Archive for the Oklahoma Category

(Note: Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook read about some of this in real time. Here is the full adventure!)

It started yesterday morning with the following declaration from Susan: “We are not going to spend Labor Day in this house watching television! Get up! We are going on an adventure! We are leaving at 9 AM!” (This was around 8:15 AM.)

My thoughts arrived in the following order: “Where are we going?” “Is the iPad fully charged?” “Isn’t everything closed on Labor Day?” (Spoilers: “Northwest, Yes, and Mostly.”) I grabbed my backpack and tossed in my DSLR camera, my iPad, two phone chargers, a couple of protein bars, and a bottle of water. Wherever we ended up, I figured I could both survive and entertain myself for at least a day.

As we hopped into the car we were told the first official point of business would be breakfast. So far, so good. Susan announced we were going to Tower Cafe, home of Old-Fashioned Cinnamon Rolls in Okarche, Oklahoma for breakfast. Even better!

“What are the odds this place is open Monday morning on Labor Day?” I asked. Boos and hisses were what I received. What kind of father would suggest such a thing? What a doubter! What a hater of cinnamon rolls!

Thirty minutes later we found ourselves having breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe in Kingfisher. I had the chili and cheese omelette with a side of “I told you so.” (I’m still not sure which one was responsible for my heartburn.)

As we pulled out on to the open road I rolled down my window and hung my arm out of the car. Almost immediately a giant bug hit me in the shoulder and literally exploded, sending bug guts and juice all over my shirt and face. We thought wiping the yellow goo off of my red shirt with a napkin would be the end of it, but a few minutes later the bug (or at least half of him) resurfaced, climbing up Susan’s leg. (She was driving.) Susan’s squeezing fist put a final end to the bug’s misery.

We continued northwest, driving through Hennessey, Oklahoma and stopping for gas. The kids had never seen one of these dinosaurs at a gas station before so we stopped to take a picture. Morgan tried climbing all over it and almost break the tail off, which I can only assume is why they went extinct. At the gas station we bought drinks, used the bathroom, and threw the dead bug into the trash.

As we approached Enid we happened across an antique/thrift/junk store on the side of the road. We decided to stop by. As we walked in the owner informed us that they weren’t really open on Labor Day (cough) but that since we were from out of town they would let us rummage around. I’m glad they did because there were so many cool things inside. The first of which was this still.

Susan asked them if it worked and they said… “maybe?”

Near the front of the store Susan spotted this box of Atari cartridges.

The lady said they were $5 each, but would take $3 each if I bought more than 3. I haven’t bought any Atari games in a long time and I don’t have my list online so I wasn’t sure what I have and don’t have anymore, but I spotted several “rare-ish” games that I decided to pick up. I got three Activision blue label carts and several other less common carts (lots of 4′s, according to Atari Age’s rarity guide).

Also, I bought this. I hate having to buy things and pretend like they are for my kids, but what can you do. Morgan looks sad in this picture because I just told her this paperclip is going straight to my desk tomorrow.

After all the shopping and a terrible Pizza Hut experience, we finally arrived at Susan’s planned destination: The Great Salt Plains. As we pulled in I explained to the kids that people from all over the world come here to set land speed records. Then Susan informed me that that was at the Great Salt Flats, in Utah. At that point I shut up.

The Great Salt Plains are a giant salt deposit, left behind from a prehistoric lake that once covered Oklahoma. (Wikipedia) According to the article, “The refuge is the only spot in the world where crystal enthusiasts can dig for hourglass selenite, a rare and fragile form of selenite, which is a form of gypsum.” Not only can you dig for crystals there, that’s pretty much the only thing to do other than look at miles of salt.

Susan had packed buckets, hand shovels, and an umbrella. With that, the kids began to dig.

Although your mind tells you you’re looking at snow, it’s salt. The 90 degree heat was made slightly more tolerable by the slight breeze, but unless you bring it with you, there’s no shade. The combination of salt and dirt is surprisingly easy to dig through. Dig down about two feet and you hit water, which I assume comes from the nearby lake. The designated digging area looks like a field of gophers took over, with dozens of holes left behind from previous diggers. I don’t know how the holes get filled back in.

The designated digging space was large enough that nobody was in our space. In fact, this was the closest person to us.

And so the kids dug and dug, and we all sweated. Nobody found a single crystal. Finally Morgan asked the girl in blue if she had found any crystals and she said they were easy to find — all you had to do was walk out another 50 feet where people hadn’t been digging and they were lying in the sand. The only reason to dig, it turns out, is to find the really big ones. The small ones are literally scattered across the salt a couple dozen yards from where we were digging. A few minutes later, the kids each had a dozen crystals in their pockets.

The unique coloring comes from the fact that the crystals often form around dirt, which gets locked inside. Also, I don’t know why but the areas where the crystals were were guarded by giant biting flies. I have never been bitten by a fly so hard before that it drew blood, so that’s another experience I can chalk up to this adventure.

After an hour or so of digging, we headed back to the car, brushed off our clothes and our shoes, and headed back home. We only stopped once, at a gas station station where the kids could wash their hands. While inside, I took a picture of this two-dimensional and highly patriotic fellow.

The Great Salt Plains was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Anyone wanting to film a movie set on the moon could do a lot worse than to make a trek out to this national park. The combination of white salt with vast open spaces gives the place an otherworldly feeling that really has to be experienced in person.

August 18th is International Geocacher’s Day (who knew, right?) and in honor of this, our local Community Center put on a small presentation covering the introduction of geocaching, followed by a small geocache hunt of our own.

