It's Windy in Oklahoma
It's the last day of the trip. During the night, I listened to wind cut through trees above the canyon walls. The temperature dropped. But when you've wrapped yourself in a tarp, the waterproof chrysalis is pretty warm. Last night's brief (for once) storm brought in a cold front, but the cool air feels good on my burnt skin.
Red Rock Canyon is a small site. The entire park is a mile and a half long, but the park existing inside a canyon gives a lovely degree of peacefulness. In that way, I'm not surprised so many names have been carved into the soft, fragile sandstone walls. But hey, the goal isn't to get all bummed out over the same stuff people have always done. This state park, despite it's fallbacks, is still an interesting little piece of Oklahoma history. That's because this canyon was once part of the California Road- a route the lead gold prospectors through the southwest. I can imagine, as a person riding a bike packed with supplies, this canyon must have been quite a relief from the flat, rough Oklahoma prairie for folks riding in wagons packed with supplies as well.
Oh come on.
The Rough Horsetail trail is a welcomed relief from the slightly overwhelming fragility of this park. The canyon, though at first feeling soft, delicate, and even temporary, is doing a lot of work for conservation. First, for the prehistoric plant which gives the trail its name: Horsetail.
Now, if you're sitting there saying "Wow! Grass that's old!!" you won't believe it, but it gets better. Horsetail is a living fossil, which grows without seeds or photosynthetic leaves, and that it's survived since the Paleozoic era. But as you walk through this dinosaur marsh, the trail opens into a grove of Caddo maple trees. You won't find maple trees this far south and west, as the Caddo maple is specifically adapted to survive the hot, dry landscape of western Oklahoma. Red Rock Canyon State Park is the only conservation area for this incredibly rare tree, and come autumn the canyon's red walls will be complimented by the brilliant colors of this tree's leaves.
Q: How do this site find out so much about the featured region's plants?
A: By reading the informational plaques, of course
The trail takes you to a box-head canyon- think of it as a smaller canyon within the canyon. Nearby a ladder has worn into the stone from foot traffic wanting to climb out of the canyon into the exposed sandstone landscape above. It's safe to say this is off trail, but the detour brings me into an alien landscape.
"I wish I had my bike up here," I think while looking at an amazing, natural snake run. There's a part of my brain that will always assess the terrain in front of me by how hard I could shred it. It's fun out here, but when you stare too long at a banked wall on the side of a police station, this Lines Disease can be problematic. I head back down the trail and return to my bike, and resist the urge to take off all its bags and carry it back up into this sandstone skatepark. Instead, I climb out of the state park and head back to a sea of farmland.
About the Wind
Riding westward across Oklahoma was amazing. Hella tailwinds. Super fun cruising on gravel roads. In the back of my mind I knew I would pay for it, and today was that day. Between Red Rock Canyon State Park and Oklahoma City was seventy miles of wind. Endless, soul-crushing wind blowing directly at me on roads with no trees and no turns. It was as if I'd been sent to test an incredibly not aerodynamic bike in a wind tunnel for ten hours.
And so dear reader, for this last day of this little Oklahoma adventure, imagine all accounts and experiences to be tainted with a miserable, constant, howling wind. Enjoy.
I would tell you that this section of Oklahoma had some of my favorite gravel of the trip, but you wouldn't be able to hear me over the wind...
Okay, fine, I'll stop. After all, I'm getting a spectacular show by all of the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers- Oklahoma's state bird. They don't like to stay still. Instead they would fly ahead of me (which is easy, because of how slow I'm going, because of the wind) then land nearby to watch me catch up, and fly ahead again- just to watch me catch up once more.
It wouldn't be fun if it all went to plan. Where a few days earlier I was able to sashay through oil fields on roads deemed acceptable by google maps, this five mile stretch of gravel was now filled with crops. I even debated, to up the suffering, hopping the fence to continue on the original route. But a farmer was busy in the adjacent field and probably would not enjoy my unexpected company. In a way, it's his loss. The sudden detour brings me back to pavement, riding up along side wind turbines. Their size is intimidating once up close, and the turbines are absolutely jamming out in this wind. "I can't wait to complain about this on the internet," I wrote later that day in my notes.
The last parts of an unnecessarily long day involve miles of rolling hills that follow the Canadian River. A man rolls up along side me in a dusty, rusting dodge truck, and suggests I take a left on the next road I come across. Curious, I ask him why, and he explains it's much flatter. I ask if that means there will be more traffic, to which he replies, "Well sure! But none of the idiots from in town take it." I tell him I prefer the quiet back roads, and with a jocular hurrah he exclaims "You and me both, chief!" then offers me an already open beer out the window of his truck. He then guns it after I decline the suds, while simultaneously saluting me. Where am I?
After his truck disappears in a cloud of dust on the horizon, I'm stalked by Oklahoma's state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, of which there's been no shortage on this adventure but I've never been in a good spot to get a close up.
The last stretch of gravel. It's bittersweet. It's also still windy as hell. A few hundred yards after the gravel ends, adjusting back to the ease of pavement, I see my first traffic light in five days.
On the edge of the city, my gravel road has turned into a four lane highway that I'm not too into biking on. But in a few miles I'm free of the sprawl thanks to some unnamed bike/pedestrian path back along the Canadian River. The tall trees growing along the path finally, finally, get me out of the wind. I'm so happy I could cry.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Downtown Oklahoma City on a Friday Night is surprisingly quiet. I run across all different types of folks on all different types of bikes. Returning back to my cosmopolitan ways, I find the hippest restaurant I can find: a boutique, small-batch corndog restaurant, that even has vegan corn dogs, located inside repurposed shipping containers. It's mildly insufferable, but I inhale four corndogs and a salad. In a way, eating four corn dogs before a big salad is the most triumphant end I could have expected.
Thank You For Reading
Sharing these stories is a lot of fun. You can keep 'em coming by picking up a couple trinkets from the store.
They're just little things, but they really do help keep everything around here going.