A cold snap in Oklahoma changes my thinking

WHUFU Trip: August 2018 Lewis & Clark | 0

Monday (Nov 12) 

Loop A at Springhill is lovely

It rained pretty hard last night, and is quite cold and blustery this morning. I have good phone reception here, and the weather news is not good for the next few days. 2-3″ of snow are forecast for the Salt Plains area, highs in the low 30’s, lows at night in the teens. Yuck. Time to start researching motels near the Army Corp campground I am heading to tonight. I find a likely one in the town of Wagoner. I am relieved that I’ll be put of this mess tonight.

parking was tough when I got to Fort Smith Coffee Co
The conveniently named Fort Smith Coffee Co is where I want to drink my coffee this morning. It’s pretty much a straight shot across the breadth of Fort Smith on Rogers Avenue, but I want more! I leave the campground and get on Route 59, take the bridge that crosses the Arkansas River, dam and locks going north, follow 59 a few pleasant miles with the levee on my left, past the I-84 bridge to the old bridge, cross back and follow Business US 71 to my destination. The coffee shop is on it’s own little plot at a major intersection with fences all around, and I arrived at what must be Coffee Rush Hour around here, because every spot on al three sides was taken. I had to be creative in my parking.

There must be a school somewhere around here [University of Arkansas Fort Smith of course!], and they must be on a weird schedule, because the crowd here was kids at their laptops and on their phones and talking to each other trying to get their schedules straight. Ah college….

I retrace my path on Business 71 north back across the bridge with the idea of heading north to Prairie Grove battlefield, a place I enjoyed sixteen years ago. An hour plus later I get to a T intersection where the battlefield is seven miles east, but instead of turning that way … I  head west! It’s already 3-ish, and my motel is over an hour away, so I will get there around sunset if I go straight there. I am not good at time allocation under daylight savings time.

I am following Oklahoma 51 across the state, and it takes me straight through the town of Tahlequah. I Two years ago I got an awful meal at an awful place in US 62 at the south edge of town, so I thought poorly of the place, but the actual downtown is pretty cool. I drive to a restaurant downtown called The Branch. Since I have given up on camping, I might as well eat a nice meal somewhere if I can find one. I did not find it here. The restaurant was closed, but Tahlequah Creek was next door, and it was quite beautiful and interesting looking. The nice-looking building up the hill from the creek turned out to be the headquarters of the Cherokee Nation!

Sleepy Time Motel:  

This is a no frills place, but perfect for what I need tonight, which is a place to wait out a record-breaking cold snap.

tonight:

Clean, good wifi, tv line-up way better than the hotels I've stayed in, my van is six steps away.

Chicken restaurant across the parking lot.

Pretty sweet!

Eating in a restaurant in Tahlequah failed, but it was all for the good! I pressed on to my date with the Sleepy Time Motel in Wagoner. A few miles outside of Wagoner I crossed Fort Gibson Lake, and drove right past the Army Corps campground where I was going to stay before the bottom dropped out of the weather. It looked incredibly cold and bleak, and made me really happy to be staying inside tonight.

The Sleepy Time Motel turned put to be pretty awesome, the best value of all the inns I stayed one this trip. It takes me back to the ole travellin’ days with my Mom in the ole Chevrolet Impala, when every night we would park outside the door of our room in a little single-story motel on the side of the road.

As noted above, I have not eaten. A quick Yelp search shows that the bland-looking chicken place on the other side of the parking lot is as good as it’s gonna get in Wagoner. So I bundled up and trudged over there. I got the Monday night special – meatloaf with mashed potatoes and stewed tomatoes. I ate it on my own bed watching the Niners squander away a Monday Night Football game, and it was really quite good!

Temperature right now: 29°, 15 mph wind, “feels like 17°”.  [two weeks later, I happened to look at the Wagoner weather – high 50’s in the daytime, mid 30’s at night. I just caught some bad luck on the weather front].

Tuesday 

It could be worse, I could be driving this road two days ago!

