Kaw Lake.  There were only 2 sites left and we were quite tired, so we accepted the unusually high rate of $16.  Darren rode to a convenient store where he picked up some particularly disgusting hot dogs.  Soon after dark the rain set in and we went to bed early. 

6/10/2007 

Overnight it rained very hard, causing us to have a pretty crappy night of sleep.  As the rain cleared up in the morning, we slept in late to catch up on our lost sleep.  The tent had a leak in the bottom and had gathered a puddle under Darren’s mattress pad, so we hung around camp until after lunch to try to allow the tent to dry out.

When we finally set off on the trail, we hit a river crossing with muddy ruts leading into the water and out the other side up a steep hill.  I let Darren ride my bike through the river, since I watched his back tire slip and slide as it came out of the river.  Knowing my tires were not as dirt oriented as his and my legs not as strong or as long, it seemed like the safer option.  He made it through with no problem and I walked across the river on foot.  Soon after this we entered the small town of Newkirk for gas a break.  It was another hot day and we were already feeling a bit tired.  We didn’t get very far before the dirt road became a muddy mess.  Within only a few blocks both bikes were flopping around like fish out of water.  My bike went down in the mud and it took us some effort for the two of us to lift it up.  After getting it upright, we had a hard time starting the engine.  Darren was able to get it started and ride it out of the mud slick to the next intersection, but the battery died just as he pulled to the stop.  The heat of the day was upon us and it was very humid – reaching into the 90’s.  As we struggled with our out of shape bodies to push the bike up a small hill, I was relieved to see a pickup truck coming toward us.  The driver helped us finish pushing the bike uphill and back down for a jumpstart. Darren rode it down the road, revving it hard to help recharge the battery.  We decided to ride back onto paved roads for the day.  It was simply too late into the hot afternoon to deal with the obvious problems we would have.  So we took Highway 11 for about 60 miles to the Great Salt Plains State Park.  The park was very large, surrounding a portion of the Great Salt Plain Lake.  There were signs informing us of a plan to improve the park facilities, but we couldn’t see much work in progress.  We found a spot with a roof built over the picnic table.  We were planning on spending the next day or so checking out the salt plains.  However, when a park attendant stopped by, she informed us that access to the salt plains had been temporarily closed.  A young boy was playing in the area and unearthed some vials of chemicals that caused some kind of severe allergic reaction.  Apparently the vials were the buried remains of some military experiments done in the 1940’s.  So the ‘authorities’ had closed off the area until it was deemed safe for the public.  The remainder of the park revolved around a dam created from the man-made lake and fishing along the resulting river.  After dinner we took a walk around to see these areas. 

6/11/2007

We rode southwest from the Great Salt Plains on sealed roads to see someof Oklahoma’s other state parks.  Along the way we stopped at Glass (Gloss) Mountains State Park for lunch.  It is a very small park that doesn’t offer camping.  It features red mesas rising abruptly from the flat farming fields below.  The name Gloss Mountains come from the gypsum flakes that cover the mesa and shimmer in the sun like diamonds.  We hiked up the short trail to the top of the mesa in the terrible heat of midday.  It was the warmest day we have experienced on the trip thus far.  There were multiple signs warning of rattlesnakes and the landscape looked like perfect rattlesnake territory, but we didn’t see anything but a lizard on the trail. 

We continued west to Little Sahara State Park, which features natural sand dunes.  Darren was really looking forward to spending a few days at the park and unloading all the gear from his KLR to try riding on the sand.  When we stopped by the park entrance office, the staff was very friendly, but expressed a little concern at Darren’s plan to take the big bike on the dunes.  They also informed us that it was a requirement to have a huge flag attached to the vehicle , which would cost us $15 and we obviously wouldn’t be able to keep it afterwards – so we decided that the experience was simply not worth the money or the hassle.  We rode into the nearby town of Waynoka to use their public library to check emails and get out of the heat.  The heat index was near 100*F. 

We moved on to the next state park – Alabaster Caverns.  We arrived about 4:00 pm, just as the last tour of the caverns was loading into a tram-shaped bus.  We knew we would have to tour the caverns tomorrow.  After inspecting their camping area – about 10 tent sites, mostly in the mud beside a mosquito-breeding stream, we agreed that tonight would be a good night to splurge on a hotel room.  So we left the park without seeing the caverns and headed to the largest nearby city of Woodward, where the GPS indicated multiple hotel options. 

We found Woodward to be a crummy, dirty, run-down looking town with 3 highways crossing it.  We checked the rates at 4 different hotels and all of them quoted rates that were well over our agreed budget.  We were quite tired, miserably hot and a bit grumpy from a day of disappointing sightseeing.  We left Woodward and its ridiculously expensive hotels and rode 7 miles to Boiling Springs State Park where we camped beside a true weirdo.  He was a 50-ish year old man who appeared to be living in there in the state park in a $20 children’s tent from Wal-Mart.  He was working at a nearby wind turbine project.  He made an absurdly huge fire and was quite drunk.  He told us that he had at least 11 children, one of which was only 2 years old.  He was pretty creepy and obviously had multiple drug and alcohol related problems.  It was not our best day…

6/12/2007

I was grateful to see that the weirdo had already gone to work by the time we woke up.  Darren was especially eager to leave the park and head north to reunite with the TAT.  We rode nearly 80 miles on sealed roads before joining the trail near the town of Gate.  Here we were officially on the Oklahoma panhandle.  The roads were primarily flat and hard-packed – making it easy to run at higher speeds.  On this portion of the trail we crossed some sand for the first time.  Neither of us had any experience riding on sand and although it was a little challenging, it was fun to try something new.

