Often, when we travel, we do not stop very long in one place because we are trying to collect as many counties as possible and this means a lot of distance has to be covered in a short amount of time. This means that often all we see of a town is the courthouse and the travel center, gas station or restaurant. But is this really enough for those long 400-1,000 mile trip. We decided a couple of months ago, we were going to do more than just a quick stop at a gas station and call it good. There needed to be more movement and less spending of money; it would help our health days after a trip and save our wallet. But how were we going to do this without looking like those strange people who pile out of their vehicles and do yoga at every rest stop they come to? A plan needed to be made; even if it wasn’t a planned plan.
Scott doing the Pirate Rum Stretch at Petit Jean State ParkBecause we are driving across counties to learn about them, their people, and cultures, we felt we needed to start spending just a bit more time seeing what made each county special. This has caused us to find some pretty unique things in the places we visit. We do not really plan more than a destination and a basic route there. There really is not a plan as to where to stop for a driving break, we just allow Serendipity to do what she wants. Since we started doing this, we have found some of the most amazing places and events.
Standing in awe of a true national treasure.We had taken a planned trip to the Black Mesa State Park in the panhandle of Oklahoma, the most western park in the state. Since Scott could not get dark sky photos due to clouds, he wanted to go see the mountains in nearby New Mexico. Thinking this would be a day trip, we headed to Cimarron, New Mexico. To our surprise, there was a National Scenic Drive, a National Monument, a National Forest, and two State Parks just west in the mountains. We went and ended up taking the Enchanted Circle Drive finding a rather wonderful place to stop and stretch our legs. About three miles west of Taos was the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and we were going to drive across the bridge over the gorge. This is the second highest bridge in the United States and we just happened to need a break and it was the perfect spot to do so. We ended up staying overnight in Eagle Nest, which was a wonderful opportunity to rest in itself.
What a surprise to find a museum about the beginning of Wal-Mart in the Bentonville, Arkansas, town square.We visited Bentonville, Arkansas, recently to attend a viewing of photos for the Bedford Photography Contest entries and capture the Benton County Courthouse (by capture, I mean we took a photo). While we were there, after spending two hours in the SUV, we needed a break. Since the gallery for the photos was closed, we were not happy about the idea of spending two more hours headed home so we wandered about the quaint Bentonville downtown square. As we walked through the area, we found The Wal-Mart Museum! What a surprise! This place was free to the public, had all types of historical memorabilia, and a refreshing soda fountain type restaurant. We, of course, didn’t partake in the ice cream and such since we are on a budget and a diet, but it was there and we were so stunned to find this little gem to help us relax a bit before we headed back home.
A bit of history to help refresh us.Sunday as we sped along Missouri Highway 176, we were capturing another county courthouse when Scott noticed something about a Y Bridge Park. It intrigued us and, realizing we probably needed a short break from hours driving, we decided to see what it was all about. There, over the James River, was an old 1926 built bridge. Often, when a new highway is made, the old highway dies. Fortunately for this county seat Galena, Missouri, they took their Y-shaped bridge and turned it into a tourist stop. We took advantage and spent a good thirty minutes wandering along in, filming. I was even able to get a great close up of the cutest little caterpillar. It was one of my favorite stops so far.
I think this is a Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillars.
We love traveling and finding interesting things. Since we have decided to stop more often, we hope not only to help our bodies be less stressed after a trip but feed our minds as well. This will enable us to enjoy the long drives more and help us have more to share at the end of the adventure.
Thanks for traveling with us,
Ren and Scott
Every year for my birthday, we take a trip of some sort. In 2015 we hopped down to Houston where we visited four Texas State Parks. 2016 was a spur of the moment Texas History trip to Gonzales and Goilad, Texas. While in 2017, we visited the Ouachita National Forest are hitting many Arkansas State Parks. This year we went on a County Collecting trip and we stayed over night at the Hercules Glades Wilderness Fire Tower within the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. It was easy to convince Ren to camp because the weather was going to be beautiful and we would be using the hammocks, she just loves the hammocks. We had built hammock stands so the set up and break down was quick and easy; I think that is why she loves it so much.
This camping area is home to one of the many fire towers within the Mark Twain National Forest. These fire towers are actually stilled used today to help locate fires in the area. You are also able to rent some of the unmanned towers to stay in during the summers. For more information on this, please see https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/nine-questions-about-lookout-towers. We had no idea this was a possibility so we just camped here. The camping in this area is free and we had the area all to ourselves until about 2:00 AM and one hiker that was camped somewhere along the hiking trail.
