Author’s note: We’re currently in Beaufort, NC, but there are several stories of our adventures in places west of here that haven’t been published yet. At the risk of confusing y’all, I’m just sticking them out there as I get ’em done. –Meps
When we crossed from Texas into Oklahoma, it was as though Mother Nature made the border herself. The dusty ranch landscape suddenly became green farmland. There were classic white farmhouses, each framed by trees planted by some settler’s wife. No longer West, but Midwest.
At Red Rock Canyon State Park, we arrived just after dark to find the ranger getting ready to go home. His weathered features and earnest slow speech made me think of a movie caricature of an Okie. I wondered how many generations of his family had lived in Oklahoma.
Often, my eyes trick me when I arrive in a new place after dark. All I could see were farm fields, so I asked the ranger, “How big is the park?”
He scratched his head and gave me a slow, earnest answer. “Well, it’s not that big. You’ll drive down this road here, and don’t worry about the folks at the bottom of the hill; I told ’em to leave. There are tent sites on both sides of the road, and there’s a good one across from the bathhouse — number 24 or 25, I think? No, maybe it’s 34…”
He went on in elaborate detail about which sites were best for a tent. It sounded like the whole park was just campsites, and it also sounded like we’d be there all night listening to descriptions of them. Finally, I had to ask, “What is there to do in the park?”
“Well, er, there are a lot of campsites. It’s mostly for relaxing, I guess.”
I was intrigued by this Oklahoma concept of a state park just for relaxing, and that’s exactly what we did there. We pitched our tent and spent two nights and one whole slow-paced day. We read books, did some writing, took long showers, and sorted pictures in a rustic picnic shelter. I could imagine the shelter on a hot summer weekend, reserved for a family reunion or church picnic. There would be a sign written on a paper plate, and multiple generations would be sharing hamburgers and potato salad and cake. Relaxing.
In the evening of the second day, another ranger came by to collect our money. He wore the same uniform, but he didn’t look like his great-great-grandparents came from Oklahoma. As he told me, they didn’t.
Back in the 1970’s, Dave was one of thousands of people applying for park jobs in California, where he’d grown up. He heard that in Oklahoma, they had more park jobs than they could fill. “The only qualification for the job back then was an 8th grade education,” he laughed.
So he moved to Oklahoma, going the opposite way of the masses. He’s raised his family in Oklahoma, and his idea of a vacation is visiting family in Arkansas or Illinois, or putting on a fireworks show for friends. I could imagine him attending a family reunion or church picnic.
Dave never actually said that he was the head ranger for the park, but we got that impression from his comments on the operation of the park. His job has a whole range of challenges — from drafting the park’s budget to hiring a company to pick up the garbage to overseeing teenagers working at the swimming pool. But as the buck-stops-here guy, he also has to occasionally remove a wasp nest from a restroom or drive around to collect camping fees from people like us.
These days, I bet it takes more than an 8th grade education to get hired as an Oklahoma park ranger. It sounds like a fun job, except for those wasp nests. But could Barry and I live in Oklahoma?
Well, yes, it turns out. There is navigable water on the east side of the state. All we’d have to do is sail up the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers, and then we’d probably be the first liveaboard sailboaters in Oklahoma. Flutterby’s shallow draft would come in handy, and best of all, it would be a lot cheaper than moorage on the Atlantic or Pacific.
Just kidding! …wanted to see if anyone was actually reading this (grin).