It has been nearly 6 months since we have seen GR2 and she is looking good. We dragged ourselves away from our delightful Grand kiddies and took the long haul to Kansas City via Sydney & Dallas. Unfortunately our flight arrived after the caves where we stored GR2 had closed for the night, so we were forced to stay in a hotel. Managed to get a cheap one through our timeshare. Close to the airport, free transfers & breakfast thrown in. But nothing quite beats being back in our own little Casa Rondonte or House on Wheels. Before we know it I have unpacked our bag (yes only one this time – no Isuzu parts) and John has got the batteries all connected. Off to the repair shop to pick up our reconditioned driveshaft before hitting the road. No plans to stay around here too long, we saw on the news last night that a twister hit across State and I have no real desire to photograph one.
After loading up with groceries in Topeka we hit the back roads. We are following a few of the scenic routes found on a local brochure. The first is The Native Stone Scenic Byway. Incredibly green – there has been lots of rain recently, and with stone walls, stone cottages etc – of course! Near the end of the day we stop at the dead old town of Eskridge to take a few photos & an old guy offers us a Kansas plate (as you know we have a huge collection of them attached to our vehicle – but only places we have been). It ends up as a tour of his old building & a suggestion of where to camp. So we stop by a cute lake for the night. After dinner we are treated to an amazing lightening display followed by a huge storm. In the morning we are surrounded by tree branches – fortunately none on our solar panels.
The next scenic byway is the Flint Hills. The first stop being the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve with its gorgeous old barn & mansion. Oh and tallgrass. It has never been ploughed as it is so rocky underneath. Would look amazing in autumn when it is 5ft tall. We just missed the bus trip through the prairie, but the ranger tells us there is another reserve south in Oklahoma that we can drive through and see the bison roaming free. So on we roll through little old towns that are all dying away. First Strong City & then Cottonwood Falls where we stop to look through the amazing old courthouse with a prison right behind the court room. Then the falls of course. Continue south through a huge storm with rain lashing down. By the time the clouds have rolled away we are passing a huge camping area at El Dorado Lake. There is space tonight, but it is fully booked over the upcoming long Memorial Day weekend. It is still a bit early so we continue on stopping at the lovely old town of Eureka before stopping for the night beside Old Town Lake near Sedan. Lovely & quiet, with a few deer running around.
This morning we leave Kansas & head in to Oklahoma “Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain….” We are looking for the Tall grass which we finally locate in the Osage Indian Reservation. Actually there are also a whole lot of oil wells – but that story comes later. First the Tall grass. And yes we can drive right through herds of bison, with their new babies, and lots of swaying tall grass. Finally we head out some back tracks on to the large town of Bartlesville – not on our plan, but there is a free petroleum museum there (Did you hear the word free – one of John’s favorite!!) This town is home of the huge Phillips Petroleum empire – now merged with Conolco. As we roll in we see heaps of oil wells then the massive plant. But first stop is the impressive Price Tower where we head to the top for views of town. Can’t resist staying for lunch. Then the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum, where we spend a few happy hours reading all the information – hopefully some has stuck in my head. By now it is too late to go to any more museums so it is simply a drive by of Phillips mansion & another rather gorgeous old house before heading out of town to the State Park conveniently located beside a lovely lake. Of course all the camp sites are full over the long weekend, so we ask a helpful ranger and he tells us a quiet spot to hide away.
Saturday morning is earmarked for the world famous Woolarac (Well Oklahoma famous anyway). This was Phillip’s private ranch, zoo & museum. Lovely grounds with quite a few animals, awesome museum with some amazing Indian pictures that John is not interested in, more oil memorabilia and the ranch house chook full of stuffed heads – rather grisly I thought – but apparently they had all died in his zoo!!
Again time to hit the road. Traffic is quiet for the long weekend, making it perfect to drive through the centre of cities. So we head through the art deco city of Tulsa – rather underwhelming, then the old town of Guthrie. After that we decide to simply bypass Oklahoma City and carry on our route. It is getting late so John checks his camping app. There is free camping at the casino near El Reno – so we head there. A row of spots with picnic tables, water & even electricity – all free. Wow. Naturally there are a few others there – and we are in time to head off to watch a local Indian dance competion with them. Picture this: a huge packed room, in the centre a large circle of musicians beating drums. Around the perimeter chairs full of mainly Indian people, many in full costume & then crazy foot stomping’ twirling dancers. And the costumes – less is never better – more, much more is best. After an hour or so our heads are aching & I am starving. We didn’t have time for dinner before we left.
