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Late, For Nowhere in Particular

Rolling down some back-road cloaked in the bliss of anonymity, one arm in contact with the wheel at the point that encourages my wrist to flop carefree at the end of it, head bobbling to a slow rhythmic beat that doesn’t match my rousing vocal accompaniment to Life is a Highway that’s cranked up so loud it’s oozing from the Yukon like displaced mortar, I come across this.

Signifying a certain arm flex to the grinding pressure of today’s world, a ballsy show of throwing caution to the wind, a take-this-job-and-shove-it head toss, THIS is temptation.  If you look at it with just the right tilt of your head, you’ll get the same glint in your eyes.  Selling everything I own would enable the purchase of a few acres in any number of states, on which I could move or build a small house, delivering my bobbling head into town once a week for provisions in this.

Run Away From Home!

I don’t succumb. Others in my life would highly disapprove and I highly value these others.  I photograph the Ford and pull back onto the road with a slow-mo melodrama moving frame by frame through my brain. It conveniently loops from the part that shows me walking up to the house, knocking on the door, engaging the owner in negotiations, taking the keys from them and driving away into the sunset in that truck.  My melodramas never include the pragmatic part about what I’d do with all my crap in the Yukon, the Yukon, the exchange of titles, discussing what oil the Ford uses, insurance, etc.

Not many of us ever throw this degree of caution to the wind. But who among us hasn’t entertained the thought of running away from home, even if it’s for a mere few harmless days?  It’s a bit risque and for the first time in my long history of SRTs I see it for that. You’re out there by the droves sending me emails  about the longing to get out there. I fully understand the longing. Few things in our lives are as liberating, empowering, and rejuvenating as a solo road trip.

So I ask all of you with latent and repressed open road wanderlust sitting at home fantasizing about the cloak of anonymity, arm draped over the wheel, or resting lightly on handle bars, aren’t you late, for nowhere in particular?

The Great Plains: and a tall tale of waving wheat

It’s 111. Degrees. That’s absolute temperature, not the oddly popular blood-and-thunder heat index.  Full on verbal attempts to describe it have fizzled to whimpers and grunts. Beyond hot was getting thrown around a lot. Hotter than hell went out when it hit 100. And that was 32 days in a row ago. What I know is the nape of my neck is dripping dank, and there’s only one wearing per bra. The front door is fatter than the frame so we come and go through the garage oven.  The house is a cave 24/7 – shutters tight, lights off. Seventy five year old trees are dropping their leaves; smaller plants bend and twist towards hope. Our world, normally jungle lush with heat and humidity is garish and warped. It’s one giant stroke victim – water, not blood in short supply.

Beyond Hot

Hotter than...Death Valley

And when I lay down at night with no cover and toss and turn for hours thinking I can’t go to sleep without at least a sheet, dreams come of the only place I long to be.

Sitting cross-legged in dirt that moves and shifts with the insects on their highway, the winter grass mounds up then splits the surface like a time-lapse documentary. A new shoot carries me upward just in time to see groups metamorphosis into pale green polka dots floating over the field. One sticks underfoot and we surf the tops of the prairie grass watching critters burrow and build; animals shapeshift from prairie dogs to pheasants, coyotes to bison. A wall of wind sweeps by and we glide to a stop to watch the returning shock wave. It blasts and tramples a bull elephant approach; my ride shuddering and ducking for cover dissolves into the aureate October light. I’m left standing at the edge of the tall grass prairie.

Looking about for sound I’m aware for the first time I see and feel, but hear nothing. Joyous with the slow mo silent movie, one step puts a boot in touch with delicate strands of gold bullion at my feet. Turning toward the setting sun, my eyes snap shut against the sandy sparks of tumbleweed. It surprises with a cold hard sting, the tumbleweed having transformed mid-air to snow.  Rays of filtered sun stream through dark clouds. The snow is heavy but the mightier wind seizes it from the clouds at such a slant, it never touches the gilded grass. In this silent halcyon, held captive between a blackened sky streaked with snow and gold at my feet, the next step forward finds a tan, dead pasture.

