Words by Jim Vota
Photography by Kristen Vota

Oklahoma. If you’ve never been there, that word probably represents flat, featureless, landlocked terrain. But go there and you find that it is much different than that. In the East you will find rolling, green hills as far as the eye can see. Move west, and you will pass lush lake areas of the dirt turns from brown to orange. Yes, Oklahoma can offer you days of riding that will linger in your memory for years. Take some time to meet its people and you won\’t be able to wait to return.

Early summer is a great time to travel through the state.  All colors of the spectrum can be witnessed on the ground before the summer takes hold and turns much of the state to a light brown. Far-reaching dirt and gravel roads are everywhere. And the simple grid on which the roads are plotted make the state very easy to navigate. Weather will dictate your movement, however. Strong storms brewing late in the afternoon can flood roads for days. So make sure you pack your rain gear, because Mother Nature can be waiting on the horizon.

DSC_0212

This trip navigated the northern part of Oklahoma. Crossing over from Arkansas, we traveled just south of the Kansas border to reach the Northern Panhandle of the state. The Trans America Trail runs through this portion of the state. And wonderful small towns like Jet and Guymon are worth the stop.

DSC_0093

Rain was the theme for this journey. The ground was supersaturated with water, making the roads like an ice rink. Fast flowing water threatened to watch our motorcycles away. And tires clogged with mud, keeping our feet close to the ground for fear of falling. But in all this were beautiful landscapes that made all the other challenges worthwhile.  Many of the roads are paved where the water is known to flow. And the pavement is grippy so motorcycles and cars don\’t slip away into the deep streams that form after a rain. Water can be very fast moving, however, so we were very careful and spent a good bit of time before performing any water crossing. This is not an area to be a hero. One slip and you can be washed away into the rapids that can envelop the lands.

DSC_0097

DSC_0260

Not interested in mud and dirt? Oklahoma will accommodate you. Well maintained US and state highways will make your travels easy and provide views as as any. Roads like US 64 and OK 11 will get you across the state in comfort and roll through the northern hills that exist in this part of Oklahoma.

DSC_0001

DSC_0002

Moving west from Enid, we headed towards Jet, home of the Salt Plains Lake Wildlife Refuge. This prehistoric Salt Lake is a migratory home to many waterfowl, including the endangered Whooping Crane. This area was a favorite hunting ground for bison by the Native American population. The bison are long gone now, but preservation efforts are underway to keep this land for the migratory animals that stop here. Bordering the wildlife refuge is Great Salt Plain Lake State Park. This park offers great camping sites right along the lake to give you wonderful morning and evening views of the horizon.This area sits at about the middle of Northern Oklahoma, so it makes a great stop when traveling across.

DSC_0278

DSC_0150

DSC_0053

DSC_0061

When you are traveling though this part if the state, you will want be sure to take the time and meet its people. It’s not difficult. Just stand around for a bit and they will come to you.

A quick stop for gas just west of Guymon, Oklahoma proved that point. At a lonely gas station along US Route 54, we stopped for a bit to breath in the clean morning air. Next to the gas station was a grain elevator. Being from the east, I don’t witness these very often.  So, in touristy fashion, I pulled out me camera and proceeded to take photos of it. About five minutes into this, a gray-haired man approached me. His posture was proud and strong. And his walk was slow and deliberate. Sporting an old, weather-worn baseball cap and denim overalls, this man epitomized what one might think an Oklahoma farmer might look like.

DSC_0182

DSC_0363

When you are traveling though this part if the state, you will want be sure to take the time and meet its people. It’s not difficult. Just stand around for a bit and they will come to you.

DSC_0176

DSC_0284

A quick stop for gas just west of Guymon, Oklahoma proved that point. At a lonely gas station along US Route 54, we stopped for a bit to breath in the clean morning air. Next to the gas station was a grain elevator. Being from the east, I don\’t witness these very often.  So, in touristy fashion, I pulled out me camera and proceeded to take photos of it. About five minutes into this, a gray-haired man approached me. His posture was proud and strong. And his walk was slow and deliberate. Sporting an old, weather-worn baseball cap and denim overalls, this man epitomized what one might think an Oklahoma farmer might look like.

“You ever been close to a grain elevator?” He asked.

“No I haven’t, sir,” I replied. “Sir” is a term I am sure to use, as I am positive that this man has earned it.

“Well, I tell you what.  You in a hurry, today?”

“Nope! Not at all!” I said.  I love being able to say that.

The man replied, “Well you wait here, then, and I’ll be back in about five to ten minutes.”

The man climbed into his car and drove away, heading north from where we were. This was interesting. We were not sure why he had us waiting here, but we had no concern about it. So we waited, taking photos of the landscapes, trying to get our lenses to communicate what our eyes were seeing.

After about 10 minutes, the man returned.

“I’ll show you how this all works,” he said.  “Follow me.”

Over the next two hours, the man proceeded to give us a complete tour of the grain elevator.  He took us through every area, all the while revealing the economic chain of a piece of grain at the elevator, to the loaf of bread in our supermarket.  It was wonderful, and this was on a weekday!

IMG_8846

IMG_8864

IMG_8850

IMG_8858

“It’s important that people understand what we do here,” he said.  “This is where their food comes from.”

The man turned out to work at the facility, and according to him, giving informal tours was his way of helping people understand how the system works.  After the tour, the man and I found ourselves standing on top of the grain elevator just getting to know each other.  Six stories up, the wind was cool and the sun was shining.  I kept reminding myself that this was the reason I traveled the country on a motorcycle, or more generally on the ground.  What was interesting about this experience was that it was one in many I\’ve had traveling the back roads of this Nation. People are almost always willing to tell you their stories. And all they ask for in return is the respect for who they are and what they do. They ask that you get passed the shell of a person and listen for what comes from inside them.

Flying from city to city removes you from the day-to-day lives of the people in this country, the real America, and the real American.  We are all trying to do our part.  And understanding of one another just takes an authentic conversation or two.  I thank that man for reminding me of this.  And I thank the state of Oklahoma for being what it is.  ~ end

DSC_0292

 

COMMENTS

No comments yet.