The Great Salt Plains

(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.

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3 comments to The Great Salt Plains

  • Cool! Sounds like a fun time. I love those Activision/Imagic blue label carts, which ones did you get? Did you grab Coconuts and Beany Bopper too? Lastly, pro tip: EVERY Pizza Hut experience is a terrible experience.

  • Mom

    Went there many years back and I had a large bowl full of the crystals for a long time. After a while you realize there’s not much you can do with them after you look at them a while. But they are unique, kind of like Oklahoma rose rocks. That could be your next adventure. They’re found mostly around Noble, OK. At least it’s closer to home. :-)

  • liz

    speaking of rose rocks………..before the road in front of the ranch at Alex was asphalted, it was graveled….IN the gravel we used to find lots and lots of rose rock………..must’ve been brought in with the loads of gravel…………………As for the great salt plains, I haven’t much to say