#18 Hanging with Okies in Oklahoma

Oklahoma…. where to begin? First I just need to say the last week has been quite the experience and time and I have gained a great appreciate for this state. The biggest reason being the people! I’ll get to that later though…

When we last left off I had made it to Santa Fe and was spending the day at Starbucks to catch up on work. That night I crashed at the local Wal-Mart and awoke early to hit Starbucks for a few more hours of photo editing before heading on to Oklahoma. The previous days I had heard that the weather in Oklahoma, Texas and the panhandle as a whole was raging! I knew that I wanted to get a picture of a “supercell” or a tornado but the reality of actually driving in Tornado Country was dawning on me! I didn’t want to die…. With that being said I finished up at Starbucks and got on the road. The drive to the Oklahoma boarder was filled with treasures and I found myself pulling over just about every 20-30 miles to shoot a derelict house or a small defunct town. Despite how happy I was about all the places I was finding I couldn’t help but notice there was still a “dark” vibe lingering in the air. As I got closer and closer to Oklahoma the weather seemed to get worse and worse. The contrast between the weather ahead of me and the weather behind me was very, very apparent…

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this is the view behind me looking towards New Mexico

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this was the weather I was driving towards in Oklahoma… yikes!

 

By the time I actually got to Oklahoma, the weather wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. I saw plenty of “Okies” on the roads and figured… if they can hang then I can hang! The landscape had gradually shifted from rolling hills and crags to almost 100% flatlands which was something I was dreadfully anticipating. Growing up in Vermont I was surrounded by the Green Mountains and it has always made me feel at home and safe. Being in Oklahoma was the total opposite and the added fact that it was Tornado season made me feel even more vulnerable…! Nonetheless I decided to embrace this new landscape and all the treasures it might hold! My first stop was an abandoned helium plant which was a pretty boring facility if I’m honest. The grandeur size and scale of the buildings was something that I enjoyed but everything had pretty much been ripped out so there were few artifacts or pieces of equipment still intact.

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After leaving the helium plant I made my way back to the local town to stop and take some pictures of abandoned homes. I noticed what looked like a defunct elementary school so I grabbed my tripod from my truck and went over to the building. After finding a way into the basement it immediately became apparent that I wouldn’t be exploring this school… The first floor had all but collapsed not more than ten feet in front of me and the roof was virtually non-existent. I snapped one picture from the only angle I could and crawled back out into the evening sunlight. The surrounding area was filled with various dilapidated little shacks and shanties so I put my tripod against my truck and walked around to shoot some of them. By the time I finished, the sun was starting to go down so I made my way back to my truck and got back on the road. The next destination was south western Oklahoma near the Texas boarder.

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I woke up early the next morning in a Walmart parking lot and continued on my way. The next location was once an airplane graveyard but now a small active Air Force Base. My expectations weren’t high in terms of the amount of abandoned buildings I would find in the area but when I got to my destination  I was pleasantly surprised. The first spot I noticed was an abandoned urgent care facility followed by some old military warehouses. I poked around the warehouses and got some shots and then walked back to my truck to grab my tripod and the rest of my gear and head into the urgent care facility. After finishing packing up my bag I went to grab my tripod in the back of my truck. After looking where I normally put it, I realized it wasn’t there…. then I checked the front of my truck, then my Thule storage and then it hit me…. I had left my tripod more than 250 miles away. It was just sitting outside an abandoned school in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I felt like my soul was starting to shrivel up… most people would say “its just a tripod whats the big deal?” but that tripod is worth about $1000 and is what I depend on to shoot abandoned buildings and night photography! I knew that I had to drive back even if there was a good chance that it would be gone. I had to do it for peace of mind if anything… and if I was lucky? who knows maybe it was there? It was around 3pm by the time I had fully accepted the situation I was in and I knew I had better get back on the road if I was going to get there before sunset. The drive was horrible, the whole time I was stressing out counting down the minutes until I arrived…. By the time I got to the town the sun was about to set. I hastily cruised along the dirt roads till I got to the back side of the school….  after putting my truck in park I hopped out and scanned the ground with my eyes… the tripod was gone. I couldn’t believe my eyes… for some reason I had a feeling it really would still be in the same place. My heart sank into my stomach and immediately I began swearing under my breath. This was just what I needed… now I was going to have to dish out a nice chunk of change to replace a tripod I so carelessly lost. While I was fuming I noticed some little kids playing outside the active elementary school across the field. I decided it couldn’t hurt to at least walk in the school and ask them if somehow it had been turned in. When I got to the front door a nice woman came up and asked me if she could help me. I spilt the beans and asked her if anyone had found my tripod that I had left the day prior? She then informed me that somebody had turned something in and had me follow her… my spirits were immediately elated and moments later I was in the administrative office getting my tripod back. They must have thought I was a little crazy at first because of how happy I was, I gleefully smooched one of the carbon fiber legs of the tripod and then gave the lady who let me in the school a big hug. I told them about my story and what I’m doing and left them with the link to this blog so who knows maybe they are reading it! Shout out to you guys and thank you so much! After getting my precious tripod back I decided to make one more lap around the town and see if there was anything else worth shooting. I ended up finding a cool old theater and getting some shots. When I emerged from the theater I noticed a group of teenage kids on skateboards and bikes riding down the street. At the same time the woman from the school was walking home with her kids! This was the essence of the small town vibe and its something I can truly appreciate.

