“What would you think about taking a little road trip over to Roman Nose State Park?”
Before Tripp could even finish asking his question, my answer was an enthusiastic “YES!!”
These kinds of little mini-adventures (as Tripp likes to call them) have become sort of a ‘thing’ for us. Tripp picks a destination and I grab my camera gear…then with an overnight bag each, we head off down the highway to discover some of the unexpected magic of this beloved state of ours.
Here’s the deal…if you’re not up for a semi-lengthy blog post whereby I profess my love of small towns and nature walks and fried food, then I’ll spare you the details and just tell you that we took two days and drove through the northwestern corridor of our state (aka Red Carpet Country). But, if you have a few minutes, I would love to share with you some of the charm and goodness of this part of my state.
So, on Wednesday morning we set off on our road trip – as we planned our route this time, we both decided it would be fun to ditch the main interstate roads and, instead, travel by state highway. So at the Kellyville exit, we jumped off I-44 and hopped onto State Highway 33. Drumright, Cushing, Perkins, Langston…these were some of the small towns we passed through on our way to Guthrie where we stopped to have lunch.
Have I told you lately how much I love small towns.
To me there is something so nostalgic about seeing these old brick buildings – evidence of a different time…a reminder of my own small town roots.
A quick history of Guthrie – it is the county seat of Logan County but, perhaps most importantly, Guthrie has the honor of being Oklahoma’s first state capitol. Established in 1887, the town of Guthrie was born out of the Land Run of 1889. In the course of six hours, over 10,000 people settled in the area which was originally nothing more than a railroad station in Indian Territory. But within a few years Guthrie had become the “Queen of the Prairie” with many of the amenities of a cosmopolitan city.
In 1907, when Oklahoma was added to the union, Guthrie became the state capital. However in the early 1900’s, the nearby Oklahoma City had gained in its economic influence because of the major industries it had attracted. So in 1910 A special election was held and OKC was voted as the new state capital.
Tripp and I enjoyed our lunch at Katie’s Diner. After we ate we took a few minutes to walk along the sidewalk in this historic town (sidenote::totally wishing I had paid more attention in my 9th grade Oklahoma history class). We visited a couple of the antique shops and of course, I had to stop at the chocolate shop while Tripp was grabbing a chocolate malt at the drugstore across the street.
After our stop in Guthrie we were back on the road, heading west.
One of the things I love about this part of the state is the wide open prairie sky. Living in the city, we don’t get these kinds of views so this 180 degree horizon is really something special to see.
You might recall that last year we took a little road trip to look at some potential hunting land for Tripp. That was in early June – a month later the wheat has been all been harvested so the fields were mostly turned over.
Wheat is an important crop for Oklahoma – we rank fourth in the nation for wheat production. Also important to our economy is the energy industry. Oklahoma ranks third in the country for natural gas production and fifth in the country for crude oil. Plus Oklahoma has the second-highest number of actively drilling rigs in the country.
As we drove west through Kingfisher county, you could see the evidence of our state’s petroleum industry activity. Known as the STACK play, this part of the state is highly active with horizontal drilling rigs dotting the prairie. Just outside of the town of Kingfisher, Tripp pulled off down a county road and drove us closer to an actively drilling rig operated by Marathon. As someone who has been working in the oil & gas industry for over 20 years, it was really cool to see a rig in action!
We continued driving west along HWY 3 and made it to the town of Watonga, then we turned and drove north about five miles to our destination – Roman Nose State Park.
Named after a Cheyenne chief, Roman Nose is one of Oklahoma’s original state parks – one of seven parks built in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. These large-scale, conservation projects were completed by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) – a federal agency created by President Roosevelt in 1933. According to OKHISTORY.ORG:
The CCC had a dual purpose. Roosevelt also envisioned that the agency would provide necessary labor for various conservation projects designed to revitalize overworked agricultural land, reverse soil erosion, and implement reforestation. He was particularly enthused about using CCC labor, in conjunction with the National Park Service (NPS), to develop national and state parks that would be accessible to all Americans. Working together, the CCC and NPS developed parks and built structures that left a legacy of distinctive architecture, quality craftsmanship, and in each man, a lifeline to a more productive future. This was particularly true in Oklahoma where CCC men put into use unproductive land on which they built dams and lakes, planted trees and shrubs, and quarried stone to establish the state’s first park system.