We were extremely lucky to have such a beautiful, clear night so I was able to take some good night sky photos. The camera I use is a mirrorless Sony A6000; it is light and easy to use. My settings for these photos are ISO 8000, F-stop is 3.5, and I shoot for 15 seconds. I was extremely happy with the outcome of these photos.
Thanks so much for taking a look,
This has been the first week of school in our town and I have been picking up two of my GrandGeorges while their parents work. Even though this takes up about two hours of my day after I have picked each of them up and Scott from work, I am still able to get plenty of writing and website work done. However, I am finding it a bit stressful at times because I have added so many things to my day. There are the daily household chores that range from cooking, cleaning, and running the errands Scott isn’t able to do since he has a fulltime job. We have also decided to go full blast with http://crosscountytravelers.com website which is a full-time job in itself, add the travel, photography, social media, and blogging, I’m extremely busy. I knew this would be the case, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for it 100%. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited to have the opportunity and I am doing what I can to make sure I stay on top of everything.
Spending time with my favorite son.At the start of the day, I was worried that I would not be able to get a blog post out because my “to do” list was a mile long and getting longer by the minute. You see, on payday Fridays, if we aren’t traveling”, I have a full day of errands starting with laundry at the laundromat by 7:30 am to grocery shopping at five different stores to taking care of any other things that come up. Fridays are such busy days. Fortunately, I decided to spend some time with my son, which is extremely rare since he has a daughter and a fulltime job. We went out for lunch where I was able to introduce him to a Peanut Butter Burger and watched him enjoy every bite. Because both of us needed to do some big box grocery shopping, we went to Sam’s where I only lost him once. Ah, memories.
Snuggles with the fuzzy butt.I arrived home with just enough time to put groceries and laundry away, then have a little bit of fuzzy butt snuggle time. It was short, but I got it in there before I had to pick Scott up. Once I picked the husband up from work, it was a mad dash to complete a few odd errands left for us both. It was nice spending time together, but I rather enjoyed my time sitting in the SUV reading about Capulin Volcano National Monument. I find myself doing a bit here and there on the smartphone so I am not overwhelmed the next day.
Still in the car, but still being productive.Unfortunately, we are not on the road every day, but that is what makes the trips we do take very special. I long for the full-time travel and the days when we are going from county to county to meet new people and see amazing things that we can share with you. For us, this blogging is not about getting famous and rich; it is about making friends and sharing our lives; encouraging you all to get outside of your comfort zone and see the world around you one county at a time.
August 30, 2018
When we talk about wanting to share our travels with those who are not able to travel, at first that mostly meant my mother. She always wanted to travel, but because she started a family early there was no time. Later she was a foster parent and adopted three small children in her later years. There was really no time or money for travel other than occasional visits to see family. She told me once that she loved following our travels, with the photos and video she felt like she was there with us. With us living in Texas and her in Oklahoma, we didn’t see each other as often as we would have liked, but our travel blogging was a way to let her keep up with what we were doing. Ren and I talked about our travels with my parents one evening and they both encouraged us to pursue what made us happy, and not to put it off.
Last year we lost my mother in a car wreck. In September we took her ashes to Piggott, Arkansas, to be buried next to my Father’s family, where he will one day rest. I had not been back to Piggott since we moved away when I was twelve. Since she loved our travels so much, we decided that we would do something special on this trip. The burial was to be on Saturday, so we left a few days early, and set out to visit seven new state parks in seven different states. She would have been amused by us cramming in as much as we could.
We set out on Thursday morning and our first stop was a few hours up the road on Grand Lake. Twin Bridges State Park in northeastern Oklahoma. This is a very pretty area and was extremely peaceful when we were there in the middle of the week. Here we were able to see an old stone barn being used by the park to store their landscaping equipment. We had seen this type of structure in the area, but often those buildings are no longer in use. The highway 137 drives through the middle of the park separating two campgrounds leading down the hill to the boat ramp area. It was here we were able to see a squadron of pelicans on the Grand Lake on their yearly trek south.
After a brief detour to the OK – KS – MO Tri-State marker, we headed up into Kansas to visit Crowley Fishing Lake. Now we have been to a lot of parks on a lot of lakes, probably hundreds by now, and we always try to find something that makes each special. This particular park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back during the depression, as a way to put young men to work. That in itself is not unusual, so many state park systems got their start from the CCC, and we always enjoy seeing the CCC construction. It has a very distinctive style that we really like. This particular park had a monument to the CCC and an outdoor museum.
