Day 7: The Endless Horizon on Route 66, Oklahoma

The landscape has changed to the flat endless horizon we tend to associate with the great big West. And the animal of the day is the cow! Lots and lots of cows. And corn. Cornfields and Cows. Cows and Cornfields — occasionally interrupted by the even taller stalks of the wind turbines generating clean energy.

Wind farms co-mingle with traditional farms in the same place, as if the nation is hedging its bets — still believing that oil is king, but solidly investing in alternatives as well.

The windmills rise dramatically from the flatness, defining the horizon like so many mechanical scarecrows. The cows pay them no mind. We, however, seem fascinated by the dissonance between their hi-tech modern silhouettes and the timelessness of the surrounding farmland.

The whole becomes greater than the sum of her parts under the spell of the road. Driving through, everything we pass is equally inhabited by the magic that transforms the ordinary into extraordinary. Route 66 makes it special.

People familiar with the local roads don’t feel it. So many are too involved in the day-to-day grind to appreciate the serendipity. A cashier at the local Walmart asks us where we are from, and when we tell her New York and Paris, she replies, “And you are here in Chandler? Why?” She seemed slightly surprised that we could find her little town that interesting. And yet we are here precisely because we ARE interested in understanding something of this reality.

The mix of the road throws us all together randomly and we each come away with a little more insight into the other’s experience. It’s our own small-scale, and very personal, discovery of the “real America” everyday that we are out here.

We have become quite adept at navigating the Route now. Or maybe it is just easier to find it in Oklahoma. In any case, we aren’t getting “lost” anymore. And we are finding the “landmarks” — like the famous “Round Barn” in Arcadia. Built in 1898, it was both a shelter for livestock and a place for dancing. It’s unique round design, was thought to make it better able to withstand tornados.

Round barns had become popular in the midwest in the 1880s, for several reasons related to a new focus on efficiency promoted by prominent agricultural colleges. The circular shape has a greater volume-to-surface ratio than a square shaped barn, so requires less building materials, making round barns cheaper to construct. But most importantly, the interior layout allowed farmers to work in a continuous direction, a key labor-saving feature in the days before mechanization.

The round barn fad ended in the 1920s, as rural electrification brought machinery, eliminating the advantages of the labor-saving design.

Arcadia’s barn is two stories high and 60 feet in diameter, and has been a Route 66 icon for many years. When the barn’s roof collapsed in 1988 local volunteers raised money and donated the labor to restore it. Today the barn welcomes Route 66 visitors, and once again serves as a home for community events.

As we make our way further west, the train becomes a familiar friend. Route 66 crosses the tracks, and parallels them for much of its length, and we begin to be able to recognize the headlights (if they are called that) of an oncoming train from very far off. At one crossing we tried to count the cars as a long train passed, only to get confused when a second train came in the opposite direction, and the two steel masses roared passed each other so closely, it seemed like a choreographed dance, ending as they parted to open up our road.

We were determined to get to Foss. Not the town, which we heard was a “ghost town,” but the state park, where we planned to camp. But the flat open spaces trick us into thinking things are much closer than they are. And even the concept of “close” bears greater scrutiny–what is considered “close” out here in the vastness?

It was kind of late when we finally arrived at the state park, and the “welcome center” was closed so we just drove off following the signs to the camping area where we were able to get a site overlooking the lake. It was hot and humid again, but as the sun set, the sky turned red, and the blue of the water seemed to glow almost neon. We stretched out around our fire and watched the night come.


More from Oklahoma Route 66:
NOTES FROM THE ROAD: A Taste of Route 66 Oklahoma | The Endless Horizon on Route 66, Oklahoma | Ghosts on the Edge of Route 66, Oklahoma
REFLECTIONS & OTHER THINGS: The Outlaw as American Folk Hero | In Search of Ghosts
PRACTICAL MATTERS: Camping Across America | Review: Clanton’s Cafe | Museums on the Road
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL: Portfolio: Route 66 Oklahoma

Back to Oklahoma, Day 6 | Complete Trip Log | Start at the Beginning

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