Dust Bowl Adventure, Part 1 (Getting There)

On March 19, 2013 · 6 Comments

It was a long time coming and I’d talked about it since last autumn. The Dust Bowl trip finally arrived. We flew to Denver, Colorado as our starting point. Certainly there were closer airports, however none of the others had non-stop flights or cheaper fares. I viewed it as an opportunity to capture some previously unvisited counties to add to my list. I’d rather take a road trip than sit in some distant hub airport waiting for a connecting flight to deliver us to a closer starting point, anyway. It probably didn’t take all that much longer factoring in airport delays.

Getting to Dalhart, Texas

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I selected an eastern route between Denver and Dalhart. I’ll take the slightly faster western route back to Denver later this week and rack-up an additional set of new counties on the return loop.

Bent County Colorado
Barely Bent County

This route took us directly towards Lamar, Colorado coming from the north. I’ll be back in Lamar later so I may have more to say about it in a future article. However, for now, we simply passed through.

I noticed that U.S. Route 287 met U.S. Route 50 at a "T" just outside of Lamar, and that if I jogged west instead of east I’d cross the boundary into Bent County after only a mile. It would be crazy to get so close to a new county and not touch it. The GPS ordered me to turn left, I turned right, and my wife’s only reaction was to ask, "new county?" Yup. I’ve veered-off of the logical path so many times previously that it doesn’t even phase her anymore. She didn’t even look up from her book.

Oklahoma Apatosaurus

We crossed the state border. Beautifully maintained Colorado highways gave way to Oklahoma roads in desperate need of repavement. We rattled our way into Boise City, the seat of government for that most distant of counties in Oklahoma’s panhandle. Dry rolling grasslands mixed with eroded buttes and mesas, much more reminiscent of the old West than a stereotypical impression of Oklahoma.

Cimmy the Dinosaur roamed the northern edge of Boise City outside of the Cimarron Heritage Center. Some call him a Brontosaurus although Apatosaurus is the current term of art for this sauropod. These creatures lumbered through the area during the Jurassic Period so a statue here isn’t simply a roadside attraction, it is a recognition of distant times, although I’m a sucker for a good roadside attraction too.

Dust Bowl Storm
That’s Not Rain

The sky grew ominous as we continued south on our final leg. Scattered pop-up showers were predicted. The wide-open terrain added to their ominous impact, clearly visible from tens of miles away as they washed across rolling hills. I turned-on the intermittent wipers occasionally to clear a few drops while somehow avoiding larger downpours on either side of us that extended to the horizon.

I spotted a solid line of thunderstorms right over Dalhart, Texas as we approached our final fifteen miles for the day. It looked like we’d lost our luck. We drove ever closer to the dark wall expecting sheets of rain at any moment. The wind howled. Tumbleweeds rolled across the roadway and I hit a couple of them. There were unavoidable. We finally crossed what should have been the squall line except no water fell. The storm — dark like heavy rain — was composed entirely of dust.

How the fine citizens of Dalhart managed to greet us with a dust storm just as we’d kicked-off our Dust Bowl adventure is still a mystery to me. Certainly this was nothing like the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930’s. This one lasted only a few minutes, replaced by a warming sun as the dust settled. I’d just watched Ken Burn’s PBS documentary on the subject a few days earlier though. Dust in my eyes, grit on my teeth, and history came alive if only for a moment.

Overshooting Guymon, Oklahoma

Dorothy House Land of Oz

It’s only an hour-or-so from Dalhart to Guymon and there didn’t seem to be anything memorable from a geo-oddity or cheezy Americana perspective. That left a lot of daylight to fill. Instead we drove through Guymon and kept on truckin’ up the road until reaching Liberal, Kansas. It’s the home of Dorothy House & Land of Oz. Dorothy’s House is an old Kansas farmhouse relocated to Liberal for that purpose. It bears a resemblance to the one used in the Wizard of Oz movie so it serves as a proxy for all of the state’s rustic homesteads. According to the website, the Governor of Kansas declared it to be the State’s official representation of the fictional Dorothy Gale home in 1981. Funny, I noticed a complete non sequitur like that while somehow overlooking the simple fact that the Land of Oz is closed on Mondays during the winter.

Fortunately Liberal is also the home of the Mid-America Air Museum as well as the library shaped like an open book (thank you Roadside Americana) so it all worked out in the end. We looped back to our hotel in Guymon later that afternoon, ready for the next race and another set of adventures.

The Dust Bowl Adventure articles:

On March 19, 2013 · 6 Comments

6 Responses to “Dust Bowl Adventure, Part 1 (Getting There)”

  1. hipsterdoofus says:

    Sadly, we do have some roads in Oklahoma in desperate need of repair. Fortunately they are slowly starting to catch up on the major interstates, but as you can imagine, the roads in the panhandle are pretty far down on the list.

    • U.S. Route 54 through Guymon the next day was actually really nice — four lanes and obviously well-maintained and recently repaved. I almost felt like retracting my earlier statement until I veered from that onto some of the other roads again. As you say, it looks like it will take awhile for the highway funds to flow-down this far away from Oklahoma City. I do enjoy the 65 mph speed limit even on the back roads, though.

  2. “It would be crazy to get so close to a new county and not touch it. The GPS ordered me to turn left, I turned right, and my wife’s only reaction was to ask, “new county?” Yup. I’ve veered-off of the logical path so many times previously that it doesn’t even phase her anymore. She didn’t even look up from her book.”

    A moment I know well. Not from the geo-geek stuff, which I follow from a distance, but from many other nerdy endeavors understood, accepted, and even appreciated by the woman who loves me. Good to hear you’re in a similar situation.

  3. Mike Lowe says:

    I try not to enter a new county and turn right around unless I have no choice. Sometimes there are few roads and going through a significant portion of a large county would add hours to a journey. South Texas and New Mexico have been that way for me.

    In these few cases as well as airport-only stops (Detroit, Philadelphia, Minneapolis 4 times), I take special care to drive in an extra mile or two. I’ll at least go to a rise or clearing so I can see a good portion of the county. In a plane I will look out the window. I enjoy that on any flight anyway.

    I drove through Cimarron county, OK in the middle of the night. After the trip I used Google Street View to see the countryside. I didn’t miss anything. I thought Houston was flat.

  4. Peter says:

    The name Liberal, Kansas is amusing, as I’m sure that politically it’s anything but.

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