I spent last fall traveling through India, Dubai, and Disney World. I was exposed to some of the grand wonders of the world – The Taj Mahal, Varanasi, The Burj Khalifa, and enormous Americans assaulting buffets.
Since the start of the year, I have been staying in western Oklahoma, in the land where I was born, went to college and met my wife. In many ways the area is home, but I haven’t really lived here in the last ten years. (I more or less live in Alaska now.)
And although my hometown of Woodward is the largest city in the region, it is a city of 12,000 people. There isn’t a lot going on in this sleepy community. After months of sensory overload and mental stimulation in India, I have been painfully bored.
To remedy this I decided to be a tourist in my hometown. I set out doing all the things in Oklahoma that I did in India, like eating street food…
Taking photos of people doing laundry…
and taking photos of cows.
I quickly realized that these activities were impossible, creepy, or just slightly less rewarding in small town Oklahoma.
After my first failed attempts at hometown travel, I turned to the one source that might offer greater insight into tourism in the area: the Internet. A quick search on Google led me, to my surprise, to the tourism website of my hometown – gowoodward.com. I had no idea that Woodward would have a tourism website.
You know you are not from the most exciting place in the world when the tourism board tells you to drive around and look at the windmills. But that is exactly what the website told me to do.
Remember when you were a kid and you’d say, “Mom, I’m bored” and she’d tell you to go clean your room? I feel like the Woodward Visitors Bureau is the same way.
Me: Woodward, I’m bored!
Woodward: Go look at the windmills.
I followed the advice of the website and drove north out of Woodward. The area north of town has some scenic value, in my opinion. It is an overall flat landscape punctuated by red dirt ravines, small bluffs, rolling sand hills and gnarled cottonwood trees. It was winter; the dormant grasses and sagebrush ranged from a beautiful gold to a melancholic brown depending on the light and ones perspective. I have been through the area countless times during the growing season, when the area is carpeted with sunflowers, the trees are full of luscious green leaves and the sky is dominated by swollen thunderclouds. It can be very beautiful.
I was seeing the area at its worst, like seeing a woman in the morning when her hair is messy, she is wearing frumpy pajamas and doesn’t have on any makeup. This is Oklahoma in the winter, yet this area was still pretty to me, partly out of nostalgia perhaps.
As I drove along, I had the following thought: this area, with the sweeping views, lack of traffic and rolling farmland would be an ideal place to ride a bike. In a similar area in Colorado or Oregon these quiet roads would be full of cyclists on the weekend. But then I realized that there are only about three days per year when the conditions would be right for a long bike ride, as most days are too hot, too cold, or too windy (hence the wind farms) for a pleasant pedal.
I watched a beautiful sunset from the high ground as the colossal windmill blades made an ominous, eerie sound as they slashed through the air. I didn’t see any other cars, which was very surprising as this is one of Woodward’s top tourist destinations.
A few days later I went to Shattuck, Oklahoma, to check out the Shattuck Windmill Museum and Park. Most Oklahomans would probably be extremely surprised to think of Shattuck (population 1,300) as a tourism destination, but I am here to tell you that Shattuck has it going on. Shattuck has a Sonic AND a Pizza Hut. They have a hospital and a grocery store. Plus, they have an El Tipi gas station that is truly a work of art.
I was actually impressed with the Shattuck Windmill Museum and Park. It features 51 unique vintage windmills, one wind generator, a sod house and frontier store, all spread across four acres of land. The windmill, which was invented only 140 years ago, made it possible for the pioneers to settle these arid plains, where the rivers run dry each summer and there are few natural lakes.
Driving to Shattuck I had a fantasy about taking some dramatic, award-winning photos of the windmills silhouetted against a fiery sunset. It had been a bright, sunny day hitherto my arrival but a line of dense clouds rolled into Shattuck along with me.
Whereas the modern electric turbines made an ominous noise, the old-fashioned windmills offered a pleasing, rickety sound. However, that noise grew into an urgent, desperate warning as wind from the gathering storm picked up. I took some photos, checked out the windmills, and for the first time in months felt mentally stimulated. It wasn’t quite the same as say, touring Ranakpur Temple or Agra Fort, but I had the park to myself and I didn’t have to fend off beggars and touts to enjoy it.
I am now excited to explore western Oklahoma a bit before I head up to Alaska to work for the summer. I realize that most people will think I am a weirdo for saying that, they might think I’m odd for looking at Shattuck as a tourism destination. But those people probably don’t realize that Shattuck has a Sonic.
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