At the beginning of 2020, the first half of my year had several excursions on the books. I was going to Springfield, Missouri for a Route 66 conference in March, we were taking Mom to Disney World in April (her first time back since 1998), and I planned to finally see Wyoming as part of a week long road trip in May.
None of that happened. Mom passed away unexpectedly on March 12 and, on what feels like the same day, everything in Oklahoma started shutting down due to the coronavirus. Samantha and I still have jobs, thankfully, so we continued working and taking care of what needed to be done. By mid-June, we were feeling a bit ragged and took a week off. Re-opening of shuttered businesses was happening in the Midwest and things felt safe as long as we were responsible…so we decided to take a short one-night trip to Fort Worth, Texas. We wanted to pick up some furniture at IKEA and there was a state park nearby that I’ve wanted to visit for a while.
IKEA looked like it was going to be a total bust. We were not the only people that had the same idea, and combined with supply chain disruptions most of the items we drove down specifically to purchase were out of stock. Even our alternate options were unavailable. We ended up going to two stores in the greater Dallas area (wearing masks, being purposeful about social distancing) and were thankfully able to piece together enough to make the trip worth the effort. Of course, there’s also In-n-Out Burger as a reward (mustard grilled is where it’s at!) That night I’d booked us in a historic hotel in Fort Worth’s Stockyards District.
The district itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; the area’s prominence as a livestock market dates back to the 1870s. Today it’s an entertainment district that leans on the “Cowtown” image – bars, restaurants, and shops line the brick streets among historic markers and cowboy imagery. We checked into the Stockyards Hotel (est. 1907) and walked around a bit.
The streets were incredibly empty. Distant music drifted through the air, slipping out of open-door bars but finding no audience. You couldn’t tell if the few people you encountered on the sidewalks were bored employees or visitors. We ate at Riscky’s Steakhouse for dinner and were the only patrons for most of our meal. The entire staff was masked and doing their best to make the experience feel normal. The food helped; I had one of the best ribeye steaks I’ve ever eaten.
The next morning, we left early and made a stop nearby before leaving town. The Will Rogers Memorial Center was built in 1936 for the Texas centennial. It’s also the home of the original casting of ‘Riding into the Sunset,’ the statue of Rogers and his horse Soapsuds. Another casting sits in front of the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, OK. Amon G. Carter, the man behind the construction of it all, was a close friend of Rogers. The complex features the 209-foot-tall Pioneer Tower, a domed Coliseum, and an Auditorium. I love the Art Deco design and the colorful flourishes!
Satisfied, we headed to the town of Glen Rose — home of Dinosaur Valley State Park. It’s also the home of an amazing abandoned service station! Known as The Outlaw Station, this brick/stone/petrified wood structure was built in 1928. The area was a known moonshine hub during prohibition and local legend says this station was a prime contributor to that reputation. It has been abandoned for quite a few years now but the bones are still strong; it’s stunningly beautiful.
On to the dinosaurs!
Dinosaur Valley State Park is roughly 1500 acres along the Paluxy River. The riverbed features sets of tracks from two different dinosaurs: large, round tracks of Sauropods and smaller, three-toed tracks of Theropods. I wasn’t sure how clear the tracks would be as we wandered down to the river at one of the main track sites, but they were very easy to see in the rock. This was easily the most crowded place we visited on the trip; children were swimming and families were enjoying the warm weather. We still wore our masks though!
The main attraction that brought me to the park, however, wasn’t nearly as old. The visitor’s center has two colorful dinosaur models that were originally built by the Sinclair Oil Company for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City as a part of a larger Dinoland exhibit. After the fair, the menagerie made a tour around the country including a stint at Disneyland; afterwards, many of them found new homes. Rex and Bronto seem very much at home here in Dinosaur Valley.
On the way back home, we made a few quick stops. First was the Elm Fork Bridge over the Trinity River in Denton County, Texas. It was built in 1922 and accommodated two-way traffic, a rare feature in the area at the time. It was bypassed in 1990 and now serves as a pedestrian crossing as part of a larger trail network. There was a family eating lunch at one of the covered bench areas, but generally we had the place to ourselves.
Our last stop was at Glenn Goode’s Big People, a collection of fiberglass statues in Gainsville, TX. Glen was in the fiberglass repair business and loved the giant roadside attractions. There’s a Uniroyal Gal, two Big John statues, and a pair of Muffler Men. Although he passed away in 2015 his collection still stands…for now.
As of this writing, the coronavirus trends are going in the wrong direction again. It feels like we could shut everything down (again) any day now to help slow the spread. We are finally having Mom’s memorial on Saturday but we’re shortening the service and keeping it outdoors at the cemetery. Hopefully that’s enough to keep everyone safe.