Monday, August 29, 2011

Oklahoma City National Memorial and Washita Battlefield NHS

Washita Landscape

I was glad to be leaving the dirty, hot and boring strip of Kansas that I called home last night. It was good to pass into Oklahoma, even if it was still hot as hell. I ate breakfast at a Cracker Barrel and then headed south to Oklahoma City or OKC as some call it. I headed straight for the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the 1995 bombing at the hands of a domestic terrorist. I have to admit that before my visit I wasn’t really sure what kind of impression the site would leave in me, but I did find the place to be quite moving.

At first I strolled through the memorial itself. My first stop was the Survivor Tree, a 90+ year old American Elm tree that somehow survived the blast despite being just yards away from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building once stood.
Witness Tree

From the Survivor Tree I wandered over to the 9:01 Gate and looked across a reflecting pool to the 9:03 Gate.
Reflecting Pool

The times on these gates are symbolic of the time before the blast, which occurred at 9:02, and the time after in which thousands of lives of those in Oklahoma City and around the world were changed. I passed through the gate and solemnly passed by the field of empty chairs.
Empty Chairs

Each one of the 168 chairs represents a live lost in the bombing.

From the memorial I decided to go and check out the museum there. While I feel the ten dollar entry fee is a bit too much, I did find the museum moving and informative. From memorial I headed west on I-40 and headed for Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. I stopped along the way for lunch at Baum’s, a fast food and dairy chain, before driving the final miles to the battlefield site. 

Washita Battlefield is the site of a massacre of Chief Black Kettle’s group of Cheyenne who were camped along the banks of the Washita River.
Washita Battlefield

The visitor center offered a decent orientation film and some nice exhibits. Outside it was very hot (106 degrees F), but I still hiked the short trail through the baked grasslands. There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the hike, but it gave some perspective of the terrain on which the massacre had occurred. 

From Washita Battlefield I headed south back to I-40 and soon crossed into Texas. As I approached the small town of Groom it was readily apparent that I was in the Bible Belt. There was little on the radio besides conservative talk and country music, and I enjoyed listening to Rush Limbaugh bash liberals as I drove towards a huge silver cross. 
I found the Groom Cross to be so impressive, I just had to get off the interstate to admire it.

There were others there to see it as well, but the other folks who were there seemed to view their visits more along the lines of pilgrimages than I, who just saw the cross as a quirky roadside attraction on par with Carhenge or Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch. After a quick visit, I once again found myself on the interstate. Before I knew it I was in Amarillo for the next great adventure of the day, dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.

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