Two towns forever linked by dust. America is truly a fascinating place if you keep your mind and eyes open and receptive
The Rita Blanca National Grasslands sounded so promising. Over the last year I had read three books that led me to this place. Two were on the Great Plains and the third about The Dust Bowl. I'll list info at the end but suffice it to say they convinced me I had to at least step my toe into this great and historic land and Rita Blanca seemed a good place to introduce myself. With the Homestead Act of 1862 easterners and Europeans poured into the area. The resulting overproduction, stripping of grasslands and general mismanagement led to the dust bowl and eventual purchase and restoration of lands by the government and administered by the Soil Conservation Service. Now the Forest Service protects around 230,000 acres of grasslands within six counties.
Don't blame Rita for any negativity you see seeping from this journal entry. It's not her fault. As mentioned in previous entries my planning lacked vigor and precision and I undoubtably could have found and experienced much more than I did. Anyway, onwards...
The previous day I had driven from Bisti Badlands across the state to Clayton, New Mexico; a 6.5 hr drive reaching my hotel in the cold, dark, and wide-open spaces of northeast New Mexico. I got up early, defrosted the windshield from the night's December frost (hehe, San Diegan having to find the defrost button), and took off for what I had hoped were the amber waves of grain of song and story. See them? Look closer, there, in the photos above...amber waves of grain! You can't? No? Well, neither could I. After all, it was early December, not technically winter but tell that to my frosty windshield this morning. The amber waves were at low tide, cut to the ground and resting in a grain elevator someplace. I took some photos but nothing of significance. The two here are for illustration.
Oh, I was so let down. With no plan as to where to go or how to get there I was afloat, unmoored, drifting (as much as a 2,000 lb. car can drift. It's a weak metaphor but go with it). I aimed for Boise CIty, OK. As you can see from the photo above the road was as straight as a ruler, and windy. Windy, windy, windy. And tumbleweeds: I've seen tumbleweeds before but really, I only thought I'd seen tumbleweeds before. These tumbleweeds traveled in packs; gangs of tumbling, prairie terror. They traveled in numbers more numerous than wolves in packs; herds of tumbleweeds and they owned the road. They have a collective, heat-seeking intelligence that could zero in on a car's grill with the accuracy of a bee to flower. You want photos!? I wasn't going to step of of the car and pose them, but you can if you wish. Take Highway 56 between Clayton, NM and Boise City, OK. They're out there...waiting, watching.
I drove to Boise City, Oklahoma because it is accepted as ground zero for the Dust Bowl of the '30s. A horrendous time in the American West. If you ever want to understand this place and time read Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time. See if you can't find a few parallels in today's attitudes and behavior, it shouldn't be hard. I didn't spend any real time in Boise City. I went to the historical museum but it was closed, I drove about but saw little of interest other than some construction work being done on what appeared to be a historic looking building, could have been city hall. I gave it minimum effort not feeling nearly as inspired as I had hoped (and should have).
Off to Great San Dunes National Park. I returned westward the way I came, through the leaping and vaulting terror of tumbleweeds ricocheting off my car. I'm convinced they wanted in.
Three books you really should read:
The Worst Hard Time - Timothy Egan
Bad Land - Jonathan Raban
Great Plains - Ian Frazier