Shifting awake, clamoring for a cool spot on my pillow, I beg my brain to go back. But morning comes and for hours the joy lingers in the way of rare flying dreams. As the memory fades, the fight is lost to restore the high of cruising the grasses on that pale green polka dot. It dissipates almost completely by day end.  My comfort comes from knowing the October road trip is now within range of the Outlook window.

As always, I’ll pull from the driveway toying with the thought of heading a different direction. But as always, the truck will turn north, a starving beast, until the grasses come into view. And it won’t turn around until the Great Plains run out.

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Road Trip – Oklahoma City

I’m a lover of the American in-betweens – those places most travelers flyover, or on their way to somewhere else capture a zipped view that looks like a shaky panned shot with my cheapest camera. The in-betweens of our nation’s highways are destinations for me.  And that includes those near and dear.

OKC National Memorial

OKC National Memorial

Oklahoma City’s bombing tragedy fifteen years ago headlined on the international stage and brought home the hardened truth that living on the Great Plains isn’t all that removed from the rest of the world. For the rest of the world, Oklahoma City’s tragedy had an even more broadly grim impact. If life on the Great Plains didn’t epitomize insulation and protection, then where did that leave everyone else?

The ensuing and equally documented triumph, trumped the tragedy. And instilled the belief that Oklahoma City lies at the nucleus of what still makes America great.  And if you doubt it, then you’ve not had a look around Oklahoma City. For there you’ll find all the appeal of a city that teeters masterfully on the fine line dividing mass produced modernity and swashbuckling American individualism.

Land Run Monument

The Land Run Monument at Sunset. My people.

Oklahoma City was domestically settled during The Land Run of 1889. Before that it was a trading post on a vast stretch of prairie known as “the nation.” To the nation outlaws fled, Redlegs after the Civil War, and God fearing individuals with the tenacity, fearlessness and ingenuity to pound nothing into something. All converged with the Native Americans who’d been here for centuries and a backdrop unfurled for one of the fiercest mixing of cultures on American soil.

Oklahoma State Capitol Bldg

Oklahoma State Capitol

Nowhere is the tumult of the early struggles captured and blended best with modern times as the concentrated area of Oklahoma City’s downtown. And maybe no time is more conducive to the discovery of the city’s unique treasures as the hours that bookend the day.

So you’ve seen  or heard of Bricktown. But have you walked the grounds of the Capitol at daybreak? Nosed around downtown after dark until you found the tucked away treasures of “The Curious Organism”, “1889”, and “Galaxy” sculptures?  Stood in the middle of the massive Land Run bronzes at sunset imagining the choke of dust kicked up at the start? Snooped and sniffed until you stumbled upon the underground tunnel entrances? Or watched in the hushed silence of night the twinkling lights of hope that illuminate the chairs in the National Memorial?

No? Then stop for a bit on your next flyover.  See these photographs?? You WON’T be sorry.

OKC heart of downtown

OKC heart of downtown

OKC  '1889' sculpture

1889 Sculpture

'The Curious Organism'

The Curious Organism. (hint - just to the left is an underground tunnel entrance).

Bootscootin' in style

Bootscootin' in Style

The Land Run Monument

Land Run Monument

Oklahoma City SRT (seriously recommended to-do’s):

Where to Eat:

These restaurants top my list of places that offer a combination of fantastic food with captivating environments.

