The day started with our departure from our house at 7:30 am. Mallory entertained us with songs she learned at Girl Scout camp last week. We arrived at the King Ranch at 9:00, and we pulled out at 9:20 to start the trek with the rest of the traveling party.
Our trip started west through Enid. Coming into Enid is a sight to see with the many large grain elevators. As a matter of fact, I saw my first ever billboard advertising a grain elevator (“we have 6 grain pits!”) At one time, Enid had the most grain elevators of any location in the country.
We departed Enid and continued west to the Gloss Mountains. The Gloss Mountains (sometimes referred to as the “Glass” Mountains) are a sporadic chain of red flat top mesas that stretch across western Major County, Oklahoma. They consist of buttes which rise from 50 to 175 feet above the valley floor. The Gloss Mountains contain a lot of Selenite, which reflects light back at you. Specifically, we visited the Gloss Mountain State Park. After a very brief rain shower subsided, most of our party hiked up to the top of Cathedral Mountain. It is a pretty steep climb, but the built-in stairs and handrails certainly made it easier. Our walk was 1.2 miles from the starting point, to the top, and walking all the way to the north rim. After we returned to the starting point, we were excited to see that Erin and PK had laid out a lunch spread for us at the picnic table.
Another notable trait of the Gloss Mountains is the white rings on the side of the exposed mountains. It is caused by Gypsum leaching out of the ground. Gypsum deposits are plentiful in western Oklahoma, and it is mined from open pit quarries in this area, as the gypsum here is very high in purity.
After a great lunch, we got back on the road and in a short time, KK pulled off the road to show us the location of an industrial hazardous waste disposal site. Ironically, across the road from this hazmat site, was an iconic red dirt plateau (we got out and took a picture) that is frequently used in photographs depicting that part of the state.
At this time, we decided to make an unscheduled stop near Waynoka (home of the Railroaders!) and visited the Little Sahara State Park. Oklahoma has our own small desert with plenty of sand dunes for riding your dune buggy or ATV on. We saw several dozen people out riding on the dunes, and it looked like most of them camp right there at the park. The Little Sahara State Park Gift Shop was the kid’s first opportunity to part with their money, and they wasted no time. We are now the proud owners of a mood ring, tablet with stickers & pen, and a shot glass. Oh boy!
The next stop was Alabaster Caverns State Park, which is located outside Freedom, OK. There is no way that Freedom has a population more than a few hundred, yet they had an authentic looking, rustic, old west style downtown, complete with post office, saloon, etc.
Alabaster Caverns is the only commercial gypsum cave in the United States, and is the largest gypsum cave open to the public in the world. This was the first cave tour ever taken by Erin, and the first for Scott since he was 5 years old. We took a 45 minute tour, led by Harley, who will be a senior at Freedom High School next year. (Actual Harley quote – “Recently we had some rock fall of the ceiling”, as he is pointing his flashlight straight up. “It fell right where I am standing, so we pushed it to the side.” He then points the flashlight down and draws our attention to the pile of rock, which they did not even get pushed all the way off the sidewalk. We got a bit laugh out of that, and KK very astutely pointed out that they obviously take safety very seriously at Alabaster Caverns!) One notable attribute of this cavern is that it is one of only three locations in the world where black alabaster has formed. The other two locations are in Italy and China, and those caverns are not open to the public. As a matter of fact, black alabaster from this cavern is on loan to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
The most interesting thing about the Alabaster Caverns tour was that you were allowed, even encouraged, to touch the walls. That is because the walls were made of gypsum, and not limestone. Most every other cave you will ever tour will have limestone walls, and you will see formations like stalactites, and in most cases those are living and growing formations. If you touch a stalactite, you stunt its growth because of the oils on your skin. It was definitely an experience being able to touch the cave walls.
We purchased all of the required Cave souvenirs prior to the tour, so once we finished the tour, we loaded up and hit the road for Buffalo. Buffalo has a very significant family connection, as it was the first town which my Uncle Joe served as a Methodist minister. So, once in Buffalo (with the aid of a borrowed GPS), we quickly located the Methodist Church for a few pictures. We also located Stone City Park in Buffalo and had a picnic dinner of sandwiches. We topped it off with some birthday cake to celebrate Stephanie’s birthday, from two days earlier.
The Stone City Park had some vintage playground equipment which all of the kids, and some of the adults, played on. They had a very sturdy, metal slide (made in Kansas) that had obviously been there a while. They also had a merry-go-round that you sit on, so the girls would take a seat while Scott and I would push them.
Buffalo is nicknamed the “Stone City” because when it was first being developed, there was an ordinance that all buildings must be made of stone, to protect the town from wild prairie fires. There is a lot of sagebrush in the Buffalo area, so maybe that is a plant that burns easily.
On our drive through the panhandle toward our destination of Liberal, Kansas, we passed through the small town of Forgan. As we entered the town, there was a sign proclaiming Forgan was the home of “Hank the Cowdog”. Hank is the subject of many children’s books, and he is a character that Miles and Mallory are very familiar with. We found a granite marker on Main Street giving a brief history of Hank, so we had to pause a few moments to check that out.
We arrived in Liberal, Kansas (Pancake Hub of the Universe! – more on that later…) at 8:30. Several of our rooms were on the 1st floor, which included a sliding window that opened to the parking lot. Turns out that makes hauling your luggage to the room much easier! We attacked the pool at 9:00 and swam for an hour until it closed. We brought a beach ball and played some volleyball with it. Several other families showed up, but we just absorbed every new kid into the volleyball game. Everybody had a blast.
While we were in the pool, Scott and Erin took a quick tour of Liberal. Their stops included Braums, for some ice cream, and a trip to Dorothy’s house. Liberal is the home to an exact replica of Dorothy’s house from the Wizard of Oz. They enjoyed several photo opportunities there.
Tomorrow we visit Black Mesa, Three Corners, and a few other assorted landmarks on our way to Elizabethtown, New Mexico. Departure is scheduled for 7:30 am tomorrow.