Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Not Quite Rocky Mountain High, But Close...

In keeping with the tradition of taking family car trips on Spring Break, DH and I usually take a few days off and treat our offspring and ourselves to a change of scenery.

Last Spring Break, DH decided that we should drive to Dallas (via Lawton, OK - his hometown) to use the season passes to Six Flags that we purchased on January 1 in a moment of extreme weakness while killing time before the Cotton Bowl, in which our beloved OSU Cowboys were playing.

Perhaps it was the look of hunger in my eye that suggested the Dallas via Lawton route to DH, because he knows how dearly I love a Meersburger, and the Meers Store is just a stone's throw from Lawton. Whenever we are anywhere south and west of Oklahoma City, we stop in at Meers for sustenance. I will save discussion of Meers for another blog posting, because it is a religious experience and deserves its own post.

We set off on our journey on a Thursday and planned to spend the day at Mount Scott, a mountain just to the northwest of Lawton. I don't really know if it is a mountain so much as it is a very large hill. I think there are rules about how high one has to tower above sea level to be classified as a mountain, but those little details escape me at the moment. If you're a smartypants and already know that fun factoid, please post in the comments and enlighten the rest of us.

Mount Scott is a part of the Wichita Mountains (we're calling them mountains even if they may not be!) and the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. You can get to the top of the mountain by way of a three-mile paved road. Once at the top, you can literally see forever.

DH, whose father was stationed at Fort Sill when he was a child, remembers spending lots of time at Mount Scott and the Wildlife Refuge. Our own offspring say that the best part about Mount Scott is all the rocks that cover the mountain on all sides. These two monkeys can climb for hours on the rocks and never tire of it. They usually meet a fast friend or two and that makes keeping track of them a full-time job for DH and I. Really, a full-time job for me. DH is usually photographing.

We spent about two hours on top of Mount Scott before trying to go to Meers. The line stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Since the family was really hungry and I forgot snacks (see note below), we headed off in search of another place to eat, which we found in nearby Medicine Park.

Later that afternoon, we were on our way to Dallas to enjoy Six Flags on a beautiful 80 degree day, only to discover that a freak ice and snowstorm was headed our way on Saturday and we had to pack it up and head home. Remember that song, "Slip Sliding Away" by Paul Simon? I now understand the multiple layers of meaning in that song!

If you're going to go to Mount Scott, here are some handy hints and tips:

First, wear sunscreen. I know, I know. I sound like your mother. But, I speak from experience. The absolute worst sunburns in Dear Wife's lifetime have occurred on the summit of various mountains. Don't be fooled by the cool breeze that's wafting your neck. Without that sunscreen, you're going to be one crispy critter. Apply to the offspring as well, because you aren't going to be going anywhere for a long time.

Second, eat before you go or pack a picnic lunch or snacks. All that rock-climbing will definitely make you hungry. You will work off your Meersburger while climbing the rocks at Mount Scott. You can easily tailgate out of the back of your car in the parking area, so bring along some folding chairs, an ice chest, and foodstuffs of your choice. Or, just go get the Meersburger first. Trust me, you can't go wrong.

Third, dress in layers. Even in the summertime, there can be a hearty breeze. I never go without a jacket or some extra layers.

Fourth, comfortable shoes are a must. I nearly always wear tennis shoes or rubber-soled outdoor sandals. If one of the offspring is teetering too near an edge, you need to move with lightning-fast speed.

This is a wonderful car trip that virtually anyone in Oklahoma can make in a day. Stay tuned for more postings about other things to do in the area, including an homage to the culinary Mecca that is Meers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Eagle Has Landed

DH and I live within a mile of a beautiful lake near Claremore, Oklahoma. As a result, we share our humble homestead with a variety of God's creatures.

Skunks. Deer. Owls. Coyotes. Copperheads. We've got them all. I'm not in love with the copperheads and the skunks. It's like living in an episode of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom."

"Jim will now wrestle the anaconda..." If I was Jim, I would have told Marlin to kiss my rosy red one and wrestle the damn thing himself.

Earlier this year, DH learned from some good friends who live on the lake that some bald eagles had begun nesting there. Our lake has a large population of ducks and ducklings and it is well known that eagles like Duck a l'Orange.

This DH had to see for himself. Thus began a succession of trips down the street in search of the ultimate symbol of American freedom. The first few trips bore no fruit whatsoever. The eagles were being shy.

In the midst of the hunt, a blizzard visited Claremore with 20 inches of snow, and the lake froze solid. DH risked life and limb to get out of our driveway and down to the lake.

Bingo. DH found the eagle. The only problem was that DH was being watched carefully by the "eagle eye," so when DH got close enough to photograph the bird, it would fly off.

This was going to require some serious equipment. DH had recently acquired a new high-powered camera lens that would do the trick.

The following day, DH went back to the lake and with the correct elixir of camera equipment and dumb luck, he was able to get the shots you see here.

Check out the talons on that bird. He appears to be saying, "Here ducky, ducky."

There is only one word to describe these photographs, Dear Husband:


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hey, Hold My Beer...Watch This!

