HIGH PLAINS DRIFT

This one was something of an impulse. In July of '08 I was still having to ride over to Norman frequently to see my wife in the hospital there, and the constant shuttling was starting to get to me; it's not a very interesting ride even the first time and it gets old soon. And I had just about worked my way through the possible routes.

And then too I was feeling a strong need to get out of here for a little while, for various reasons...and so it came to me that the next time I went to Norman, I should just keep on going, after the visit, and go somewhere else for a few days.

I looked at the map and decided on the High Plains of northern Texas, for no real reason except that it was fairly close. In fact by the time I got to Norman I'd already be almost halfway to Amarillo.

And so I found myself yet again setting up for the night at Lake Thunderbird State Park, outside Norman. Oh, the thrill.

Though to be sure there were points of interest....

It rained that night, though, and next morning I had the place to myself except for this guy, down by the lake.

The sky was heavy and threatening as I picked my way across the confusing maze of the Norman area and the sprawl of half-assed towns (most of them extended far beyond any human community, to widen their speed-trap nets) and on west on 152. I had no intention of venturing onto the Interstate, to the north; between the lousy pavement of I-40 and the extensive construction zones, I figured I'd make better time on the back roads.

But it was obviously working up to rain, and since I was in no particular hurry I turned north to Red Rock Canyon State Park and called it quits for the day, even though it was still early.

Quite a place, Red Rock Canyon. Not really much of a canyon, I suppose, not all that big and not all that deep - in Arizona or Utah it would hardly be noticed - but in the middle of all that flat open country west of Oklahoma City, it comes as a welcome and refreshing contrast.

I found a campsite up at the end of a kind of side pocket and moved in. It was nice and quiet, not too many people around, except that down toward the main road a bunch of young rock climbers were practicing their techniques.

The rain still hadn't started, though it was obviously going to happen any time. I got out and walked around a bit.

The most fascinating thing to me was not the rock formations but the strange little ecosystem that exists down in the canyon, especially up near the head. Sheltered from the wind of the plains, the trees grow tall and straight, and water can collect without the sun and wind to dry it up. It was almost like being back in Arkansas.

It's a regular little swamp in there, with miniature streams and even beavers at work. It was incredibly hot and steamy, too; it felt like a tropical jungle rather than a western canyon.

There are even a couple of good-sized pools, and by the look of the rock above there must be some pretty little short-time waterfalls during the rainy months.

I climbed up onto the rimrock for a look around. Hard to believe, from up here, what it was like down at the bottom.

It began to rain, just about that time, so I walked back to camp - down the road, not trying to take shelter; my clothes were already soaked with sweat anyway - and began getting ready for the evening.

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NEXT: ON TO TEXAS

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