As Tripp and I explored the park, we were sad to see how forlorn and forgotten this beautiful state park felt. We were one of just a few guests that night which surprised us – between the golf course, swimming pools, hiking trails, and lakes (to name just a few) there is so much to see and do in this hidden gem of a park.
At any rate, after we got checked into our little cabin, Tripp and I decided to take one of the scenic nature trails nearby. We followed the path that lead to a large pool fed by the ‘Big Spring’ and enjoyed the cooler temperatures underneath the canopy of deciduous trees and red cedars. While Tripp explored, I took photos….that’s what we do.
And then once we finished our nature walk, we went back to our cabin to clean up before heading out to eat dinner in Watonga.
So let me back up for a minute….
Earlier that afternoon, after we had checked-in and as we waited for our cabin to be ready, Tripp and I walked around the main lodge and looked at all of the historic photographs of the town of Watonga hanging on the wall. In one particular photo from the early 1900’s, Tripp noticed that the sign above one of the old buildings in town said ‘A. McBride’ which then reminded Tripp that one of his ancestors was from the town of Watonga. So after a quick call to his cousin (the family historian), he confirmed that the store in the photo was indeed owned by their great-great grandfather, Aaron McBride. Furthermore, Aaron and his wife, Almeda, we both buried in the Watonga cemetery just outside of downtown.
So later that evening, Tripp and I drove back into town. Armed with the information from his cousin, we were able to find the cemetery, and just south of the bellower in the center, we found the headstone for the McBrides.
Honestly, I wish I could express to you how amazing this was in the unexpected and happenstance way it all came together. And as Tripp stood at the gravestone of his great-great-grandparents, I could see in his face what a moving experience this was for him to be able to connect to this part of his heritage.
After our stop the cemetery, we followed the blacktop road that took us back into town. We tried to eat at the Noble House Restaurant but sadly it was living up to its reputation of having limited, irregular hours. So instead we decided to check out the Eagle’s Nest which was located across from the high school. The menu was a mix of typical, small-town diner fare, but also listed alongside the burgers and sandwiches was the local specialty, Lumpia, which is basically a Filipino version of a Chinese egg roll. Turns out the Eagle’s Nest is owned by a woman from the Philippines who loves sharing this delicious snack with the good folks of Watonga.
Man I just love discovering surprises like this in the small towns of Oklahoma.
Once we finished dinner, our next order of business was to find some ice cream. We were hoping to find a local place, but instead we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘Tripp’) settled for the local Sonic Drive-In (and for those of you keeping score at home…yes this was Tripp’s second frozen treat of the day). I was texting with Kelsey that evening and joked with her that we’d had nothing but fried food and ice cream all day so if she didn’t hear from us it was because we’d both had heart attacks.
Anyway, Tripp and I got back to the park around 8:00 p.m. which of course was primetime golden hour goodness for yours truly. Tripp drove us to the lake, and I got out and walked around and took pictures. Being outside in the evening by the water was just absolute heaven for me. Between the birds and the dragonflies and the frogs, the lake was in all its summer glory. I loved watching the summer sun bounce off the ripples in the water.
In that moment of bliss, I called Tripp over and asked him to take a photo of me taking a photo – I’m great at capturing just about every part of these little excursions…except myself. And thinking ahead to how I would document this trip in my photo album, I wanted to have a photo that captured how happy I was in that moment.
Here’s how the conversation went:
- Me – “Hey babe! Will you come over here and take a picture of me?”
- Tripp – “Sure.”
- Me (handing him my phone) – “OK…stand right here…hold my phone like this and place me in this corner on the screen.
- Tripp – “I got it.”
- Me – “Also, make sure I have good light on my hair. And also make sure to hold it steady.”
