The Anadarko Basin
We continue this adventure’s theme of recounting, without pictures, the magnificent storms that pass overnight. It’s understood, now, that camping in Oklahoma is not possible without managing rain, thunder, and hail between the hours of midnight and 6am. Such is the predictability, that I now fall asleep with everything tied, covered, and braced. I might as well have said “do your worst” while rain pattered on my rain tarp above- but that’s just asking for trouble. At some point in the night I shifted in my hammock, from laying on my one side to the other. Then there was a snapping sound. It was like a large branch being torn off a tree but in an instant. My ass hits the ground. Im groggy and panicked- a terrible combination, like waking up drunk with your house on fire. I wiggle out of the mess, start checking things in the darkness. Straps are tight, and aren’t accidentally tied to a dead tree. I fish around in my hammock for my headlamp, and my hand falls through it to the ground below.
That’ll do it.
Resigned, I took down my rainfly and laid it out on the ground. Using my hiking shoes for a pillow, I wrapped the tarp around me and fell back asleep on ground. It kinda sucked, but I was dry and able to sleep still.
Come morning, I pack my things and reluctantly start pedaling out of the refuge. A family of bison trot with me along the fence line that keeps two thirds of the park free of humans. There's an open gate every quarter mile, but one of the calfs has gotten stuck on the wrong side of the fence. They move fast, passing me in the wind. At the next opening, the family whole again, they cross my path into the open grass.
I say my goodbyes to the family.
I don’t remember what I said, something about how well they did before I arrived, and my hopes that they’ll flourish in my absence.
They’re wild animals. They don’t care about my farewell or my ego.
I love them.
Planted decades earlier, the trees were originally intended to be harvested for fence posts when they reached maturity. Since trees, you know, take a while to grow, the land they grew on became the protected refuge before that time ever came. What’s left is perfect, haunting rows of sweet smelling cedar.
Trails wander all around the grove, with sections torn up from bison and longhorn steer. None are here during my visit, but I I find fresh hoof prints in the soft, wet dirt.
Further down the road, I stop to see the Meers General Store. It’s hot and I want gatorade. A man in his 60s, sweeping the stairs, invites me in and asks about where I'm headed. Red Rock Canyon State Park, he knows it, but says it’s awful far. Disappointingly, the general store in now only a restaurant. He suggests I sit down and enjoy the best burger in Oklahoma. He’s enthusiastic, mentioning that the burger is seven inches wide, and I’ll have plenty of energy to make to the state park. They have beer and water, no gatorade. Politely, I decline and head back outside to continue on my way.
When you descend north out of the Wichita Mountains, you enter into a land of rolling, red hills known, geologically, as the Anadarko Basin. The basin is basically a 500ft thick layer of sandstone with a prairie on top. The basin has recently become important to oil drilling- technology finally figured out the problem of drilling through five hundred feet of sandstone. In poking around to find cool things to share about this area, everything but one scan of a geological pamplet 1996 talks purely about oil. Oklahoma loves oil right now. The sudden rise of frequent, intense earthquakes in the state and in northern Texas are just unfortunate side effects to an industry that will definitely be around forever.
Anyway, that pamphlet details that the sandstone’s deep rust color is a result of the 2% of iron oxide found in the rock. This area is also the US’s only domestic source of iodine. I happen to like it because the dirt roads that haven’t had fresh gravel poured yet are all a crazy, deep, rusty color. I happen to dislike it because those same roads also have long stretches of crazy, deep, rusty sand.
In my little notebook I bring along, I wrote a note that says "make a 'this is fine' joke about sand IE sand grains are fine but riding in it blows"
I am hilarious.
Dirt Roads Of Oklahoma
Pretty easy to motor along. Generally you will find a lot of farm equipment in use along the Long Greys.
They eat whatever you put on top of them. Asphalt, chipseal, gravel, tires, your hopes- all will slowly be consumed by the red dust.
There's a reason that guy's walking. Check the ground for gold fillings that have rattled out of other traveler's mouths. Good luck.
Often roads start paved and turn gravel, or vice versa. The latter of the happens around a bend and the paved strip takes me through a town I don’t catch the name of. Inside a gas station, I plow through a bag of peanuts and continue my training to be the next gatorade drinking champion. My skin and the sun screen I apply every hour are being pushed to their limits, but from here it’s another twenty miles (“uphill,” the cashier tells me. “And one steep hill in the middle of it all”) to the state park.
In Hinton, Oklahoma the ground gets so flat I'm convinced I'm back in Illinois. A huge storm cell is approaching fast from the southwest, sure to ruin any chance of a lovely sunset. It's fine, I've had plenty of good ones so far. Pioneer americana rests in every front lawn. I catch a suburban feel passing by kids with bmx bikes. The sky turns grey in the last mile before I reach the park entrance. The wind blows hard eastward smacking me in the side of the face one last time before I descend. There’s the beginnings of a drizzle while I pedal along the red canyon walls. Their sides are streaked with lichens, trees and shrubs hold tight to these walls to help them climb up, but their grasp tears into the soft stone causing cracks and fissures.
Under two broad trees I tie my rain tarp and make dinner. The rain comes fast and heavy, and I watch folks in the campground down within the canyon scramble to get their things off picnic tables and under tarps and shelters. The box canyon walls of this campground are covered with carved names. A stream runs down the rock behind me, and I use my torn hammock as a ground cloth in the soft, sandy soil. By nightfall the clouds have passed and I can see the stars.