How many times have Dear Husband and I driven to Grand Lake's Langley/Disney area and traipsed across the dam on Highway 28, never knowing that a whole subculture teemed just below us? And, no, I am not speaking of the fish.

I have a really good friend I'll call Shannon, because her name really is Shannon. Actually, Shannon is my guardian angel, because she spiffs up my home every two weeks...and, because I allow her into my inner sanctum, she's family. We "get" each other. Kindred spirits, you might say.

Shannon is married to Joe, who is an awesome mechanic and car body repairman. He owns Collinsville Collision Center, and although this blog was never conceived as a commercial venture, I just have to give Joe a shout out, because he's an honest and hardworking guy, and Dear Husband and I love those kind of people.

One afternoon, while Shannon was mopping my amazingly sticky kitchen floor, Dear Husband was home changing his clothes after a meeting in our fair hamlet. He and Shannon got to talking about a heretofore unknown passion of hers: rock-climbing.

Rocks, jeeps, rednecks, beer - Shannon uttered DH's favorite four words. He just had to see for himself.

So, last Saturday, DH woke up early and did his chores and then he and Bubba-Bear (our son) set out for Disney. Oklahoma...not the place in Florida. They had so much fun, they decided to bring me and Bug (our daughter) back the next day, under the guise that I needed to blog about this experience.

Those who know me will attest to the fact that I am not the least bit outdoorsy. At DH's mention of the concept, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the idea of hanging out on an active spillway. But, seeing as Oklahoma is in a major drought and the chances were fairly low of the dam experiencing an epic fail while everything precious to me was beneath it, I consented to go.

First thing when we got there, we ran into Joe, who was fixing someone's rig. See what I mean? The guy is really, really nice.

Then, we headed down to Shannon and Joe's "Palace on Wheels," which was parked at Hogan's Off-Road, a very cool place owned by Russ Hogan. It's part RV-park (with 100 hook-ups), part off-road repair shop, part mercantile and hot dog stand. The weekend in question is called "Hogan's Big Meat Run" and signals the start of the rock-climbing, off-roading season.

A shout out to Russ as well...as he is super-nice and welcoming, particularly of blogging housewives with perfectly applied makeup who appear to have no business in his particular neck of the woods.

A fish out of water. That was me. And this lady. She's looking way too pretty for rock-climbing:

Shannon insisted on taking me for a ride in her very cool Jeep. It wasn't all souped up and banged up like some of the other rigs I saw hanging around that weekend. Shannon likes to have fun, but doesn't go out there with the intent of tearing her rig up. She said that Jeep stands for "just empty every pocket."

We climbed some very harmless looking rocks and then headed over to another area called Little Blue, where the rocks were much more intimidating. At one point, I felt that I was lying on my side in the Jeep, but it wasn't any more scary than the roller-coasters I've ridden with my crazy sister and cousin.

You come away from the experience with a renewed sense of awe for nature, having seen some beautiful landscape you wouldn't otherwise see if you stayed on the highway. And, you have a sense of wonder at what these vehicles and their drivers are able to do with technology and a little bit of ingenuity.

Yes, there are people out there who qualify for the moniker "redneck." One of the first rigs we watched climb was all tricked out, with Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" blasting out the speakers while it's driver held a beer in one hand, steering wheel in the other, and cigarette hanging from his lip. His neck was officially red.

But, he and his friends weren't hurting anybody. They were hanging out and having fun. And, isn't that what the weekend is all about? Our world would be a much nicer place if people would quit rushing around on the weekends and have more fun. Myself included.

Russ said that there were more than 3,000 people at the Big Meat Run on Saturday. Although they obviously had a good time, the trash was contained in the receptacles, campsites were cleaned up and left better than they were found, and nobody did anything disrespectful. It's a family atmosphere at Hogan's.

Will I run out and get myself a jeep? No. Will I go back to Hogan's with my friends Joe and Shannon? Definitely!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Only Railroad Tunnel in Oklahoma

When last we left you, DH and I had turned off of a state highway onto a dirt road somewhere in eastern Oklahoma near the Arkansas border. We were in search of the only railroad tunnel in the state of Oklahoma. A work colleague some years ago had told DH about this tunnel, but DH had never taken time out of his busy schedule to find it.

DH is an engineer and as such, has access to quad maps of the state of Oklahoma. He knew he’d found the tunnel on the aerial map when there was an inexplicable “gap” in the track. He then plugged the general location into a map on the Internet, accessible by the Internet connection on his iPhone.

Right before turning onto the dirt road, we had crossed the railroad track at grade. The railroad tracks were now on our left. Soon, we came to a washed out low-water crossing that good judgment told us not cross, but we did anyway. My job was to keep an eye on the railroad tracks while DH kept his eye on the iPhone to track how close we were.

Now, if all of this seems too serendipitous, too good to be true – starting with the idea for the blog, the search for the tunnel on the quad maps, the plugging in of the tunnel’s general location, and our movement towards the prize – let me assure you that it wasn’t. First of all, we were in a minivan, which is not the best choice for off-roading on dirt roads. Second, I was wearing a pair of Born flip-flops because DH hadn’t alerted me to the fact that we might be hiking the countryside like we used to when we were younger. Last – and most frustrating of all – was the fact that DH’s iPhone is connected to a cellular phone service (which shall remain nameless) that has extremely spotty coverage out in the tiddledy-sticks, which is where we were. This caused DH no small amount of upset and a few choice words that I shall not repeat here.