- Tripp – “I got it”
- Me – “And please try not to make me look fat.”
Sidenote…I am a real joy to live with. Also, micromanage much??
But here is Tripp’s shot…and I love it.
Anyway, we got back to our cabin right before dark. After a few minutes of texting with Kelsey (who happened to be on a big adventure of her own), Tripp and I got ready for bed and fell fast asleep to the hum of our window unit air-conditioner.
The next morning, we got up early, and after a quick cup of coffee for me, we got back on the road to our next destination, the Great Salt Plains State Park.
Traveling north on State Highway 8, we made our way through several small towns in Northwest Oklahoma, and after about an hour of driving we made a pitstop in the town of Helena. While Tripp pumped gas I was being super helpful and wandering along the railroad tracks next to the grain elevator. The summer sun was already shining hot and promising another scorcher of a day.
All during our road trip, Tripp and I didn’t listen to radio much. Instead we talked a lot about our shared love of Oklahoma, and small towns, and the hardworking folks that make their lives here. Because here’s the thing – it’s hard to make a living in this part of the state. With the exception of agriculture and petroleum, there is just so little opportunity. So Tripp and I have the utmost respect for those that are able to make it here. They exhibit the true spirit and character of the original settlers to this part of the state.
So after half-hour of driving, we finally made it to the Salt Plains – one of the most unique places in Oklahoma named for the layer of salt that was deposited from a prehistoric inland sea.
It’s an incredible sight to be seen, and although we didn’t take the time to do many of the sightseeing opportunities in the park, we did stop long enough to walk the trail to one of the lookouts in the park. Between the shallow lake, marshy and native grasses, and diverse wildlife it felt nothing like the wide-open prairie that we had been used to driving through.
Back on the road, we headed east on HWY 11 and drove another hour or so to Ponca City which is home to the Marland Mansion (the last stop on our little road trip). And since we had an hour or so to kill before the mansion tour was set to start, we decided to grab a bite at the local hot-spot, Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant.
This little gem of a joint is located inside the terminal of the Ponca City airport and is beloved by its regular customers. We were able to get seated right away and really enjoyed their authentic style of Mexican food. Getting to watch the planes land and take off was a fun bonus!
After lunch, we drove over to the Marland Mansion which was built at the height of the 1920’s oil boom by the famous Oklahoma oil baron, E.W. Marland. Known as the “Palace on the Prairie,” the Marland Mansion is one of the largest residences is this part of the country.
It was a fascinating tour – I especially enjoyed listening to the tour guide tell stories of the Marland family and the preservation efforts of this grand home.
Once we finished our tour, we made a quick stop for drinks then continued driving east. Our plan was to stop in Pawhuska to visit the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, but we ended up not stopping for a couple of reasons. The first was that there was a long line out the door waiting to get in (which I discovered today was only for the restaurant – we could have gone into the store). And secondly, which was probably more the case, Tripp and I were just hot and tired and ready to get home.
So we continued onto to State HWY 11 and started making our way south back towards Tulsa…the wide open prairie being gradually replaced by the rugged terrain and rocky bluffs of the Osage Hills. We finally pulled in our driveway around 6:00 Thursday evening…all told we travelled a little over 500 miles and visited dozens of small towns. We saw amazing natural elements and we talked to lots of really nice people.
It was awesome.
As I’ve had a chance to sort of reflect on our little road trip, one of the things that stands out to me is the diversity of Oklahoma’s landscape – mountains, lakes, prairies, forests, sand dunes…there is so much to see and do here. And it’s all within a few hours of where I live! But my guess is that this is true for you too! And I would just encourage you to get there and see all the wonder and beauty of your own state. I can’t recommend it enough! Check out your state parks or just pack an overnight bag and drive down some country roads until you feel like stopping. Talk to the people and eat the food and take pictures and walk in the woods. BREATH…RELAX…SMILE.
It is so, so good to getaway sometimes. And the good news is that doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to take a lot of time. But the rewards my friends…
So worth it.