On our last trip (which is looking like it may be going down in the record books as the Trip with No Name) we headed out looking for cooler weather. Now we are on the road looking for warmer weather! I’m not sure we found it but we drove 5 hours south hoping to find it. We are spending the weekend in a little State Park near Beaumont, TX: Village Creek State Park. We picked this Park because it is close to the Big Thicket National Preserve. We wanted to do some hiking there but there isn’t any camping in the National Preserve. Hopefully, I will get some nice pictures to post later this weekend or on Monday.
For the last few years, we have taken a relatively short trip each fall and headed to the Hill Country of Texas around Austin or San Antonio. There is a great Texas Furniture Makers Show in Kerrville at the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center that is very nice. They always have some really beautiful handcrafted wood furniture that is amazing.
We are combining our trip to Kerrville with a stop in Houston for the biggest quilt show in the country – International Quilt Festival and a stop near Austin so Alan can hang out with other guys who like to restore old woodworking machines for a day at TexFest. We will make it home in plenty of time to get on a plane and fly East where there definitely won’t be any warmer weather.
We have made it back home safely and already finished unloading the trailer.
What we don’t have yet is a name for this trip – not really anything in great in contention yet:
The trip to Colorado that Wasn’t
The Hiking Trip
Highlights of Hutchinson
See the Salt Mine
It’s Hot, It’s Cold, It’s Hot …
The Trip with No Name
We have been planning on stopping in Ouachita National Forest in Oklahoma (near the Arkansas border) on our way back home. We had visited the Cedar Lake campground on our trip to Arkansas and Alan saw bears there! But, we needed a lay-over point so we headed for Tulsa and Keystone State Park.
We only stopped at Keystone for a couple of nights. The campground was about to shut down for the winter. It looked like they get a lot of campers and day-users on the weekends. I can’t say this was one of the cleaner State Parks we have ever visited. We ended up picking our site because it didn’t have as much garbage around!
We don’t usually go to the local zoo when we are playing tourist but the Tulsa Zoo sounded interesting. We figured a Tuesday in October would be a pleasant time for a visit. We were there early enough that they were feed a lot of the animals and that was fun to watch – I enjoyed watching the elephants chow down on bamboo branches.
I almost tripped over this peacock:
They also had these Aldabra Giant Tortoises that weighed hundreds of pounds. It was fun to watch them amble around their yard.
Our visit to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson was definitely one of the highlights of this trip – probably because it was completely unexpected.
After we knew we were going to Hutchinson for the Salt Mine, Alan spotted the Cosmosphere listing in the AAA Guide. But, we weren’t expecting much of a space museum in the middle of Kansas. We had already been to all of the NASA facilities and figured we had seen everything of interest – we were very mistaken. The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center is the best space museum we have ever visited. In the end, I wished we had more time to spend in the museum (we left as they were closing.)
There is this great mock-up of the Space Shuttle Endeavor as you enter the lobby, but that is it for the Space Shuttle Program. Almost everything else is about the moon missions, including a very extensive exhibit on the Russian Programs. We had never read anything much about the details of what the Russians did until this museum.
Alan’s theory on why this museum is so good is that it isn’t really aimed at kids – there is a lot of reading and none of the interactive exhibits that we typically see these days. I didn’t end up taking many pictures because I was spending so much time reading.
They have a lot of real equipment from the Space Program, including the actual Apollo 13 capsule. There were also a lot of Russian artifacts on display.
I would highly recommend that if you are ever driving anywhere near this museum (outside of Wichita) that you divert and stop in for a tour. There is an IMAX theatre, a planetarium and a Goddard’s Lab Show. In retrospect, even though the planetarium show was better than most we have seen and the Goddard’s Lab Show was kind of cool (they blow things up), I wish we had skipped it all and gone right to the museum.
After we left Black Mesa State Park in Oklahoma, we headed into Kansas. Alan had spotted the Hutchinson Salt Mine on the Factory Tour website. It was a long drive across a very flat and generally boring Kansas but it was worth it.