The next morning we head off rather later than usual. Our destination today: Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Reserve. Hard to imagine mountains in Oklahoma – but there is. As we drive we can see them looming. But first we stop at the little town of Medicine Park located on a lovely river. The roads are closed off for markets so we stop to explore & have tacos for lunch –yum. The people watching is pretty good too. We head up Mt Ross with heaps of Sunday drivers for views of the area, before heading in to the Reserve to explore. Lots of lakes & wildlife – especially bison & long horned cattle. Follow signs to Holy City thinking it will be rock formations – but it really is a church and Holy City – very appropriate on a Sunday. Finally find a spot beside Lake Rush for the night.
Woken early by fisherman – what is it about these guys! So head off early. Finish exploring the Reserve spotting lots more animals. Time to leave Oklahoma – but we haven’t got a number plate due to the holiday. Finally we find some abandoned cars that John can appropriate a plate from. Yay! Mission successful, we can enter Texas. Lots of long flat driving before we reach the city of Amarillo. Fortunately the Visitor Centre is open, despite it being Memorial Day, and we get a map and info on where to visit. First a drive through the old part of town – deserted & rather boring, then a scruffy tired stretch of Route 66 and finally the Cadillac Ranch – a crazy row of old Cadillac’s standing in the dirt that have been graffiti all over them. There are heaps of people there trying to add a few more layers of paint. Most of the cars are safe from the tourists as they are standing in mud. It is a rather pointless tourist attraction.
But finally on to our premier destination – Palo Duro State Park. We arrive at 4pm to queues of cars lined up to get in. Decide to book a camp spot inside & head on it. This place is touted as the most beautiful State Park in the USA (Remembering most of the famous parks are National ones) First stop is the look out and it truly is staggering. It has been likened to a dry Grand Canyon – and it certainly is impressive. Once we find our spot we go for a walk, but it is so hot we head back to our camp site to chill out for the rest of the day.
In the morning it is delightfully cool so we head out to explore. A short hike to a small canyon & then the premier hike here – to see the Lighthouse. We plan to just go to the lookout, but it is such a great hike we go the whole way. The last part is a bit of a scramble, but the rocks are truly impressive. Scrambling back down is not exactly my thing – but somehow I sliver down. Phew, it is pretty hot by the time we get back to GR2. Time to move on.
Back to Amarillo. I know we don’t usually back track, but we saw cheap diesel!! We did, but the real reason is to head back to see Jack Sissleman’s RV Museum (again free!!) that was closed yesterday. It is fascinating. And we get the cheap fuel & more food. Time to follow a few more flat roads to New Mexico. And yes we have our Texas plate courtesy of someone we met in the Canyon.
Lots of farmland and lots of humongous feed lots. I make the mistake of opening the window for a photo – phew they are smelly!! Almost enough to put you off ever eating beef again. Those poor cows squashed in such a miserable little area. It is nearly evening and we spy a sign saying Haystack Mountain Off Road 4x4 Park – so in we go to camp. A great find in this barren landscape. There is a group of guys with bikes racing around & having a BBQ. John scores a free beer, chat & a go at shooting before the wind picks up. All in all not a bad spot for the night.
Still lots of miles to go before we arrive at Big Bend National Park. First we head through the alien town of Roswell – not as interesting as it sounds. But we do get cheap diesel & fill up with food (gotta keep those calories up) Then on past even more oil wells & massive refineries. Finally we reach Carlsbad Canyon National Park after a lovely drive through Walnut Canyon. We opt to walk in rather than catch the elevator (we will do this to get out). Lots of people are staggering out, so we have chosen well. The walk in is perhaps more amazing than the actual caverns. The caves are 750ft below the ground and they are pretty impressive – but naturally my photos do not do them justice. Finally we are limestoned out and head out via the elevator. The ranger tells us where the BLM land is to free camp and we head there. A great spot to watch the lightning storms around us.
Out of New Mexico & on in to Texas. Again we get a number plate from a scrap yard full of Mexicans. But on to Texas and our next Park – Guadalupe Mountain National Park. Sadly all walks but one are closed due to forest fires in May – so one will have to do. Phew, my knees are a bit tired after yesterday’s slopes, so I am relieved. Time to head on to Big Bend.