We were relieved when we rode into Liberal, Kansas to get a hotel for the evening and take a rest.  It was only 2:00 pm and we had ridden about 150 miles.  We found a reasonable hotel with wireless internet and unpacked the bikes before treating ourselves to a fast food lunch at Braums.  Neither of us had eaten at one before (they aren’t in the East), so we gave it a try.  We both agreed it was really good! 

We stopped at the local motorcycle shop because Darren had been having a little trouble with his front wheel.  He thought the rim may be bent because he was getting a bounce when he rode over 50 mph on sealed roads and the tired were wearing very quickly in a strange pattern.  He asked if the certified Kawasaki dealer could balance the tire and take a look at it and they said no!  They could not even balance a tire.  The guy helping us acted like it was an inconvenience and acted rather ignorant.  Darren asked it they had an spoke weights he could use to try to remedy the problem and the fellow could only find one. 

I hung out at the hotel catching up on writing and relaxing while Darren performed bike maintenance, took a trip to Wal-Mart and took care of the laundry.  We ordered a pizza for dinner and watched crappy television.  It was good to be in an air-conditioned environment without the constant struggle of fighting insects.  It was almost disappointing how quickly we got comfortable and took all these luxuries for granted.

6/13/2007

We slept in late in the morning, taking advantage of every minute of our hotel room stay.  We headed south back into Oklahoma before turning west on the trail.  The roads were remarkably straight and generally hard-packed and dry leading though fields of grains.  I was impressed with the golden hue of the grain waving like the sea across the horizon until it touched the blue sky.  It was a contradiction to the barren, dry harvested fields down the road.  We were truly riding through America’s Breadbasket. 

The weather channel had predicted thunderstorms all day throughout the panhandle, but true to our Oklahoma experiences thus far, no one seemed to be able to accurately predict the weather.  The sky was clear for most of the day.  We stopped by the roadside in the early afternoon to have some sandwiches and could see some isolated storm clouds dropping rain in the distance, but as we watched the sky, we could see the small storm traveling out of our path.  As we carried on through the farmland, we crossed over some dirt roads that had turned to mud in the passing storm.  Darren lowered the pressure in our tires, which helped a lot.  Knowing my more street-oriented tire was starting to becoming quite worn, I often chose to ride through the brush or harvested field to avoid the dangerous mud slick on the roadway.  We could see the landscape changing from the flat farms to the hilly ranch land with grazing cattle and horses.  We rode into Boise City for a much needed rest and fuel stop.  After replacing the air in the tires, we continued the 27 miles of paved road toward Black Mesa State Park.  The sharp contrast of scenery from the morning ride was impressive.  Large plateau-looking formations rose up from the rolling hills, exposing distinctive colorful layers of sediment topped by a final black layer of hardened volcanic rock.

As I came to the state park entrance there was a cattle grid on the road with about 6 horses grazing up the road and a very curious llama trotting toward me from the other side of the cattle grid on the road.  Darren had stopped his bike up the next hill to see how I would fair with the animal that had obviously tried to chase him.  The inquisitive llama stood just across the cattle grid staring at me, blocking my path as I tried to talk some sense into it.  I revved the engine a couple of times and moved slightly forward to see if it would moved from my path, but the animal showed no fear.  It began to pace slightly back and forth in front of me as if it were getting impatient and I took this as my chance to speed across the cattle grid and race up the hill to meet Darren.  Looking back down the street we saw the guard llama facing off with a car in the same manner…

We made our way around the park and found a great camp spot with huge boulders on one side that helped to shelter us from the forceful wind that had kicked up in the afternoon.  There were cotton-tail rabbits roaming around the campground nibbling on grass.  We took a short walk after dinner admiring the change in scenery.  At dusk Darren spotted a deer casually walking through the campground.

6/14/2007

We decided to hang out at Black Mesa for the day – just relaxing and enjoying the scenery.  Darren performed some maintenance on the bikes and tried to diagnose the problem with our bike2bike communications.  After lunch we were humbled as a cyclist arrived with camping gear.  He was on a short 2-day ride, but he had peddled 70 miles that day!  We had to take our hats off to him!

After lunch we took a hike on one of the trails.  It was great to see the different plants and flowers.  There were various cacti varieties growing and flowering.  Once again the landscape was perfect for rattlesnakes and there were multiple signs warning guests to be vigilant while hiking. 

We rode to the nearest tiny town of Kenton to visit their general store.  Unfortunately it was closed, but we were thrilled to see a sign advertising free WIFI access!  So we pulled out the laptop and spent some time on the front porch of the store checking emails and playing with the adorable puppy dog and a friendly cat that hung around. 

Before dinner we met a retired couple (Donn & Jody) traveling with a camper who were also travel enthusiasts.  We stood around the bikes chatting about various trips we had taken and found that we had a lot of similar interests and ideas.  It is always great to meet like-minded travelers!

Although I am sorry to say that we have not been very impressed with Northwestern Oklahoma’s recreational opportunities, the people of Oklahoma have been the friendliest people we have encountered on the trip.  Curious locals seem to have no hesitation about approaching us with questions about our motorcycles or our trip. 


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