When I left the house this morning, I had a simple plan. Breakfast, a stop in south Tulsa, and a quick drive out to Porter for their annual Peach Festival. By the time I pulled back into the driveway this evening, I’d clocked nearly 175 miles. That’s the way it goes when I take my camera out, usually. It was a great day!
Sam and I arrived at the Porter Peach Festival at about 11:45, a bit late for the parade but still in the middle of the day’s festivities. One of the things I love about Oklahoma is the numerous small-town carnivals and festivals throughout the year. I’m sure these exist across the country in identical formats, yet the feeling I get from walking down the tiny main street of a rural Oklahoma community feels somehow special. The population in Porter is less than 600 but today that number meant nothing. Every available yard, field, and side road was stocked with vehicles. The local police kept the order as droves of people drove into town to get their fruit on. I’d never visited the Peach Capital of Oklahoma before, festival or no. We wandered the streets, browsed the vendor tents, and enjoyed the atmosphere. Although I’m not a huge peach fan, I tried some of Samantha’s peach ice drink and was pleasantly surprised. Had I not still been full from breakfast, I might have gotten one of my own. As it was, we bought a bag of fresh-picked peaches to take home and navigated out of town.
Since we still had a lot of day left, I decided to keep driving east to see what I could find. I drove down a tired two-lane road with little company aside from the occasional tractor or pickup truck. At the junction for Highway 69, I saw an old restaurant sign I wanted to photograph. I pulled over, got out, and started taking pictures when I looked back down the country road and saw quite the sight: a line of Model A cars coming my way. They were undoubtedly coming from the car show at the Peach Festival, but I paused and watched these relics pass by with awe as if it was the first time I’d seen a motor vehicle. The drivers cheerfully waved and sounded their ahooga horns as they drove on.
The next small town I drove through was Okay. That is to say, it wasn’t that special…AND that’s the name of the town. Okay, OK. Seriously. I guess someone got lazy back when they needed another settlement along the Verdigris River. Anyway, I knew of an old truss bridge on the edge of town and figured it was worth a quick stop.
I looked at the map on my cell phone, consulted my memory, and drove to the end of a residential road near the river. It ended with an extremely basic metal gate, which I ducked under and ambled down a gravel path into the brush. I walked for a few minutes and thought my memory had failed me until I looked back over my shoulder and noticed that I’d passed the bridge entirely. The deck had collapsed between the old road and the bridge itself and the overgrowth now completely hid the bridge from sight unless you were walking back TOWARDS town. I happily scrambled down the river bank to look at the old steel beast, noting a lean on one of the trusses. It wouldn’t be around much longer. I’ll have to go back this winter when the foliage is gone and give it another shot.
I drove on, past Wagoner, to the Indian Lodge Motel for some shots of their old sign. We were both getting hungry, so we made our next stop the Del Rancho restaurant in Tahlequah. It’s a little 50’s-themed diner I’d always wanted to stop at…so we did. Interestingly, we were greeted with an individual phone at the booth to order on like the Hamburger King in Shawnee some weeks ago. The food was good [special mention for their chicken fried steak!] and the milkshake we shared for dessert was even better. I left Tahlequah satisfied and planned to drive home…but when we got to the turnpike I realized we were on the edge of Muskogee, and I’d never been through there either. Sam, as always, was up for a little more adventure. I’m so glad we made that final stop, because I found a LOT of things I liked.
Downtown Muskogee sprawled a bit more than I expected, split by an active rail line on the east side. Some buildings have been restored (with varying success) but most have not. Several buildings have been torn down recently, leaving nervous buildings to stand glaringly alone. Others were only facades, awaiting their rubbled fate. As with many towns around here, it was a mixture of beauty and decay. I saw more faded ghost signs painted on the brick buildings than I’d seen in a long time, and the variety of architectural styles spoke of a history of uneven growth. I walked around downtown, making mental notes and taking pictures, knowing I’d need to come back again. If for no other reason, there’s a delightfully strange-looking cafe on the edge of downtown that I have to see on the inside.