  • Cheever’s Café. I never visit Oklahoma City without a meal at Cheever’s.  If there’s no time for Cheever’s, the trip can’t be justified.  Some establishments instill that sort of devotion by doing something repeatedly that few can emulate – they earn it.  I have three menu favorites from which I can’t break away. The Chicken Tortilla Soup – it has no equal. During the most recent feast, the chef shared the recipe with me. I’ll share that later. The Roasted Quail Short Stack: farm raised quail layered between corn tortillas with an ancho chile sauce and Mexican cheeses, then baked and topped with avocado salsa verde.  Mixed Seafood Tamales suspend large chunks of shrimp, lobster, halibut, and scallops in a handmade sweet potato masa drizzled with a sublime ancho cream.  Decedent. There’s a technique to eating these – don’t be shy about asking your waiter. Portions are generous. 405.525.7007; 2409 N. Hudson Avenue, 73103; www.cheeverscafe.com.
  • Nic’s Grill. For under $10 you’ll have the cheeseburger experience of a lifetime.  No superlatives can do this culinary experience justice. With only enough space to seat 15 people, the line forms outside well before Nic starts spreading lunchtime smiles at 11:00 (opens at 7:00 for breakfast).  Be early, or wait around until closer to the 2:00 closing.  And if you order the burger for take-out, be prepared to eat it in your parked car – that’s as far as you’ll get. Nic’s was featured on the Food Channel’s hit series, Diners Drive-ins and Dives. 1201 N. Pennsylvania Ave. 73107; 405.524.0999. There are NO call aheads for takeout orders and Nic takes weekends off.
  • Metro Wine Bar & Bistro. Go for the bread.  Try to maintain room for the food. And if you’re part of the early evening crowd, ask the waiter when you walk through the door to put the bread in the oven. My pick for a special dinner.  6418 N. Western Ave. 73116; 405.840.9463; www.metrowinebar.com.
  • Rococo Restaurant. Start at the bar gazing at the gargantuan jar of pineapple slices steeping in vodka and proceed from there to the Fisherman’s Stew.  2824 N. Pennsylvania Ave. 73107; 405.528.2824; www.rococo-restaurant.com.
  • Iron Starr Barbeque. Try the pulled pork sandwich (topped with cole slaw) or the bacon wrapped quail breast.  And always no matter the entrée, order the side of fried okra. The small, tender pods are fried whole.  Oh! 3700 North Shartel Avenue 73118; 405.524.5925; www.ironstarrbbq.com.
  • Deep Deuce Grill (as opposed to the Deep Fork Grill – also good, but…). Cozy gas lamps. In the historic deep deuce hotel and historic jazz district; 307 Northeast 2nd Street 73104; 405.235.9100; www.deepdeucegrillokc.com.  

 

Where to Stay:

Downtown is still what sets our major cities apart and Oklahoma City is no exception.  Stay downtown and wander around after dark.  There are unimaginable surprises. Bricktown is but one.

  • The Colcord Hotel became Oklahoma City’s first skyscraper when it was built in 1910 by Charles Francis Colcord. Ninety-six years later, a $16 million renovation by The Coury Collection transformed the 12-floor building into an upscale boutique hotel.  Large scale construction was going on in an adjacent lot when I visited late-March.  Ask about it before you book a room. 15 North Robinson Avenue 73102; 405.601.4300; www.colcordhotel.com.
  • The historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and garners AAA’s Four-diamond rating. 1 Park Avenue 73102; 405.272.3040; www.hilton.com.
  • Marriott’s Renaissance Convention Center Hotel. Another AAA Four-diamond hotel in the heart of downtown.  10 North Broadway 73102; 800.468.3571; www.renaissanceoklahomacity.com.
  • The Sheraton Hotel. Consistent. Modern. Excellent value.  Nice people at the front desk. 1 North Broadway Ave., 73102; 405.235.2780; www.sheratonokc.com.

 

What to See in Downtown OKC/Surrounding Area:

 Sights within walking distance of the hotels above:

