3-14-2014 Bookin’West through Tornado Alley

Current Location: Foss State Park, Oklahoma: still dark at 7am and 41 F

Yes, yes, I know.  I still haven’t written about the Natchez Trace, Vicksburg, and Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Way too many thoughts and photos of these amazing visits to manage, so the writing will have to come later.

Johnny_006_01We had good reasons for moving northward as we traveled west.  We watched the weather diligently and prayed that the Polar Plunge events that have plagued this part of the country all winter would let up enough for us to make it to Joplin without mishap.  My son John, and his wife Shannon, live near Joplin and I don’t get to see them often.  They are in the busy time of life with a high school kid and a couple of daughters and grandkids that need them.  Both are working, and not at the kinds of jobs that give much time for play.  Every time I see John, I wish that I hadn’t waited so long to get back to Missouri.  I am so glad I didn’t miss it this time.  Thank you, Weather Gods.

Johnny_001After some truly wonderful family time, and sharing morning coffee with John while we packed up, Mo and I headed southwest.  When leaving Joplin, there are options, some including tolls.  Looking at the map, we decided the $19.50 total cost of the tolls was less than the cost of the fuel avoiding them and within minutes of our campground in Carthage, we were on I-44 heading toward Tulsa.

I can’t believe I didn’t take a single shot of the campground, The Big Red Barn RV Park, in Carthage.  I guess because it was actually simply another privately owned campground, quite nice but still only a place to park.  Actually it was also a place to do laundry, wash the rig and the baby car at the nearby car wash with a big RV bay, shop for some essentials, and plan for the time with John and Shannon.

We also learned something new at this particular campground.  In spite of its flat screen status, and its fancy Sony Wega Gate programs, our MoHo TV is NOT digital.  This park has digital-only cable television and we couldn’t get a signal.  Sigh.  For the first time in a month or more we thought there might be a bit of TV in our life after family visits, but it was not to be.  Researching on the internet, I found out that there is no way to tell if your TV is digital or analog, but if it was purchased before 2008, it will be analog.  Ok then. 

Johnny_005_01Satellite signals and most cable signals are broadcast in both digital and analog bandwidths, and we knew that local broadcasts were digital only.  Mo tried to install a digital converter to our antenna but various roof thingies didn’t allow the space for the thing to retract, so we know that we don’t get digital signals from local broadcasts.  However, with all the tv hookups we have had over the months of travel since the digital thing happened, we had no clue our tv wasn’t digital.

With family time the priority, TV watching would have been minimal anyway, but it was a good thing to discover.  Most parks have a dual signal, but if your park specifically states, digital TV’s only, pay attention.

Johnny_024Friday morning we were on the road by 8:20, knowing that we had another 358 mile day ahead of us.  Our destination was Foss State Park, nestled into the low brown hills surrounding a lake/reservoir that is the largest in western Oklahoma.  We camped here long ago in December of 2007, on our route east in the baby MoHo.  It was a sweet little find back then, and we decided that once again, the pleasant, quiet park, eight miles off the interstate on a decent paved road, would be a good overnight stop.

I-44 is a direct, fast, and for the most part smooth route across most of Oklahoma, circling both Tulsa and Oklahoma City. It is part of the Oklahoma Turnpike System, which at first I found very frustrating, because all the routes are named but the turnpike website doesn’t have a decent map of the routes and the names so it can be easily figured out.  Frustrating, but we did manage to get across the state on the system.

I am sure that there is a lot to see in Oklahoma.  We have visited the memorial and the museum at Oklahoma City and didn’t need to stop there again.  I am sure Tulsa might have been interesting, if we had time to meander and research, but we didn’t choose to stop.

Evelyn Braden and Avon Bradon 1927 Tulsa OKTulsa, Oklahoma is tucked away in my own family history in an almost mythical way.  My mother was born when my grandmother was barely 15, in Palestine, Arkansas, as small a town as you can imagine.  Nine months later, my grandmother left my mother with her mother and ran away to Tulsa.  It was 1926.  Times were hard even then, though the Depression had yet to come in full force.  My grandmother searched for work, and finding none, resorted to being a photographer’s model.  My most treasured photograph of her was taken in Tulsa, and for the time it was a bit risque. 

If I had more time, perhaps I could have wandered the streets of old downtown Tulsa and found the locations of my old photos of my grandmother with the husband she married in Tulsa.  They played cards, gambled, danced, and partied during the heyday of the late 20’s and I have some pretty cool photos of the “Duke and Duchess” as their friends called them, sitting on the running boards of their old Packard.

Instead, we traveled at close to the speed limit all day, and I could find not one thing in the brown low flats and hills of Oklahoma to inspire me to pick up the camera even once. With crazy winter ice storms, and a late spring, Oklahoma is still simply many shades of brown, and windy, and the skies are a bit blue, but with a murkiness to them that wasn’t particularly inspiring.route to tucumcari

I suppose I could have photographed the traffic jam around construction in Tulsa, or managed some kind of creative treatment of the leafless cottonwoods along the highway.  Instead, I navigated, and found our campground, and with the great, fast road, we landed just a little before 4pm, with plenty of time for me to make our favorite Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana soup for supper.

directions to Foss Lake SPWe took a nice walk along the trail toward the lake before supper, but even then I wasn’t inspired to take any photos.  After so much verdant green and vivid blues and gorgeous architecture, I can’t get excited about the simple brown landscape.  Of course it is lovely in its own way.  Another time I might have a great time shooting photos of this place.  Maybe I am just a bit tired of processing photos, and needed some down time from the camera.

