Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Water, Water No Where...

Nor any drop to drink...

A few weeks back I wrote a little blog post about the ongoing drought on the southern plains. Well, it's still here, and yesterday when the winds in this part of the world were gusting to almost sixty, the dust got so bad that out in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, they had to lower the snow gates on the main highway north into Colorado.

From this story in The Oklahoman

— Spring break travelers driving through the Oklahoma Panhandle on Tuesday might want to choose a new route.
Northbound U.S. 287 in Boise City is closed and the snowgates placed down because of blowing dirt that resulted in zero visibility, said C.F. David, managing editor of the Boise City News.

Zero visibility on a sunny afternoon. Think about what it means to achieve something like that. And the beat goes on, here and elsewhere. Read Slate's Eric Holthaus' excellent (so far) series on drought in the west for a glimpse into the future of just one area.

But back to mine...

Several years back, while coming home from an assignment at Black Mesa (Oklahoma's highest point, which is in the NW corner of Cimarron County) I decided, on a lark, to drive the lone public road that traverses the northern half of Cimarron County.

Contrary to the popular image of flatness, this is pure mesa country, a geographic anomaly that extends in a finger pointing east from the canyonlands of northeast New Mexico across the northern border of the Oklahoma panhandle until elevation and contour are finally vanquished by the inexorable flatitude of the plains a few miles east of US 287. That highway, the same one closed yesterday by dust, is where this lone county road finally terminates some miles north of Boise City, Oklahoma. It is a staggeringly beautiful, incredibly remote and almost completely unpeopled region. Some of the darkest skies in North America are found here, which is why one of the nation's largest stargazing parties calls Black Mesa country home.  There are no towns, no other roads, no houses. Just heat, stone, sky and solitude. My kind of place.

The road quickly degenerated into a rutted, washed-out, low-gear two-track that wound through low-water crossings and deep, winding pinyon canyons begging to be explored. I spent the entire afternoon lost (metaphysically if not completely physically) in that enchanting world and never saw another soul, never passed another truck, never heard anything relating to Man or the outside world. A few hours later, I finally made the highway, pulled south onto US 287 and left it behind. I've been back to Black Mesa country a number of times since then, but haven't driven that county road again. I've made tentative plans to return to Black Mesa later this spring on a promised camping trip with my oldest son, and I may have to drive that road one more time before the land, ruthlessly transformed over the years into something it was never meant to be, completely blows away.

Water will be the defining issue of the future. Everywhere, for everyone. For many of us, it is quickly becoming the defining issue of the present. We are living in interesting times, indeed, and they're getting interestinger by the day...     


  1. Chad

    No one captures the emptiness like you, I'm in London overlooking 'the city' (our financial district) its dawn, The view couldn't be much more different, between the wind whistling between the tower blocks and your writing I was there with you, picking grit from my teeth.
    PS if and when you and number one son do take a trip to Black Mesa - speaking on behalf of all readers everywhere - we'd like to see a post about the excellently named Blackjack Ketchum and Robbers' Roost, seldom was a bandit or a hide out better named. Seeing as you're passing.

  2. Thanks, SBW. And likewise, you're my go-to guy for vicariously living the lifestyle of the urban locavore Londoner. I'm gonna get back over there again one of these days, damn it, and I want to go poaching, and rough-shooting and fishing in the Thames and all that.

  3. At least you found some true western solitude. I didn't think that existed in your home state. Go enjoy it for yourself.

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