A Dust Bowl Road Trip: The Reasons Why

“Um, oh” has been the lackluster response of most people when we tell them we are going on a Dust Bowl Road Trip. The only person who has been extremely positive about it was the curator of Centennial Village Museum in Greeley. Leave it to a historian to get excited about a trip motivated by history.

Part of the reason people have been so humdrum about this road trip is that this area isn’t touristy. In fact, most people aren’t aware of the exact location of the Dust Bowl.  Also, it is often overshadowed by the Great Depression, a time in this country’s past that has been written about, discussed, and written about again.

The Dust Bowl from Amazon.com
Watch “The Dust Bowl” on Amazon Prime.

However, the Dust Bowl is a significant part of America’s past. One could make a sound argument that it impacted people from San Francisco to New York. And yet, we know so little about this six-year period, or what led up to and caused the Dust Bowl.

Ryan, my husband, gets obsessed with historic things and will read everything he can on the subject. Years ago, it was the Hoover Dam. It’s been various wars and monarchs and castles. Today, it’s the mob, but just a couple of months ago, he was fascinated by all things Dust Bowl. It was at this time that he decided we should go. After all, the Dust Bowl occurred in Southern Colorado, the Oklahoma Panhandle, as well as parts of Texas and New Mexico. That’s all a region about five to six hours south of where we live in Northern Colorado.

In 2012, we’d watched the Ken Burn’s documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” based largely on a 2008 book by Timothy Egan. Several months ago, Ryan listened to the book on Audible, and I just finished listening to it.

The book is called, “The Worst Hard Times: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” On Audible, it’s 11 hours and 45 minutes. As I listened, I realized how little I actually knew about the Dust Bowl. I mean, I read “Grapes of Wrath” in high school, but honestly, I don’t remember much.

The Worst Hard Time Dust Bowl by Eagan
“The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Eagan on Audible.

The story is black and white—poor agricultural practices resulted in the devastation of a large area of land. In other ways, it’s a story mired in the hopes of immigrants, tangled in the dream of the American West and the American farmer, and blurred by the plight of native people. And, it’s a parable that should be heeded regarding our current and future stewardship of the natural world.

It’s a truly fascinating read, and now we plan to explore the places that played a role in the story. They are small towns and counties. 

Clayton, New Mexico, population 3,100 

Dalhart, Texas, population 8,700 

Boise City, Oklahoma, population, 1,100

Baca County, Colorado, population 3,500

Today, this is drive-through country. Read reviews online of hotels and restaurants and it becomes evident that it is frequented by folks on their way to Texas from Colorado or vice versa. This isn’t a region where people come on vacation (unless grandma lives in town). But we are doing just that. Intentionally visiting an area overlooked by many today, but historically significant, and important to the human story. 

Also, I am convinced that the heart and soul of our country lives in the small towns scattered across the United States. Each has its own story to tell and that gives every single one a unique charm. I have the goal of finding that distinct appeal when I travel, and this trip is no exception.

Join this journey on HeidiTown’s Facebook page, Twitter and/or Instagram. I’d love for you to join in the conversation on any of those social media platforms, or here on HeidiTown.com.

Later this week we’ll be on our way to Dust Bowl country.

13 Comments


  1. I think it sounds fascinating! I don’t remember reading much about the Dust Bowl, but the photos by Dorthea Lange were haunting!

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    1. I highly recommend the book by Egan, Michelle,

      Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown!!!

      PS I LOVE Etsy! I’ll check out your shop.

      Reply

  2. I will be following you on HeidiTown. What a fascinating trip. I believe the dust bowl is why we still put glasses top down in the cupboard. I too have forgotten most of Steinbeck, but it is worth going back to chapter 3. His turtle crossing the road is the best descriptive writing ever. The Grapes of Wrath explained why I heard the term “okies” while growing up in Northern California.

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    1. Hi Jim,
      I think you’re right about glasses. My cups and glasses are upside down in the cupboard right now.
      Funny since you mentioned turtles… we are going to the Toppled Turtle Brewery in Dumas. It’s just southeast of Dalhart. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown, and thank you for following this Dust Bowl adventure!

      Reply

    1. Thank you, Tom!
      I’m so glad I’ve met you in the #smalltowntourismchat. Plus, the group on FB looks like it’s going to be very fun and educational.
      Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown!

      Reply

  3. I look forward to reading about your travels. I’ve recently read a really good historical fiction book that includes the Dust Bowl and how it affected so many lives. It’s “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah. I’ve never known a lot about the Dust Bowl and Okies till now. Somehow I got through school with never having to read The Grapes of Wrath. And I was an English Lit. major. I highly recommend Kristin Hannah’s book. It was hard to put down.

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    1. Hi Natalie,
      So nice to hear from you!
      Ryan read that book and we may listen to it during this trip. Ryan says he really liked it and he’ll listen to books twice (I won’t unless it involves cooking)! Great to hear another good review. It sounds like it’s a must.
      I can’t believe you got away without reading Grapes of Wrath. I think I was too young to appreciate it at the time. It was NOT a favorite. I think I need to re-read it (I mean listen to it. I do all books on Audible now because my eyes aren’t great!).
      Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown.

      Reply

    2. Oh my i loved the book Four Winds also! even though it was fictional you felt like you were right there. I am the director of the museum in Boise City, OK Cimarron Heritage Center we are on 1300 N Cimarron ave open monday – Saturday 10-12 and 1-4pm We have a great Dust Bowl exhibit and a Dust Bowl house which is very impressive. Heidi, I am so glad you stopped by but knew you needed to be on your way to get new tires! I could talk for days about the dustbowl!

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  4. I’m delighted to find A Dust Bowl Road Trip! A former photographer, I used to do trips like this, starting with a series of photographs I did called “Ghosts of the Mother Road”. And I had started a similar project about Ghosts of the Dust Bowl, but it came to a screeching halt in 2015 due to health issues. But I called them “ghosts” because they weren’t touristy things. They were abandoned, decaying structures and things. I started doing Route 66 and Dust Bowl photographic series because my Daddy was straight out of the “Grapes of Wrath”. Born in Oklahoma, he was working in the citrus groves of California when he was 8 years old. His family had escaped the Dust Bowl via Route 66. I wish I could have read your articles 15 years ago when I’d gone to these locations. I’d missed several gems!

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  5. If I had a traveling companion, I would be so interested in doing a trip like this. Sounds so interesting! Used to love driving from NJ to Colo every year before we moved here. Just to see the country!

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    1. New Jersey to Colorado? Now that’s a road trip!!!

      Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown, Gail.

      Reply

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