Like many of a certain age, my father is a massive fan of the Wild West. I can remember as a child having to watch The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of dollars over and over on TV, and Jim Reeves tunes were constantly played on the cassette in his car. So my father was the perfect candidate to accompany me on my first adventure to Oklahoma – the state that was, and still is the gateway to the West.
We flew with American Airlines into Chicago O’Hare and had a short stop over before our two-hour commuter flight to Oklahoma. Fly-drive is the best option when travelling through the United States and I thought driving on the right-handside of the road would be off-putting for Dad but the level of excitement in the car was on a par with the first time I took my children to Disneyland. The drive from Will Rogers Airport to Island Guest Ranch in Ames took two hours. With open plains, country towns and mini oil drills to see on route 81 the journey flew by. We arrived at our destination before sunset to be greeted warmly by Jordy White and her father Carl. Island Guest Ranch is a working ranch and the White family have been settled here since the Oklahoma Land-run of the late 1800s. Set on several-thousand-acres, the Cimarron River runs through the ranch, where they keep a large herd of long-horn cattle and are guardians to several wild species.
Staying at Island Guest Ranch means that you are instantly made to feel like part of the family. Jordy’s brother, Rylin, shows guests how to ride and herd cattle and all the guests dine with the family for the three hearty meals of good home-cooking that are served throughout the day. Guest accommodation is in en-suite chalets, close to the swimming pool and a few steps from the lodge-house where we ate.
We woke early on our first morning to freshly made pancakes and bacon with blueberries and strawberries. Rylin was keen to get going and had brought down some horses to the corral for our first adventure. This was my first time to be on a horse since I was ten-years-old and my father hadn’t been on one since the days he spent at home on the farm in his youth. We were made feel confident and comfortable and teamed up with suitably natured horses. I was amazed at how relaxed I felt and we started a trek through the farmland and terrain. “That’s the yellow rose of Texas there,” Rylin informed us, as he pointed to a flowering cactus plant. I realised how these farmers live close to nature and in harmony with it too. Bow-legged, but invigorated after our ride, I retired to the pool for the afternoon and sat in the sunshine reading my book. Our evening’s entertainment involved a trolley ride out to the farm to check up on the cattle and supplement their diet with some feed. I never thought I would enjoy such an experience and I can honestly say that my father was truly in his element.
The Whites offer a wide range of activities from the ranch and will take their guests to Pow Wows, Rodeos, Museums and Country and Western dances. Clay-shooting and paddle-boating are available or you can learn how to lasso your own steer. Jordy suggested we pay a visit to Simpsons Old Time museum in Enid which had my father enthralled. They have the best range of memorabilia from vintage films and music probably on the planet, with film sets that include a saloon, bordello and Jail.
One of the highlights from our stay at the ranch was sitting on the swing chairs at night and looking up at the millions of stars overhead – shooting stars give a private performance night after night to the sound of the wild coyotes howling. There really was no better show in town.
We were sad to leave Ames but there is a lot of the west to see in Oklahoma, so we set off for the town of Duncan on Route 81 which follows the original route the cowmen took on the original Chisolm Trail. Our first port of call was at the Chisolm Trail heritage centre and we got a taste of what it was like for the cowboys and young men that drove the cattle from Texas to Abiline in Kansas on a one-hundred day trek that cost many their lives.
At this time in the late 1800s the plains were flooded with cows and there was a shortage of beef in the east coast. Driving the cattle to meet the train in Kansas was the only way to transport them to market where they would get prices of $30 instead of $3 by staying in the mid-west. The cowboys got 100$ payment or their 100 days work and life was difficult and dangerous. The interactive film is well produced in the museum complete with sound effects and smells.
We packed up a picnic and decided to visit the lookout point used by the cowboys on this trail which is marked with a monument some 20 miles from the museum. Here we sat and absorbed the distance with a trail as far as the eye could see across the prairies.
This part of the country is rural in every sense of the world and we stopped off at small antique shop in the town of Comanche to find old memorabilia and nicnacs from the old west. It was wonderful to feel that you could find local friendly people gushing with their life-stories and welcoming to strangers.
When we made our way to Oklahoma City and our hotel in mid-town we didn’t expect this warmth to continue but it did. The city has been through a renaissance since the mid-nineties but it has maintained its country feel. We woke to a fun-filled day taking in all the action in Stockyard city. It is difficult to imagine that such a place exists only a short ten-minute drive from the centre of hte city but Stockyard city is where farmers and ranchers gather to sell cattle on a daily basis.
Some of the steers will be taken off to be fattened up in the pastures and others are going for breeding. It was like being on a film set watching the auctioneer rant at pace I couldn’t understand but it was wonderful to watch. The stench was overwhelming but the process brought my father right back to the days when he attended the cattle market as a lad. We dined at the Cattleman’s Cafe which has been around since 1910 and was filled with locals going to market. Around the corner was a street with the best range of cowboy clothing and boots so we had to get a Stetson before leaving.
As if he hadn’t had enough nostalgia we finished our time in Oklahoma City with a visit to the museum of the Cowboy where my father was able to name off every single character and their history much to our guide’s amusement. Oklahoma may be off the beaten track but it was the perfect destination for my Dad and I to make special memories.