Dust Bowl

Day 52 – Thursday, July 18
Beaver Dunes State Park, Oklahoma to Clayton, New Mexico
182.4 miles
90° Windy, Sunny with High Cumulus Clouds

Did I say in the last post that the Great Plains aren’t flat? Silly me. Not only are they flat, they are dominated by the atmosphere. Specifically, the wind. Moisture, in the form of clouds, comes and goes. Electricity congeals and strikes, but the wind is master.20130719-022419.jpgThe short 7 mile drive north from the park was idyllic. I floated along as Ruby accelerated to 55 miles per hour without making her engine purr. The wind was at our backs and I knew it. At the stop sign to Highway 64 we turned left—West—into a day of struggle and labor.

That beautiful floating wind now bashed us from the left side. I could not go faster than 35 mph and retain control. We heeled to port. My shoulder muscles tightened. It was 8:45 a.m. 20130719-022557.jpgIf central Oklahoma undulates, western Oklahoma does not. It is a pancake with no baking soda. The roads are endlessly straight. Electric poles run down the right side or the left and in the endless straightaway, you never see when they shift from one side to the other. They carry four wires. Farm fields in varying states of production stretch to the horizon in all directions.20130719-022801.jpgAs the wind batters me I must share the road with other vehicles. For the trucks coming head on I reduce my profile by lowering my head until it almost touches the handlebars. And I must reduce speed. Their wind concussion can knock me four feet to the outside. To close to the edge and with one forgetful moment I am down. That never happened. When trucks pass me (there is endless passing opportunities in the Plains) there is a 1 to 3 second period of weightlessness—no buffeting wind. After that I get sucked to the middle of the road, into a small vacuum behind the truck, and a moment later buffeted by its wake. I am always looking in my mirrors for passing vehicles, slowing, bracing. Arduous, but happily, uneventful.

I drove through this part of the country to experience the landscape of the Dust Bowl. The land is flat, the sky is endless, and the wind ferocious. It’s one thing to know that from a documentary, it’s another to be in the center of it looking to the endless horizon, feeling the wind rasp across your skin. How families in the 1930s lived through the dust storms I do not know.

The most common sign you see driving on any of these east/west roads points to the next turn off. It has one word: Cemetery.

Oklahoma ends and New Mexico begins. I rolled into the first town, Clayton, and into a KOA campground. A shower and laundry helps to sooth the grimy beast. The next town is 82 miles away.20130719-022855.jpg

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