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After dealing with that whole crazy situation I got back on the road and found the nearest Walmart so I could pull over and crash… it had been a long, long day. The following morning I continued on my journey in the exact same tracks I had gone the day prior. Along the way I made numerous stops at little abandoned farmhouses and was totally surprised by how interesting they were. Usually abandoned houses are gutted and in my opinion very boring to explore but these were different… all of these houses were filled with possessions left behind by the previous owners. I guess you could say that they are no longer “possessions” and more so waste than anything else. It was sad to see the amount of shit people left behind and it made me further realize how much excess we have in our lives.  The American culture is based on Capitalism and this silly idea that we should work more, to make more, to buy more. Its all about having material possessions when in reality I think it becomes clear that 99% of the time experiences have more personal value than possessions do.  I live in my truck and sometimes I feel like I have too much shit, maybe its because I have a limited amount of space but I get by with about 10% of the stuff I’m actually carrying around in my truck. Kind of interesting how that works isn’t it? Here are some interesting pictures of what I found…

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After numerous house raids as i’ll call them and managing to not get murdered by any crazy rednecks I found myself back in the same town I was in the day prior… only this time I had my tripod! I explored a few buildings and then found myself parked next to the Air Force Base. I was sitting in my truck looking at my map of abandoned locations when an old guy in a turquoise GMC truck pulled right up and kinda wedged me into the spot I was in. He rolled down his window and started the conversation by saying “I can tell your not from around here!” to which I replied “thats correct sir” and then proceeded to tell him my story and my reasons for being in the area. He quickly introduced himself as “Ned” and next thing I knew I was shooting the shit with a local Okie and learning about the area I had been poking around. After talking for a while he asked me if I wanted to grab a cup of coffee. I figured I had nowhere to be and wouldn’t mind a local experience to look back on so I told him “why the hell not!” and the next thing I knew I was following him back to his house. When I got to his house his wife cordially greeted me and they welcomed me in and gave me glass after glass of sweet tea which was a refreshing treat after a day of exploring and adventuring! As it turns out they have a son my exact same age who traveled around America last year with his wife doing a similar adventure! We ended up hanging out and talking for over an hour and by the end I felt like I had found a new little family that I could be a part of in Oklahoma. Ned and I said goodbye, hugged each other and I told him to hit me up anytime and check in on the journey! All in all it was probably the best experience I have had on the trip so far and it was the second time in two days that I had met amazingly nice people in Oklahoma. This state really is something special!

On Monday it was pissing down rain but it didn’t stop me from going to check out a nearby almost defunct town. When I parked my car on the main street and got out I was immediately greeted by a man named Jim Toma who owns the local grocery and convenience store. His store is also the only local grocery and convenience store, so it’s basically the life blood of the town. He invited me into his store and showed me historical pictures of the town and told me about the abandoned theater next store that he used to operate. After learning about the history of the town I asked him if I could explore and take some photos to which he happily obliged me. Heres a few shots, the rest will be in my book as well as more about this town and the history!

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The next few days consisted of more photo editing at Starbucks and various explorations.  One of those explorations was a trip to southern Oklahoma to a beautiful swimming hole and waterfall. The water was incredibly beautiful and the nature was something id never expect to see in Oklahoma. I think when most people think of Oklahoma they assume farm land and a relatively boring landscape but I can vouch that the state has many hidden gems and hopefully they remain that way! Here are some of the spots I visited, I would love to write about them all but I’m losing steam here!

 

Tomorrow I’m going to a super unique and crazy event in Oklahoma that I couldn’t be more excited about! Stay tuned for that and more could discoveries in my next blog post!

 

  • J.J

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