Westward Yet Again

I had been planning to ride to New York in the summer of '08, to visit the children. I wasn't keen on the prospect, though, and when they decided to spend their vacation in Santa Fe, it was an obvious switch to going out and meeting them there. So late in July I headed west once more.

Elk City, out in western Oklahoma, used to be quite a pleasant little town; I did a reading at the library there back in the 90s and they were very nice to me. This was the first time I'd been there since the turn of the century, and it had developed a serious and mostly ugly sprawl in all directions. Some of the old town remained, though, in among the franchises and strip malls.

Route 66 is a big deal in Elk City, as in most of those towns lying more or less along the route of the long-extinct highway, and they hustle it relentlessly, though not always as aggressively and tackily as the above example in Elk City. I've never understood the phenomenon; to me it's like pimping for your dead grandmother. Of course some of those places don't have much else going for them....

Avoiding the Interstate, I took the blacktop on west and into Texas. The sky had been threatening rain, but the clouds blew away without ever doing anything; and for once the wind wasn't blowing - a thing so rare, in those parts, as to qualify as a blessed miracle.

Mobeetie, Texas, is a curious place, almost but not quite a ghost town. It saw some pretty wild times in its day, though. Back in the last quarter of the 19th Century Sweetwater, as it was then called, was quite a lively community, serving as support for nearby Fort Elliott and as a center for the buffalo-hide trade. Naturally the support tended to take the form of saloons and whorehouses (not that there was any real difference); there was even a segregated saloon for the black soldiers from the fort. Bat Masterson killed a man here, an army sergeant, in a fight over a whore.

Later, striving for respectability, the town applied for its own post office, but there was already a Sweetwater, Oklahoma. So they asked some local Indians how to say "sweetwater" in their language; the answer was "mobeetie" so that became the official name of the town. Subsequently it turned out that "Mobeetie" actually meant "buffalo shit." Contrary to widespread stereotype, Indians have a keen sense of humor and Comanches even more than most.

The old Mobeetie jail still stands; or at least that's what they claim, though the building looks suspiciously new - one suspects that this is another of those "restorations", but perhaps not.

The old jail cell shown above, however, looks very authentic indeed.

In the early 20th century Mobeetie fell on hard times; first the fort was closed down, then a tornado came through, then they lost the county seat to nearby Wheeler, and finally the railroad came through only to bypass the town completely. So most of the citizens relocated to a site a couple of miles to the north, leaving Old Mobeetie all but deserted. Nowadays about all that's left is a kind of roadhouse on the highway and, clustered around the old jail site, an attempted tourist attraction with corny fake-frontier buildings and the like. (But there's an excellent public restroom for which the weary traveler can be profoundly grateful. I sure as hell was.)

And at last here I was again, up on the caprock north of Amarillo, making camp for the night. Still no wind to speak of, so putting up the tent was a good deal easier.

I'd like to begin this concerrt wi' "Blue Bonnets Over The Border".... Blowing up an air mattress is a singularly undignified business, and a tiring one, but it's worth it to have a nice comfy bed for the night.

And another sunset over Lake Meredith. I'm getting to be like Monet with his water lilies.

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NEXT: Back To New Mexico