As we headed eastward from Amarillo, one of the biggest thrills was to continue to see gasoline prices falling. We got a double benefit - gasoline prices dropped because the price of crude oil has fallen over 20% from the highs of the summer and because we were leaving tourist areas and heading east. We paid a high of $4.429 in West Yellowstone in July, and prices were almost as high in Idaho. Then, prices began to fall through Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas. We stopped for gas at Flying J on the west side of Oklahoma City and paid $3.359, which was even below the national average.
We continued on through Oklahoma City about 25 miles to the east almost to Shawnee, OK, where we stopped at Firelake Grand Casino. The casino has about 20 or so campsites along the back of the parking lot that are available free for up to three nights. All we needed to do was to stop in and request a free gaming card, which then entitled us to a camping permit (also free). The gaming card tracks the amount you bet in the casino, which in turn (if you bet enough money), entitles you to free perks such as discounts in the casino restaurant or free drinks.
The campsites are close together, but they have 30/50 amp electric and water. There is a dump station available. The campsites are on gravel, not blacktop. This cuts down the heat a little; but the gravel is very fine and tends to get tracked into your rig, especially with a dog. The photo below shows our site at Firelake Grand Casino.
The other drawbacks to camping at the casino are the bright lights all over the parking lot (although these are for security, which is a good thing) and the fact they also allow semis to park overnight along the back of the parking lot in the row right ahead of the RV sites. Since it was hot when we were there, most of the drivers ran their engines all night to keep their rigs cool inside. That wasn't too bad when the trucks were backed in because that made the cab fairly far away from the RVs and the trailers partially blocked the sound. However, a couple of the trucks were parked head in which meant the cab was going to be close someone's RV. We had one fairly close to us the first night, and we could hear the diesel rumble even over our own air conditioner. But hey, we can't complain too much about a free campsite.
The truckers usually only stay one night and the one close to us left bright and early the next morning. There were a lot fewer trucks on the two subsequent nights we spent at the casino probably because the first night was Sunday and more truckers stopped over at the casino on the weekend. Also, almost all the trucks on the second two nights were backed in and/or were farther away from us so there was hardly any noise at all.
A couple we met at the campground in Tucumcari recommended the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Therefore, we made it a priority to visit the museum while we were in the area. We weren't sure exactly what to expect (Paul thought there would be a lot of stuff on rodeos), but we were pleasantly surprised at what we found.
We were greeted by a building that was much larger and much more modern than we expected. The photo below shows Margery outside the museum. The flowers and sculpture were a preview of what was inside.
Once inside, we found out the Prix de West art exhibit was going on. Right away, that blew away any preconceived notions Paul had about the Cowboy Museum. He doesn't usually think of cowboys and art together, but it is not without precedent. We found western art at the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, WY.
The Prix de West is a special, invitational art show in addition to the museum's permanent art collection. Every year, the museum buys the work of art from the Prix de West judged best in show to add to its permanent collection of western art, which also includes works by famous western artists Frederic Remington and Charles Russell.
After we bought our admission tickets, we were welcomed by a greeter who asked us if this was our first visit. Since it was, he spent several minutes explaining the Prix de West Art Show, the layout of the museum, and what we shouldn't miss. This was very helpful for our first visit and made it much easier finding our way around.
Right inside the main lobby is the plaster original for the well-known sculpture End of the Trail by James Earl Fraser. The sculpture was shown at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. Afterward, Fraser hoped the statue would be cast in bronze and placed overlooking San Francisco Bay, but material restrictions during WWI prevented this. The plaster model, which was on display in a park in Visalia, CA, was acquired by the Cowboy Museum in 1968. The museum restored the plaster model and made it a focal point of the museum.
Unfortunately, photography of most of the art inside the building is not permitted, so we can't show you any of the outstanding paintings or striking sculptures. The art all has a western theme - cowboys in action; beautiful mountain, canyon, plains, or desert scenery; portraits of Native Americans and cowboys; animals including birds, horses, bison, and fish; and much more.
Behind the museum, there are beautiful gardens with water features, koi ponds, and outdoor sculptures. The photo below shows the back of the museum.
The sculpture shown in the photo below is called In the Land of the Water People and is appropriately displayed at a large pool behind the museum.
There were plenty of opportunities to sit and enjoy the shade.
This bronze sculpture of a mare and foal was also in the garden behind the museum.
And these were just some of the multi-colored koi in one of the ponds.
We again met up with the legendary Buffalo Bill in this large sculpture.
