The Driver’s Seat

WesternOK-24When I woke up yesterday morning, I had no plans.  Maybe I’d go downtown to Mayfest and the Blue Dome Arts Festival.  Maybe I’d call some friends and see if anyone wanted to hang out and game.  Or, maybe, I’d go for a little drive.  The more I thought about it, the more a drive appealed to me.  At about 9:30 in the morning, I hopped in the car with a single destination in mind:  the Great Salt Plains National Park in north-central Oklahoma.  I didn’t know they existed until recently, and I wanted to try and recreate my experiences in Utah last year closer to home.

I absolutely love driving.  The trip from Tulsa to the Plains is a little over two-and-a-half hours, but I didn’t feel that passage of time.  I enjoyed my coffee, played my music loud, and sang off-key when I knew the words.  The sunshine was warm and the wind was cool.  As always, I kept my eyes open for interesting bits along the road as I traveled.  When I got to Enid, I sent a message to Mom (since my folks lived there about 40 years ago) and shared part of my journey.  As I traveled north out of town, I noticed the data signal on my cell phone go away.  Little did I realize this was going to be a problem in the near future.

WesternOK-9I arrived in Jet, Oklahoma (just as Paul McCartney’s song of the same title came up on random on my iPod – seriously) and coasted through their tiny “main street” that consisted of less than a dozen buildings.  Signs for the National Park pointed north still, so I kept going.  However, when I arrived to the park I found no salt plains.  I found a nice little campground, a municipal airport, and a lake…but no salted fields.  Perhaps I missed a turn.  I explored the camp to no avail.  As I drove back to Jet, I grabbed my phone to do some research—only to be reminded I had no data service.  Curses.  I had driven all this way and hadn’t properly prepared.  None of the businesses in Jet appeared to be open, so I couldn’t go ask for guidance.

I was discouraged.  I sat in the Mustang and considered my options.  I could go back home with a mostly-empty camera…or I could keep driving.  I have a list on my phone of interesting places in Oklahoma & I hadn’t been this far west in a long time…so I decided to keep going.  The next town I arrived at was Alva, a town I knew in name only due to my buddy Roy having lived there some time ago.  To my surprise, I found a lovely old movie theater in their town square.  I kept driving west, eventually making it to the town of Woodward where I found another lovely old movie theater on Main Street.

WesternOK-23It was here I stopped and considered once again; do I keep going?  If I did, I’d probably have to select a destination with a decent hotel; the only other Oklahoma location on my list was far out in the panhandle.  I didn’t have any spare migraine medicine and didn’t want to risk being stuck far from home and suffer one of those, so I decided to start heading back east.  Instead of heading straight home, though, I ventured south through Canton to see a bridge I’d seen on Instagram.  As I drove the lonely highway, the horizon filled up with giant turbines harnessing the wind that comes sweeping down the plains.  The sight of these giant fans still fills me with awe; their impossibly-huge blades were spinning joyously in the afternoon sun.

When I entered Canton city limits (population 625) I noticed a sizable amount of people walking downtown.  Turns out there was some kind of small city festival happening, complete with a small collection of rides in the shadow of the town grain elevator.  It was comforting to see this tiny town so alive; it gave me hope that these little communities weren’t all heading towards an unstoppable doom of abandonment.  As I continued south, I saw a few MORE carnivals, fishing tournaments, and rodeos happening.  Mayfest weekend must be some unspoken fun junction.  The sun was beginning to set by the time I arrived at my final stop:  J&W Grill in Chickasha, Oklahoma.

WesternOK-2-2This place had been on my list longer than anywhere else I visited yesterday.  I found a list of “Oklahoma’s Best Burgers” a while back and this was the last one.  The staff was friendly and welcoming when I sat myself at their counter.  I enjoyed my burger and fries and eavesdropped as the staff and the locals bantered in familiarity.  The food was good, but it doesn’t dethrone any of my current favorites that are closer to home.  When I returned to the car, I considered my options once again.  I could still find a room near OKC and continue my exploration tomorrow and chance any negative consequences…but in the end I decided it was time to go home.  By the time I pulled back into my driveway, I had driven nearly 600 miles over thirteen hours.  I didn’t get the pictures I wanted, but I got plenty that were unexpected.

WesternOK-20

About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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