Geocaching is an activity (a game? a sport?) where people hide things all over the United States that people can find using GPS coordinates. Actually there are two parts to the “hunt” — a GPS will get you close, and then you’ll have to do some searching (sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours) to actually find the hidden object. Every geocache has a small paper register that you can sign. Many of them also have things inside them that you can take. If they take something, Geocachers are expected to replace the item with something of equal or more value.

Our day began inside the Community Center. After watching a brief but informative PowerPoint presentation, we moved out into the open area. The people who attended the meeting (about 20 I’d guess) were pretty evenly split between active geocachers, and people who were simply out looking for something to do. Me and mine fell into the latter category.

It’s been 100+ degrees for months now with only a slight break last week. Of course the first time we planned an outdoor activity, rain clouds moved in. Toward the end of the PowerPoint presentation we could hear thunder outside. When it was time to actually go do some geocaching, it was raining, hard. Instead of going out and getting soaked we spent a few minutes inside talking to some of the other more experienced hunters.

On the right there is my old friend Jaime Olvera. Jaime is an experienced Geocacher with over a hundred finds and several “first to finds,” or FTFs. Geocaches get posted to an official site (geocaching.com) where they are vetted to be authentic and findable before they are released to the wild, so to speak. When they do get officially released, people race to be the first one to find them. Sometimes Geocaches contain special prizes for the first people to find them. Jaime said he found $40 in one of his.

Unfortunately rain and adults talking doesn’t inspire wonder in children, and before long my two budding Geocachers were doing this:

Soon the rain let up and we all went outside to do some real geocaching. Each team of newbies was teamed up with a more experienced group. Susan, the kids and I headed out with Jaime and his girls.

The first one on our list was hidden not 10′ from a parking spot I am sure I have parked in at the Community Center. I found that very interesting, to think that not 10′ from a place I am sure I have stood was this hidden container, stuck under/in/near a tree (I don’t want to give too much away!).

Again, the way you find these typically is by using a smartphone app. There are multiple apps for both iPhone and Android, many of them free. The one I was using (the official Geocaching.com app) told me all the surrounding caches within x amount of miles, which direction they were in, how hard to find and how physically challenging they will be to retrieve, and so on.

I can’t stress enough that the app only gets you so far. A phone GPS should get you to within 6-15′ of the target site; after that, it’s a game of hide and seek. I hope it’s because we were just learning the game, but we were overall terrible at finding the hidden objects. One, a darkly-colored ball, I never did see until the kids finally picked it up and showed it to me. The other, a camouflage-covered container hidden in the Community Center Nature Trails, definitely took some poking around to find. This was one misconception I had about the sport; the GPS and apps will only get you so far.

Each cache is rating from 1/1 to 5/5. The first number (I think) rates how difficult the object is to find, while the second number denotes how physical demanding it will be. All of the ones we hunted for were rated 1/1. I heard one of the geocachers talking about one they had to climb into a cave to retrieve. I’m guessing that was a 4 or a 5.

Many of the geocaches contain hints or clues in the form of riddles. This part also intrigued me, and I think that being the hider might be as fun as being the findee. According to Jaime, there are over 25 geocaches hidden just in and around Yukon. I was pretty surprised by that.

Another term I learned was “muggle,” which is apparently a Harry Potter reference (I really need to sit down and watch those movies). When a cache is “muggled” that means a non-geocacher found the cache and either removed or destroyed it. After finding a cache, Geocachers leave feedback on the official Geocaching site. If there are several reviews in a row stating that people couldn’t find the cache, the site may have been muggled. I suppose this is why some of them are hidden so well.

All in all we had a good time geocaching and found four of the caches hidden in and around the Community Center. It seems like an exciting way to have some fun and get a little exercise at the same time, so I’m hoping we go on a few more geocaches in the future!

I think for the first week in three months now, we haven’t had any 100+ degree days. The constant, unrelenting heat keeps more than just people inside; it moves the bugs there too.

Around the rear of our house, we’ve had an ant problem for a solid month. Repeatedly setting down traps and spraying spray doesn’t seem to keep them from coming inside. Usually (my experience, anyway) ants come inside looking for food; this year, I suspect it’s water. Outside the house you can see them, trying to work their way underneath doors or through even the smallest cracks.

I can’t remember a year that I’ve seen more spiders, either. A few of them have managed to make their way inside, but even more of them are outside the house, surrounding it. Our little plastic Rubbermaid shed is full of them, and I see them in the garage quite a bit too. I don’t know if they’re looking for food, water, or shade, but there they are. I’ve seen a lot of brown recluse and black widow spiders this year as well, too.

Friends of mine are also reporting tons of tick problems this year. We always have tick problems whenever we have a mild winter. We had a mild winter. Ticks are everywhere. I hate ticks.

The other day while sitting on the couch, Susan saw one of those big, fat, hairy bees banging into the window, over and over, trying to get inside. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. It had the perfect makings of the beginning of a horror movie. “The Bees …”

Last week it was hot in Oklahoma. Sunday, I snapped this picture of the temperature inside my truck.

106 is hot. It’s miserable hot. It’s the kind of hot that saps your will to live, or at least move. Yesterday, I took this picture.

It’s tough to explain the difference between those two temperatures. At 112, stepping outside feels like there’s a hair dryer pointed at your face. It’s like when you lean in over the grill to flip over a hamburger and that wave of heat hits your face and for just a moment you know what that hamburger feels like.

I took this one yesterday on the way home. There’s really no way to explain this one. 117 degrees is hot. Roads are beginning to buckle. Trees are dying. Wildfires are rampant. Ponds and lakes are evaporating. Today will mark 15 days of triple-digit temperatures, with no end in sight.

I need some ice cream.