  • Oklahoma City Museum of Art; closed Mondays; Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 5:00; Thursdays 10:00 – 9:00; Cocktails on the Skyline in the Museum Café,  Thursday 5:00 – 10:30; 415 Couch Dr 73102.; 405.236.3100; www.okcmoa.com.
  • Chihuly Glass Sculpture, “The Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick Memorial Tower”.  Dale Chihuly’s largest permanent exhibit can be found at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (see above). At 10 tons and 55 vertical feet of writhing, jewel colored blown glass by world renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, the tower piece is illuminated 24 hours a day.  Best appreciated by night.
  • The Underground. A three-quarter-mile tunnel system that links 16 blocks and more than 30 buildings in downtown. The original tunnel link was built in 1931 because William Balser Skirvin wanted to have an underground passage from his Skirvin Hotel on one side of Broadway to his new hotel, The Skirvin Towers, on the other side. Most of the remaining system was developed in the 1970’s. The Invited Artists Gallery sits beneath the intersection of Robinson and Robert S. Kerr with entrances from all adjacent buildings.
  • “Galaxy”. 14 tons of “Liberman Red” sculpture. Leadership Square (just across the street from “1889” sculpture).
  • “1889”. Dedicated in 1960 and commissioned by the Kerr McGee Corporation, this bronze inspires.  At the intersection of Robinson Ave. and Couch Drive. The “Galaxy” is right across the street.
  • Air Force Monument. Erected in 1964 the monument pays tribute to the U.S. Air Force. Couch Park.
  • “The Curious Organism”.  Created to pique the public’s curiosity about The Underground (see above). The tentacles extend more than 100 feet into the tunnel system.  NE corner of Broadway & Robert S. Kerr.

Sights requiring very short drives from the hotels above:  

  • State Capitol. Check out the oil wells and the 17-foot tall bronze Native American statue “The Guardian” on top of the dome honoring Oklahoma’s Native American heritage. 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. 405.522.0836. www.ok.gov.oklahomadome.com.
  • Land Run Monument.  A must-see. Moving. Southern edge of Bricktown on the Canal (far side of Bass Pro’s parking lot). www.crownartsinc.com.
  • Oklahoma National Memorial and Museum; open 24/7; 620 N. Harvey Ave.; 888.542.4673; www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org.
  • Automobile Alley was a popular retail district in the 1920’s and was home to most of the city’s car dealerships. Today a stroll through the area will take you past the art deco architecture tucking away galleries, upscale lofts, and offices.  North Broadway Avenue from West Park Place (just north of 10th Street) to NW 4th Street.  www.automobilealley.org.

 

 

Where to Shop:

  • The Paseo Arts District. Located at 28th & North Walker to 30th & North Dewey is the oldest Arts District Community in Oklahoma City. The Spanish style architecture is home to a vibrant group of artists with substantial involvement and support from the larger community. They continue to build the district into one of the most creative art venues in the country. The Paseo is home to 17 galleries and more than 60 artists, all within walking distance. Intermingled with the galleries are restaurants, a coffee house, clothing boutiques, gift shop, yoga studio and graphic arts studio. Annual artist festival Memorial Day weekend.  405.525.2688.
  • Nichols Hills Plaza. 6484 Avondale Drive, Nichols Hills, OK 73116. 405.842.6558
  • 50 Penn Place. 1900 NW Expressway, 73118. 405.848.7588. www.50pennplace.info.
  • Penn Square Mall. The one and only and still slightly infamous. Intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and NW Expressway. 405.842.4424.
  • The Consortium. Home. Clothing. 4415 North Western. 405.602.5005.

 

Just for the night vibe:

  • “Cocktails on the Skyline” in the Museum Café. See address and hours above for the OKC Museum of Art.
  • La Baguette at the Colcord Hotel. Now incorporates the Oyster Bar. 15 N. Robinson Ave., 405.601.3800.
  • Interurban Express (for lunch or after work hour cocktails). 204 N. Robinson; 11:00 – 8:00, kitchen open until 6:30; 405.235.4448; www.iucityexpress.com.
  • Makers Cigar Lounge.  Home to a hidden, quiet cigar lounge. With leather couches and dark paneled walls. After dinner drinks or just a place to relax. 25 S Oklahoma; 405.606.9000.
  • The Paseo Arts District (see above).
  • Nonna’s Purple Bar. Fun. 1 Mickey Mantle Drive on the 2nd floor of Nonna’s Restaurant. 405.235.4410. www.purplebarokc.com.