That was it for parks for the first day. Now we had to put some miles behind us as we headed across southern Missouri to our hotel in Sikeston in the SE corner of the state. We were driving through the northern Ozarks, and it was our first trip into Missouri. We found it just a beautiful as NW Arkansas and were making our plans to return. We would have six counties left to someday collect, but this was not one; however, by the time we reached the hotel, we had collected 15 counties in Missouri. The next day we would get more, but now it was time for sleep.
Friday morning we got up and headed the short drive down into the Missouri bootheel to Big Oak Tree State Park. Most of the old growth forest in this area was logged long ago, but they preserved this small patch. It contains some of the largest trees of various species in the state. The area is a bit swampy, but they built an elevated, metal walkway through the forest. The trees were awe-inspiring, though the forest was dense enough that it blocked any breeze, so it was muggy and buggy, but worth it. On the way out Ren tripped and hurt her ankle. She insisted we complete the trip, but it did limit our activities for the rest of the journey.
After we left Big Oak Tree we headed up the west side of the river to Cape Girardeau where we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois, where we gave into our inner bunny and briefly entered bunny-trail mode. We found a historical marker that led us to Thebes the original County seat of Alexander County. Abraham Lincoln once practiced law here and Dred Scott was held in the jail while awaiting trial. We then headed up through Jonesboro where we stopped at a park where one of the Lincoln – Douglas debates was held.
Exiting bunny-trail mode, we headed up to the town of Makanda and Giant City State Park. We immediately fell in love with this park. The trees, the creek running through the gorges, the beautiful drives. We were not able to take any of the hikes to see the parks best features, due to Ren’s ankle. But what we saw of the park we loved; we seem to be suckers for big rocks and massive elevation changes. After a quick picnic, we got back on the road. Due to our detours, we were behind schedule.
We headed south to the town of Cairo, the current county seat of Alexander County. Located at the southern tip of Illinois, on a narrow peninsula between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. This is where we were to cross the river into Kentucky. Cairo itself is not much of a tourist destination. Just south of town is Fort Defiance State Park, once it was a state park and before that, it was a fort during the Civil War. This is at the point where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi River and it was there we took a photo of us standing “in the confluence.” It was pretty, but we did not linger; this whole area did not feel like a place you wanted to be after dark.
We headed across the river and drove down the eastern side of the Mississippi headed toward Columbus Belmont State Park in Kentucky. This is the site of another Civil War battle and runs along the Mississippi River where the Confederates placed a large chain across to keep the Union at bat. By this time it was getting dark, and Ren was in extreme pain causing her to not leave the truck; this is definitely not like her, so it must have been really bad. We drove through the park, and I got out to take a few pictures from the bluff overlooking the river.
We continued South along the river and passed into Tennessee. By now it was fully dark and we had one more stop to make before heading to our hotel room in Piggott. Reelfoot State Park. We certainly did not do this park justice. It was dark and we were exhausted, but we did do a quick drive through to see what could be seen from the road. Grabbing the first state park sign we could, we took what we could; however, within a mile, we were able to find the actual state park sign. Unfortunately, Ren’s ankle was causing her too much pain to do anymore and we just took a photo of the sign without us in it.
Finished, we headed south to the nearest bridge across the river, crossing back into the Missouri bootheel before crossing the St Francis River and finally entering Arkansas. Piggott is tucked right up into the bootheel and we were quickly at our hotel. After visiting with the family awhile and getting Ren’s ankle up and iced, we headed to bed. Our total for the day, four parks, and Ren was sure Mom was cheering for us all the way.
Saturday was spent with family as we buried my Mother’s ashes, and spent time getting acquainted with family we hadn’t seen in many years. Ren and I made time to tour the places where I spent my childhood such as the elementary school I attended was closed and abandoned. The giant hill I used to race down on my bicycle, looked so tiny and hardly terrifying at all. We also took a few hours and visited Later a few of us drove over to Paragould where my Mother’s parents are buried.
Sunday we got up and hit the road as early as we could; everyone needed to get home. We headed back to Tulsa on highway 412, crossing Northern Arkansas. It is definitely not the fastest way home, but we’ve always thought the journey was something to savor; we seldom take the interstate unless we are trying to get to a specific place in a short amount of time. We dropped south to visit Davidsonville Historic State Park, our seventh and final state park in our seventh state. Located on the Black River, this park has a lot of history to explore. It was originally the country seat for this entire area of the state before being broken up into several other counties. We are suckers for the historical parks and spent more time here than we planned.
