I was up early that Thursday morning. A flock of birds flew overhead. I’d been worried about whether I packed the digital camera or not, but after I rearranged stuff I found it. I still wasn’t sure where my travel alarm clock was. I hoped it was in with my Ranger gear.

I hit the road west right after 7 AM. The air was cool. The full Moon was low in the western sky. I got on the turnpike, but didn’t stay on it long. Just before 7:30 I got off the turnpike at the Kellyville exit and turned west on Highway 33, passing the Blue Bell Free Will Baptist Church. It was a good two-lane road with passing lanes on the hills. I passed the Dripping Springs Church before crossing Tiger Creek. Traffic was pretty steady as I traveled through lots of wooded, rolling hills. A dog ran through an open field. Kids sat beside the road, waiting for the school bus. A stately, columned house sat on the crest of a hill as a flock of geese grazed around a nearby pond. The air smelled clean and fresh.

I got to Drumright shortly before 8 AM. That’s where the road turned into a four-lane highway, with no shoulders. I was on the Earl Gibble Memorial Highway. I crossed Euchee Creek. The speed limit slowed to 55 as I passed the Wal-Mart outside of Cushing, “The Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” and kept going down until it was 25 in front of the school. I passed the Boomerang Diner, across the street from the Calico Girl Gift Shop. Oil tanks lined the road. There were no cars in front of the Lay-Z L Motel. I kept heading west. The trees thinned out and the landscape got flatter the further west I went. There was a heron standing in the water near Big Creek. Cattle grazed in a field. Above, there wasn’t a cloud anywhere in the baby-blue sky. I wondered if my alarm clock was in the camping bin.

I crossed over Lost Creek, near Perkins, just before 8:30. An RV park run by the Iowa Tribe sat near the intersection with Highway 177.  I started passing oil wells in the fields, “cow coolers” with grazing cattle nearby. The road was lined with lots of little family farms with neat, trim houses, one of which had an “Impeach Obama” sign out front. Over a short hill, I passed St. Francis of the Woods Church. I crossed the Cimarron River on the Newt Sexton Memorial Bridge. Down the road was Langston University. I’d never been there, so I pulled in to drive around the campus. Langston had been there since 1897, but all the buildings I saw looked relatively new.

Back on the wide, 4-lane road, I was on the Dr. Ernest L. Holloway Highway, which turned southward for a while. A big overpass took me over Interstate 35, and soon I was pulling into Guthrie, Oklahoma’s first capital. Red bricks, probably part of the original road, marked the center of the highway. I turned downtown and parked just off Oklahoma Avenue. I walked around the more-than-century-old buildings, remarkably preserved and cared for. There were whole neighborhoods of period houses, many with the original brick sidewalks out front. Guthrie is a time capsule, and it wasn’t hard to imagine wilder days of horses and gunfights.

I hit the road right before 10. At the Highway 74 intersection, it was 59 miles to Watonga. The skies were totally clear. Down the road, I stopped at the Four Corners Gas & Grill for a Dr. Pepper. There were separate entrances for cars and trucks. A karaoke bar was down the way. I started seeing red rocks along the shoulders of the road. Farmland interspersed with wild grazing prairie. Grain elevators appeared in the distance. I started seeing signs for churches. The road dove under a deep underpass cut under some railroad tracks, and came back up to ground level inside the town of Kingfisher. I took a picture of a statue overlooking downtown. Taking Highway 73 west of town, I was on the 45th Infantry Division Memorial Highway.

Six miles out of town I crossed Kingfisher Creek. There were lots of plowed fields, ready for planting fall crops. One field had the derrick of a new oil well going up. I passed a group of buildings. It was the Chisolm Trail Technology Center. In the sky, vultures circled over some roadkill. I’d seen more vultures that year than ever before. A dog barked at me from the side of the road as I went through Watonga. Broad, green fields greeted me outside of town as I came up on the North Canadian River. The road was a comfortable 4-lane highway. I saw lots of trees, and little white flowers along the shoulder—Queen Ann’s lace? The road turned south, and I crossed over the mostly dry South Canadian River. Tall grain elevators loomed over Thomas, Oklahoma.(“Let it Be Your Future.”)  A house advertised quilts for sale. There were two cars at the Nite Owl Motel, down from the vintage Thomas Drug Store. I passed Mound Valley Cemetery on my way out of town; I could see wind-powered generators way off to the south. Railroad flatcars waited on an old wooden trestle.

I got to Custer City just before 11:30. I counted one store there. The road was very straight headed west past lush green farm land. I crossed Beaver Creek. I needed some gas, but when I got to Butler there were no gas stations. I kept going—it was 11 miles to Hammond. It was getting hot out. Horses in fields crowded together for shade under lone trees. I entered the Washita National Wildlife Refuge and crossed the Washita River. Oklahoma red dirt was everywhere. A red tailed hawk zoomed across the road in front of me. I had to stop for some construction in the road ahead. The flagger told me they were milling the road. I said I was from Tulsa, and he said the main characters in the movie “The Hangover” were from Tulsa. We talked about cool mornings, and he said, “Bet you liked that weather!” I didn’t have to wait long.

At Hammon, I stopped for gas at BJ’s Quik Stop, next to Carolyn’s Kountry Kitchen and across the road from Cutler’s Cowboy Junction. I’d gone 362 miles since I filled up right before leaving home. From Hammon, the road angled north, and I crossed the Washita a couple more times. Oil pumps dotted fields of exposed dirt. There were lots of hay bales waiting to be hauled somewhere. There was a dark, rusty water tower in Strong City. I saw no businesses, nor did it look like it had ever had any.
At Junction 283, there was a bullet-marked sign for the Washita Battlefield. The road rolled over some friendly hills, and I crossed the Washita again before coming to the town of Cheyenne just after 12:30.

