Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Road Trip Adventure Across America - Part Seven

Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain
Where the wav-in wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain
Oklahoma ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin lazy circles in the sky
Lyrics to “Oklahoma” from the musical Oklahoma
By Rogers & Hammerstein

We left New Mexico in the rear view window as we entered the Texas panhandle only to cross over to Oklahoma. The topography along the highway from Capulin Volcano wasn’t that interesting as the prairie took hold.  We passed an old windmill, one that I had stopped to photograph upon my previous trip along this same bi-way, though at that time it was winter with a smattering of snow on the ground.  The lone windmill on the flat sparse landscape spoke much about this part of the country.

The only real town in New Mexico we passed was Clayton and it was fairly sparse.  Even though it was Monday it seemed like a ghost town.  I’m not sure if I saw a single person that wasn’t driving a car.  

Clayton, NM
I almost missed the Texas state line since there’s no town where you cross, just a grain elevator. The next town is Texline, which isn’t much of a town.  I did notice that as soon as you entered Texas that the land became cultivated and farmed.  The next biggest center was Dalhart many miles down the road and a typical small Texas town.  Hey, there’s the Dairy Queen.


We continued towards Amarillo where I was planning on stopping for dinner but when we turned south in Dumas I heard a five year-old exclaim that he had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t hold it.  Luckily, we were surrounded by places to pee and for dual purposes to eat.  I combined both needs by turning into the Pizza Hut.  Perfect for Avery – he could satisfy both immediate bodily functions with happiness and I could maybe get something other than burgers or pizza.

Unfortunately, this Pizza Hut did not have a buffet so we had to order off the menu.  Since we didn’t have a real lunch our stomachs thought we needed more to eat than we ought.  I got a medium pizza split half pepperoni half cheese for the kids but Olivia oooh and awww’d over the Buffalo wings and cheese bread.  I warned her she had to eat it all if ordered.  I chose to have pasta.  After drinking a whole glass of Sprite Olivia discovered she couldn’t eat all the wings or bread or pizza.  Told ya’ so!   At least the box of leftovers came in handy upon our late arrival into Lawton and as a in transit snack source.  Before we left the restaurant a bit of wisdom was elicited by my twelve year-old as she admitted she shouldn’t drink too much before eating her meal.  Sometimes they just have to learn it on their own.

Refreshed and ready for a nap (the kids, that is), we mounted the Honda and headed into Amarillo.  One wonders while driving the panhandle of Texas why anyone ever decided to stop and live here.  There is some interesting topography but it’s pretty much flat and desolate.  How a city like Amarillo grew here is perplexing but I’m sure ranching and farming has sustained the economy.  Interestingly, the largest still sustaining ranch in the area, the JA Ranch, was started by Charles Goodnight (see previous post).   

The Yellow Rose of Texas was also known as the helium capital of the world because it once had the biggest fields of helium.  I wonder if everyone spoke in a high voice and where did all that helium go?  You would think it would also be the balloon capital of the world, as well.  They had to change their old slogan, “Get high in Amarillo.”  It’s also home to the Cadillac Ranch – the row of old cars that stick out of the ground as prairie art.  It was on the itinerary but we were hurting for time and the sun was sinking so I nixed the stop, even though it was right off the interstate -maybe next time.

Cadillac Ranch

We stopped for gas before getting on I40 for only a few miles before exiting onto US287 towards Ft. Worth.  I was amazed at the low gas prices that continued to get less and less as we went east and east.  $3.32 a gallon, I believe I paid.  Take away the $3 and that’s what gas cost when I was a kid in New Jersey in the middle 60’s.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

The sun sunk into the west Texas horizon as we continued eastward.  Memphis (Texas) was our stopping off point as we turned towards Oklahoma.  We got on what was supposedly a state highway but really looked like a farm road though with a speed limit of 75mph, go figure.

Memphis, TX
As it got dark you couldn’t really see the landscape but I could tell there wasn’t much to see.  We snuck into Oklahoma under a moonlit night.  We drove through nothing towns until finally getting into Lawton late.  The dark U.S. Highway turned into a suburban type street lit by street lights and then a little more urban as houses turned into strip malls, fast food joints, drive-in banks and oil change places.   The road took us straight to the Quality Inn.  This time we couldn’t park right in front of our room but at least it was on the first floor and not too far from the car, so unloading bags wasn’t that difficult.  It was harder to get the kids to help unload.  The contents of the Pizza Hut box came in handy as it prevented a run to find an open fast food place.  The kids were tuckered out after climbing all over the volcano and driving most of the day.  It was hard to believe we started the day in Colorado Springs.  A good night’s rest and then it was a tour of Ft. Still…where Poppa trained…many, many years ago.

It was hard getting the kiddos up and out but we had to make the complimentary breakfast before it closed.  We made it in time  to enjoy a bagel, waffles and some dry cereal for Avery.  That rascal. 

