Friday, May 27, 2011

Things Are Looking Up: Day 2 of the 2011 Wisconsin Road Trip

[Some of the photos taken on this trip are posted on line HERE]


Stratford, Texas, at sunrise
I was up early, like 5AM, wide awake, so I got dressed and went out to see the sights of Stratford, Texas, a small panhandle town that, honestly, has no sights. It didn't take long. At least the angle of the light gave mundane things a slight romantic cast, and the cool air was bracing. Rick was up a couple of hours later, and we loaded the car pretty quickly and headed off in search of coffee.

Before we found that, though, we reached Boise City, Oklahoma, where we witnessed the destruction wrought by the US Army Air Corps pilot who accidentally dropped three bombs on the town during a 1943 training mission. Luckily for the town, bombs used during training missions back then weren't live ordnance, so the destruction was mostly to the surface of the earth. One of the bombs has been enshrined as mute testimony to the town's will, in its crater in front of the Chamber of Commerce. The others are in the town's museum collection, which we didn't see.

After that, we drove out to the edge of town to see the city's welcome to visitors from the north. When it was built, these giant sauropods were called brontosaurs, so it probably had some cute diminutive name like Bessy the Bronto. Now they're called apatosaurs, and that just doesn't lend itself to charming iambic phrase. So now it's called The Dinosaur.

Following that, a quick tour of the town revealed that there was only one surviving eatery where we might get coffee and breakfast ... a Subway in the local truck stop. It could've been worse. Much worse. At least breakfast at Subway is a thing of known quality and composition, and the truck stop's coffee was pretty good, and voluminous.

From there we headed northeast, clipping the corner of Texas County (which was why we went that direction in the first place) and then up into unexplored Kansas. We paused briefly to admire the vastness of the grassland in the Cimarron River bottom, then continued north to Wallace, epicenter of a number of battles between the US cavalry and whichever tribe of Indians inhabited the area at the time. I thought it was Arapaho, but there was some Pawnee pottery in the local museum.

The big draw of that museum, though, is its collection of barbed-wire animal sculptures executed by local artisan Ernie Poe ("Ernest E. Poe, if you want to get formal. I don't.") His chef d'oeuvre is the near-life-sized buffalo that stands out front, seven hundred pounds of wire on a steel frame. 

In addition to the museum, the exhibits include a station of the old Butterfield Overland Despatch line that ran through the area, complete with bullet holes and trap door that led to the tunnels that once connected the station with its outlying defenses; a Union Pacific Railway station; and a building built to house the collection of the larger implements of frontier life -- a corn wagon, a chuckwagon, a sleigh, some other carts, a loom, a mock-up of a blacksmith shop, and the various animals that Ernie has built to pose with the vehicles. All in all, an entertaining half hour by the roadside.

Inside the museum were some photographs of people exploring an interesting geological formation called Monument Rocks, which we found out were just a small distance out of our planned way. So we drove over to Oakley, the next town, where we saw the monumental sculpture of Buffalo Bill Cody on a mound,




and the little Fick Museum (which consists of one fascinating fossil exhibit and piles of local craftwork)










and then we drove fourteen miles south to a dirt road that led, after 7 miles, to Monument Rocks, an impressive stand of chalk towers left behind when the land around them eroded away. We spent at least a good hour clambering around in these rocks.

After that slightly mystical experience (you always understand why the Indians thought of these places as "sacred"), we headed north toward Nebraska, stopping for dinner in Oberlin, Kansas, a pleasant Plains city given to variety in its garden plantings of irises.

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