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

12 Responses to 'south by southwest – part 1'

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  1. Wow, Bev, you had quite an adventure getting to Bisbee this time around. Ghouls and zombies! Burned forests! But you still found the beauty of the journey, the wildlife that unfailingly reminds us of the true undercurrent of life; and a reason to take the coast next time around.

    robin andrea

    7 Nov 11 at 9:26 pm

  2. robin – Yes, it is always an adventure getting here. Sometimes I wish I could just use a matter transporter, but I guess I’d miss out on a lot of interesting stuff along the way. I am thinking I’ll come down through California next year if all goes well, so I may just take you up on the hummus, baba ghanouj and pesto!

    John – Just about any trip will turn out to be an adventure if you let that happen. I try to keep a very open mind about what constitutes and adventure, as opposed to a misadventure. There is something fun about even such things as landing in a park on Hallowe’en camp-out weekend! (-:

    bev wigney

    7 Nov 11 at 10:40 pm

  3. Your trip was an adventure, indeed, Bev! Just reading this brief recount of your trip, I am getting even more excited about hitting the road. I would like to have been along on your trip to Bisbee!


    7 Nov 11 at 9:59 pm

  4. Bev, I’m so glad you’re safely in sunny Bisbee. And glad you didn’t experience that Oklahoma earthquake!

    We’ll all be looking forward to your observations and the magic you create in that unique, lovely environment.

    Scratch the pups behind the ears for me, please 🙂


    8 Nov 11 at 6:51 pm

  5. Cathy – I am glad to be here. It seemed like such a long drive this time. Most times I enjoy the trip so much, but not this time! Glad I didn’t encounter the earthquake. It’s been very busy almost since my arrival in Bisbee. There should be lots to write about and show. I will try to post as often as I can once I get a little more rested up. Yes, I will give these great dogs a scratch behind the ears. They are such troopers when it comes to traveling!


    8 Nov 11 at 9:10 pm

  6. Hi Bev

    Good to hear that you and the gang made it to Bisbee. I really enjoyed the pictures of the bison and the longhorn. I love seeing the Western landscape. You comments about the
    prairie dogs reminded me of the time my wife and I feed a begging ground squirrel some apple since we knew suger and salt were not good fot them. It did eat the apple but there was a lot of belching between bites.

    All the best.


    9 Nov 11 at 10:44 pm

  7. Hi Bev,

    You are so right about just letting the adventure happen 🙂
    The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, so I find success in living is better accomplished by sailing with the natural course of things, rather than trying to power against it. That attitude got the outside of the house finished on Nicol Island, and got us back to Ottawa two days before the snow hit Lake Superior country. Next time I’ll pay better attention to my body, and take 3 days to drive back instead of two. At my age 500 km a day is a reasonable drive, going 750 km is pushing too hard. Good to hear you are safely back in Bisbee. So what are you anticipating doing in the sunny southwest while we are cutting firewood, stoking the stove, and shovelling snow this winter?

    Jim Poushinsky

    10 Nov 11 at 10:34 pm

  8. Guy – Thanks! The western landscapes feel so different to me. When I am crossing the country in the autumn, I can’t wait to see them, but the reverse is true on my way home in the spring!

    Jim – When I am doing a trip at a more relaxed pace, I do prefer to drive shorter distances. I tend to do that more on my west and then south route, although I have been known to drive 1,000 km in a day on occasion (never the best strategy though). Shorter hops are definitely much easier on the body, and on the dogs too. Good to hear that the exterior of the house is finished now!
    this winter, I will probably do a lot of art, writing and music. This is my time to rest and socialize a bit. Soon enough I wikk be back to working on the big old house in Nova Scotia!


    11 Nov 11 at 3:19 pm

  9. Bev, it makes me happy to think you are safe and sound (and warmer) in Arizona for the winter. I loved the photo of Sabrina, and the bison are just gorgeous. They’re impressive beasts of the first order…

    Perhaps a longer, quieter and more meandering route west is better? I don’t do well on crowded routes either – they are far too stressful.


    11 Nov 11 at 6:25 pm

  10. Cate – I’m very glad to be down here and have already been out to several art and music events. Such a fun place to be in the winter. Just wish that my friends vould be here too! Nwpext year, I am quite sure I will do the longer route across Canada and then diwn through the west. Althoigh it is much further, I am able to take my time, do a lot more camping and sightseeing.I thought the short, fast route would be easier on the dogs, but I don’t think that is the case. They probably like the short hops of driving and longer camp-outs! Take care.


    11 Nov 11 at 9:28 pm

  11. hi bev! glad you made it back with no serious problems. i, too, prefer to travel the more scenic routes, tucked in the out-of-the way areas. your photos show you found some interesting points of interest along the way. i would love to see the prairie dogs! it will be fun to see what you are up to in your artistic endeavors this winter. looking forward to the posts and the photos. have fun in your warmer corner of the world over the winter! we are in the 30s (F) now at night and expecting snow next week when it will be a little colder. days will warm up into the 40s so the snow won’t hang around. hope sage is doing ok after the long drive. you guys have a good weekend!


    12 Nov 11 at 7:49 am

  12. Sky – The trip went quite smoothly, so it really wasn’t all that bad. It’s more a boredom and stress thing with me. The dogs have thibgs fairly comfortable when we travel – they can stretch out in the back of the van, so it is mostly me doing the grumbling at the end of a day of driving! I am already keeping quite busy with writing and some art projects here in Bisbee. I have a short post to make describing the rest of the trip and then it is into Bisbee life. There are quite a few photos and adventures to share and those should be coming up quite soon!


    12 Nov 11 at 4:01 pm

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