Alright- I’ll try to make this the last time that we say, “we weren’t expecting much from [insert state name here]”- (err… at least until the midwest later this summer). Oklahoma was yet another place that we had some reservations about. To be honest, we put off planning this state until the last minute- bigger things were on the horizon (Texas!), so we thought of it more as a place to pass through than a place to visit. It wasn’t until a few days before crossing into the state that we decided what we’d do there.
To give you some insight into our planning process, there are times when we know more or less what we’ll be doing in a state (for instance, we have to know specific arrival dates for states in which we’ll be visiting friends or family). Not so a state like Oklahoma, where we didn’t need to be anywhere at any specific time and could travel by the seat of our pants. Some frantic, last-minute Googling revealed top ten lists of the most beautiful places to visit in the state. We used those findings to sketch out a rough plan and went from there.
We crossed over into Oklahoma in the Ozark Mountains; the Talimena Scenic Byway (which took us up into the mountains on the Arkansas side) continued into Oklahoma and brought us back down. We spied some clouds coiling through the valleys below through the haze of the afternoon, which reminded us of a natural wonder that appeared in a movie we watched recently. In The Clouds of Sils Maria, the characters are chasing ‘The Maloja Snake‘ in the Swiss Alps (a similarly thick cloud that appears when weather conditions are just right, and moves through the mountains just like a snake). It was magical to watch the cloud move; we’re hoping that it’ll look more obvious in our Oklahoma video, but hopefully our picture gives you an idea!
Our first few hours out of the mountains were a little less than inspiring- a lot of flat, dry farmland stretched into the distance in every direction, and we passed through some small towns that- to put it mildly- could use a little work.
We also hit a National Recreation Area that first day (Chickasaw), which ended up being sunny and beautiful- remarkable despite the brown, wet spring that blanketed the entire area.
And now to the good part! The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge popped up on several of the lists we found when trying to decide where to go in Oklahoma. Without any deeper research, we decided to make it our home for a few days. This turned out to be the best decision we could’ve made. In the southwest stretch of this state sits this unbelievable patch of raw terrain, with red granite mountains and rolling fields. The refuge is home to hundreds of American Bison, Longhorn Steer and Elk.
The park is a rough slice of magic. To find ourselves in a place of real wilderness, surrounded by unfamiliar terrain and in the face of enormous animals turned out to be a much-needed breath of fresh air. This was a place to do some exploring off the beaten path (because very often, we lost the actual path, and had to search in every direction to find it again). It was a place to connect with nature and test our limits. This was the best place to be, and the adventures that we found here sparked within us a renewed sense excitement and wonder.
We made camp at the tiny Camp Doris campground, and took our day trips out into the park from there.
We left Oklahoma feeling fulfilled and refreshed. I wish I could say that we’ve learned our lesson, but I secretly like to be surprised by the places we visit. Therefore, may we keep underestimating this beautiful country and let it delight us when it exceeds our expectations at every turn.
More next week on our travels in Texas!
US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.