Gloss Mountains, Oklahoma

Western Oklahoma in Photos – Part I

Oklahoma, Photo Essay, Street Photography, USA

Oklahoma is beautiful and photographically interesting. Growing up in Oklahoma, I never saw it this way. Now that I live abroad, I see the charm in the little cafes, the majesty in the open spaces, and the character of the small towns. Sometimes in life, it is necessary to step away from something, to gain a different perspective, to fully appreciate it.

During July, I spent about three weeks in Oklahoma and took thousands of photos. Most towns in western Oklahoma are experiencing population decline, and as a result, the downtowns are crumbling, and the independent shops are closing down. Propelled by nostalgia and a desire to record some of these places before it is too late, I felt a strong urge, and urgency, to take photos. 

Looking at my home state through a camera lens was eye-opening. I started to see the beauty in the old buildings and the little details in the architecture. We used to construct stately buildings made of brick and signs and shops had character. The world is being homogenized. In western Oklahoma, locally-owned grocery stores and cafes are almost all defunct, replaced by Dollar Generals and fast food chains in generic buildings.

Along the road, I kept my eye out for unique things and found myself slamming on the brakes frequently. In the Gloss Mountains area, I saw a collapsed building with the words “Good Eats” painted on it. This struck me as funny, so I pulled over and took a snap. I have probably driven past that structure 100+ times in my life and never noticed.

I visited towns like Fort Supply, Gotebo, Watonga, and Thomas, places I’ve driven through repeatedly, but it felt like seeing them for the first time. Even Clinton, a place I’ve been going to since I was a child, seemed new and exciting, especially The Glancy Motel, on historic Route 66. The Glancy, like many older hotels, is on its last leg. The disused swimming pool looked more like a weed garden than a place to swim and many rooms have been boarded up. Soon, I assume it will be razed and replaced by a chain hotel with no character, and a little piece of Americana will be gone forever.

My family still lives in Oklahoma, and I love visiting my home state, but I feel a certain uneasiness when I return. The vast majority of Oklahomans support Trump and consider themselves Christians. I can’t understand how my friends, neighbors, and family follow Jesus and Trump. My home town has one of the highest percentages of climate deniers in the world, even though climate change is taking a toll on the region. Almost everyone I interact with in Oklahoma is exceedingly friendly, yet I know that if I were black, Latino or Muslim, I’d likely get a different reaction. 

I’m looking forward to going back to Oklahoma for Christmas and taking photos during a different season, with soft December light. Moving away opened my eyes to the beauty of my home state, something I’d have never discovered had I stayed. 


Photos From Western Oklahoma

Route 66 hotel

The Glancy Motel on historic Route 66 in Clinton.

Glancy Motel.

Many rooms at the Glancy are not in use.

Main street USA

Main Street in Thomas, Oklahoma.

Wildflowers Oklahoma

Due to an unusually wet summer, wildflowers were in bloom in July.

Defunct restaurant

A defunct restaurant in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Farm in Oklahoma

Ranchland in the Wichita Mountains.

Old bank sign

Detail in an old building in Fort Supply.

Old chevy truck

A rusty Chevy truck in Putnam, Oklahoma, population 29.  We don’t make cars like we used to.

American flag sign

A random display of patriotism on the road near Rhea.

Woodward Arts Theater at nigh

The Art Deco sign of the Woodward Arts Theater.

Christians for Trump

Seen near Seiling, Oklahoma.

Fort Supply Lake

A disused fishing shop in Fort Supply.

Gloss Mountains, Oklahoma

“Good Eats.”

Note: over the next few weeks I’ll be posting photos from Oklahoma, which will give me time to write about the three weeks I spent in Japan this summer.

Have you ever explored rural America? 

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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

29 thoughts on “Western Oklahoma in Photos – Part I”

  1. Both fascinating and heartbreaking Jeff. Wonderful photos that capture your “new eyes” and the sad changes taking place in your home state. They feel like ghost towns from another era. They already feel abandoned, discarded like yesterday’s news.

    • Alison,

      Several towns I visited have a nearly abandoned downtown, but new and large stores on the outside of town. If you look at the census info, most towns have experienced a decline of 10% or so in the last 20 years, but some of them have lost half their population. To be fair, I purposely shot many of these places on weekends or in the evening because I didn’t want ugly modern cars in my shot. Then again, I desperately wanted to include people in the photos and there were never any pedestrians, just people driving by wondering what the heck I was doing.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Very moving. One would almost think you were the only living being in Thomas. Unfortunately, so many town throughout the country have a dead or dying Main St. Thank you for sharing your “urgency” with us all.

    • To be fair to Thomas, I took that shot at noon on Sunday. It has a little more going on normally. It is sad to see dying Main Streets. Most downtowns still had a barber, cafe, and an antique shop – things you can’t buy online.

      What do the small towns look like in Wisconsin? Most of them in New Hampshire looked pretty good when I was up there.

      • There are so many small townships here, every one has at least one bar/grill and lots of closed places. The bars are doing great because what the heck else is there to do during wintet

    • Some of them, yes. According to census info, some of them have lost 50% of their population recently and don’t have any businesses. Most towns are sustained by agriculture and some oil field work, but are clearly struggling.