Eventually, we came to another at-grade crossing and the tracks began curving away to the north. We backed up and went down another dirt road which we thought would continue following the tracks, but ended in a fork in the road. The right-hand fork was someone’s home place. The left fork was more dirt road with grass growing up pretty high down the middle. It hadn’t been used in a while and the van was wholly unfit for the job.

DH decided to approach the problem from the other side, so we drove over to a county road, paved this time, and continued to the Arkansas state line. When we found the back road we were looking for, we turned, but hit a big dead-end in the form of a gated lake community with signs posted “Private” and “No Outlet.”

At this point, DH was ready to throw in the towel. He’d had enough.

But I was not finished. Not by a long shot. Something told me that if we would go back to the at-grade crossing where the tracks began to curve, DH could walk along the tracks until he came to the tunnel, which according to DH’s calculations, couldn’t be more than a half-mile away.

We went back. DH parked the van, grabbed his camera and got out. I watched him walk along the track until I couldn’t see him any longer. He was gone for at least 45 minutes. Long enough for me to read “O Magazine” and part of my book. The only bad part about the wait was the knowledge that the track was live and listening with supreme vigilance for the clackety-clacking of a train.

Eventually, I saw DH’s ball cap bobbing down the overgrown dirt road where the road had forked. And this is what he got:

Apparently, the tunnel was built in 1886 by the railroad. The rocks from which it is constructed are hand-cut and hand-stacked. DH said the tunnel is approximately 300 feet in length, but he didn’t want to go through to the other side without knowing what time the train runs.

Because the train track is live, DH and I don’t plan to reveal the exact location of the tunnel. We care about you, and we don’t want you to get hurt. Suffice it to say it’s out in the boondocks right on the border of the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line. And because of DH’s camera work, you get to enjoy it, too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How "An Oklahoma Love Affair" Was Born

This blog began in the most innocent of ways: with the snippet of an idea that at once seemed ludicrous and then, as the warmth of it oozed into the synapses, simultaneously brilliant.

Once upon a time, there was a man who just happened to be celebrating 15 years of marriage to his bride. They wanted to take a glorious trip to someplace exotic (Hawaii, perhaps) to celebrate what was an historic milestone in their life together. But, with nary a half-day of vacation to rub between the two of them, a weekend car trip to someplace close by and familiar was more within their reach.

Having safely deposited their two offspring at Grandma's house midday on a Saturday, and after feasting on homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob, they set out on their journey, just the two of them, the way they used to when they were young and unaffiliated.

With a hotel reservation mere hours away in Arkansas, they had a few miles to go and all day to get there. They had looked forward to these precious hours of uninterrupted conversation all week, so once they were safely ensconced within the confines of their now-quiet minivan, these two intrepid souls began talking about their future. Blame it on the chicken grease if you will, but this is how it went from there:

Dear Husband: "So, do you like what you are doing for a living?"

Dear Wife: "Yes. For now." [She, by the way, loves what she does for a living, but absolutely detests working within the confines of the soul-crushing legal system.]

Dear Husband: "Well, if you didn't do what you're doing now, what would you do?"

Dear Wife: "I'd write. And, of course, I would figure out a way to make some money while I was at it."

Dear Husband: "What would you write about?"

Dear Wife: "I don't know." [Silence ensues.]

Now, what hasn't been shared thus far is that on Dear Husband's 44th birthday, Dear Wife gave him a fancy Canon 40D SLR digital camera that can pick up a speck of dust on a flea's rump at 40 paces. Further, Dear Wife had been on Dear Husband's Facebook page mere days before and had noted Dear Husband's posting of photographs of Oklahoma sunsets and countless cloud formations, the likes of which she hadn't seen in some time. And, Dear Wife, seeking an appropriate gift for Dear Husband to mark the occasion of their wedded bliss, had gotten Dear Husband a gift certificate for a digital SLR photography class.

The conversation continued:

Dear Wife: "What if I wrote a blog about the things we love about Oklahoma, you know - sort of off-the-beaten path, homegrown stories - and you took the pictures, and maybe someday, somebody might want to make a coffee table book out of our collected posts? Or not. We'd have a lot of fun going around and collecting them. Kinda like the good old days."

Here, Dear Wife paused, allowing this crazy notion to sink in. Dear Husband did not allow his feelings on the subject to either encourage or discourage Dear Wife. But, they both kept thinking about it.

And then, the most unexpected and wonderful thing happened next. Dear Husband remembered that somewhere nearby was a spectacularly unique and wonderful man-made object that he'd wanted to find for probably about as long as he'd been married to Dear Wife.

He pulled off of the main highway, onto a state highway, and then, onto a little dirt road.

The hunt was on. And they were both "in."

"An Oklahoma Love Affair." Is it ludicrous or brilliant? You, Dear Reader, shall be the judge.

Tune in next for the story about what we found down that little dirt road.