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Nathan Gunter, Managing Editor
Photo by STEVEN WALKER
Interstate Non-Love Song
By Nathan Gunter
June 28, 2012
Earlier this year, I wrote an ode to my car, Calvin, the car I got in college and that carried me through my twenties and 178,000 miles across America. It felt great to honor a car that had been such a constant and faithful companion.
Then I traded him in and got Seamus.
Since May 19, I’ve put almost 3,300 miles on this beauty’s odometer, and except for a seven-mile round-trip jaunt into far western Arkansas to visit my dad, all of those miles have been in Oklahoma. Most recently, this past weekend I shed the roof and the doors and took Seamus to the Okie Noodling Festival in Pauls Valley. The next day, I explored western Oklahoma with my two best road trip buddies, Todd and Jayson, and Jayson’s two-year-old son Jayce.
There’s something about summer that calls for constant road-tripping. Two trips in two days is a lot, especially considering my near-insistence on avoiding interstates. Nothing against them—they’re a fine way to get somewhere quickly—but if life really is about the journey and not the destination, give me the backroads. Interstates are for nerds. They don’t provide a sense of place, a view of real life in Oklahoma. The next time you ask Google Maps how to get somewhere, do yourself a favor and click the “avoid highways” option.
Here are a few of my favorite non-interstate drives in Oklahoma.
State Highway 152. Going west out of Mustang, State Highway 152 turns south at Union City and west just north of Minco. From there the road is a tour of some of western Oklahoma’s best scenery, including a few tall, red rock canyon walls by the side of the road as you come into Binger, where the gas station potato wedges—essential road trip food—are the best I’ve found. From Binger, there are two ways you can go. One will take you north on State Highway 8/U.S. Highway 281 to Red Rock Canyon. The other will take you south on the same road to Anadarko, then west on State Highway 9 through Ft. Cobb and on toward Gotebo, Mountain View, and Hobart. Turn south on State Highway 44 at Lone Wolf for a breathtaking scenic drive near Lake Altus-Lugert through the Quartz Mountains.
U.S. Highway 77. If you’re headed south from the Oklahoma City area and not in a hurry, there is almost no excuse not to try out Highway 77 as an alternative to Interstate 35. Verdant fields, thick forests, and a long bridge over the Canadian River between Lexington and Purcell are highlights of just the first leg of this journey. Small-town charm is in rich supply in Pauls Valley, and some delicious fried pies await just a few miles south in Davis. From there take State Highway 7 east to Sulphur and hike around the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. On the way back, have a meal on the patio at the Cliff at Cedarvale. If you like to drive without doors on your car like I do, you can get a great view of the sunset.
Route 66 to Tulsa. We’re rarely in as big a hurry as we think we are, and a recent trip to Tulsa for my cousin’s wedding gave me the opportunity to eschew the turnpike and trek up Route 66. This drive afforded me the chance to see with my own eyes towns that had only been names on a sign before: Chandler, Bristow, Kellyville, Sapulpa, each surprising and charming in its own way. In Stroud the day I drove through, citizens were setting up lawn chairs along main street in anticipation of an afternoon parade. If I hadn’t had somewhere to be that evening, I’d have stopped and watched along with them. There’s nothing quite like watching a parade—the crepe paper floats in a thousand colors, the Shriners in little cars like bees flitting around a flower, the pickup trucks filled with cheerleaders, the hobo clowns, and all the people watching with you, the children with their hands and faces sticky with cotton candy, the old folks looking in wonder like it was the very first time.