Fucking cold all day. Highest temp I saw on my van dashboard was 34°. I’m gonna motel it again tonight.

Wagoner’s coffee place, the Koffee Kan, was way better than that name. Along with my coffee and cookie I got a Monte Cristo sandwich, which I have seen on menus, but can’t recall ever having. It hit my stomach about the same place breakfast would, which was a good thing!

Then drive all day. It is too fucking cold to enjoy outdoors that much, so I might as well stay in my comfy bus driver’s seat in my warm van and put some miles away. I am aiming for the Salt Plains. On a warmer day I would stay at the state park there, but that ain’t happening today.

Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge:  

Wonderful bird-watching place. There a short hike through the marshland to a blind.

tonight:

I came here at sunset last night, then came back again today.

The Sandhill Cranes are here. Last night the were returning home to roost fr the night by the hundreds. It was an unforgettable sight.

blackbirds at Salt Plains NWR, Sand Cranes in the distance

I get there with a few minutes of daylight left and decide to see what I can at the Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge. It was super cool! The rangers told me it’s Sandhill Crane season, and that I should check out the viewing blind a short walk off the auto tour.

finishing up the Salt Plains Auto Tour in the dark

It was spectacular! Maybe the single coolest, most memorable thing I’ve seen on this trip. It started with sporadic groups of 10-20 birds, They are cool looking even when flying in their V formations, with their long necks and long legs, quite a different silhouette from geese. But it’s when they wheel in for a landing that they are amazing. They stick out their legs and back up air with their wings, just like the Flying Crane martial arts pose! As I was leaving the real onslaught happened.

Ever larger flocks had been coming in from the north, but then a whole convoy came in from the east, meaning directly overhead! It looked like those images of the airplanes on D-Day. Hundreds of these very large birds, V after V all whooping and all pulling in for a landing on the lake. Unforgettable.

Cherokee Inn:  

A formerly deluxe roadside motel, just hanging on.

It has a steakhouse which looked nice, but was closed on Tuesday night.

tonight:

She recommended a local place with their former chef that was very good for dinner and breakfast.

The thing that made me excited about staying at this motel, paying the $80 was the cool looking steakhouse in the pictures on the website. I get there and it’s closed on Tuesday! But she recommended a place about 1/2 mile away owned by their previous cook called Face Stuffers (where DO they get these names?). It was an unlikely looking place, I don’t think I would’ve stopped if it weren’t recommended, but it was very good, probably a better deal than the steakhouse in that it’s cheaper with the same meat cooked the same way.

The Cherokee Motel cost $30 more, and at that still wasn’t as awesomely perfect as last night’s Sleepy Time Inn, but it was still pretty fun. Another Warriors game on the TV helped.

Wednesday 

One feature of motels is that you are in the world doing stuff shortly after 11 AM, because that’s when you have to leave the room. As it happened there were Warriors games on the last two nights, so I was able to watch them (legally!) on my laptop with my DISH subscription.

Salt Plains Lake

Back to Face Stuffers for breakfast, still real good. I am going to spend most of the day enjoying Salt Plains. I do a complete counter-clockwise loop around the lake and the parks and the actual salt plains and the wildlife refuge. I read my blog from last time, there is an auxiliary air force base across the road. It’s still there, but no loud jets today.

Salt Plains Dam fisherman's catwalk

The state park has cabins! If I had it to do over that would have been a way better place to spend the night than the Cherokee Inn. I have to loosen up my thinking a bit. Ordinarily I wouldn’t think of the cabins, but if I’m staying in a motel anyway …

The park had a nice primitive camping area next to the dam, and a full service campground campground across the river and downstream a bit. They both looked great, and if yesterday’s weather was today’s weather I would stayed at one.

Pass through Cherokee one more time, then drive! Unremarkable “Kansas south” kind of terrain. There is nothing much out here in the way of camping or services of any kind, but there is a little municipal campground called Doby Springs that I am heading for

Doby Springs Campground:  

A municipal park a couple of miles off the highway next to a golf course. Very pretty grove of trees and a pond. You're supposed to pay at the clubhouse, but there was nobody there.

tonight:

Just drive onto the grass and park somewhere. Every few hours a truck would drive by. Either somebody's job or their home is further on down the road.

