Fill the Dust Bowl

On January 3, 2013 · 10 Comments

I posted an article last August about five marathons in five states in five days planned for March 2013. I didn’t intend to run, rather my goal was to convince my favorite runner to participate (in the half-marathon option). That would allow me to tag along to give moral support while pursuing various geo-oddity adventures. Later I announced that the plan was on, airline tickets had been booked, hotel rooms had been reserved, and training was underway.

Now I turn to the wise and all-knowing Twelve Mile Circle audience for a most difficult challenge, an opportunity to shape my Dust Bowl experience, and truly I will be traveling through the very heart of the 1930’s Dust Bowl territory. Readers have helped me design geo-adventures before, suggesting odd stopping point I never would have discovered on my own, and hopefully you can do the same again. The special problem with this corner of the nation is its vast emptiness: few people; few towns; few geographic variances. It’s a veritable Sea of Grass, as represented by the Comanche, Cimarron, Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands.

View Dust Bowl Destinations in a larger map

There are other constraints, most significantly the Dust Bowl Marathon Series race schedule, March 18-22, 2013.

  • March 18 – Dalhart, Texas
  • March 19 – Guymon, Oklahoma
  • March 20 – Ulysses, Kansas
  • March 21 – Lamar, Colorado
  • March 22 – Clayton, New Mexico

Races will take place each morning. Then the whole traveling circus will pack its bags and migrate to the next town a couple of hours away. I’ll need to pursue activities that correlate with the prescribed route each afternoon.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the financial impact that this roving band of runners will have upon these sparsely-settled plains, a one-day windfall for hotels and restaurants in each little town during a quiet time of the year. The tourism council in Ulysses, Kansas, is even planning a pasta dinner for the group. I’ll be sure to remember Mr. Burns’ earlier advice to me, to "be sure to pronounce Ulysses as ‘You-liss-us, never as ‘You-liss-eez’. The latter pronunciation peeves the locals." I’d hate cause an interstate incident and ruin the pasta dinner.

There may be little geographic variation, however there are numerous arbitrary human-drawn lines that create interesting situations. Visiting these spots appear to be completely feasible. There is a trifecta of tripoints, as an example, all with passable roads running in close proximity to them.

  • Colorado – Kansas – Oklahoma
  • Colorado – New Mexico – Oklahoma
  • New Mexico – Oklahoma – Texas

The Oklahoma highpoint on Black Mesa falls tantalizingly close to CONMOK, as an added bonus. I’m not sure whether an 8-mile roundtrip to the highpoint will be feasible given other physical activities so a decision will need to be made in real-time. I’d also like to take the self-guided auto tour of the Cimarron National Grassland. It promises a prairie dog town, historical remnants of the famous Santa Fe trail, and scenic views of the Cimarron River watershed.

This plan is similar to the off-the-cuff list I developed last August albeit with a few additions, all marked on the map I developed above. The primary difference today is that each point has been researched and validated.

The Dust Bowl was an ecological disaster of immense proportions, a setting for John Steinbeck’s "The Grapes of Wrath” and more recently a focus of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Public Broadcasting Service – PBS. I’d also like to explore some of those historical dimensions further on the ground and through several museums and heritage centers sprinkled throughout the territory.

Finally one can assume that I’ll consult Roadside America for other oddities and curiosities, albeit even that source doesn’t seem to have much available in my target area.

The weather may be the wildcard. I’m hoping we’re able to thread-the-needle between blizzard and thunderstorm season. Either would impact our ability to reach some of these features (not to mention the races). Some of these spots are found along dirt roads best navigated when dry. Late March historically brings decent weather in the Dust Bowl although late-Spring snowstorms are not out of the question. I’ll continue to think positive thoughts.

That’s what I’ve discovered so far. I know this is a tough one. Is there anything else along the route that shouldn’t be missed?

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