Leaving the park we continued west into the town of Hardy. My grandfather had been the pastor of the Methodist church there when I was very young, but I remember visiting them at this river town. Ren and I took a few minutes to see if we could find the old parsonage; I’m still not sure if we did or not. We spoke with someone who worked there, but she had no information she could share. Deciding it was time for lunch we found a very nice little park next to the Spring River, where we stopped for lunch. Ren tries very hard to make sure we always have plenty of food that we will eat when we travel. It has helped us to keep our expenses down. She had not let us down at this point either.
We continued west across Northern Arkansas, and I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed a drive more. This is some of the most beautiful country anywhere, and we’ve fallen in love with Arkansas. Ren thinks it is because it is our “home” and wants to live in the Arkansas Mountains, but when does she not what to live where we visit?
Eventually, we made it home, much later than we had planned, but we always do. It probably sounds strange to say that I really enjoyed the trip to bury my mother; it sounds strange to me too, but the burial was several weeks after the funeral, and my memories of that weekend are an odd jumble. The burial, visiting both of my grandparents’ graves, spending time with family, revisiting where I grew up, and all the wonderful places we visited, all just kind of blend together. Travel is how I cope with the stresses of life. It’s how I heal and how I nourish my spirit, and I am so lucky that I have a wonderful and amazing person to share all that. I returned from that trip feeling at peace and I know Mom would have appreciated and approved of it; she would have asked to see the pictures for sure.
August 30, 2018
When Ren and I travel, often we do not have a definite plan in mind. In many cases, we didn’t even plan that we were taking a trip, let alone plan out the trip. At some point during breakfast, one of us will ask what we want to do this weekend, and an hour later we will be hitting the road. Some of our best trips have started out this way much like our trip to Houston. Other times we plan things out in detail. We know when we are leaving, how far we will drive, where we are staying, what gas will cost, and what our budget will be for the trip. Both of us exhaustively research the area, to see what is available. Sometimes we even have a list of specific things that I want to photograph while we are there. Our Davis Mountain Trip is a great example of this. Then there are trips that start out with a very detailed plan, but we end up scrapping it all and winging it. Our latest trip was one of those.
I have been crazy about astronomy since I was a kid. I got into photography three years ago because I wanted to do astrophotography. Specifically, I wanted to take photos of the Milky Way. When I told Ren I wanted to get a camera and learn photography, she supported me. One of the things I love best about our marriage is how we support and encourage each other. I never imagined how much I would love photography, or how much it would change my outlook on life.
If you want to do astrophotography, one of the things you have to deal with is light pollution. You have to get where it is dark, far away from the city lights. Living in Fort Worth, that was not terribly difficult. I was about an hour and a half from reasonably dark skies, and three hours from very dark skies. The other thing you have to deal with is that you need to shoot when the moon is not in the sky, so the New Moon is ideal. Once we moved back to Tulsa, really dark skies were further away. Looking at the Light Pollution map on http://darksitefinder.com I saw that the darkest skies in Oklahoma were found at the far western end of the panhandle. In fact, these were as dark as any place in the continental U.S., and right there in the middle of these wonderfully dark skies was Black Mesa State Park. I wanted to go. The problem was that it was over seven and a half hours away; this would be a major trip. I had suggested it a few times, but Ren had not been enthusiastic because she was worried about the heat and the distance.
When I saw the August New Moon was going to fall on a weekend, and that it was going to fall during the middle of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I told Ren that I was going to want to be somewhere DARK that weekend. I was surprised when she suggested that we go to Black Mesa. It took me about half a second to agree. We started our planning. More accurately, Ren started planning. She presented me with three plans with a break down of costs, driving times, and the number of new counties we could get.
We figured out what we wanted to see while we were there, which counties we would visit, how much gas it was going to take, and even where we would buy our gas, as we were headed into areas where you could not count on gas stations being nearby when you ran low. We knew we were headed to the park. There were three tri-state markers we wanted to visit, (A tri-state marker is where three states meet. If it’s not in the middle of a river, there will usually be a marker of some kind.), and, since Ren loves geology as much as I love astronomy, we were going to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.