I turned west on Highway 47, the Black Kettle Memorial Highway, and crossed Sergeant Major Creek to get to the Washita Battlefield. At the visitor center, I was the only one in the little theater to watch a short movie about the “battle,” which was little more than an attack by George Custer on a campground of old and sick people. Three battles in American history summarize the conflict between the Native Americans and the white settlers: Washita, Sand Creek, and Little Big Horn. I looked through the museum, which talked about the history surrounding the battle, and picked up some souvenirs in the gift shop. I drove down to where the trail started and parked the car.

The trail down to the river was a little more than a mile. Instead of big, intrusive signs all over the place, there were respectful little markers; each had a phone number you could call to get a recording about what happened where you were. It was a bright, sunny day. I walked down a path cut through the shoulder-high grass. It turns out that, over the years, the course of the Washita River has changed so much that historians are not exactly sure where the battle took place. That means the ashes of the fallen were scattered all over. It was all sacred ground.
I made my way back up to the parking lot, where I ate my lunch: two hard-boiled eggs and an apple. There was a guy sitting in his pickup the whole time I was there. I could hear his radio playing lonesome country western music. As I was leaving, I asked him what he was doing there. “Just watchin’ the Indians and cavalry ghosts comin’ over the hill,” he said. It was almost 2:30 when I left. I went back to Cheyenne and turned south. It was 22 miles to Sayre, where I passed a Dino Mart and a Chinese restaurant. That was where I connected with Interstate 44 and headed west. The local radio station said they were sponsored by “Al Gore’s Internet.”

It was just after 3 PM when I crossed the border into Texas. The texture of the pavement changed right at the border. The roadside park I stopped at my first trip to Burning Man was still closed, weeds high around the benches. The Sun was bright in the western sky. I’d been driving for a long time and I was getting kind of bleary-eyed when I stopped at the Taylor Store in McLean, Texas. A girl named Teresa sold me a 96 cent fountain drink. Down the road, tall corn lined the highway. I passed the big cross at Groom at 4:17. Two big helicopters passed overhead, both flying due west along the interstate. I couldn’t find anything good on the radio, so I started listening to my MP3 player. A roadside parked looked overgrown with weeds.

It was about a quarter to 5 when I got to Amarillo. I zoomed through town, but then got off at Exit 66 and turned around. I drove back eastward on the access road because there was something I wanted to see: Cadillac Ranch. I had passed it many times on my trips westward, but I hadn’t actually stopped to look around in 10 years. It was further from the road than I remembered. There were about five or six other cars there when I stopped. Plowed rows of crops came almost right up to the cars, which were covered with spray-painted graffiti. Exploded fireworks and litter was everywhere. I took some pictures. Some dorky guy in a blue shirt kept getting in all my shots. The air was still. There was a big semi truck stopped right behind my car when I left. I think he was waiting for my place.

I went back to the exit, and stopped at the convenience store for a soda. A guy cut in line ahead of me and then held the line up for everybody when he tried to buy gas. I headed west again. I passed more wind-powered generators at Mile Marker 48. I also passed a couple of people on bicycles. I wondered if they were biking the whole length of Route 66. 
My cellphone switched over to Mountain Time before I got to the New Mexico border. The Sun was bright and low straight ahead as I crossed under the big sign entering New Mexico at 6:34. The wind really picked up there. When I got to San Jon, I exited the interstate (Exit 356) and turned north on Highway 469. It was a rough, narrow 2-lane road that looked like it went on to the end of the Earth.
The landscape was mostly flat, except for some impressive bluffs right before I got to Logan, New Mexico, 22 miles from San Jon. It was just after 7 PM Central Time. 

I stopped at the Alsup’s store for $10 worth of gas (at $2.85 a gallon) and some beer. From there, it was a short drive west to Ute Lake State Park. 

I pulled into the park and stopped at the ranger station. It was closed. There were camping rates posted on a sign, but I’d seen on the Internet it was just $8 to stay overnight without electricity and stuff. As I put my money in an envelope, a couple of RV’s rolled past me into the park without stopping to pay. With nobody at the station, there was no one to stop them from camping for free. But that’s not how I roll. I didn’t see any signs for particular campgrounds, but I found a place to stop anyway. Off in the grass, I passed three deer grazing in the early twilight. I found a spot, set up my tent and camp chair, and got out my propane stove. Supper was a can of beef stew, heated on my little Coleman stove. It cooked up really fast, too. I wished I brought some bread to eat along with it, but I did have crackers. That and a can of fruit cocktail really hit the spot. The Sun set, but it was still pretty warm out. I figured I drove 629 miles that day. I couldn’t get a cellphone signal, even when I walked to the top of the hill, so I wrote text messages that would broadcast as soon as I was in range. I lied down and napped for an hour or so.

The cellphone said it was 10:30 (Mountain Time) when I woke up. The Moon was rising triumphantly in the east. As I lay in my tent, I heard my cellphone chirp. The battery was dead! I could hear the guys in the other camp partying and playing music—I looked on it as practice for when I got to the playa. I went back to sleep… The rustle of wind through the trees woke me up; it almost sounded like rain. The Moon was well up in the sky. The pocket watch said it was 4:30 AM. I got five hours of sleep? When I walked to the bathrooms, the moonlight so bright I could’ve read a book. It didn’t take me long to fall back asleep...

Prologue Aug. 26  Aug. 27 Aug. 28 Aug. 29
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
The Long Road Home  Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2010 by Tim Frayser
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Links: Guthrie, Oklahoma  The Washita Battlefield  Ute Lake State Park