It’s good to be back home although I will always cherish my brief journey to the Dust Bowl territory of the lower Great Plains. I enjoyed and appreciated the beauty of the emptiness, the towns appearing fifteen miles distant first noticeable by their distinctive grain elevators, dodging and getting caught in clouds of dust, and tracking a history that runs deep, of Native Americans, of pioneers, of financial and ecological hardships during the Great Depression.
View Dust Bowl Destinations in a larger map
People work hard here, making an honest living with their backs. They are farmers, truck drivers, oil workers, builders, wind turbine cowboys, and laborers of all stripes. I’ve never seen so many weathered, dusty, so very obviously workaday pickup trucks anywhere else. One also gets a sense that this land hasn’t yet recovered from the recession of the last decade and that times were probably tough for many of the folks even before that happened. I’ve never met a friendlier, more hospitable group of people though.
It seemed to track closely with populations of the various towns on our circuit:
- Clayton, NM – population 2,980
- Ulysses, KS – population 6,161
- Dalhart, TX – population 7,930
- Lamar, CO – population 8,869
- Guymon, OK – population 11,442
Clayton and Ulysses practically rolled out the red carpet. Lamar and Guymon didn’t much notice our presence. Dalhart fell somewhere in the middle. I can imagine that a group dropping into town, occupying a bunch of hotel rooms on a random weekday in late winter, buying meals, and filling gas tanks would give a small town a nice little financial bump. Then our circus would head to the next small town and drop another windfall.
The Water is Down in Clayton Lake Reservoir
Every town, every hamlet, every place we wandered, people mentioned the drought. Examine the U.S. Drought Monitor and one will understand why. All of the towns we visited were considered "D4 Drought-Exceptional" or nearly that, and have been in a difficult situation for a long time. The conventional wisdom, the oft-repeated phrase in each town where we stopped was, "we’ve had less rain lately than the Dust Bowl years." I don’t know if that’s true or not although people living with the dry spell every day certainly believed it.
Those who settled here in the 1920’s and 1930’s were sometimes called "next year people" because they held a certain faith that conditions would improve, that rains would come, that life would get better if only they could last one more year. One person I spoke with suggested that the expression might have to be changed to "next decade people" because a single year didn’t seem like it would cut it anymore. We’re save from a new Dust Bowl only because of improved soil management techniques, center-pivot irrigation and millions of acres of restored grasslands.
I found I could track my travels via Google Analytics. I don’t get a lot of 12MC visitors from this very rural corner where Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico come together in such close proximity. I took a screenshot covering the five days we roamed the plains. Those are my dots. Maybe my recent travelogues will attract a few new visitors from these parts and I can begin to fill-in the map a little more.
Twitter seemed to work. I know that many of you subscribed to my new Twitter feed so you could follow along. I hope that you enjoyed watching the adventure unfold in near-real-time and getting a sneak peek at photos and stories that would be appear in more detail a day or two later on 12MC. Often I could send a tweet from literally the middle of nowhere because mobile phone coverage was surprisingly good. Every town had at least one cell tower and of course there weren’t any topographic features to deflect their signals; just flatness to the horizon.
Thanks for riding along.
The Dust Bowl Adventure articles:
- Part 1 – Getting There
- Part 2 – Sea of Grass
- Part 3 – Geo-Oddities Overflowing
- Part 4 – On the Road
- Part 5 – Epilogue