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Panhandle has share of festivals, stunning geography, unique history


Nathan Gunter June 4th, 2009

The Oklahoma Panhandle is home to less than 1 percent of the state's residents, and yet the odd outcropping of land that gives Oklahoma its unique shape is home to a fecundity of stories, sights...

The Oklahoma Panhandle is home to less than 1 percent of the state's residents, and yet the odd outcropping of land that gives Oklahoma its unique shape is home to a fecundity of stories, sights and pieces of history.

SLEEPY HAMLET
CATTLE AND HORSE RANCH
DRIED-UP CREEK BED

The first stop on a tour of the Panhandle is the small town of Beaver, home to Beaver Dunes State Park, a 520-acre dune buggy mecca that offers tent and RV camping, as well as a primitive, one-room cabin that sleeps up to four people. Miles of nature trails wind around the dunes and near the 5-acre Beaver Lake. Beaver also is home to the Jones and Plummer Trail Museum, which tells the story of its early settlers.

In the heart of Texas County lies Guymon, the Panhandle's largest community, which hosts the annual Sunflower Art, Food and Wine Festival on Friday and Saturday. The event is centered around the bright sunflower, with artists' works featuring the flower displayed prominently at the Wild Horse Gallery, 421 N. Main. The festival also features a state wine championship and live music by Bi-Polar Echo, Buffalofitz and Red Dirt Rangers. More information is available at www.artistincubation.com.

SLEEPY HAMLET
About 60 miles to the west of Guymon on U.S. Highway 412 lies the sleepy hamlet of Boise City, which holds the distinction of being the only American city to be bombed by the Allies in World War II.

On July 5, 1943, the pilots of a B-17 Flying Fortress out of the Army base at Dalhart, Texas, mistook the lights of the town square for their target and dropped six practice bombs on the town at 12:30 a.m. The sound of explosions ripped through the city, causing most local residents to "run like hell," according to local lore. Today, a monument to the bungled target practice stands in the same town square, now home to the Cimarron County Courthouse.

A few blocks to the north is the Cimarron Heritage Center, instantly recognizable because of the life-size iron brontosaurus standing by the road out front. "Cimmy," as it was dubbed by local schoolchildren, is a replica of a dinosaur whose remains were discovered in the area, and a monument to the region's rich paleontological history.

The center's museum, home to a repository of Santa Fe Trail and Dust Bowl-era artifacts, once belonged to local contractor Julius Cox, who commissioned the design from Oklahoma architect Bruce Goff.

The crown jewel in the Panhandle's raft of attractions lies at the western edge of Cimarron County. State Highway 325 delivers travelers to the tiny town of Kenton, the only town in the state that operates on Mountain Time, at the foot of Black Mesa, Oklahoma's highest point. The town is nestled in the volcanic canyon at the foot of the mesa and is home to a small museum, as well as the Kenton Mercantile, a store that also rents cabins.

CATTLE AND HORSE RANCH
Just north of the town lies the Black Mesa Bed and Breakfast, where proprietors Vicki and Monty Joe Roberts offer home comforts to visitors. At $45 a night for singles and $70 for couples, travelers have their pick of rooms in the stone ranch house built in 1910 on the Roberts Ranch, a working cattle and horse ranch. Vicki serves up big breakfast in true country style, including prickly pear cactus syrup to top her blueberry pancakes. 

Travelers would do well to pack a cooler with food and drinks for lunch and dinners; scenic picnic areas are plentiful near the mesa and at Black Mesa State Park a few miles away, but food supplies are not. More information on the B&B is available at www.bmbb1.com or by calling (800) 821-7204.

Just a few miles up the road from the B&B is the entrance to the Black Mesa trail, an 8-mile round-trip hike that leads to the top " 4,973 feet above sea level " where a granite obelisk marks the highest point in Oklahoma, just 1,200 feet from the New Mexico border. The top of the mesa offers stunning views of the valley below.

DRIED-UP CREEK BED
Just feet from the trailhead is a dried-up creek bed holding the preserved, hundred-million-year-old footprints of a duck-billed dinosaur, giving enthusiasts of all ages the chance to literally walk in Jurassic footsteps. Prime sunset viewing lies only a few miles up the road, where a small granite marker stands at the spot where Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado meet.

After dark, the stars come out in grand fashion. The Black Mesa B&B has a telescope that is available for rent, and by day, the entire area is a birder's paradise.

Given its wide variety of attractions, as well as its remoteness, a tour of the Panhandle is most likely not accomplished in a day. Camping facilities, bed and breakfasts, and cabins provide overnight accommodations at a variety of costs. The area can also provide a stopover for interstate-eschewing travelers on the way west to the Rocky Mountains and beyond. "Nathan Gunter

Editor's note: This is the third installment of the series "The Great Oklahoma Road Trip," a look at the lesser-known " but worth a trip " spots across the state. Check back at the start of next month for the fourth installment.

 
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