Thursday, November 6, 2014

Finding Personalities in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas

Crossing the border into Kansas from Colorado made our roster of states complete.  We went to 32 states on our 2003 motorhome trip and more than that in Lilypad, but Kansas was the 48th state to wheel into, and the 50th to visit together. Was the 50th state remarkable? It seems so only in the jokes that everyone makes about the place. When we got there, we found ourselves also making jokes. Granted, we might have had a more engaging time if we had ventured to the northeastern area of the state where Lawrence and Kansas City boast universities and organic food but instead we headed for the green area on the map, the Cimarron National Grassland, the only recreational federal land in the state. There we boondocked in a day-use area, listened to the warble of a coyote in the night, and, on our early morning walk, avoided piles of range-cow manure and tried not to let the oil wells spoil the view of the grassland.Kansas is crisscrossed with long, straight roads that bespeak its agrarian homestead history. Travelling along the flat land, we were dismayed to see that nearly every green crop field has at least one cricket shaped machine pumping for oil. These were interspersed with disquieting feedlots that, we later learned, supply 5,000 head of cattle a day to the National Beef packing house in Liberal, Kansas, which supplies meat to the US Armed Forces.  Liberal is also one of two Kansas towns with museums to Dorothy and her friends. The museum is total kitsch, and the only one of us who appreciated it in the slightest was the one who grew up enjoying Lee Baves’ annual Pig War Saga in Friday Harbor . For a further description of “Dorothy’s House” see:

Then we headed down the road to Medicine Lodge where we found a free municipal campground, complete with electrical hookups and water, something never before seen in our relentless search for inexpensive camping spots, so we were quite impressed. (We surmised that that they don’t get a lot of tourists here in Medicine Lodge.) But this town was the home of Carrie Nation and we went to see her house, now a small museum. She began her infamous bar-smashing career from there and was well supported by enthusiastic female supporters who established fund-raisers to bail her out of jail. The museum features her organ, the handbag she used to conceal bricks and iron bars, a copy of the divorce papers where her husband spelled out her various nefarious activities, and of course, the famous hatchet. 

We took the first opportunity to cross the border into Oklahoma and enjoyed a beautiful state park on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River. From there we dropped down to Tulsa which was green, lively, surprisingly cosmopolitan, and home to the newly opened Woody Guthrie Center. This remarkably engaging high-tech museum is a repository of his works and an excellent presentation of his life story. It succeeds in keeping his legacy contemporary and provides relevance to the generations that never knew him. We spent a couple of hours watching video, listening to songs, and reading about the many adventures he had crisscrossing America during the 30’s and 40’s. We do appreciate Woody Guthrie.

Then we headed further east to visit the memorial of another Oklahoma native son, Will Rogers. This imposing piece of Depression Era architecture was funded by the state and people of Oklahoma and is stuffed with memorabilia, videos, and statuary donated by the Rogers family. It was refreshing to see an American hero who so completely embraced his Native American roots, especially in print and public appearances during the 20’s and 30’s. It’s interesting to contrast the contemporary lives of Guthrie and Rogers, and the very different ways they found to express their own creativities. 

Then on to Arkansas, landing in Eureka Springs, a town that embodies an unusual assortment of neighbors. Dubbed “America’s Little Switzerland” and built with stone masonry during the 1880’s, the town lines a steep hill along a limestone gully. The healing properties of the springs were the magnet that brought entrepreneurs, charlatans, and weary campaigners to create a little mountain utopia. Carrie Nation also came here after burning her bridges in Kansas and it continues to be a refuge for all sorts of people. Many of the numerous galleries, shops and eateries are owned and operated by either retired bikers or gay people. Rainbow flags and leather shops were prevalent on the streets, as well as many accommodations promising ghostly encounters. But Eureka Springs also hosts a passion play in a huge outdoor theater that brings hundreds of thousands of Christians from all over North America to witness the last few days of Jesus’ life. We got the idea from this juxtaposition of these radically different lifestyles, as well as from the surly campground proprietor and the retired police chief that drove the bus to town, that this is a tolerant, live-and-let-live kind of place….just what we like.
We are not yet done with Arkansas. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. I'd better start brushing up on my Woody G songs so I can be ready to warble a few with you when you get down here to San Antonio! I have a pal who annually attends "WoodyFest" in (I think it's) Okema....or nearabouts.....and also the major folk festival in Winfield KS (yes--Kansas!) which draws I blieve up to 20,000 folks each year. I went once with him, in 1999, stayed 3 days out of of the week, and managed to play with him & 2 of his friends, after a wild night of rehearsal, on one of the 8 "amateur stages." It's the only Kansas experience I've had that was...exciting.