Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Across the plains: America’s Big Empty



As you may have inferred when reading our posts, Jonathan’s writing is a much more interesting read. Thus, I don’t know why I do all the writing, except maybe a stronger inner-compulsory obligation to alert family members of our doings. Regardless, Jonathan graciously volunteered me to write this post. You might have guessed this, as I would never call America’s high plains the “Big Empty.” Anyways, on to the story.

We took off from Tulsa on Thursday, November 8. I tell you, when we are trying to get out of a location that we have been camped for a while, it is like pulling teeth. It takes us at least a full day to get packed up. And, then, we often have several errands that we still have to do, e.g. grocery shopping, small parts shopping, mailing, etc. Always something more to do. This departure was no different. We had planned on leaving Wednesday, but between having a few more things to tie down and the axle swap taking longer than expected (as I expected ;) ), we decided to leave Thursday instead. Even then, it took us all morning to get out of Tulsa. We finally had Tulsa in the rearview about 1:30pm.

Our first destination was the free recreational area at Skipout Lake on the border of Oklahoma and Texas. It was a decent little area, but rather popular for the deer hunters. When I went to the restrooms to take care of business, I found one of these hunters occupying the co-ed half of the restroom (the other was men only). When he heard that there was a female on the premises, he quickly finished up his business, apologized, and ran to meet up with his comrades. I entered and found that he (or any of the men before him) had decided to pee all over the toilet, instead of into the pit. Sigh, I don’t understand that one. If you are a man only needing to pee, you might as well as go outside instead of peeing into a pit toilet. Admittedly, it was dark, maybe he didn’t have a light, and maybe he was in a hurry, but if I was male, I would have just gone outside.

After our rush to and from Alaska, I had wanted to travel a bit more slowly. Not only shorter drives, but sticking around in a single location for more than just one night. I had planned to do that at Skipout, perhaps take the kayak out on the lake for a bit, go for a run, etc. As is common in the high plains, though, the wind was blowing rather strongly. Thus, none of the activities I had planned would be pleasant. We decided to move on to the next destination: Lake Meredith NRA near Amarillo, TX.



Unfortunately, the weather hadn’t changed much here either; it was still windy as all get out. But since we arrived early in the day, we still got around to doing a few things. Jonathan worked on trying to get a coolant level control unit installed while I went running. Next day as windy as the last, we left again the next morning. 

This was the day that Jonathan might have been justified for this post’s title. I mean, just because there aren’t any trees throughout the plains except in residential areas, doesn’t mean it is empty. I don’t see lack of hills a bad thing either. It means you can see what is around you and opens up the sky. Yes, I am aware that most of America would disagree with me. Even those in the plains would not agree with me. I am not normal. I came to terms with that long ago. Now, back to the journey from Texas to New Mexico. This day was extremely windy, like semis were occasionally knocked over by the wind. And, with this crazy wind on the border was a dust storm. At some points it was so thick that you could barely see anything. I found it different from the dust storms of my youth in Kansas in that they were red dust. That made it particularly entertaining for me, but you might have guessed that Jonathan didn’t see it that way.



By the time we got to Santa Rosa Lake State Park, our stripes were tinged with red.



This trip, instead of just figuring it out as we went, I thought I would be proactive and plan out our trip. It took me the better part of the last two days in Tulsa, but I planned it out so that we would have a more ideal traveling schedule. The drives between destinations would be between 2 and 4 hours. The camping locations would be free, if at all possible. In those 2 days, I was only able to map out our route until the Mexico border, but I managed to make those goals happen. We would only have to pay for a campsite once in California. I was impressed with myself. Sadly, the best laid plans of mice and Jennifer often go astray. I had checked the weather in a few of the locations, and found them to be acceptable. But as we entered New Mexico, the weather turned colder.  I am sure the elevation didn’t help anything either.

After Santa Rosa, we camped in Cibola National Forest. There was already snow on the ground when we stopped. That should have been a warning, but if it stayed around freezing, it wouldn’t be an issue. This is where all the plans went awry. It dropped to 14°F that night, freezing all the water in our system. In fact, even the sink faucet was frozen, so I couldn’t stow it the next morning at 5:00am when we decided it was too cold and we need to evacuate. When Jonathan went outside to investigate the van for any damage caused by the extreme cold, the sliding door handle broke off. What a night!

When we had cell service again, I checked the weather at our next couple of stops and found them to be way too cold to stay. So there went the plan. At first, we were driving along and I was trying to determine where we could go to get to warmer temperatures and still find reasonable places to stay. I began to stress out about my lack of information (my phone was be wacky and not working properly) and the timeline to make a decision: Jonathan was still driving down the road and we need to decide if we should turn south to Phoenix or keep going on I-40?  We finally pulled over to rest a bit and discuss the options. Jonathan graciously made the decision that we would drive all day long (ending up being 10 hours driving) to Las Vegas, where temperatures finally warmed up a bit.


After the stress of the last few days, I think I went to sleep about 6:30pm that night and slept until about 7am. It was greatly needed. Hopefully warm weather will be in our future from here on out.


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