The photography workshop at the UUBar Ranch went so well that now i am planning a pre-Christmas ski trip with lodging at the ranch, 1/2 price lift tickets at Red River and day passes to the mineral springs at Ojo Caliente. Contact me for details and reservations.
Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale
Welcome back. George Nigh was not only Oklahoma’s 17th governor but its 22nd as well and he was the first candidate to ever win all 77 counties in the state. A beloved Oklahoman, Nigh’s list of accomplishments could fill my entire column, beginning with his career as a school teacher when he was fresh out of college. He was the second longest serving governor in the state’s history and as a state representative was responsible for introducing the legislation designating Oklahoma! as the state song.
But this week’s column is not about the man, it starts with a piece of road named for him which marked the beginning of my most recent travels.
State Highway #3 is the longest state highway in the Oklahoma transportation system. It runs diagonally through Oklahoma from the panhandle’s northern border with Colorado to the southern border with Arkansas for a total of 616 plus miles. This story starts west of Ada in the panhandle of Oklahoma where the landscape starts to change and where antelope are a common sight. This stretch of highway 3 was dedicated in 1939 and the route is basically the same today, passing through open countryside and several small towns some of which have seen better days.
Up until the early 1980s the highway had hardly been improved at all until then Governor Nigh obtained 97 million in funding to upgrade the section from Oklahoma City to the Colorado border. At the time the project had many opponents who labeled it the “highway to nowhere” but Governor Nigh was insistent on its importance. When construction was complete state officials and ODOT renamed this portion of highway 3 “the Governor George Nigh Northwest Passage” and my friends the name fits. Traffic out here is thin; especially as its wheat harvest time now and farm machinery is more plentiful than houses. There are very few trees as we know them and mini dust storms come and go. Old motels and gas stations from a bygone era sit empty by the side of the road. Although desolate this is also a beautiful part of the state with deep draws and prairie vistas.
Clayton, New Mexico is the first real town along the route west and it was also the last real town for many miles of rough terrain for the 50 people who attended Jerry Poppenhouse’s photography workshop at the Express UUBar Ranch just outside of Cimarron last weekend. The participants were treated to a wide range of subject matter from canyons and waterfalls to wildlife. The morning photo shoots were followed by afternoon expeditions to the high country where elk and several black bears were spotted (and photographed!). The famous Will James cabin is on this part of the ranch and was a popular stop on the tour. This is where James drew a self portrait on the wall and many old time cowboys carved their names on the door and on several trees near the cabin. The cabin has been preserved by Oklahoma businessman and philanthropist Bob Funk who owns the UUBar and if you are a guest there you can arrange a visit.
Although I had recently been to this part of the ranch it is still easy for a person to get lost here, disoriented by the altitude and sometimes dehydration. Rangers frequently lead rescue missions to retrieve injured boy scouts, tourists who have fallen in canyons or people with snake bites, just to name a few common scenarios. Helicopters are used to take anyone who is badly injured to the hospital in Taos or Santa Fe as both towns are at least a two hour drive from the area. Philmont Scout Ranch also has two doctors and a nurse on staff during the summer and the town of Cimarron has a half day medical clinic on Fridays.
I had heard these cautionary tales before and passed on the warnings to our group before we headed out throwing in a line of my own after everyone signed their safety waivers: “If you get hurt up here you’re already so close to heaven you might as well go the rest of the way.”
On this trip I learned that photographers will walk miles in search of the right shot. They’ll get up before the sun rises and stay up past midnight to catch the stars that shine so brightly in these mountains. They take pictures of things most of us take for granted in our everyday lives and reveal them in a whole new way. Their spouses and friends frequently accompany them on their travels and there were several on this trip who got into some mischief including a search and rescue mission and a bear who got into a cabin when a door was left open. All will be explained in an upcoming exhibit of photos from the workshop which opens October 5th at the Bartlesville Community Center.
Next week: it’s a place of spiritual history I’d never heard of before, where I met a 150 year old man and it’s an easy drive to get to. Till then I’ll see ya down the road…..