But who could resist belting out a few bars of "Oooook-la-homa" when seeing such bright yellow fields of canola (after so many months of just looking at desert brown)?
My April journey from the southwest to Chicago took me across the Sooner state on a couple of warm and sunny days-- carefully planned to avoid their notorious springtime thunderstorms and tornadoes. On the agenda: a visit to a National Wildlife Refuge and a re-visit to a town closely tied to my family history.
But first, I can't believe completely omitted my visit to an NWR in the Texas panhandle! Perhaps because it was such a bust....
I arrived to Buffalo Lake NWR at lunchtime one day hoping to hike along the lakeshore, do some birdwatching, and photograph wildlife. Unfortunately, they'd just done their spring controlled burns, so absolutely no vegetation (or wildlife) was visible for miles!
That must explain the empty parking lot!
That, and the fact that the lake was also bone dry!
Not sure if the dry lake bed was planned to coincide with the burn, or if it'd been caused by drought, but Buffalo Lake NWR was about the saddest looking refuge I'd ever seen!
I managed to spot only one other living creature-- a very panicked-looking Greater Roadrunner. Poor baby!
Beyond the boundaries of Buffalo Lake NWR, though, I did finally spot a few more creatures. Had to stop in the middle of the road to wait for, of all things, a pronghorn crossing!
The highlight of my Texas panhandle travels for sure!
So now, on to Oklahoma---
After leaving Amarillo, I zig-zagged my way to northwest Oklahoma to visit Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge near the small town of Cherokee. After my wonderfully surprising visit to Quivira NWR in central Kansas last year, I was hoping Salt Plains might be as equally good a place to see shorebirds and waterfowl since it's positioned a few hundred miles directly south of Quivira along the central flyway.
From my first sighting, Salt Plains NWR appeared to be quite aptly named!
I arrived at mid-day, certainly not the best time to view wildlife, but I walked the short trail to the overlook on the north end of the marsh anyway to see what I could see. Lots of little sandpipers as best I could tell. They were pretty far away, even with binoculars.
But the overlook provided an interesting vista-- such a vast salty marsh in the middle of the great agricultural plains!
I continued a few miles around to the east side of the marsh where headquarters was located, in addition to this inviting trail beneath the pine trees--
The Eagle Roost Trail led me past a few small ponds populated by painted turtles out sunning themselves, and singing northern cardinals hopping from branch to branch (both too quick for my camera).
As I walked a bit further, the trail brought me to an observation blind overlooking the marsh. Here, the birds were much larger and easier to identify:
A good sized flock of American Pelicans--
An American Avocet in flight--
and a heron out looking for a late lunch--
As I rounded the corner to walk past the last set of ponds, I finally got to see a few ducks (specifically, northern shovelers and blue winged teal). Guess they're not used to many hikers here during a weekday afternoon...
While Salt Plains didn't quite have the diversity of species that I saw at Quivira, it sure beat pitiful Buffalo Lake, and was most certainly a great cross-country driving break to reconnect with feathered friends and soak up some springtime sunshine.
For my evening camp, I headed about 45 minutes south to a pleasant Wal-Mart in Enid, OK. Free, level, and quiet parking for the night...and a nice sunset too!
Both sets of my grandparents had meaningful ties to Enid. My dad's parents grew up and met here, and my mom's dad went to college here around the same time.
I'd not been to Enid since the late 1990's, but from the looks of downtown, not much has changed!
But I did remember that my paternal grandparents were buried here, and thanks to the miracles of the modern internet, I was able to quickly find which cemetery the grave was at.
But these couple of photos capture my fondest memories of Nana and Papa. They were the first RVers I'd ever known.
Maybe you've heard the term "Powder Blue Jumpsuit" to describe the dorky outfits that RVing men used to wear in the 1960's and 70's. Well, my granddad not only had a powder blue jumpsuit, but had them in a dozen other colors as well (including this stylish lavender one!). To be fair, I can't say the rest of us looked any less dorky in the 70's!
When Papa retired from life as a corporate executive in the 1960's, he and my grandmother bought an Airstream trailer and joined the Wally Byam Caravan Club to travel all across North America with their fellow 'Streamers.
But like any avid RVer, it's hard to stick with your first RV for long, and Papa was no different.
When Winnebago came out with their first motorhome in the early 70's, my RV-crazed grandfather just had to have one! I am certain the memories of my early childhood thrills of riding around in this novel contraption were what ultimately directed me to follow my grandfather's footsteps and buy a Winnie of my own.
So, as I visited their graves in Enid on this spring morning, I felt the circle completing and continuing to roll. Lives and RVs may come and go from this planet, but the spirit and passion of RVing passes to each new generation and on for eternity!
Thank you, Nana and Papa, for the inspiration and curiosity to always discover what lurks beyond the next horizon.