Taking a half-day Thursday off from work we hit the road as soon as I got off work. We drove straight to the park along Highway 412, with only a minor detour to visit Gloss Mountain State Park, which was right on the way. We arrived at camp just after dark and got our first surprise. For a park that brags about their dark skies, they had the place lit up like downtown. Street lights everywhere. We would have to get away from the park to get our stars. We set up our hammock stand camp for the first time in the dark, but they are very straightforward and it went quickly. It was cloudy that evening, with a small chance of rain Thursday and Friday, but we got lucky, while there were storms around us, they passed us by.
We spent Friday, as planned, exploring the park, visiting two of the three tri-state markers, and a couple of canyons in Colorado. Friday evening I found a location and set up to take pictures, but it was pretty cloudy and I didn’t get the dark skies I had anticipated.
Saturday the plan was to get the third tri-state marker and visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. We left camp and headed toward the Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico border. When we got close enough to civilization to get a cell phone signal, I checked the weather forecast. The clear skies that had been predicted, were looking more and more unlikely. I wasn’t going to get my stars, again. I wasn’t too upset about it because we were having a great trip, and if you do astronomy long, you know that this is just part of the hobby. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
As we headed into Clayton, New Mexico, on the way to the Volcano, I looked at the map and told Ren, “If I can’t have stars, I want mountains. Lets go to Taos.” She asked how far it was, and I told her it was just over two hours. I expected a little resistance to scrapping the plan she had worked so hard on, however, to my surprise, she agreed right away. At this point ,we knew nothing about Taos except that there were mountains. While Ren drove, I tried to figure out what we wanted to do when we got there. We aimed to stop at a place called Eagles Nest Lake State Park, and figure out where to go from there. While I looked over Google Maps, I saw a marker for Cimarron Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t clear what it was. We drove on toward the mountains, which were becoming more and more impressive the closer we got to them.
Reaching the town of Cimarron, we stopped at a tourist information booth to pick up some brochures and spoke with the attendant. I noticed a National Park Passport stamp and asked her what it was for. It turns out that Cimarron Canyon was a National Scenic, and Historic drive and we were driving right through it to get to Eagles Nest. We always try to take any Scenic Byway we pass. This was as beautiful as any with its huge cliffs and thick forest while the Cimarron River flowed the length of the canyon. I love Rivers, and the Cimarron is not just any river, it flows into Keystone lake just a few miles from where we live in Oklahoma where I have camped many times. It had an entirely different character here near it’s beginning. The middle section of the canyon was the state park, with lots of campsites along the road. We were in love with the place.
Reaching the town of Eagles Nest we had decided that we could see lots of interesting places by taking the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop, which includes Taos and goes through large areas of the Carson National Forest. The only issue was that it was nearly 3:00 pm and we were about three hours from camp if we skipped the volcano. I wasn’t willing to skip the volcano because I knew how much it meant to Ren.
I called my boss, asking if I could take an extra day of vacation, while Ren tried to find a reasonably priced hotel; turns out that reasonably priced and Taos, don’t really go together. After a bit of searching, we found a room right in Eagles Nest so we booked the room. While we chatted with the manager, he told us that if we were driving the Loop, we should be sure and drive over to the Gorge Bridge, and told us how to get there. We were set with a basic plan for the afternoon so we headed out on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop and it was well worth taking the extra day. There is something about the mountains that call to me, something that feels like home. Whether it’s the Davis Mountains in Texas, the Ozarks in Arkansas, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. I love the mountains. These were no exception. It was a gorgeous drive through mountains, forests, and quaint little towns. The highest pass we drove through was just over 9,800 feet.
There were several roadside parks that were part of the Carson National Forest when we stopped at one to stretch our legs a bit, we crossed a small stream flowing gently over the rocks. To my surprise, it was the Red River. We had lived on the Red River for five months when we were park hosting on Lake Texoma for Eisenhower State Park. We had even made a point of crossing every Red River bridge from Texas to Oklahoma, and here we were crossing it again in New Mexico; it was so small.
As we made our way around the loop we reached the intersection where we turned left to go to Taos, or right to go to the gorge bridge. We turned right. Wow! Just Wow!. On this trip, we had seen mesas, huge mountains, beautiful lakes, canyons, cliffs, forests, and scenic rivers, but this was by far the most majestic, and impressive thing that we saw. It was the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The Rio Grande. We have traveled extensively in Texas, spent the better part of three years trying to see as much of Texas as possible, yet this was our first time to see the Rio Grande. It was amazing. This is the seventh highest bridge in the US, 565 feet above the river. There is a parking area on either side, with a scenic overlook, and you can walk out on the bridge. It was truly awesome, in the best sense of the overused word.