Foss State Park is as quiet a place as you will find anywhere, and we slept well.  Today we will cross the Panhandle of Texas with the same focus and determination.  Our goal is to get west of the infamous Tornado Alley.  No matter what kinds of lovely sights are here, I have no desire to linger.  There are high winds and thunderstorms predicted through Amarillo, and as the sky lightens this morning, I can see some interesting cloud formations building.

Tonight we will rest in Tucumcari, at the New Mexico border.  Searching weather pages, I found that the possibility of tornados in Tucumcari is close to zero.  A good number, unlike the moderate to high rating for the landscape we will cross in the panhandle of Texas.  

Johnny_013_01After dinner last night, Mo and I reviewed our jello plans for returning west, and completely shifted our focus.  We were trying to decide if we could stay north on the 40 rather than dropping back down to the 10, and instead decided that we will go north from the 40 when we leave Albuquerque and wander west toward the Four Corners region.  Weather predictions seem to be in our favor, and once again we have a chance to explore new country rather than following the same tired interstate routes that can get so repetitive.  

I am beside myself excited about this plan for more than one reason.  The Colorado Plateau is one of my favorite places in the world, and Antelope Canyon near Page is on my bucket list.  I have artwork in my home depicting that famous ray of light, and if things go the way we are planning, before long I will have my very own photos of light and shadow in the world famous slit in the earth.

Bet I don’t have a problem picking up the camera then!


Oklahoma City and Foss Lake

Driving east on I-40 again after a great night at Foss State Park in Oklahoma. Windy is the theme for today. I am surprised in a good way about the number of windmills generating power in this part of the country. Yesterday approaching Amarillo there were miles and miles of huge windmills. Bigger than the ones on the road by Livermore in California, if not quite as many. Now this morning we are passing many more and this time they are all generating. Good for the system, not so great for Moana trying to keep the moho on the road. Feels just like Nebraska again, and big trucks passing us throw us all over the road. She’s back to one hand on the steering wheel though, so maybe that’s a good sign. More trucks on the road today as well, since it has been fairly light for truck traffic until now.

We are approaching Oklahoma City and plan to go to the national memorial there. Even though we think of Ground Zero in New York, this incident in our history is every bit as terrifying, reminding us that terrorism isn’t just something that comes from outside, it’s all around us,

But last night in Foss State Park, any kind of terrorism or violence or problems with the world seemed very far away, unimaginable even. The park is in the rolling plains of western Oklahoma, just a reservoir really, but 8000 acres of lovely water that reflected the setting sun. The campground was very nearly empty, with big wide level paved sites with water and electric right next to the lake. We went for a walk and Abby got to finally swim, first time on the trip. The water was so calm and lovely in the reflected light, luminous and magical, changing shades of pink and lavender and brilliant orange. I managed to get that star moment of the setting sun in a photo. It was warm, too, in the 60’s, and still. The skies were dark during the night with lots of stars and silence, no traffic noises. Sometimes for convenience we park in RV parks near the freeway, and I have become accustomed to the sounds, but last night was pristine. That is a word I might not have associated with Oklahoma in the past. Even though the trees have lost their leaves and the grass is brown, the skies are still clean and the colors have a sweet clarity.

After dinner last night Moana worked on her Christmas cards and I surfed the internet. The broadband card was slower than dialup, but I still managed to find a place for us to park tonight near Fort Smith. I also got caught up on many emails on my work webmail site. Nice to be able to clear that out before I get back in January. Nice also to get the email from Thor telling me that Chad plans to advertise the MLRA positions in Redmond and Salem in January and hoping that I would apply. It’s encouraging since Chad talked to me about this last September and said he might not hire anyone from the last advertisement so that he could advertise again. A good sign. I will apply, and hopefully I will not spend another tough year in California. Maybe I will really be done with it. I am so ready for that, so ready to be home, close to my kids again, close to Moana, back in Oregon. I’ll trust in the Universe as I always have, but I do hope that things go this way.

The winds are really strong now, and Moana is working really hard to keep us going forward. Big gusts throw us sideways into the rumble strips and the moho is doing some serious back and forth kinds of movements. Tornado country, of course we aren’t in tornado season, but geez, winds are the main thing here I guess, and blizzards. Glad we aren’t dealing with a blizzard!

Johnny is planning to drive down to Fort Smith tonight to meet us for dinner and a visit. He said it’s only a couple hour drive for them. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

The day has been really windy, no let up at all as we continue east. There is no sign of a real storm, but there are clouds that look like a weather front is blowing by very high in the sky. We stopped in Oklahoma City this morning to view the Oklahoma City Memorial of the federal building bombing in 1995. 167 people. Funny, more people die in airplane crashes, but this touched the psyche of the American people so strongly, and the memorial is rather lovely, and very dramatic. Got some good photos. My Picasa web photo albums are going to be all filled up before I get through with this trip for sure.

We stopped for lunch and gasoline just outside of Oklahoma City and now have just a couple of hours to go before we get to the Arkansas line. The landscape is rolling plains, with a lot of brown hardwoods that have no leaves. There are lots of green patches of grass that seem to be greening up from the fall rains, but the fields are all brown. Here and there are some winter wheat fields that stand out brilliant emerald. I said to Mo that I wouldn’t mind having no leaves on the trees since we don’t have to deal with the kinds of bugs and mosquitoes that would be in this country during the summer, but even in this brown state, I can imagine how green the summers must be.