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Physical State of Matt #8: OKLAHOMA

Armadillo roadkill, an oil refinery, and a billboard for Naloxone were the first things to greet my eyes as I entered Oklahoma. This first impression did nothing to assuage my fears that Oklahoma would be a rerun of Kansas.



After an hour, I pulled off the road to refuel beside a tractor trailer that had been stood up on its nose as an advertisement. Most of the smoke and dust had finally dissipated, but the wind was still whipping. I spotted a row of windmills in the distance and decided to take a detour and find them.



After starting my day in a dust storm, I found the fields alongside the back roads unexpectedly green. I stopped frequently to snap pictures as I meandered toward the windmills, eventually finding my way to them. 



Among the windmills I discovered a small cemetery. Wandering through it, I noticed a headstone for "Oklahoma Pioneers" James and Edna Thomas. Who knows, perhaps they were some far distant relatives?



Back on the highway, I drove through large stretches of the land burned by the recent fires. The occasional pond or stream provided pops of bright green in the black hellscape.



I had selected Broken Bow as my destination in Oklahoma because it was dead center in the path of the upcoming eclipse’s totality. Normally, I would have booked a week at an Airbnb, but the eclipse had brought so many people to the area that rates were exorbitant. I got myself a couple of nights at a mediocre country hotel charging big city rates. I’d figure out the rest after. 



WOOLAROC


Before long I crossed into the Osage Reservation.



I didn't realize this before my visit, but since the 2020 Supreme Court case of McGirt v. Oklahoma, which returned 3 million square miles of land to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, 43% of Oklahoma is Native American territory.



Under Andrew Jackson's brutal Indian Removal Act of 1830, 60,000 Native Americans were forced out of their homelands in modern day Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi “in exchange for” territory in Oklahoma. This forced migration of the "Five Civilized Tribes" (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole) led to immeasurable suffering and deaths estimated to be over ten thousand. The Cherokee called it the Trail of Tears.



A couple I had met in The Anchor in Wichita had recommended I visit a museum called Woolaroc on the Osage Reservation. True to form, I did no more research than looking up the address. Woolaroc (a combination of the words Woods, Lands, and Rocks) began in 1925 as a ranch retreat for Frank Phillips, oilman and founder of Phillips Petroleum Company - now ConocoPhillips.



He set up the ranch as a wildlife preserve, home to bison, elk and longhorn cattle. He also added animals to his collection from around the world including water buffalo, llamas, zebras, ostriches, and more. Most of these animals roam free around the preserve, and I was sternly warned not to leave my car on the two-mile drive from the gate to the museum. 



The Woolaroc collection started with a small plane Frank Phillips had sponsored in the 1927 Dole Air Race from Oakland to Honolulu. He built a pavilion to showcase it and over time added “an overflow of guns, Indian relics, and gifts not needed for decorating the lodge.”



The collection kept growing and later was expanded to include art. In 1938 the collection had gotten so large they had to hire a museum director. Six years before his death, Phillips established a foundation to manage it focusing on “preserving the history of the west that he knew as a young man.”



The building didn't look all that big from the outside, but as I wandered through it, the rooms seemed to go forever. I was blown away by the countless sculptures, paintings, and artifacts. There were enough stuffed animals to fill a morbid zoo.



After perusing the collection for a while, I discovered another entire floor downstairs. Down there, I found the plane that started it all and two rooms FULL of guns.



Woolaroc has one of the premiere collections of Colts and "a pretty tasty collection of Winchesters" according to the Museum Director.



I only had an hour before the museum closed, so I barely got to scratch the surface. Although Woolaroc houses an incredible collection, it left me deeply sad.


The time of the oil boom in Oklahoma was a painful one for the Osage Nation. Oil rights payments flooded into the Osage community giving them more money than they could have ever imagined. At one point they were the wealthiest people in the world per capita.


Right on the heels of that money came white people using every possible trick and tactic to take it from them, from marriage to murder. Martin Scorsese’s latest film, "Killers of the Flower Moon", highlights many of the atrocities the Osage suffered.



I don’t mean to shit on billionaires being philanthropic. We need more of that, although having fewer billionaires wouldn’t hurt. And I don’t have an issue with museums funded with oil money. I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits to The Getty in LA. 


(photo credit getty.edu)


Even though it's likely that “Uncle Frank” meant well with the museum, Woolaroc didn’t sit right with me. I can’t speak for the Osage people, but it struck me as a special kind of twisted to preserve the history of a culture using the wealth accumulated from exploiting and destroying it.


To drive the point home to me, the famous Trail of Tears painting by Robert Lindneux is housed there. 