Reluctantly, we left the gorge and headed into Taos. I won’t spend much time on Taos, as this is getting rather long enough already. We drove around for a few hours, loved the place. Ren wants to move there; of course, she says that about every place we visit. I guess it’s a good thing we plan to buy another RV someday so we can live wherever we visit..
I suggested that we visit the Taos Ski Valley before heading back to the hotel. This was the first place I got any real pushback from her. Not that she didn’t want to go, but she is frightened about driving down twisty, turny roads, especially since it was getting late in the day; however, me driving scares her even more because, in her words, she is a bad passenger. One of the things I admire most about Ren is that she does not let her fears get the better of her. It took her a few moments to work up her nerve, but she agreed.
The Hondo Canyon Road is the road that leads up the valley to the ski lodge. I know I’ve said this several times already, but it was a beautiful drive through the valley with huge cliffs and tall trees, and is a valley, there was, naturally, a stream named the Hondo, Rio. As is usual in this area, we were in the Carson National Forest and there were lots of scenic roadside campgrounds. We drove up to the lodge, but it was getting late, so we didn’t get out of the car, then headed through the valley again, stopping at a few of the parks.
It was time to be heading back to the hotel. The last leg of the drive was the twistiest and turniest road of the entire trip, and it was full dark, so we didn’t see most of it. When we got back to the hotel, Ren went to bed; she was exhausted from the last leg of the drive. The hotel manager told me earlier I could get a good view of the milky way from the deck on top of the hotel overlooking the lake. I went to take some pictures, but between the hotel and city lights, they were not the skies I had come seeking, but they weren’t bad.
The next morning we found the entire town socked in with fog. We were not eager to drive through the canyon again until the fog lifted, so we walked through town to find breakfast. What we found instead was there wasn’t anywhere in Eagles Nest to get breakfast at 8:00 on a Sunday Morning. Did I mention that Eagles Nest is tiny? Did I mention that Eagles Nest is at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet? We hadn’t really paid much attention to that before taking our walk, but as we were walking back the thinness of the air became apparent. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got back.
When the fog burned off we headed back through the valley to Cimarron then north to Raton, where we found breakfast. Then we took the Raton pass into Colorado where we visited Trinidad State Park, before heading to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. This is an extinct, cinder cone volcano, with the cone remarkably preserved. There is a visitors center and a road that wraps around the cone to a parking lot near the top. From there you can hike down into the vent, or around the rim. We intended to hike around the rim, but between the altitude, our exhaustion, and general lack of fitness we turned back well before we reached the top. It was still worth the trip, and even from the parking area near the top, it is an impressive view.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them.
In no time we were on the road. An hour and a half drive, and a minor crisis involving so many bugs hitting the windshield we could barely see out took us to Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Being Sunday night the place was empty and we found a nice site overlooking the lake, and slept under the stars, with a cool breeze to keep the bugs away.
The next morning we visited the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Walked through the visitors center, watched the informative movie and took a short hike, then got back on the road. We headed into Oklahoma to get those last two counties. On the way to Kiowa County, we were passing right by Quartz Mountain State Park. We couldn’t be this close without stopping. It is a very pretty park, though the lake was very low at the time. We spent about an hour here before heading to our next destination.
The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a place I had to hear about for a while but had not yet managed to visit. It was getting late and I was thinking we should just head home, but Ren knew how much I have wanted to go here and insisted that we take the time. I’m so glad I listen to her. I had been afraid that after seeing New Mexico, that Oklahoma would seem dull and unimpressive by comparison. I needn’t have worried. The mountains of Oklahoma may not be as tall as those of New Mexico, but they are no less beautiful. We ended up staying much longer than we intended and it was getting dark by the time we headed home.
Arriving home late, we were tired and sore, however, the trip had been more than we ever expected because we abandoned our plans and took a chance. Sometimes having a plan is important because it tells you the when, the where, and the how; but it often causes you to miss the unexpected treasures of traveling along the backroads. Our motto is “Get out, live life outside your box,” sometimes that means getting outside of your plans. Take a chance, do something unexpected, live your life to the fullest. I still want to go back to Black Mesa. I still want those dark skies. But I wouldn’t trade this trip for the one we planned.