Leaving Arkansas, I wasn’t sure if my pre-impressions of Oklahoma would hold up. As soon as we crossed the border I had to start singing “Oooooooo-klahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain! And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet, when the wind comes right behind the rain.”
I can vouch for the wind. The last two travel days we have had a steady 15 mph wind on or near our nose, reducing the mileage we’re getting when towing from our usual 15-16 mpg to about 12 (more on our diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee in a later post). The good news is that our Fastway E2 weight-distributing hitch is doing its job: we get a little buffeting, but no swaying.
There was no wheat – maybe further north or west in the state? What we saw were rolling hills with gnarly trees (mesquite?), alternating with grass prairies. The land seemed suitable for only grazing cattle, of which there was plenty. I am not a cattle expert, but they seemed to transition from Herefords to Longhorns as we got into Texas. And further west in Texas we saw fields of cotton – some recently harvested and compressed into gigantic cubes the size of semi-trailers – along with increasingly large stands of prickly pear cactus.
In Oklahoma we stayed two nights at Arrowhead State Park on Lake Eufaula near the town of Canadian, OK – just down the highway from my favorite Oklahoma place name: Bug Tussle OK.
We stayed in the newer part of the campsite that had full hookups, a real luxury at a state park. We had one slight misadventure: at night, under clear skies with no wind, the temperature dropped to 25 degrees (despite a forecast of 32). We woke up to no water pressure: the fresh water hose from the spigot to the trailer had frozen! The internal pipes of the trailer were fine, and after sunrise the temperature quickly warmed into the 40s, thawing the hose, but we learned a lesson – if near or below freezing temperatures are forecast, bring the hose inside! Our Lasko space heater got a workout in Oklahoma, and we love it. It saved us a lot of propane.
Speaking of propane, the energy industry definitely becomes prominent as you get into southern Oklahoma and then Texas. While defunct oil wells and rusty storage tanks litter the landscape, you definitely see evidence of the newest drilling technologies: plenty of oil field supply companies have sprung up along the roadside, providing tubing, hoses, welding, pumps and the systems that make “fracking” possible. If the oil price collapse has affected these businesses, the only evidence I saw was that trucks were in the parking lots instead of the oil fields. But it is likely that they are laying off thousands of people and not buying any new equipment.
In this area we have seen a few newer natural gas fueled power plants, which run cleaner than coal-burning plants. But as we drove into West Texas renewable energy started to take over. Hundreds of wind turbines were spinning furiously on either side of the highway. In a bizarre demonstration of the growth of this industry, three trucks carrying enormous wind turbine blades passed us at high speed, with the “Oversized Load” escorts trailing the back of the blades by what seemed like inches. Diesel-powered trucks carrying the energy-makers of the future – in West Texas, anyway.
Our first two nights in Texas we stayed at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. The campsites here are very private, screened in by mesquite trees. A hiking path runs along the lakeshore, accessible just a few steps from the back of every campsite. We took a few hikes and enjoyed watching the many birds and deer who make the park their home. Mineral Wells was once home to Fort Wolters, the Army’s primary helicopter training base during the Vietnam War. Now it’s an industrial park.
In Mineral Wells we stocked up at WalMart. They are an easy target, but we have become huge fans. Not only will most let you park overnight in their lot, they provide truly one-stop shopping, from housewares to hardware, groceries to clothing, and free Wifi at this one! When you are on the road in a remote place with limited choices, they are a godsend.
Our next stop where we’re currently encamped is Lake Colorado City State Park (probably so-named because of its proximity to the Colorado River – the one in Texas, not Colorado). While the winds outside are gusting to over 25 mph we’re enjoying the free, albeit slow, campground Wifi (also a luxury).
I don’t want to validate any Oklahoma vs. Texas stereotypes, but one vignette stands out for me in comparing the two states: checking into the Oklahoma campground, the park ranger recorded our information on a pad of two-part pressure-sensitive paper and provided little else; the Texas campgrounds had nice computers with big displays, a database to record our annual pass and track usage, a printer for our campsite registration stickers, and large, nicely printed maps of the campground and hiking trails. Different states, different resources.
Right now the campgrounds are pretty empty – it’s offseason (until we get to Arizona). But the people we’ve seen so far have been friendly and helpful. Getting a feel for how the local cultures change as you make your way slowly across the country is one of the big advantages of traveling by RV.