But the Cowboy Museum is more than just art. There is a section on Native Americans showing clothing, tools, and utensils from the past.
And of course, there is much about the cowboy and how he shaped the West. The term "cowboy" began in colonial times and referred to those tending livestock. During the American Revolution, mounted cattlemen loyal to England who stole livestock from American farmers also called themselves cowboys. But the term was not used in the West until later in the 1800s. Drover was one earlier term used for those who tended cattle.
The Spanish word for cow is vaca and those who tended the cattle from horseback were known as vaqueros. Since most of the Southwest originally belonged to Spain (and later to Mexico), the term was common in that area. In California, the word vaquero was modified to "buckaroo." The letter "v" in Spanish is pronounced like "b," so buckaroo was probably an Anglo approximation of vaquero.
The museum portrayed cowboy life through the years. One way they did this was through a number of life size vignettes. In the scene depicted below, the cowboy is coming in off the range in the evening to a hearty chuck wagon meal.
There are also a number of displays showing the development of the cowboys' clothing and gear including blue jeans, boots, hats, chaps, bridles, saddles, spurs, and more. Different areas of the country developed different styles that exist to some degree today. For example, plains cowboys favored wide hats and big saddles. California cowboys inherited the Spanish love of elaborate spurs and bits, fancy braided bridles and reins, and floral-tooled leather. Texans have an affinity for showy boots.
An important part of the cowboy's gear used to identify cattle was the branding iron. The museum had a collection of branding irons, and we ran across one from JA Ranch, which we learned about when we visited Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo, TX.
Barbed wire played an important role in the Southwest. Although there were concepts for barbed wire as early as 1865, the first barbed fencing was patented in 1873 by farmer Henry Rose in Illinois. It consisted of wooden strips with projecting wire points hung on standard wire fencing. Within a year, Joseph Glidden (who was also from Illinois and who is generally considered the "father" of barbed wire) had a patent for barbed wire in the form we would recognize today. This was followed by a frenzy of as many as 570 new barbed wire patents, numerous legal battles, and a number of unauthorized, "bootleg" barbed wire manufacturers who manufactured patented designs without license.
The introduction of barbed wire led to range wars in the late 1800s in the West between farmers who wanted to protect their crops and free-range ranchers who opposed fencing. Although there was much violence, the disputes were ultimately settled in favor of the farmers. Within about 25 years, nearly all the open range had been fenced. Many consider this to be the end of the "Old West."
The Cowboy Museum has a whole room full of racks containing nearly 1300 different kinds of barbed wire. In the photo below, Paul is checking out some of the samples.
There was also a room dedicated to movie and TV cowboys. There were photos, paintings, and props from the earliest westerns, through more recent offerings on TV and on the big screen. Our favorites were the TV westerns from our younger days. Margery is reading about the TV series Gunsmoke.
And of course, what would a western museum be without John Wayne?
Prosperity Junction found in another part of the museum is a replica of a 1900s cattle town at dusk. We roamed the streets and looked into the windows of the stores, the school, and the doctor's office. We walked into the saloon, the railroad station, and the church, which is shown at the end of the street in the photo below.
As expected, the museum did have a room dedicated to rodeos. They had photos of famous rodeo stars; and there were many, many displays like the one below with trophies, belt buckles, and prize saddles of rodeo champions.
We really enjoyed the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Not only did we learn a lot about the life of the cowboy, we really enjoyed the art throughout the museum and the picturesque garden settings outside.
The next morning, we made a quick trip to Shawnee, OK to Wal-Mart to pick up a few grocery items. When we returned to the motor home, we stopped into the casino and put a few dollars into the penny slots. Although we normally don't gamble, we thought we should spend some money since the casino provided us with a free campsite for three nights.
We didn't know what we were doing and had to ask how the gaming card worked and even how the slot machines worked. There aren't handles anymore - everything is electronic. It was even more confusing, because you can play up to 9 different combinations to win on every play. We never did figure out what all the combinations were, but we won a few small jackpots here and there. We ended putting our meager winnings back into the machines; but with only one of us playing at a time and playing penny slots, it only cost us a few dollars for about an hour's entertainment. It was fun, but it isn't something we would want to do on a regular basis.
We then went back to the motor home for our afternoon snack and to start packing up to get ready to leave the following morning. We didn't even scratch the surface of all there is to see in Oklahoma City, so we look forward to a return visit.
Our next stop is West Memphis, AR, which is right across the Mississippi from Memphis, TN. We will make a one or two-night stop along the way.