Resources:

www.downtownokc.com

www.bricktownokc.org

www.automobilealley.org

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Chihuly

www.thepaseo.com/

www.alliedartsokc.com

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The Salt Plains of Oklahoma’s Lost Sea

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 3 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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The Cozy Motel

Moorcroft, Wyoming emerged out of the black just as my desperate quest to find a place to sleep birthed the recollection of Peter Fonda’s movie Race With The Devil.  My adamancy to never own an RV is derived solely from the impact this movie made on my pre-teen brain.

I’m still searching for a place to safely catch some ZZZ’s because according to the map, Devils Tower is “nearby”. If you should decide to see Devils Tower, take a peek at the map of Wyoming, realize there’s only 400,000 people in the entirety of the square vastness and don’t make the same assumption about lodging I did. And don’t worry about the movie and the whole Devils Tower thing; it was filmed in South Texas.

Moonrise over Buffalo Bill Dam

Beautiful until you think about those poor schmucks in the RV.

The Cozy Motel’s sign was half lit but the gravel parking area was packed with good ole boy pickup trucks – a sight that put me at ease. At least if some creepy-motel-located-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-Jason-scene occurred, my screams would be heard.

I walked into the “office”, rang the bell and an older lady and a boy about 5 came out of a back room (they’ve recently become fodder in my novel plotting mind). “Looks like you’re busy tonight, do you have a room?” “Got one left,,,,,,, railroaders”. To which I didn’t bother replying as I didn’t feel any reply required. But the humorous thought, “railroad convention?” ran through my mind. “We only take cash. The room is $40”. Not a problem. My husband had threatened my future solo road trip privileges if I went below $200 cash at any point of the trip. I had been compliant and pulled out the cash. “You’re in number 11 on the end. We only got 11 rooms. The railroaders don’t like number 11.”

The boy’s face had been marble the whole while but I was certain some reaction to the woman’s statement had caused something to twitch. Did his upper lip move or was it some shift in those shifty little eyes? I checked up just as I opened my mouth to ask why. Too late. Again my imagination was off like horses out the gate of the Kentucky Derby.

cozymotel

The Cozy Motel at sunrise the next day. See the "No" vacancy? I had indeed taken the last room the night before.

I pulled the truck over to number 11 and began unloading. I’d just walked through the door and dropped the first of my loads of crap that I faithfully hauled out of the truck every night, when a train went by. Thunder, whistle, thunder, whistle, shhchhshhchh on the tracks. I laughed out loud and ran back outside to see it swishing by on the track parallel to the motel, close enough to touch. Okay, well, not close enough to touch, but close enough. I hadn’t crossed the track since it ran parallel – stay with me here, and since it was pitch black, I hadn’t seen it. The resting railroaders didn’t like ole number 11 because it was the closest room to the track!

By the time the 3rd train came by the unloading was complete. I called my husband howling laughter at the 4th train passing, holding the phone up so he could hear the whistle. He predicted a total of 6 trains for the evening and I went to shower. I counted 2 while in the shower and over the course of the rest of the restless night, 10 of them jingled my weird and wacky dreams. I was up and out of there just before sunrise and had a fantastic day despite the lingering lack-of-sleep dreams. Devils Tower was stunning in the morning light.

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming. High ISO FILM - see the moon?!

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming.

Before you read on, I must add the Cozy Motel is one of the reasons I love seeing what lies in-between the sterile and stamped out larger cities and towns on the American map. Motels are still worthy considerations for lodging if you want an experience. Then again, I have nothing against the knowns the chains offer. I stay at both.

Post Script from Journal: “Other than the trains, the room has been my favorite; the extremely low cost of course being a factor along with the story worthiness of my experience here. In addition to that the room was large as there was only one bed and the tiny bathroom was all white and brand new, and the carpet was clean. The railroaders were a quiet bunch; most of them were gone when I walked out to the truck at sunrise. The heat didn’t work well but after a sprint to the truck in the middle of the night for my emergency quilt, that problem was solved. It was 14 degrees this morning.  Ahhhh…. WYOMING.”

Road Trip Locator: Devils Tower is in Northeastern Wyoming between Gillette and Sundance, approximately 35 miles North of Interstate 90 (from Moorcroft which is where you’ll exit and turn North of I-90).

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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