Although I’ve traveled a lot over the last few weeks, I haven’t really felt that I’d done much exploring. The few weeks before the wedding, I went to Oklahoma City multiple times, even once via Route 66, but it was mostly errand work. The honeymoon was wonderful, but definitely had its own vibe. After I returned home and settled back into the daily grind, I felt a sense of restlessness. I needed to experience some place new. I had today off, so I decided to do just that. I got started early.
Before leaving Tulsa, Samantha and I enjoyed breakfast at the new downtown location for Antoinette’s Bakery. Their original location had been the site of our third date, just over two years ago now. The new site is marvelous! As I enjoyed my waffle, I could see Sam taking in the decor and color palette, filing it away for the inevitable day she opens her own shop. Everything was delicious, as always. After I dropped her off at work, I headed west on I-44. It was 8:00 AM.
Although my destination was in far southwestern Oklahoma, I couldn’t help but hop off the interstate a few times to visit locations on Route 66. Mostly, I just drove by to check up on a few sites, such as the Yukon’s Best Flour silo in Yukon. You never know if you’ll see something changed or in a unique light. I did actually stop at one place: Hinton Junction. To passers-by it’s nothing more than a crumbling, abandoned building on an otherwise barren stretch of auxiliary road west of Oklahoma City. For me, it’s a place I make a point to stop at any time I can. It’s one of Route 66’s rapidly fading roadside veterans; one day, it is just simply going to collapse. It was once a service station and restaurant, but today consists of little more than chipped paint, splintered plywood, and miscellaneous debris. To me, that’s charming. Not sure how the propane truck got there, but it’s been a part of the landscape as long as I’ve known the site.
It took a little less than four hours to arrive at my first planned destination. I had stopped a few times, consumed three good sized cups of coffee, and was beginning to hunger. Food took a back seat to my excitement, however, as I approached the town of Granite. Many months ago, I read a blurb about a large Will Rogers mosaic there, made out of the stuff the town is named after. After approaching the town’s rocky outcroppings (calling them mountains is way too generous) for some miles, I came upon the 28′ x 30′ stone portrait of Oklahoma’s Favorite Son. It was originally constructed in 1979 as the first of three roadside portraits of famous Oklahomans, which were to be titled Giants of the Great Plains. The other two, Sequoyah and Jim Thorpe, were never completed. Still, the single portrait of Will Rogers is quite striking in this town of 2,000 souls. Next to it was a small cemetery I almost ignored entirely. When I walked over to what I had assumed was a historical marker, I was shocked to read the tagline for the small plot was ‘Just for the fun of it’. What?!
The small graveyard was originally established in Wichita Falls, Texas as a humorous attraction. Since all of the custom headstones were made in Granite, it was donated in honor of Dr. Dan and Eleanor Roberts, the originators of the stones. They are all engraved with witty sayings or Haunted-Mansion-Style epitaphs. It’s really something, and fits right in under the stony gaze of Oklahoma’s well-known humorist.
Quite satisfied, I returned to the car and headed to my next way-point in the town of Frederick, 60+ miles to the southeast. As is often the case, I passed through several small towns on my way…many of which held interesting subjects to capture. The town of Blair had a gigantic steakhouse called ‘The Backdoor Cafe’ (named after the town’s unofficial nickname, ‘Backdoor to the Wichitas’) but it didn’t open until the evening. Still, the 1920s architecture and mural work were lovely. I continued driving through the flatlands, through the towns of Navajo and Friendship. As I barreled down a blank asphalt road in Jackson County, the largest airplane I’ve ever seen suddenly appeared above me. I had to pull the car over so I could take it in. As I scanned the horizon, I saw no less than five other airplanes in various stages of landing or takeoff. I realized I was close enough to the town of Altus to see the activity from their Air Force base. The C-17 above me roared south as I returned to the road and followed in my six-cylinder automobile, the airplane eventually disappearing from my sight.
Markers for the Great Western Trail dotted the shoulder as I drove past cotton fields and distant mountain ranges. The weather was perfect; my windows were down and the music was up. As I approached the town of Headrick, I noticed a star on my map that just happened to be on my route. As I am wont to do, I diverted to see what I’d marked an untold amount of time ago. Delightfully, it was a bridge! An extensive one at that, consisting of 23 Parker pony trusses at just under 2,000 feet long. The area was quiet and empty as I walked halfway down the bridge, taking a few minutes to watch the North Fork of the Red River flow beneath me. All of the trusses were brown from rust, which contrasted nicely with the greenery that lined the river bank. Although the bridge has been closed for 5+ years now, it still looked to be in good shape.
By the time I finally arrived in Frederick, it was almost 2:00 PM. I resolved to eat something as soon as I found what I’d come for: the Ramona Theatre. Although it was not open for tours (drat!) I was able to admire the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture from the outside. It was built in 1929 and is now an event space. From pictures I’ve seen online, the interior has been restored nicely & evokes memory of the Coleman Theatre in Miami. Alas, I will have to tour the inside another time. I circled the downtown streets, taking photos of other buildings that interested me. I noticed occasional signage and carnival-esque cutouts that referred to an Oyster Fry that must have just happened. Evidence was everywhere. In any case, I didn’t see any quick places to eat…so I drove eastward.
As I passed through several dying towns on Highway 5, I could feel my hunger pangs morph into headache. Back in the day, long periods without eating would trigger a migraine. Thanks to the medication I’ve been on, migraines are a thing of the past…but that doesn’t mean my body doesn’t get mad at me when I get distracted. I arrived in Lawton, OK at 3:15 PM, where I sought out a small diner called Burgess Grill. I devoured a delicious hand-made burger at their counter as I talked to the friendly wait staff and the owner, Shiziko. She bought the place in 1962 and has been serving ever since, making food from scratch every morning. Although I had to decline pie this time around, I want to bring Samantha back here soon. Full to bursting, I plotted a course in the general direction of home.
On the way back to Tulsa, I drove through the town of Apache (home to a few Victorian-style spires on main street, a la Guthrie) and Cement. The latter had a larger main street, but was devoid of life aside from a very overweight bearded man wearing ill-fitting overalls. I kept driving. I did stop, however, at an amazing place in Chickasha called the Muscle Car Ranch. It’s an RV Park, which normally isn’t my thing, but this RV Park is littered with old cars and salvaged signage. It was like wandering through a roadside amusement park! Among the relics I gleefully observed is a gigantic sign for the Clock Inn Motel, a long-gone Route 66 lodging in Oklahoma City. I’m going to have to do some serious research to figure out where some of the other signs came from. It was AWESOME!
All in all, it was an excellent day. My need to explore has been satisfied … for now.