Natural Falls State Park in West Siloam Springs, OK is one beautiful campground, and not terribly pricey at $20 a night, or $18 for us geezers for 30 amps and water, with dump station access. We enjoyed our stay, but the spring thaw has come to Colorado and only a few more snowfalls are forecast: now is the time to travel on.
Most of Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle are decidedly un-scenic. Kat planned to cover 700 miles of highway and 5,000 feet of vertical elevation in just three days. The pull was even less fun than you might imagine but we got past it, and later we’ll show and tell you about incredibly scenic north central New Mexico.
The first drive covered half of Oklahoma’s width, passing small cities, flowering pastures of cud-chewing cattle, sprawling wind farms, wind-blown and rusting barns and silos. We dropped $20 on the Red State phenomenon that is tolls, most often on Interstate Highways. Our campsite was a free hookup with juice and water at Lucky Star Casino in El Reno, OK. That’s just outside OKC, and fortuitously the home of three Road Food recommended diners, each the purveyor a regional specialty, the Onion Burger.
Robert’s Diner has only 14 stools and a lunch counter: too crowded. Johnnie’s Grill is larger but looked a bit shop-worn from the street: another pass. Sid’s looked modern in a 1950’s kind of way, and there we ate. Onion burgers are a Depression era invention (a beef patty then cost a nickel, same as a ten pound sack of onions). They slice the onions incredibly thin, salt them to drive out moisture, and mash about half a cup into each beef patty, then fry it up on a hot steel grill. The onion caramelizes and lends its sweetness to that 80-20 blend of beef and fat. The result is a bit greasy, but very flavorful, and the locals are happy addicts.
We skipped the Washita Battlefield where in 1868 Custer’s command massacred Chief Black Kettle’s camp – warriors, women, ancient ones, and children. Custer went after Kettle even though that chief had long been an advocate of cooperation with the Wasichu. The street connecting our Cheyenne casino to Highway 81 is called Black Kettle Drive. The peace chief’s cooperation with the whites bought him a bullet in the back. But he is remembered, and today his people profit from the slot machines worshipped by Those Who Steal the Fat.
Our pace ruled out a visit to the Roger Miller Museum (Chug-a-Lug, Dang Me, King of the Road) on Route 66 in Erick, OK. Had I realized its address was 101 Sheb Wooley Drive we might have dropped in. Sheb was of course, author of the mid-50’s hit Purple People Eater, and later wrote the theme for Hee-Haw. He acted in Rawhide and The Outlaw Josey Wales with Eastwood, and played the principal who hired Gene Hackman to coach in Hoosiers. Both these fellows grew up in Erick.
As we drove further west the trees turned to scrub and the cities became towns. Broad meadows of pasture became muddy feed lots, yet on we drove. We made camp in Amarillo, then survived a 340 mile pull to Lake Cochiti, NM. Here we’ll rest and explore lovely old Santa Fe.