Doby Springs

Turn off the highway at the sign for Doby Springs Golf Course. That is the last helpful sign you will see. Maps tells me to take a left then another left to curl around the course to a tee intersection where I soon determined that the clubhouse is to the left and the park/camping area is to the right. I did a drive by on the clubhouse but it was deserted. No one to pay, so back to the park to settle in for the night.

It’s a very pretty place. The leaves have all dropped here, and those huge bare-limbed black oaks silhouetted agains the bleak winter sky is a favorite image of mine. There is a little pond, with beautiful reflections and a nice red sunset, so my half hour of daylight in the little park was great. I blogged at the picnic table for as long as I could, but when the sun went down it got really cold really quickly.

Thursday 

love those leafless oak trees
again, glad I wasn't here two days ago

It got down into the 20’s last night and I burned my propane to near empty stay warm, but it was comfortable inside. The van warms quickly on a sunny day. What freaked me into reverting to #motellife two nights ago wasn’t really the cold. It was the rain and wind and overcast. My cold weather camping model depends on there being morning sun to pour in and raise the interior temp 10-15° while I get my AM beauty rest. But if it’s 31° and cloudy at 9 am, my heater will still be pounding away just to stay at 55°. Anyway, I have enough warm covers to keep me cozy, but my fingers get too cold to type … it just can’t be helped.

On the last trip I spent the night in Guymon and enjoyed liked a little coffee place there. So I am resolved to go there today … the only problem is that it’s 98 miles away! Out here on the endless prairie you get used to big distances, but however you rationalize it, that means morning coffee will be an hour-forty away. I was a low blood sugar mess by the time I got there, I really was. Shoulda ate a candy bar or something. When I got to the side street they are on the first building was deserted. I had a brief “of f–k, I drove 100 miles for a place that’s gone”. But there it was on the other side of the Jack in the Box, same as two years ago – woo!

Still very good. They have a $8 lox and bagel plate that is quite the bargain.

As mentioned above, I need to get propane today. Goggle results for “propane” really aren’t that helpful. Most of the alleged propane dealers are selling those home canisters you hook up to your deluxe BBQ, not the “hook up the nozzle and fill the tank” propane that I need. So I failed on the two propanes place I checked out in Guymon.

The last town I will see today is Boise City, so that’s where propane has gotta happen. Google said there’s a U-Haul there, and U-Hauls always (hah!) sell propane. When I navigated a block off the impressive main square of BC, the U-Haul turned out to be complete disreputable and besides they were closed.

Uh oh… Went to the only grocery store looking for dinner, and the friendly Indian kids doing the bagging sent me back to the eastern end of town, over the bridge and to the right, to the Coop. Totally not on google. When all your devices and connectivity let you down, just popping into a store and asking somebody old school-style can still work! Thanks kids!

Stopped at the DQ as I drove past again and got a salad for tonight. I liked the kid there also. I think getting propane put me in a good mood! The last twenty miles from Boise City to Felt were a straight shot southwest, which this time of year is straight into the setting sun, There was a surreal, strange haze that puzzled me. It turned out to be fertilizer.

Felt Picnic Area Campground:  

Sweet little one night stand freebie in the endless Oklahoma Panhandle. On the edge of the tiny town of Felt.

tonight:

A lucky bit of googling led me to this place. It is not on Allstays!

Apparently it's fertilizing time, because when I got here there was an overwhelming smell of manure. Been here 1/2 hour, I can hardly smell it!

This is a really simple place, just pick your spot in the parking lot and chill. There’s a couple of picnic tables and a pit toilet. As soon as I open the door I was hit with the strong smell of cow poop. Today was fertilizer day in this neighborhood … great. As mentioned above, a half hour later I couldn’t even smell it!

This was a very enjoyable place to spend the evening.