Day 36 – High Plains Drifter

I woke up the next morning to read all about the game of the year in college basketball: Oklahoma State’s 105 – 103 win over Texas in triple overtime. I knew something was up from a couple of missed calls the night before, but had no idea that I was missing one of the best games ever. If anyone has a recording of it (Beth T.?), I would love to see it.

One thing I didn’t see mentioned much about the game is that OSU won with essentially only 4 scholarship players on the floor for the last 3 minutes of regulation and all 3 overtime periods. After one player got sick and two others fouled out, OSU had only 3 starters, a backup, a walk-on, and the leading wide receiver from the football team available to play. Since the wide receiver hadn’t played competitive basketball since high school, the walk-on and the other 4 players stayed on the court the final 18 minutes.

Besides learning about the game, I also learned that the one thing I had forgotten to pack for the trip was a comb. I always manage to forget something when I pack. Because of this, I made a detailed packing list and carefully checked items off as they were packed and loaded. Still, I managed to forget something. I was glad it was only a comb, since it is extremely easy and cheap to replace. Plus, I think the uncombed look might work for me. I think it makes a statement. And that statement is: I don’t own a comb.

Combless, I headed north into Kansas. Western Kansas is every bit as flat as the Oklahoma panhandle. All flat, boring Kansas stereotypes do apply. It was a windy day, which is normal on the Great Plains, and tumbleweeds rolled their way across the highway along with a slight dusting of snow.

Seriously, tumbleweeds.

My trail for the day was highway 83, a two-lane road that runs from the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, all the way to Swan River in the Manitoba province of Canada. Along the way, it passes through—well, a whole lot of nothing. The biggest city it passes through is Laredo, Texas, on the border of Mexico. I cannot personally attest to the entire 2,000 miles of highway 83 as being boring, but I’d say there is a good chance of it.

At least in Kansas, the road is popular with truckers, who probably outnumbered passenger vehicles on this particular Wednesday. With the sand and melting snow on the highway, particularly on the southbound lane, each semi managed to splash a bit of dirty slush onto my windshield. I kept it clean with a steady diet of windshield wiper fluid, some of which froze into blue ice in the spots where the wipers couldn’t reach. Since I had decided not to wash my pickup on this trip, it was nice to see it get coated with a thin layer of mud on the second day out.

North of Scott City, I detoured onto a side road bound for Scott State Park. Here, the road fell right off the high plains and into some hilly valley.

I took the side trip to check out some pueblo ruins listed on my new Rand-McNally map. As I drove down the snowy gravel road, I finally decided there weren’t any ruins to see—at least not without trekking across a drift-covered field. No big loss, though. I had traveled a couple of miles down the gravel road at that point, and thought I was probably close to the point where it would rejoin the main road. At least, I was surely closer to the next intersection than I was to the previous one, so it would be shorter to continue forward than to turn back.

After a couple more miles, I found that this was not the case. Now, though, if I turned back I knew I would have to go 4 miles, whereas surely there would be a crossroad back to the highway closer than that in the direction I was going.

After 4 or 5 more miles, I was beginning to wonder who designed these roads to nowhere, anyway.

I finally did come to a side road—which headed in the wrong direction. But, it drove through the oddity that made this detour worthwhile. On each side of the road, as if it were some gateway to something important—stood some huge white rocks.

Since everything else in the area was featureless grass prairie, finding two rocks the size of apartment buildings standing alongside the road was a fairly big surprise. Just as surprising was the fact that they had no signs announcing their presence, and no mention on the map. There was no indication that anyone thought they were anything special. Someone had spray-painted “No fireworks or fire” on each of the rocks where they faced the road, but didn’t explain why that was important. Were the rocks flammable?

The larger of the rocks was also more weathered, and there were a couple of places where you could hike to the top. As I did exactly that, I put my hand down on the rock and noticed that it felt rather soft. I looked at my palm, and found that it was now covered with chalk. So these are giant chalk rocks. The light-colored dirt and mud surrounding them was actually chalk. I was surprised they were still standing, instead of being completely weathered away by rain and the constant wind and the occasional hiker.

Not too far beyond the chalk rocks, I finally found my cross road back to the highway. I soon found that the chalk formations were not necessarily uncommon in this area, since I could see another couple of large rocks out in the center of a pasture. And when I took another detour to see the advertised Monument Rocks, I found that they were a much larger formation of the same thing.

The Monument Rocks looked rather alien, as if they had landed out on the plain or been built by some movie producer. I could imagine how they must have looked to the first wagon trains of settlers, as the only landmarks on a featureless plain. This was probably one of the ways they found their way across the land, by heading from landmark to landmark like unlabeled road signs.

After taking plenty of photos, I followed the unlabeled gravel road back to US 83.

Among the many semis on the highway were quite a few oversize loads. One such load in particular caught my attention when I caught up to it from behind.

It was a very long, large blade, that was considered oversized just because it was so long. I decided it must be a windmill blade, used for those big electricity-generating windmills.

But this was really big. I knew that those windmills powered some pretty hefty generators, but this single blade must have been well over 100 feet long. Add another couple of blades on the opposite side of it, and you would nearly have a football field spinning up in the air.

I don’t know where it was headed, except north. It seemed like anywhere on these windy plains would work for a windmill farm.

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