Sulphur, OK: We Survived A Tornado

We cruised east on Route 66 from New Mexico to Oklahoma, where interesting things were followed by scary things. Terrifying things. Heart-wrenchingly bad things. “Can’t fight Mother Nature” things. But more on that later….

We’ll start with cheery and cheeky things we saw and did along the road to Sulphur. Erick, Oklahoma is the home of Roger Miller, who performed country novelty songs in the 60’s.

Remember “King of the Road”? (Anddddd now it’s probably stuck in your head, like mine.)

Erick is also the location of the Sandhill Curiosity Shop, where self-proclaimed “hillbilly hoarder” Harley Russell presides with his ongoing “Mediocre Music and Insanity Show,” a marijuana-infused, one-man tribute to this eccletic fella’s every thought and interest.

Despite the “shop” moniker, nothing is for sale here, but Harley is very welcoming and encouraging of visitors to walk around and take all the photos they want. There’s a donation jar, but no entry fee per se.

Worn chairs form a semi-circle for impromptu jam sessions with Harley, where he enthusiastically, if only semi-talentedly, performs crowd faves. When we dropped in (which you must just drop in, because he won’t answer his phone, post regular hours, or be in the shop except when he feels like it), he was performing for a group of 20+ young Europeans who were getting their kicks on Route 66.

Harley’s home, dubbed the “redneck castle and sanitarium,” is the next street over and no less quirky than the man himself, Is it schtick? Sure is. But all in good fun. Read more about this character here.

Back at the campground, a stray cat attempted to charm his way into our hearts and join the Miller Adventures. He applied the full-court press of tactics, including sprinting for the RV door every time it opened, rubbing around Philip’s ankles as he was grilling, and striding alongside the dogs — keeping perfect pace — on our campground walks.

His mission was admirable and within the realm of possibility. After all, heart-squeezing adorableness is how our blogger friends Laurel and Eric ended up with their kitty, Magnolia. We fed him, but drove away when he wasn’t looking, since I’m not down for a litter box in our 200 square feet RV. Oil pumps and wind turbines dot the horizon along Route 66.

In Weatherford OK, a single, giant blade of these giant turbines has been painted — one side a tribute to Vietnam veterans, and the other side a tribute to the town.

Two examples of a classic piece of Americana are also along this stretch of highway. We’ve been hunting down Muffler Men across the United States, and they are usually gussied up as cowboys or baseball players or lumberjacks or some other figure of Americana manliness. The “Second Amendment Cowboy,” not surprisingly located in Texas, at Amarillo, sported a large plaque outlining everyone’s right to bear arms.

With his longhorn belt buckle, six-shooters by his side, and classic Cadillacs in the background, it doesn’t get any more “U S of A” than that. Read more about a crazy don’t-miss attraction in this area!

Further down the road in Calumet, OK, the Indian Muffler Man is placed in front of an “authentic” Indian trading post. It feels tone-deaf to call him an Indian instead of a Native American in this day and age, but that’s what they call him, so I’m sticking with that.

Our final stop in Oklahoma came very close to being our FINAL stop on Earth. We were in Sulphur, OK, the dark night that 20 tornadoes roared through Oklahoma, and two of them went back-to-back through downtown Sulphur, just 7.8 miles from our campsite. The County EMS Director later declared that the big tornado that tore through the city was an F4.

We spent a sleepless, terrifying night huddled in the RV with the dogs, simultaneously watching news broadcasts, feverishly checking weather apps, listening to the tornado-siren-screaming and the freight-train-whooshing-sound, clicking on warning after warning after warning coming through the emergency system on our cell phones, wondering if the huge hail was damaging our RV or the 5 inches of rain in just a few hours was going to float us away. And crying. Lots of crying. (Philip would like it clarified that I was the one crying, not him.) The red outline is a tornado zone and our campsite was right on Lake of the Arbuckles.

This was our second tornado in 11 years of RV’ing, and by far the most terrifying because of the ferocity of the storm, the close track to our location, and the fear-inducing pleas of the people on the news to GET IN YOUR SAFE SPACE (which, being in an RV, we don’t have). We got a quick education in terms like Dry Line, Shear Rate, and CC. Everything that Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton showed you in the movie Twister is true. Daylight brought relief that we made it through, but complete disbelief at the utter destruction of the town. We had driven these streets just hours before.

On April 28, 2024, this tiny, quiet, proud town was destroyed. Two people were killed and multiple residents injured in 136+ MPH winds, as debris was tossed up to 19,000 feet in the air. Even the most seasoned emergency personnel were shocked at what they saw. As were we. We had never come that close before. “Why didn’t you go to a shelter?” you might ask. By the time we heard the sirens, it was too late to safely go anywhere. And in the end, that might be what saved us, since the tornado touched down in the park right across the street from the city maintenance yard that was designated as the town’s shelter.

Aerial Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman.

It’s hard to follow up a tornado near-death experience story with cheery tourist photos, but before the twister sent us packing and outta here, we had a wonderful stay in Sulphur, enjoying the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the former Platt National Park that was changed to a Recreation Area in 1976 to encompass greater acreage of land and water.

We were shocked by how green and lush Oklahoma is. Despite the devastation and destruction we witnessed firsthand in Sulphur, we plan to return again and enjoy its bounty of natural beauty. Just maybe not in April next time …

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