This morning we wound our way out of Oklahoma City, from Southeast to Northwest. On the way out of town we observed a phenomenon which is becoming quite frequent: the old Walmart has been closed down and a newer, bigger Walmart SuperCenter has been opened just down the road. The signs are neatly removed from the old Walmart, but of course everybody is familiar with the appearance of the store and the old color design, and knows the building used to be a Walmart. Usually the old building is sitting empty; evidently Walmart is in no hurry to find a buyer (or tenant). We imagine the company feels that eventually someone will come along with a good use for the old building. And we note with interest the company's decision that it must keep its stores modern and continue its shift to supercenters (merchandise and food).
At the Oklahoma Visitors Information Center we had picked up a glitzy brochure for the city of Enid, the largest retail center of Northwest Oklahoma. On the way, we passed through Kingfisher, a small farming center. Near the courthouse square there's a civic statue. Instead of the expected War Memorial, Kingfisher has erected a statue of a farmer holding a pitchfork. At his feet are two piles. They might be hay. Unfortunately our camera broke, so we can't show you his picture.
In Enid we visited the Museum of the Cherokee Strip, and were pleasantly surprised. It has been well-endowed and is situated near the center of town, next to a refurbished Victorian-style house and the old Land Office.
The Land Office is an important part of Enid's history, because there was absolutely no Enid at all until the day the Federal Government opened up the Cherokee Strip for settlement to 100,000 eager homesteaders in 1893 -- homesteaders who came by every conceivable means of transportation, from train to horseback to bicycle. The claims had to be registered at the Land Office, and so everybody had to come to the Land Office, and so hotels, restaurants, taverns, houses, churches, in fact an entire town sprung into being.
The Cherokee Strip had been leased by the Cherokee Nation to cattle ranchers, who operated large spreads and drove their cattle north to market on the Chisholm Trail. But for political reasons the Federal Government decided to void out the ranchers' leases and open the land to homesteading, and so it happened.
We liked the museum; there was a short video, lots of informative signs, plenty of good displays, including some interesting vehicles. The Failing Well Driller was displayed; Failing was a local man who made a success in oil, lost it all in the depression, and started over with a complete mobile well-drilling apparatus, which he marketed -- eventually all over the world.
Enid has been a boom and bust town throughout its history. Unhappily it seems to be in a bust cycle, at least as far as the closed stores in the shopping mall indicate. We did see a great children's ride, though. A child sits on a life-sized metal horse. The calf (metal) is released from under the front of the horse and shoots along the floor. The child tries to rope it.
It was nice to be back on country roads again, with not too much traffic and nice views of farmland, cattle, and so on. But it is way too hot -- it hit 104 as we pulled into our motel in Wichita. The cattle were all hiding under shade trees, or close to a water hole. Or in a water hole! The cattle egrets, too, either stood near the water or hid among the foliage of the trees.
Several of the smaller towns we passed through were essentially devoid of businesses -- not even a gas station was left. We thought about the way American towns become ghost towns. People may still live there, but they willingly drive the extra miles to the bigger cities (Enid has less than 50,000, but it's huge compared with the little country towns). The cost of the gas is more than offset by the savings and choice available in the bigger superstores. Ghost towns don't develop that way in Europe; the local people still patronize the local stores. Perhaps it may be due to the very high cost of gas, but we think it's more likely due to some cultural differences. Americans are quite pragmatic, and will shop where their money goes furthest, even if it means the local stores can't make it. The Europeans will buy locally out of a sense of civic duty -- we think.
We like to think we are immune from the need to shop, but after an entire afternoon without our camera we just couldn't stand it, and 7 p.m. on Saturday evening found us in the Wichita Circuit City, where we bought a replacement Kodak. It is comfortingly similar to our old one in many respects, although it has more than twice the resolution of the old Kodak. We're learning to reduce the file size of the photos we plan to email, but hope you will comment on size and quality.