Trapping Tourists in Oklahoma and the Dust Bowl States

The city of Lawton, Oklahoma has a wicked sense of humor against foreigners, meaning travelers like us. We’d driven 911 miles from Atlanta, Georgia in 16.5 hours including food and potty breaks to visit family in Lawton, and we were only going to be there for a couple of days, so time was limited.

You see where this is going…

We mapped out all of our trips on Google Maps including how to get from the hotel to the people we were visiting, and the directions included taking State Highway 7 eastbound to Marlow, except that Highway 7 petered out into a little dirt road that dead-ended. Something was very wrong.

Bear blamed me since I’m the navigator, and I was perplexed because I was sure I’d gotten it right. We don’t have a fancy GPS system being old school — we rely on a paper road map and Google which has generally worked out well, except for State Highway 7 in Lawton, Oklahoma.

As it turned out, the street signs were WRONG. Seriously wrong. The sign directing us to Highway 7 east actually took us WEST, and vice versa. It wasn’t that someone had flipped signs around — they were legitimately wrong and all of the locals knew it.

Apparently they’d been wrong for a long time but since the locals knew where to go, they didn’t pay it any mind. But we were foreigners, trusting in the government’s Department of Transportation road signs, and they’d sent us down a gravel dirt road leading nowhere. It was a foreigner trap.

Once we figured out the wrong way tourist trap we were back in business. We had a nice visit with family mostly playing cards, and we ate at two outstanding restaurants, both in Marlow, Oklahoma.

Wright’s Family Diner was our breakfast place, which advertises itself as “the place where friends meet.” I cannot give them high enough marks for their ample breakfast with slabs of thick bacon far and beyond that of most diners. Breakfast was a treat, and the food and service were excellent despite being very busy.

Giuseppe’s Italian Dining was our dinner fare and I ordered lasagne. We have an Italian restaurant in Atlanta called Provino’s, with a sister-site Scalini’s, both being our favorite Italian restaurants of all time, and I cook up some mean lasagne so we’re spoiled. But Giuseppe’s added a secret ingredient that I’d give anything to know what it was, because it tweaked the flavor into something so heavenly that my eyes popped open in happy surprise. They also carried my wine which is house white zinfandel, something that many Italian restaurants lack for some inexplicable reason, and it’s a deal killer.

Provino’s/Scalini’s in Atlanta had Giuseppe’s on the salad and garlic rolls, that and the wine being one of many reasons we prefer them in Atlanta. But I have to say, if we had a Giuseppe’s, I’d have a hard time choosing — that secret ingredient was out of this world.

We stayed at Baymont Inn & Suites hotel in Lawton. The freezer was much smaller than we’d anticipated but otherwise the room was clean and the bed comfortable. We’ve stayed at hotels in Virginia where the carpeting looked as if there were blood stains from a dead body, but our room at Baymont was in good order. No creepy stains.

Baymont’s housekeeping staff went above and beyond in their helpfulness, assistance, and friendliness. I sidetracked them in the hallway for towels, sugar, toilet paper, and ice bucket liners, and always they smiled spreading sunshine, as if our happiness was their ultimate goal. The front desk staff was pleasant as well, and overall it was one of our better hotel experiences. Like all of our rentals, Baymont was dog-friendly though you need to include that with your booking.

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  • Our dog Sierra about had a heart attack outside, however, from all of the noise. Her head never stopped swiveling expecting a boogie man at every turn so we called her Swivel Head. It’s a busy area with cars and trucks and people all around, but it wasn’t the people or the semi trucks blowing horns that freaked her out… it was the wind blowing and the birds shrieking.

    The wind whips through there like nobody’s business and it blows tin cans across the parking lot with a clatter. It noisily whips tarps and flags as if trying to rip them apart, but it was the rooster birds that scared me and Sierra, because they’re LOUD and they shriek as they fly low overhead. I fell completely and totally in love with these birds. I later learned that they were male Great-tailed Grackle birds, scientifically known as Quiscalus mexicanus.

    Sleek, shiny, solid-black feathers glistened in the sun, and when on the ground their overlong tails arched over like a rooster when they opened their beaks to warn off another bird. I’d never heard such an unusual bird call and they boasted a plethora of different sounds as if we were hearing many different birds. It was the “woo woo” call that struck me most.

    Bird sites describe them as sounding like a rusty gate hinge, machinery in need of lubrication, sweet tinkling notes, and shrieking, high-pitched whistles best heard from a distance. It was the shrieking whistles blown a few feet above our heads that stopped us cold.

    Allaboutbirds.org has several videos and sound clips though not my woo-woo, and they describe the males as raucous, social birds ruffing out their feathers as they strut across the lawn, or filling the sky with their ear-splitting voices. Feathers shimmer in iridescent black and purple as they trail their eye-catching tail. This unusual bird will wade into the water to grab a fish or frog, and they’ll even eat spiders, wasps, slugs, lizards, snakes, and mice.

    We encountered Great-tailed Grackles in New Mexico and Texas as well, to our delight. As we drove through Oklahoma, I remembered the last time I’d driven through this state. I was 21 years old driving from California to Illinois and when I passed through Oklahoma, there was a great migration of small turtles.