I was retracing steps, since I had been at Ft. Sill many years ago for work, getting footage for a contractor training video.  The only thing I remembered was the old artillery that peppered the post’s grounds.  Two days earlier, after Avery spawned the idea to go see where his Poppa trained I emailed said Poppa about  the possibility of getting on the base.  There was speculation but he seemed to think we could get on by showing ID and  possibly car registration.   

Thomas Raymond Brooks in Vietnam
Come to find out that Ft. Sill is a tourist attraction and getting on is as easy as going to Six Flags, except you don’t have to pay $60 to get in. 

After going through the gate and getting waived through without stopping a couple of turns found us at the Field Artillery Museum, our first stop. In 1911, Ft. Sill became the home of the U.S. Field Artillery Center and School. 

Today, the U.S. Field Artillery Museum showcases the history of the cadets who have honed their artillery skills at Fort Sill over the course of a century. The museum had a tremendous historical display dating back to the Revolutionary War and up to present day.  Avery was in hog heaven with all the guns, artillery and other devices of war.  They were able to see the artillery that their Poppa worked with during the Vietnam War as well as uniforms and other paraphernalia.

Civil War era

World War II

Like what Poppa wore

Vietnam era guns

Vietnam era artillery

The museum also had a part of the World Trade Center that was destroyed on 911.  Olivia wanted to get her picture with it since she was born not too far from the towers six months before that fateful day.

Upon leaving we walked over to the large open space where every conceivable piece of artillery used by the American military and some foreign countries were on display – big and small.  We walked among them but the heat became an issue so we walked back to the car to move on.  

We then drove over to the old fort quadrangle, a National Landmark.  The old fort consisted of various buildings and housing surrounding a large courtyard.  There’s a historical museum and, what else, a gift shop.  We toured the museum and learned a lot about Ft. Sill’s place in shaping the American frontier, including the African Americans who were called Buffalo Soldiers.  

Buffalo Soldier
We learned that the famous Native American, Geronimo, was briefly incarcerated at Ft. Sill and then later worked with the Army and lived nearby.  His grave site was on the grounds that we would see later on.  The soldier docent told us about where to go see the guardhouse where Geronimo was held and other sites around the base.

But first a walk into the gift shop where I couldn’t get out without a little something for the kids and a beer stein with the Ft. Sill Field Artillery insignia on it as a gift for their Poppa. 

Next we walked along one of the barracks and then around to the guardhouse building.  The guardhouse was set up as a museum.  They did a very good job in recreating what it looked like back in the day.  There was even Disney-like animatronic soldiers talking about the life of soldiers on the prairie, and being alone with them was a little creepy.  Downstairs were the cells where they kept the prisoners and as they claim, Geronimo.  Olivia couldn’t get herself to go down the wooden stairs with Avery and I and decided to wait for us outside.  


Guardhouse jail cells
We then headed back to the car and saw a small video crew trying to interview what looked like a World War II veteran.  We were parked right across from them and though I’m a filmmaker and sympathetic to their plight, I had to get my kids into an air-conditioned car and on with our day.  Sorry guys, I’m starting my car and driving off.  You shouldn’t have picked a spot right across from the museum and gift shop.

We next tried to go to “the bluffs” where Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridon discovered the perfect spot to build a fort.  He was leading a campaign to halt Native American attacks on settlements in Texas and Kansas with the help of Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickock.  The soldier docent was nice enough to mark on a map where to go but even with that I got lost and started down a road that took us into the artillery practice range.  Since I didn’t want to be accidentally blown up we retreated and finally found the bluffs, which were a little underwhelming, to say the least.

Onward, we ventured to find the cemetery and Geronimo’s gravesite, which was past the golf course and in the middle of nothing.  It was Avery’s first time in a cemetery and as crazy as it seems, he was excited about it and began running through the rows of grave markers.  I had to teach them graveside etiquette – not nice walking on people’s graves.  A path took us right to Geronimo’s pyramid gravestone, as well as those of his wife and family.  

Geronimo's grave
That was it for our tour and we ventured back through the post and towards the interstate.  The kids were hungry so we drove back into Lawton and found the nearest McDonald’s – what else.  We wanted to get to Winnsboro in time for dinner so I told them we had to eat in the car.  We quickly got on I44 with a direct route to Wichita Falls, Texas where we would take US287 to Decatur and then pick up US380 through Denton, McKinney and then on to Greenville. 

Passing near Frisco I texted Johanna’s brother, Kevin, to see if his kids were back from Tennessee where they were visiting his wife Kim’s family but they were still away so a detour to their house wasn’t in the cards.  Once in Greenville we were an hour away from my sister’s house.  A quick jump onto I30 to Sulphur Springs and then on State Highway 11 took us straight into Winnsboro.

We arrived in time for dinner - as planned.  Everyone, including three dogs (down from four), three cats, a Grandma Helen, an Aunt Kim and Uncle Van and Cousin Molly, greeted the three of us.  It was nice to finally settle for a while and not be jumping in the car and traversing our fair nation.  Leg One was complete and a successful road trip, if I say myself.

(Next on A Road Trip Adventure Across America: Sleeping among boxes, the drama of drama camp and the Deer Run Experience)


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