Day 1: I was up at 6 AM Friday, August 27th -- the first day of my journey. By 7:28, I was on the road. The traffic report on the radio said there was "unusually heavy traffic" on the highways, and they weren't kidding. The traffic cleared up once I got past Sand Springs and on the Cimarron Turnpike. There were blue skies to the west. I played some of the CD's that a friend loaned me. One was a Johnny Cash album of old standards, and after listening to his version of "Bridge Over Trouble Waters," I'm not ashamed to say I wiped a tear from my eye as I pulled up to the turnpike toll booth. (I'm just glad nobody was around to see me listen to his version of "Danny Boy.")

The wind really came sweeping off the plains that day. I passed the sole Stillwater exit, and passed into unexplored territory– a road I'd never been on before. Great, wide, grassy plains stretched off to the horizon. Just before 9:30, I passed over Interstate 35, which links Wichita to the north and Oklahoma City to the south. I followed Highway 412 west, over Skeleton Creek into Enid, home of the Museum of the Cherokee Strip. The old Chisolm Trail crossed near Enid. I stopped for brunch at the Sonic Drive-In, where the service wasn't exactly fast. Enid was where I picked up Highway 60 into the western part of the state. Highway 412 continues on into the panhandle before entering the northeast corner of New Mexico. There were more trees and farmland west of Enid. Entering the town of Lahoma, the speed limit drops to 35 MPH, and there was a cop right there to enforce it. At the intersection of Highway 58, the road turned two-lane, and it stayed that way for most of the next 236 miles. More trees appeared on the sides of the road.

Just before 11 AM, I passed the little town of Cleo Springs, near the banks of the Cimarron River. Shadowed hills loomed in the distance. There was a fierce wind out of the west when I pulled into the wide streets of Fairview. Empty motels lined the road. Expensive, granite monuments in the tiny cemetery stood as silent testament of better days gone past. Farmhouses along the rural road were protected by redoubts of trees– windbreaks against the ever-present forces of nature. Just after 11:30, I passed Chester, Oklahoma. That was where Highway 60 turned south for a while, past fields of emerald green crops. I crossed the North Canadian River. There were more than a few Oklahoma Centennial Farms out west, farms that had been in the same family for over 100 years. The road also yielded more than a couple dead skunks on the way.

Unlike other states I'd driven through, truck drivers waved back when you waved at them. It seemed only natural to wave when you hadn't seen anyone else on the road for a half hour. It was 86° when I stopped for some gas in Seiling, Oklahoma. I'd traveled 209 miles so far. Heading west, the landscape started to turn back into the great plains again. I found myself on the Rainbow Infantry Division Memorial Highway. Coming over a hill, I saw some birds on the road ahead feasting on some roadkill. As I got closer, they didn't move, and at the last moment I honked my horn. They finally noticed me and took wing. They were turkey buzzards, and they were huge! The wingspan on the one that took off to the left had to have been four feet or more. The sky was still cloudless, but contrails made strange stitched patterns in the sky.

Just before 1 PM, I crossed 100th Meridian into Texas, where a sign told me to "Drive friendly, the Texas way." I passed through Higgins, Texas, a hardscrabble town of lean, tough men... and a historical marker. On a lark, I stopped to read it. It was a little memorial to... Will Rogers? Northeast Oklahoma was full of memorials to the Sooner State's favorite son, but what was he doing in Texas? It seems that after leaving Claremore, Will Rogers got a job as a cowboy on a ranch near Higgins, where he learned how to do rope tricks-- which was how he got into show business, and then on the Ziegfield Follies, and from there into radio and the movies. It all started there, in little Higgins, Texas. At Canadian, the road turned 4-lane for about 8 miles. I passed a business called West Texas Gas. Purple mesas lined the highway outside of town, and on top of one, for no reason, loomed a statue of a dinosaur. Whispy, swirling clouds churned above. I passed mesas at Miami, Texas, population 588, and then some high escarpments. Above, the skies revealed an amazing sight. Sunlight reflecting through the clouds turned into some remarkable red and green streaks. Kind of like a horizontal rainbow. I couldn't recall ever seeing anything like it. The colors were quite brilliant, and stayed fixed for almost a half hour. I wished my cellphone worked, so that I could call someone and tell them about it. The landscape flattened out dramatically as I passed through Pampa, Texas, which boasts it is "Top o' Texas Friendly." That was where the road turned into the Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway. About 2:30 I passed a big windmill farm near White Deer. A half hour or so later, I pulled into Amarillo, 393 miles from Broken Arrow.

Coming into town through the side door, as it were, I went through some residential areas. Lots of kids were on the streets; it looked like school had just let out. I stopped for gas at a place called Toot ‘n' Totum. My plan was to pick up some Texas beer, but as luck would have it, the Wal-Mart I found on the way turned out to be "the dry one" in town. I decided to just keep going. I found Interstate 44 and headed west again. Just outside town, I passed Cadillac Ranch, which my family and I visited on our trip to Palo Duro Canyon in 2003. The highway west from Amarillo was pretty featureless, except for a hilly patch about 15 miles from the New Mexico border, and then it became monotonous again. I crossed the border into New Mexico about a quarter to five, and passed through Tucumcari about a half hour later. It took just over five hours to get from Amarillo to Albuquerque. I pulled into the same Motel 6 I used in 2003 just as the sun was setting. I took a shower and called my wife to let her know I was okay. I found the Wal-Mart down the street, which had some great bargains on beer but not nearly enough checkers. Lines were 8-people deep at the check-out stands. Two very nice ladies in front of me let me go ahead, since I only had a couple of items. That was kind of them. Back in the motel room, I watched part of the movie "Field of Dreams" before heading off to sleep. I'd traveled 682 miles that day.
 
Outside the Cherokee Strip Museum, Enid, Oklahoma
Lonely two-lane road through western Oklahoma
Entering Texas by the backroads
West Texas dinosaur
Lopsided overpass on the interstate towards New Mexico; there's several built like this-- I don't know why
Mountain east of Albuquerque



 
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All original content (c)opyright 2004 by Tim Frayser