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