The two weeks before I left for the playa saw a lot of activity online. Lots of tickets came up for sale, but the ones I saw were mostly from Burners selling to other Burners at more or less face value. I didn't see any of the outrageous prices you'd expect from scalpers. 

People were already in the desert, building roads and setting up infrastructure. People on-playa reported it was super windy. Early pictures from the playa showed evidence of massive wind and dust storms. One picture posted online showed a row of porta potties completely blown over by the wind (door side down, too)! One person was calling it "Windpocalypse 2012." 

Before starting to pack, I made up a checklist; I wanted to be sure I was prepared. More than once, I'd packed for a trip and thrown a bag of gear in the car assuming it had everything I needed. When it doesn't, that really sucks.
Shelter: tent, rebar stakes, tent poles, tent balls, folding chairs, hammer, bicycle, bike lock, folding table, clock, lights, foam pad, sheets, sleeping bags, pillows, towels, earplugs, plastic tub 
Clothing: shirts, sandals, shorts, Utilikilt, hats, sweatshirt, sweatpants, underwear, long underwear, BDU pants, jacket, socks, t-shirts, bandannas 
Essentials: ticket (!), glasses, wallet, notebook, pencils, camera, batteries (AA & AAA), disposable cameras, flashlights, lip balm, goggles, canteens, Camelbak, digital recorder, MP3 player, keys, Swiss Army knife 
Hygene: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, baby wipes, toilet paper, moisturizer, sunscreen, razor & gel, comb, shampoo, vinegar, talc,  bug spray 
... Plus my cooking gear, Ranger gear, first aid kit, two 7-gallon water jugs, and food stocks. 
I kept to the checklist, and did not check anything off until it was actually in the van. Whatever I might forget, I still had time to pick up on the way before I actually went to the desert. I felt pretty darn prepared.

I was up at 5 AM Wednesday, August 22nd. Everything was packed, I was ready, and I headed out at 7:02… and immediately went back, because I forgot the hard-boiled eggs the Missus made for my journey. Right away, I noticed a vibrating sound—it was the sound of the water jugs I’d strapped on top vibrating against the roof. A folded towel underneath helped with the racket. At the gas station around the corner, I topped off the tank using the debit card (and got a Dr. Pepper) and headed out for the Broken Arrow Expressway. Traffic was heavy on the BA and I-44, all the way to the turnpike. It was a bright, hazy day; the air was cool. Along the turnpike, I passed acres of scorched earth were wildfires had recently burned. Cattle ponds were mostly dried up. Trees looked dried out from the brutal summer heat.

I went through the toll booth at 8:24 ($4), and a half hour later got slowed down for some construction. A big cargo plane passed overhead. I saw the billboard for an Indian casino that advertised it was a “casino with benefits.” It was 9:19 when I got to Oklahoma City, and 9:44 when I passed Yukon. It was 242 miles to Amarillo. A truck carrying an old claw-footed table passed me. The South Canadian River was bone dry when I crossed over it. High cirrus clouds appeared in the west. Just before Weatherford, the wind really picked up. The police presence on I-40 was very high that day. I kept seeing Highway Patrolmen all over the place. It was just after 11 when I passed Clinton. A nearby RV park advertised a “storm shelter” as one of its perks.

At Elk City, I pulled off the highway and decided to visit the National Route 66 Museum. It had informative, interactive exhibits, and outside there was a collection of vintage and reproduced buildings arranged into its own little western town. It was very charming.

Back on the road, I started noticing the vibration on the roof again. More clouds appeared, and before I knew it I was under an overcast sky. I started fighting some strong winds. It was 12:42 when I crossed over into Texas. A sign reminded me there was a burn ban in effect. I soon pulled over into the town of Shamrock. I needed to contribute something to the bar, so I thought I’d bring them some Texas beer. I found some at a liquor store called Chug’s. At the Family Dollar down the street, I got some motor oil and a little bathroom rug to put under the water jugs to muffle the vibrations. I still heard an odd sound when I drove, like a moaning hum. I took a wrong turn and followed along the highway on the service road until I could find an on-ramp. It was 89 miles to Amarillo.  A sign near Allanread warned of “strong wind currents.”

I stopped for lunch at a big rest area. The wind felt cold, like it was raining somewhere. The hot exhaust from an idling truck felt good against my bare legs as I walked by. I thought about changing into long pants. As I tossed my trash into a nearby can, I wondered what manner of critters came out at night to see what passing travelers left for them. Down the road, green crops came into view. Traffic was very light just after 3 PM when I went through Amarillo. When I stopped for some gas, I took the folding recliner off the roof, where I’d stowed it in front of the water jugs. Back on the road, the sounds from the roof became much quieter, although I spotted the bathroom rug blowing away in the wind.
The skies seemed to clear a little, though were still hazy. Blue skies appeared shortly before the New Mexico border, which I reached at 4:30. At San Jon, I could see more clouds in the distance. Passing through Tucumcari, I noticed gasoline selling for $3.35 a gallon. Near Blanco Creek, a passing truck spooked me by blowing its horn for no good reason. The sky looked unsettled and ominous. Clouds swirled above.

It was just after 6 when I pulled over in Santa Rosa. It looked like they got some rain that afternoon. It was only a few months before that I’d passed through town, on my way home from the Death March. I got some beer at the convenience store, and double-checked my way to the state park. “It’s not very well-marked,” the girl said, but I found the way easily enough. The air was clean, and smelled of pine needles as I headed out of town.
At the state park entrance, I put $10 in the envelope and found a shelter near the bathrooms; no showers. There was a burn ban in force, so all the barbecues at the campsites were sealed up with tape. I was finishing the paperwork when I heard the flap flap flap of something big—it was a huge black bird—a raven? It sounded like a pterodactyl. I ate leftover chicken for supper and rearranged the back of the van. I seemed to be the only person camped in that area. I went for a walk around the park, and then down to the lake. I saw a white car, and a pickup, and two girls backpacking off in the bushes with a friend. Thunder rumbled in the distance. There was no service on the smartphone, but I could get sporadic Internet connections. I was able to post to Twitter but not make a phone call.
I couldn’t check weather reports until I left in the morning. I figured I’d wait until morning and check the weather. If it looked promising, I’d try for Chaco Canyon. If not, I’d head west to Las Vegas or the hillside RV park I remembered near Williams. The problem was, if the weather was good, I had 4 hours to get to my campsite; if not, I had a 12-hour drive ahead of me. A guy with lots of piercings suddenly appeared looking for change to pay his camping fee. All he had was change, and it was too bulky for the envelope, so he was looking for a $10 bill… but I didn’t feel comfortable showing him where I’d hidden my wallet. I suggested he use two envelopes.
It was super quiet. There was nobody else camped within sight. I tried to read a little. It was getting dark by 8:30. Even the bugs were getting sleepy. The Moon appeared. I thought a truck was coming through the campsite, but it turned out to be a pack of three helicopters far off to the north, headed west. 

A silver SUV rolled through, then disappeared. At the bathrooms, I waved at one of the backpacker girls before she disappeared into the brush. I fell asleep about 9. Rain woke me up at 1 AM. It was stuffy in the van, so I cracked open the windows. I was up a couple of times in the night. It still seemed like I was the only person in the whole park... 

Prologue  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24  Aug. 25 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6  Sept. 7 & Epilogue
Original material (c)opyright 2012 by Tim Frayser
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LINKS: Santa Rosa Lake State Park 
Last updated: September, 2012