We stayed almost a week at Cheney State Park. There are several hundred camp sites on the Cheney Reservoir but they are spread throughout the Park in several different areas. We picked a wooded area away from the water. We were the only ones camping during the week but the park got crowded over the weekend.
One day we went into Hutchinson to tour the Salt Mine. You take an elevator down 600+ feet in complete darkness. They had a nice museum that showed the various processes and equipment for mining salt. There was also an exhibit explaining how they use the empty mine for storage of business records and other valuables, like film memorabilia.
Everything in the mine has had to make it down the elevator shaft. So, cars are disassembled above ground and then reassembled in the mine. That means nothing goes back up!
After we finished our hike to the highest point in Oklahoma, we went to see the Three-State Marker. Down a dirt road, across more cattle guards than I could count, in the middle of somebody’s cattle-grazing land, there is a granite marker indicating where Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado come together.
I love this picture!
When we got back from hiking Black Mesa, there was another Airstream parked next to us at the campground. At first we thought they might be friendly and want to chat – that is what we have found with most other Airstream owners. Everybody likes to talk about their Airstream and they did take a spot right next to us . . . when there were plenty of other empty sites available.
It turns out we had found the Bizarro Al & Reen. First, we drive a white F-150; they drove a black F-150. We carry bikes; they hauled kayaks. We have a scaled-down Airstream and they had a completely tricked-out Swiss Army model Airstream. Lastly, we’re reasonably friendly with other campers but they avoided even making eye contact! I could go on, but we’ll just leave it for now.
Our second stop on this trip – after Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas was Black Mesa in the panhandle of Oklahoma, near the Colorado and New Mexico border. It turns out this was one of the most rural places we have ever visited. There was absolutely no cell service or television.
It was a long drive to Kenton to buy ice. We passed the Okie-Tex Star Party on the way although we weren’t sure exactly what it was at first. Before we saw the sign, it just looked like an unexpected gathering of campers in the middle of a field. Later we met a few of the guys that were there for the Star Party – they invited us to stop by and check out the big telescopes.
We only spent two nights at the Black Mesa State Park. It was so remote that they don’t even staff it with a Park Ranger – you just put your money in an envelope. We might have stayed longer but it was too windy to sit outside and the campground was what I would consider to be a little austere. The Lake was almost empty and grown over.
We took the drive out to the Black Mesa Nature Preserve to hike to the highest point in Oklahoma. It was a nice hike – mostly flat except for the climb up to the top of the mesa. We didn’t see much wildlife except for insects.
The view from the top was pretty cool – you could see the Colorado mountains in the distance.
We visited the monument at the top with a bunch of teenagers (but I cut them out of this photo.)
It has been a pretty slow drive through Kansas – there isn’t even much growing in the fields that line the road. We are making a quick pitstop in Greensburg. It is a cute little town. This windmill was right along the “main drag” on Hwy 54. It was a lot smaller than the windmills we saw in Oklahoma.
We spent the last two nights in Black Mesa State Park near the border of Colorado and New Mexico in the panhandle. This was probably the most remote place we have ever stayed – no phone, no TV, 30+ miles to gas or food. We may have hung out longer but it was too windy to sit outside. More on Black Mesa later.
Yesterday, we drove out to Black Mesa Nature preserve to hike to the highest point in Oklahoma – 4,973 feet. It was just about 8 miles round trip. There wasn’t much of a climb – only around 600 feet. We were on the trail with a dozen teenagers but they were reasonably well behaved. We also talked to a guy that was “high-pointing”. He was heading to Guadalupe Peak (8,749 feet) in Texas which we hiked on our way to Arizona and New Mexico.
Now, we are on our way to Hutchinson, KS. We are going to stay at Cheney State Park and visiting the Salt Mine. Since we are near town, I’m thinking that we will have decent connectivity and maybe I will get more pictures posted.