Archive for November, 2011

south by southwest – part two   17 comments

Posted at 9:18 pm in Uncategorized

Busy Corner gas bar in Hollis, Oklahoma

A few days ago, I wrote about the first part of my trip to Bisbee. The dogs and I stayed at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge for three nights then pushed on toward the southwest. I followed Route 62, through Altus and west to the Texas state line. Along that highway, I spotted lemon yellow crop duster planes flying back and forth over sections of cotton fields. The planes look small with long narrow wings that are squared off at the end. I figure they must be quite powerful for their size as they are carrying spray for the fields. Also, they turn slowly on such a small radius, that they would need a great deal of agility and power to be able to regain speed after practically coming to a standstill as they pivot to change direction.

Busy Corner gas bar in Hollis, Oklahoma

The commercial districts of quite a few of these towns don’t seem too lively, but there are many interesting store fronts and signboards to be seen. Quite a few towns have old gas stations that have been fixed up to look as the would have back in the 50s. The top two photos are of a gas bar called Busy Corner, located in Hollis, Oklahoma. I drove past and did a bit of a double-take as I thought, “Is this for real?”. After circling around and stopping for a better look, I realized that it was not a working gas station, but a museum of sorts, complete with a vintage tow truck. Click on all images for larger views.

Papa Reds sign in Hollis, Oklahoma

On the west side of town, I stopped to photograph the above Papa Reds hamburger joint sign. The building is now vacant, but still has a long menu board posted out front.

Once over the state line into Texas, I took Route 83 north through Shamrock to get back onto I-40. The town of Shamrock very much plays up the name on signage. Lots of shamrocks and leprechauns around town. Once again, there was another of these gas station museums – this time, a Conoco with a tower and shiny vintage autos (see below).

Once on the I-40, I drove on through to Albuquerque to stay at the home of friends. We did some catching up over dinner and then the dogs and I retired for our first night of *not* sleeping in the van after setting out on the trip. It was a very welcome change.

Early the next morning, we set out for Bisbee. From I-25, I turned off at Hatch to take Route 26 to Deming – a short cut of sorts. The town of Hatch bills itself as the Chili pepper capital of the world – or a similar designation. The chili pepper stands throughout town were loaded with garlands and wreaths of chilies of every shape and colour. The roofs of some of the buildings looked as though they had bright red tin, but on closer inspection, they were covered with a layer of drying chili peppers. The scent of peppers was quite detectable even from my moving van. I probably should have stopped to buy a chili wreath or two, but when you are trying to cover a lot of miles in one day, every stop wears you down just a little more. On the way to Deming, I noted many fields of chili peppers and the harvest in full swing.

Just west of Willcox, AZ, I turned off I-10 and took Route 191 south through the Sulphur Springs Valley. I have driven that highway many times during winter, but never in October. It looked so different from the arid landscape I have grown accustomed to over the past three winters. There were fields of tall grain corn drying, cotton fields with the cotton bolls looking almost ready for harvest, walnut and pecan plantations with the tree leaves still green, and vineyards that I’d never even noticed before. At Double Adobe, I turned west for the last few miles into Bisbee. Rolling into town and up to the temporary rental house that we are staying at for a few weeks before moving to the usual house, I felt such relief at being “home” for another winter.

Conoco gas station in Shamrock, Texas

Written by bev wigney on November 13th, 2011

south by southwest – part 1   12 comments

Posted at 7:21 pm in Uncategorized

A bison at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma

As happens so often, again it has been a long time since my last post – almost a month! During that time, I drove across the Midwest to the town of Bisbee, Arizona, where I will spend the winter. For those who have been following my blog, this is now my fourth winter here.

I chose the diagonal route across the states because it is quicker, requires the least amount of gas for the van, and gets me down into regions where there are open campgrounds. Also, there is less chance of encountering snowstorms or other bad weather. Of course, there is a cost to all of this, and it has to do with the difference in traffic and also the type of campgrounds which are available. In order to make good time and the shortest route, most of the driving is on very busy highways with not too much to see along the way. This is not my preferred way to travel. The volume of traffic is very heavy until crossing to the west side of the Mississippi River. Campgrounds tend to be more crowded. Campsites are small and everyone is crammed together. When I travel in the west, most campgrounds are fairly roomy and private. Also, I rarely stay at developed campgrounds. Instead, I look for dispersed primitive sites on BLM or Forest Services managed public lands. There is very little of that kind of camping opportunity east of the Mississippi.

A band of bison at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Our first night on the road proved to be a rather wild affair. I planned to camp at a state park in Pennsylvania that I’d tried on my way east in the spring. There had been almost no one there when I passed through last April. I was anticipating similar conditions. As I rolled up to the campground, I was taken aback by the brightly lit up entry gates and a crowd of people around the park office. What on earth could be going on? I parked the van and approached the office on foot. It soon became evident that this was a special Hallowe’en camp-out weekend! Of all the luck, I managed to stumble into the middle of one of the busiest nights of the year for the park. It was late and I was tired, so I paid for a site in the least busy part of the very busy campground. Sage just about went postal as I drove through the campground, past kids dressed up as little ghouls and zombies. They were screaming and rushing here and there around the van. When I got to our slot, I quickly backed the van into place, pulled down the blinds, and unfolded the big foil sunscreen across the inside of the windshield. Fortunately, we were ignored by the mass of kids who ran from campsite to campsite trick-or-treating. By the way, this was a couple of weekends before the official Hallowe’en, so not really a situation I could have anticipated.

Burnt forest on one side and unburnt on the other at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

The next night was somewhat better. At least there was no Hallowe’en party! When I was checking in at the office, I mentioned about the previous night’s experience. The woman who collected my campsite fee informed me that the next weekend, they would be having their big Hallowe’en bash. I felt some relief that I had managed to dodge the bullet this evening. I guess it is good to know about such things. In the spring, I run the gauntlet trying to avoid March Break events. This camping thing is not so simple as you might guess.

Crossing the midwest is best done as quickly as possible. I managed to race across Illinois and Missouri in just a couple of days. Taking a diagonal route, I headed for Oklahoma where I camped a few miles over the state line. The next day, I decided to drive on down to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, OK.

A Longhorn cow at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

I had stayed at the Refuge for a couple of nights in the springtime and wanted to return this autumn. Unfortunately, between last spring and now, there was a large wildfire that burnt up a fairly large part of the refuge. As I drove around the refuge, there were large swaths of grasslands and forest that were badly burnt up. Fire on grasslands is a natural enough part of the ecology, but it was still very sad to see the oaks burnt and fallen down. I’ve included a photo to illustrate how the forests or grasslands on one side of the paved roadway were often burnt black, while the other would be untouched as the roadway was employed as a firebreak.

Prairie dogs at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is probably best known for the bison that roam freely on the range lands within the park’s boundaries. There are also Longhorn cattle. I have included photos of both. There is also a large colony of Prairie Dogs which I visited late one afternoon.

Sabrina taking it easy under the shade of a picnic table at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Our stay at Wichita Mountains provided a much needed rest in a trip that, for me, was fairly stressful. I don’t really do well in crowded places – large cities, crowded freeways, busy gas stations and stores. By the time I got to Oklahoma, I was feeling like I could barely push on. I’m not sure I will do the diagonal route across the Midwest many more times. Although it takes much less time, to my senses, it feels like I have been on the road at least twice as long as on my usual meandering route across western Canada and down through the western states.

Written by bev wigney on November 7th, 2011