    As far as the eye could see, turtles were crossing the road all in the same direction, and there was no way to avoid them. The migration went on for what seemed like miles and it crushed me. It absolutely crushed me. But I couldn’t see anyway to avoid it. Back then I was just a kid bravely traveling alone across the vast scrublands and to this day, it bothers me about the turtles. I don’t like being responsible for the death of an innocent creature, and thankfully we didn’t encounter a turtle migration this trip.

    As we made our way from Oklahoma to New Mexico and Texas before heading back to Atlanta, we discovered something disturbing — the disappearance of proper Rest Areas with bathrooms and vending machines.

    They’d been replaced by Picnic Areas which lacked facilities except for picnic tables and garbage cans. Most travelers stop at Rest Areas to empty the innards so this was an unhappy discovery, and it didn’t end there… in Mississippi the Picnic Areas gave way to Parking Areas which were nothing more than pull offs with garbage cans. This was right about the time that we coined a whole new set of bathroom travel-phrases:

    • I need to clean out the warehouse
    • I need to make a shipment
    • I need to drop-ship some packages
    • I received a package for urgent delivery
    • The baby was almost born prematurely

    Needless to say, we were not amused by these flimflam Picnic and Parking Areas which we’d marked on our map before the trip expecting the Real Deal in our moments of need.

    We also encountered roadwork to such an extent that we wondered if Donald Trump’s promise to rebuild the roadways of America had triggered a flurry of activity. According to a news story that we came across later, the Infrastructure Bill wouldn’t see the light of day until 2019 so something else was driving all this road construction. We considered it a good omen, hoping that by the time we rolled out in an RV, all the bad roads would be upgraded.

    Our favorite leg of the journey was passing through Louisiana on I-10 eastbound where all the waterways and bayous and swamps and rivers come right up alongside and underneath the road, abounding in lush green trees sometimes growing right up out of the water.

    It was a stark contrast to the scrublands of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas with their stunted trees and flatlands as far as the eye could see, dried up rivers and gullies, and we wondered where all those cattle found water. As we traveled east into greener pastures where the cows had grass, trees, and ponds, we thought of how lucky the eastern cows were, and as we approached Birmingham, Alabama, a giant rainbow arced across the sky to welcome us home. It was surreal to be back on our own turf where green trees towered over us and blocked out the sun.

    As we drove through the arid western states with their dried up rivers, we tried to imagine what it was like for the pioneers to travel these regions, and it was unimaginable.

    We learned that humans created the great Dust Bowl region where dust storms blackened the sky in great, choking billows of dust. These were known as “black blizzards” and “black rollers.” Once established, they could travel overland even to the East Coast.

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  • Farmers cutting down trees removed all of the windbreaks and opened the land from horizon to horizon, and then they converted grassland to farmland. This created a microclimate by removing the deep-rooted grasses which anchored the soil and trapped moisture in an arid region even during droughts. And then the droughts came and the soil turned to dust which blew up into wicked dust storms, and they called this period the Dirty Thirties.

    Tens of thousands of farmers were forced to abandon their farms but they found no solace anywhere as their plight coincided with the Great Depression.

    April 14, 1935 was known as Black Sunday because it culminated in one of the worst black blizzards in recorded history. Dust turned the sky from daytime into nighttime stretching from Canada down to Texas, and you couldn’t see five feet in front of you.

    It was for this storm that news editor Edward Stanley coined the phrase Dust Bowl while rewriting a news story by reporter Robert Geiger. Half a million people lost their homes causing an exodus of 3.5 million people out of the Dust Bowl and Great Plains states.

    The government stepped in with the Soil Conservation Service, the United States Forestry Service, the Farm Security Administration, and other forms of assistance to help in restoring the natural balance which had been lost in these regions. History needs to be remembered so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

    I wondered what the Plains States looked like before they’d been altered, if the scrublands had always been there or if we’d created them along with the Dust Bowl.

    One thing that caught us off guard was that when maps paint a region green as if depicting a forest, it didn’t have the same meaning out west. We discovered that even scrubland with short, stunted bush-trees that didn’t even remotely paint the landscape green could end up as a green region on a map.

    We’d driven through miles of scrubland with dried up rivers and creeks and tumbleweeds blowing across the road, and where waterways did exist, there were mounds of varicolored low-growing plants which we dubbed Tribbles after the cute, fuzzy Star Trek creatures.

    Our Tribbles took on every shade of green, tan, and brown depending on the species of plant, and they formed small mounds which, when seen in abundance, looked like Tribbles.

    By the time we reached the Mississippi and Louisiana swamplands with houses that appeared to be floating in the water, we realized that the United States truly was a country with so many contrasting ecological regions, that we might well have been traveling to different planets.

    * * * * *

    Follow along with us as we share the full lead-in for the Big Change to full-timing in an RV, and to what lies beyond… Currently we are preparing our sticks and bricks house to sell, and leaning toward buying a small house for storage and a home base, though we expect to stay on the road for most of the year.

    In the meantime, join me on a very different journey with Alien Nightmares: Screen Memories of UFO Alien Abductions. Experience my memories and dreams relating to personal experiences with extraterrestrials, along with the little-known UFO flaps from the time periods which swept me up into an extraterrestrial neverland of high strangeness.

  • Alien Nightmares

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