In order to move at the clip we feel we need to, sometimes you have to pass on places you'd like to go. On this journey, Oklahoma City is one of those places. We enjoyed our visit there in 2003, especially the stunning Oklahoma City National Memorial. Since the FHMA tour will not pass through OKC this time around, here's an account of our 2003 visit.
FRED TAKES AMERICA: DAY 100 (Nov. 7, 2003)
- Where We Started: Oklahoma City, Okla.
- Where We Ended: Roswell, N.M.
- Miles Driven: 455 (27,750 overall).
- New States Covered: Texas.
- Current Tally: 42 states down, 6 to go.
Cool Site of the Day
We started the 100th day of this trip with a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The poignancy of this experience is difficult impossible to put into words, or communicate with pictures. Joan and I both felt this was one of the most memorable stops of the trip.
The outside portion of the memorial includes a reflecting pool, which is anchored by arches at both ends and a lone elm tree that survived the blast. But the stunning part resides on the site of the former Murrah Building: an open field with 168 empty chairs, representing each of the victims of the 1995 bombing. There are 19 smaller chairs to account for the children that died.
In addition to the memorial, there is an incredibly moving museum that we spent hours in. As you enter, the museum describes a typical, sleepy Oklahoma City morning, it slowly builds to the bombing itself -- which you hear caught on an audiotape of a meeting of the local water board -- and tells the stories of heroism and tragedy that marked that day. The museum also covers the investigation and arrest of the perpetrators, plus the history of the memorial itself. It closes with another affecting exhibit "A Shared Experience: 4.19.95 - 9.11.01," which discusses how the 9/11 attacks impacted those involved in the Oklahoma City bombing, and also honors the local victims of the 9/11 attacks. The whole experience was emotional and incredibly moving.
The Day's Other Highlights
-- After leaving Fred in the car for a long time while we were at the memorial, we felt bad and decided to give him some off-leash time at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Hinton, Okla. Now, according to park rules, we were not allowed to have him off his leash, but we decided we would find a secluded part of the park and let him run anyway. So we drive through the park, and spot an empty field right off the main road. Now, the park was not completely empty, but there were certainly not many people there. So as we park the car, we notice a red car doing a U-turn and heading back down the main road toward us. But, as we had just made the same U-turn, we were not concerned.
So we get out of the car and wander out into the field, and we notice the red car has now pulled into the same lot we're in and is parked. Then, two guys emerge from the car, and they are EXACTLY the kind of guys you don't want to see when you're in a secluded part of a secluded park: mid-20s, long hair, dressed like hoodlums, heavily tattooed and earinged, etc. So they start walking right toward us. As they are between us and our car, we start to fear we might be about to be mugged.
As they get closer, Joan and I take totally different tacts: She says a cheerful "hello" to them, and they mumble back a "hello." I am watching them closely while keeping one hand tucked into my jacket pocket in the hopes they might think I have something in there more dangerous than my wallet and a Bic pen. When they finally reach us, they keep moving past, but keep shooting glances back at us.
With these two guys no longer between us and our car, we make a steady -- but not panicky -- return to the car, and we get in and take off. As we leave, we see the two guys standing on the fringe of the woods at the far end of the field, still looking back at us.
So what was their intent? Joan and I both feel like it was probably 40 percent likely they were actually planning anything nefarious, and 60 percent likely they had some other reason for being there, i.e. getting high, closing a drug deal, etc.) There was 0 percent chance there were there for a book group meeting. Whatever their intent, we decided not to wait to find out.
-- Farther down I-40, we stopped the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Okla. Considered the best of many similar establishments, it was neat, with lots of old cars, road signs and other artifacts from the heyday of Route 66, i.e. "America's Mother Road." The road no longer exists in any formal way, having been bypassed by new interstates and bypasses, but is charted out -- turn-by-turn -- in many books, should you ever want to hit the whole thing.
-- We entered Texas for the first time on the trip in the early evening, entering the Panhandle near Shamrock. Two quick signs that we are truly in Texas: 1) on the radio, we hear traffic reports for high school football games; 2) about 20 miles into Texas, we see a red-and-blue glow way out in the distance. We wonder aloud whether this is an airport or a mall or maybe even a high school football stadium. The answer: it's a huge rest stop, backlit with the state colors and the lone star. It is true, apparently everything is bigger in Texas. In case we have any doubts about this, we later see a 150-foot-high cross mounted by the side of the road in Groom, Tex.
-- Sadly, our evening arrival into Texas costs us one stop on the tour of American kitsch, as it's too dark to see the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Tex. The site features 10 old Cadillacs half-buried in the dirt and marked up with all sorts of graffiti. But it is not lit, we discovered, so we can only see the shadows. We would feel bad about this, but having seen Carhenge in Nebraska, we feel like we are already experts in car art.
-- As we checked out of the Westin Oklahoma City, a curious Joan finally asks what exactly our upgrade had been, since our room there was pretty small, had no minibar and nothing else that would seem to suggest an upgrade. The answer: "Oh, didn't you see the Westin-branded water bottle in your room? That's the upgrade." Oh. Thanks. I think.
-- Texico, N.M. Yes, there is a Texaco there, which thereby makes it the Texico Texaco.
-- Lunch: Markie's Deli, Oklahoma City, Okla.: Already way behind schedule getting out of the city, we stop for a quick bite as this deli across the street from the Memorial, and it's terrific. Joan gets lettuce wraps, and I have a turkey sandwich and potato soup. (3.5 stars).
-- Dinner: Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Tex.: This restaurant is known nation-wide -- and in fact, was featured on A1 of The Washington Post a few months back -- for its 72-ounce steak challenge: if you can eat the entire steak, sides and dessert in one hour, it's free. Now, as all of you know from the FTA series, I am no shrinking violet when it comes to eating. But there was no way in hell I was gonna try this was a four-hour drive still ahead. The restaurant actually has an elevated platform and a clock for anyone who tries. Sadly, no one tried during our time there, probably because the restaurant was only half full because it was high school football night. Nonetheless, our puny steaks -- Joan's 7-ouncer and my 12-ouncer -- were excellent, and the place itself is full of charm, with the wandering musicians and the very Texas feel. (3.5 stars)
-- Best Western Sally Port Inn & Suites, Roswell, N.M.: We pulled into Roswell at about midnight -- after gaining an hour by entering Mountain time -- so we were pretty wiped out. But we got a great room here, a suite with two TVs that was totally clean. How we got upgraded to a suite is a story in itself. In her always exhaustive quest to make sure we get the best rate possible, Joan had been told that there was a manager's special, but that she would have to actually speak to hotel manager Kyle to get the rate. Sadly, she was unable to reach the elusive Kyle, and by the time she gave up, there were no regular king-size-bed rooms in the place. Joan, not thrilled by this development, then manages to get us a big suite for less than the regular king. She rules. (3 stars)
Travel Quote of the Day
"Many of the best travel writers are odd ducks."
-- Edward Hoaglund
Bonus Fred Photo!
Fred poses with the big ol' steer that guards the front of the Big Texan Steak Ranch. It took Fred a while to get used to the steer; as he barked at it for about 10 minutes before we could get this shot.