Comanche Territory & Frontier Towns

When I have a road trip planned, it’s easier to wake up early.  Granted, I don’t usually leave at 5:00 AM, but on Sunday that is what I did.  I was attending a quarterly Oklahoma Route 66 Association meeting in Weatherford that afternoon and wanted to spend the morning exploring southwestern Oklahoma.  Since that was about four hours from Tulsa, I needed to get an early start.

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The drive itself was uneventful until I reached Lawton.  As I turned from south to west, the intermittent clouds became organized and darkened.  With a loud clap of thunder, the heavens opened on top of me with surprising fury.  I worried that the weather would have a great impact on my itinerary, but they ended as quick as they began.  I would encounter pop-up showers and storms throughout the day, but thankfully none of them forced me to end my trip early.  I did miss out on my first destination, though; the Quanah Parker Star House in Cache was down a dirt road which had transformed into a muddy bog.  I decided to save that for another trip.

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Though I didn’t see the ranch manor built by the last Comanche Chief, I did come across a Historic Marker on Hwy 62 that told his story.  Quanah Parker was not elected to that leadership position, interestingly…he was appointed by the federal government and acted as an emissary to the US legislature.  He died in 1911 and the title was changed to Chairman afterwards, which is why he’s known as the last chief.

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I turned south again on Hwy 183 and breezed through Frederick, which I first visited back in 2015; it hadn’t changed much.  None of the small towns I drove through seemed like they’d seen much action in many years.  In fact, the reason I got out of the car at the Texas border was to see a site that’s been abandoned for over twenty years.  The old Red River Bridge was built in 1939 & is actually in pretty good shape today, minus the trees growing through the concrete railing.  I only walked about halfway down before turning around; it’s over a mile long and is the longest historic bridge I know of in the state.  Most of it spans low grass-land; as I walked, I observed antelope and deer frolicking around the piers.

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My route took me through Texas for a few minutes, where I discovered a town named Oklaunion (joining an earlier find, Indiahoma, as a top odd-name town) and drove through downtown Vernon.  Vernon, TX is the biggest dead town I’ve ever seen.  A building had recently collapsed downtown and the square surrounding the courthouse was in rather sad shape.  There was an absolutely gorgeous service station nearby, though: the Robert L More Tire Company, which dates to the early 30s.  It’s a huge building and I couldn’t tell if it was still in use, though the old pumps outside told me probably not.

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By the time I crossed back into the Sooner State and snapped photos of the Elmer Post Office (probably a former bank & the only commercial building left in this tiny border ghost town), it was 10:30.  I tore into the bag of beef jerky I’d bought back in Davidson and devoured it as I admired the Wichita Mountains on the horizon to the north.  The terrain in southwest Oklahoma is unlike any other part of the state; the mountains (such as they are) look like piles of discarded rocks jutting up from the scrub brush.  Each community I drove through had a visible sense of local pride, none quite as strong as Tipton.  They are VERY proud of their local school sports team, I tell you.  The town is also the site of the hottest recorded temperature in the state (120F!)

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Snyder, OK had perhaps the greatest concentration of finds for the entire day.  Their main street had several old service stations, a variety of architectural styles, and an old truck with a bathtub in the back full of flowers..  Some businesses showed signs of life while others lacked walls and windows…but even the empty stores sported a little exterior decor.  I waved at the one car that drove by while I zipped around the commercial district with my camera.  The Franroy was missing the old marquee and most of the evidence that it was originally a theater; had it not been for the striking vertical name, I would’ve had no idea.

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Knowing I would need to head to Weatherford soon, I picked up the pace.  Although I told myself I wasn’t going to make any more stops, I couldn’t pass by Mountain View or Gotebo without taking a photo or two from the shoulder of the road.  I also stopped quickly in Carnegie to capture of the Liberty Theatre marquee, which still sported quite a bit of neon.  I’d love to see it at night some time!  Considering my detours, I was very happy to arrive at the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford with ten minutes to spare.

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The meeting went well and we had lots to discuss.  Catoosa is working on a wayfinding project to help Route 66 travelers see more of downtown Catoosa rather than passing by on the modern OK-66 alignment.  The Horse Creek Bridge in Afton will be replaced by ODOT soon, much to our dismay.  Our 2017 Trip Guides have been well-received and we talked about working to get them in more places for tourists to obtain them.  I talked about all the work we’re doing on the Tulsa Route 66 Commission.  By the time the meeting was adjourned, I had a page full of notes.  It was 4:00 PM by the time I hit the road home and was surprised at my sudden hunger.  I realized I hadn’t eaten anything except a pack of mini donuts at 5:00 AM and a small packet of beef jerky at 10:30.  I stopped at Tucker’s in OKC before taking the interstate home.  When I pulled into my driveway, I’d clocked over 400 miles and more than 12 hours of drive time.  It was an exhaustingly-good day of Okie exploration!

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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