("The Trail of Tears" by Robert Lindneux)


Leaving Woolaroc, I drove toward Tulsa. I stopped for the night in Broken Arrow, a suburb of the city, because it seemed like the obvious place to pair with Broken Bow.


I had dinner at Mom’s Family Diner where I was the only patron under 70 with all my teeth. I grabbed a hotel and got a room that boasted a city view, but it was dark by the time I arrived. Upon waking, I looked out my window and boy, that city view sure was impressive. 



The drive to Broken Bow the next day was uneventful, except that I entered a region with lots of pollen that just wrecked me. I spent the next two weeks a red eyed snotty mess despite two-a-day antihistamines. 


That night, I ate dinner at The Hochatown Saloon. I had fried pickles (if you’ve never had them, fix that now) with my barbecue paired with a local beer. Then cherry hand pies and ice cream for dessert, which I made short work of.



Fat and happy, I wandered the country roads taking pictures, then crashed ahead of the big event the next day. 



THE ECLIPSE


When I awoke, the worst case scenario of the weather forecast came true. Thick clouds started rolling in at 9:30.



At first, I was resigned. I gave it a shot, but it didn’t work out. But after getting some coffee and breakfast in me, I started looking at weather forecasts further east. The eclipse was set to start at 12:30 in Hot Springs, Arkansas and it was going to be clear. It was 10:30 and Hot Springs was two hours away. I jumped in the car and hauled ass east. 



Despite dire warnings about “eclipse traffic”, the roads were fine and I made great time. A little before noon, I passed out of the cloud cover into a gorgeous Spring day. At 12:20, I was still 20 miles from Hot Springs, but I didn’t want to miss any of it. I pulled into a park, snagged the last parking spot, and found a quiet spot at the top of a grassy hill. I popped in my AirPods, dialed into my weekly team call, put on my eclipse glasses, and lay my head down on a sweatshirt. 



As the moon slowly obscured the sun more, I wrapped up my call and started taking pictures through my eclipse glasses. As the totality neared, a false dusk settled in. Confident I now wouldn’t burn out the camera, I set up my phone to capture a time lapse of the event. 



Even when the tiniest sliver of sun was visible, it was still blinding bright, not to be looked at without the glasses. As the final slice of sun was hidden, a cheer rose up from the 30 people watching it in the same park. Then everyone sat in silence, soaking in the moment.



After three and a half minutes of totality, the sun once again peeked out from the opposite edge of the moon, searingly bright. The spell broken, people packed their things and headed for their cars. 



That evening, back in Broken Bow, I was treated to one of the most intense sunsets I’ve ever seen. The sun almost seemed angry that it had been eclipsed that day.



The next day I checked out of my hotel and decided to head back to Broken Arrow for the remainder of the week. Normally I don’t change accommodations mid-week because it disrupts a work day, but the weekly rates in Broken Bow had been just insane and there was nothing going on there. 


I only had a few calls on the books and none of them required me to share my screen, so I figured it would be a cinch to take them from the road. What I didn’t count on was the lack of cell reception. I hadn’t expected this, but the Southeastern part of Oklahoma was miles upon miles of rolling hills, full and lush in the Spring. It was actually quite beautiful, but there were no people around, and therefore no signal. 



I ended up bouncing from rest stop to gas station to parking lot. I'd find a pocket of reception to do one call, then race to the next spot before my next call started. At one point, I had such a long stretch of dead air, I had to double back 20 minutes to make sure I didn’t miss my next call. What should have been a comfortable 3 ½ hour drive took 6. 


Back in Broken Arrow / Tulsa, I got a cool Airbnb in an old converted firehouse. I unpacked and grabbed dinner at Mother Road Market, which had a great selection of foods to choose from. 


(photo credit Airbnb)


The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. Work was busy, I wrote a bunch of postcards, got a haircut, and caught up on personal stuff. I explored the city a little and vibed well with it, but not much happened that was particularly noteworthy. 


My last night I treated myself to a nice dinner at Boston Title and Abstract, a speakeasy-style bar and restaurant in downtown Tulsa. The entrance off an alley was marked by a small sign featuring only a glass and a knife. A long flight of stairs led into the basement where I was greeted with a glass of champagne and sat at the bar for a dinner of French classics with a modern twist. 


(photo credit visittulsa.com)


The next morning, I packed the car and pointed myself back toward Arkansas. Oklahoma had been a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t expected it to be as green as it was, and Tulsa was more enjoyable than I would have predicted. I crossed my fingers and hoped Arkansas wouldn't disappoint.


Yes, and...

Matt

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