  3. Mechelle Andrews says:

    You’be really captured a poignant story through your camera lens. I agree with you almost entirely on your take on attitudes in NW Oklahoma. How smart people can imagine Christianity and Trump are compatible us beyond me. I too believe that living awY fit a time has given me a broader view and yet here I am home again.

    • Mechelle,

      Living away can certainly change perspectives. I always thought the drive through the Gloss Mountains was beautiful, and I liked Boiling Springs and the Alabaster Caverns area. Now I really see the charm everywhere. It doesn’t have the jaw-dropping beauty of Alaska, but it is beautiful in a more subtle way. And it has the best sunsets!

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Interesting how you can get culture shock from your old stomping grounds. I barely recognize the town I mostly grew up in, some 40-50 years ago, but that’s mostly because it’s grown so much. There are not nearly the differences you see between rural OK and Thailand, but still it’s, “I lived here?”

    • That reverse culture shock is a strange phenomenon. Even going back after a few years of college opened my eyes to things. Forty to 50 years is a long time though. I suppose most places have changed in that time. Thanks for your comments.

  5. It is interesting how being removed from a place can give us new eyes to look at it. I grew up near a small town in the Canadian prairies and spend a lot of time driving to and from as my Mom still lives there. What I am noticing is that the buildings are completely disappearing and being given up to agriculture. I applaud you for capturing it now and the sense of urgency is real. When driving I can look over rolling fields for many miles and not see a single structure.

    • The countryside is dotted with abandoned buildings, often next to new barns or houses. I guess it doesn’t make sense to tear them down. I’m okay with this because it makes good photos.

      You live in an interesting area – drive one way to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, to the other way to vast prairies​.

  6. I come from a place with similar demographics. On a mid-summer trip home, it really hit me how different my life would be if I had stayed. Now, you’ve given me a great idea for a future photography project!

    • I’d certainly encourage you to take photos next time you return. Since most of these towns are quiet or deserted, it was like taking landscapes but also a bit like street photography. It was a different photo experience for me. Where did you grow up?

  7. Your photos are beautiful and haunting. I think it’s the absence of people and cars that give them this slightly chilling look. I especially like the photo of the hotel with the coloured window shades (or whatever they are). The pops of colour are so eye catching. I can imagine that visiting your home state after all your travel experiences and living in Bangkok brings out all kinds of emotions.

    • In some of the towns, I purposely went late in the day or weekend in order to avoid the cars, in other towns they are so deserted that I could shoot at any time. That hotel with the colored shades was interesting, and a little scary to shoot.

  8. Pingback: Photos From Western Oklahoma, Part II | Planet Bell

  9. It wasn’t until I started traveling to faraway lands did I begin to see the beauty of places I often went to as a child. My father’s hometown, for example, was never an interesting place for my much younger self. But now it’s among those small cities in Java that I’d love to explore. Your photos are beautiful, at the same time sobering, Jeff.

    • It is interesting how it takes stepping away to see the beauty in our hometowns. A couple of years ago, I had a work trip in Monterrey, California, on the stunning Pacific Coast. I was chatting with a group of young workers at the hotel bar and they were telling how boring and awful it was to live there.

  10. I agree, the decline of small towns, and the homogenization of businesses across America is SUPER depressing. I think those who are able to preserve their historic downtowns are truly doing something great. This can be said for around the world, too. How many more Starbucks or KFCs do we need?

  11. Lovely pics, Jeff, and there are more to be had around the pastures, old farmhouses, and rural cemeteries. The most overwhelming feeling I got when I would fly back home was that I could take a deep breath and see the sun set and rise. Living amongst tall trees and buildings, I had forgotten what that was like. I also left the state for 10 years and lived in the bluest state for 7, only to come back to the reddest. Don’t let the rhetoric tell you Oklahoma is bad. Being conservative is not bad. Being closed minded is harmful. People grow and learn and pass on. It happens to people and places. BTW, some of the towns around where you photographed have experienced population booms in the past 10 years. Everything cycles. Thanks for shedding light.

    • Hi Lucy,

      I’d like to shoot more of the old barns and farmhouses but need access to the land. I’d also like to shoot more interiors. Maybe I’ll work on making those connections.

      Like you, I miss those Oklahoma sunsets and thunderstorms. The Great Plains have some of the best sunsets in the world.

      I don’t think Oklahoma or conservatism is bad at all. I am conservative. I believe that we should conserve the planet and resources for future generations. I believe we should manage our money conservatory and have a balanced budget, especially in times of full employment and economic prosperity. I believe we should conserve life by making sure everyone has access to health care, and conserve life by speaking up against genocide and hate crimes. I believe we should conserve our future by ensuring all children have an education. I am conservative in that I believe presidents shouldn’t lie to the public dozens of times a day or pay off porn stars or cheat on all their wives or use the presidency for personal enrichment. I believe that America should conserve our standing in the world by having fair elections and a humane border policy that does not put innocent children in cages. A lot of my fellow Oklahomans I think, have lost sight of their true values.

      Thank you for commenting. When you moved away, where did you live?


  12. Pingback: Western Oklahoma in Photos, Part IV | Planet Bell

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