A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Optima Lake’

Hooker, Oklahoma

Posted by graywacke on February 6, 2013

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-time-I-get-around-to-it blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

Dan –  Continuing my slump (only one USer in my last six landings), this landing in . . . OK; 55/45; 4/10 (1/6); 6; 155.9.

 Here’s my regional landing map, showing I landed in (on?) the OK panhandle.

 hooker landing 1

Speaking of panhandles . . . Wiki identifies the following panhandles in the lower 48 (with their areas in sq miles):


  1.  TX   (25,887)
  2.  ID  (21,013)
  3. NE (14,258)
  4.  FL   (11,304)
  5.  OK   (5,687)
  6. WV (east)   (3,499)
  7. MD   (2,194)
  8. WV (north)   (601)

 You’ll note that in Wiki’s opinion, Nebraska has a panhandle.  Well, A Landing A Day does not recognize Nebraska’s faux panhandle.  It’s too thick relative to the rest of the state.  I mean, really, take a look at this map:

 hooker panhandles

Texas’s panhandle is bigger (and thicker), but relative to the whole state, the term “panhandle” works.  And everybody talks about the Texas panhandle, yet I, for one, don’t hear mention of the Nebraska panhandle.  

 Once again, keeping track of all things landing, here’s my panhandle scorecard (# of landings, out of 1985 landings):


  1.  TX – 22
  2. ID – 10
  3. OK – 7
  4. FL – 5
  5. MD – 1
  6. WV (north) – 1
  7. WV (east) – 0

Looking at the areas vs. the landings (and the ratios of landings to areas) – I’d expect more ID and FL panhandle landings – i.e., these panhandles are undersubscribed (US).

 Moving right along to my closer-in landing map  – you can see I landed in an area with a plethora of small towns:

 hooker landing 2

I confess that I was immediately drawn to Hooker, for obvious reasons.  I dutifully checked out the surrounding towns, but when Hooker winked at me, there was no going back . . .

 Here’s my Google Earth (GE) shot, which shows an ill-defined rural (likely pastureland) landscape:

 hooker GE1

Just to the north of my landing is the Palo Duro Ck; on to the Beaver R (8th hit); to the North Canadian R (15th hit); to the Canadian R (40th hit); to the Arkansas (109th hit); to the MM (783rd hit).

 I was looking into the origin of the name “Palo Duro.”  There’s a Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle, and the Park’s website has this to say about the origin of the phrase (which likely applies here as well):

Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon “Palo Duro” which is Spanish for “hard wood” in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.

Before I go to Hooker, I’ll share with you something that caught my eye while perusing GE.  Check out this GE shot, and you’ll see a huge hunk of brown real estate about 5 miles NW of my landing:

 hooker GE2

Here’s a closer-in shot, showing that the big brown patch is over a mile across:

 hooker GE 3

So, I zoomed in, and figured out what I was looking at:

 hooker GE4

Cows!  All of the little dots are cows.  That’s right, this is a huge feed lot.  I worked hard to figure out who owned it, but couldn’t do it.  I found information about two other local feed lots, but not this one.  One of the feed lots that’s smaller than this one can hold 59,000 head of cattle, so I’d say this one holds (and feeds) more like 80,000 head.

 Odds are pretty good that you and me and just about everybody who eats beef has eaten some that was raised here.

 Finally, on to Hooker.  Well, the folks there seem to embrace the name of their town.  Of course, it wasn’t named Hooker because there were so many er, ah, ladies of the evening there.  This from HookerOklahoma.net (with a little editing by yours truly):

Back in the 1800’s,  this land [i.e., the OK panhandle] was No Man’s Land, because none of the surrounding states or territories wanted this little strip of land about 40 miles wide.  Folks started running cattle around these parts and one of those folks was John “Hooker” Threlkeld.  John earned his infamous nickname by being such a good roper.  He was described as one of the really great ropers of the day, a man who could ride quietly into a herd, drop a tight, small, and fast loop from either side of his mount and catch calves standing beside their mothers.

Hooker was born in Kentucky, November 13, 1846.  He came west with his parents to Missouri.  In 1864 he joined up with a freight outfit and bullwhacked west from Omaha to Virginia City, Montana with his two brothers.  In 1873, Hooker came to No Man’s Land where he spent the next 30 years in the saddle.

 [Quick note on “bullwhack.”  It means “to drive a team of oxen with a whip.”]

Things in Hooker, Oklahoma started coming right along with schools, churches, and businesses going up.  Then on June 1, 1908 tragedy struck.  A fire started behind Mrs. Atterbury’s restaurant and destroyed 42 businesses and assorted other buildings.  No fire trucks were available and the fire spread quickly.  But true to the pioneer spirit businesses immediately started rebuilding.

The 1930’s saw the whole great plains region devastated by horrific dirt storms and drought.  Things were so bad that the railroads used snow plows and shovel crews to clear tracks after the storms. In the 1940’s the oil and gas industry pumped additional life into the town.

In 1967 the little league park was opened and a new library was completed.  1967 was also the year that the American Legion baseball team became known as the Hooker Horny Toads.

Catchy name, Horny Toads, eh?  From TripAdversor.com:

 hooker horny toads

Even the Chamber of Commerce isn’t above a little suggestive marketing (from RoadsideAmerica.com):

 hooker c of c

From Nevco.com (the folks that make scoreboards), check this out:


Way to go, Hooker!

 One last stop on this landing tour.  Looking back at my landing map, you can see the fairly substantial lake just north of Hardesty.  This is the Optima Lake, created by the Optima Dam.  As a hydrologist, I was blown away by what happened here.  I’ll start with Wiki:

Optima Lake is located near the towns of Hardesty and Guymon in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Construction on the earthen Optima Lake Dam began in 1966 and was completed in 1978 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, with a height of 120 feet, and a length at its crest of 16,875 feet.  The project cost taxpayers $46 million.

[Wow.  The dam is over three miles long!  But get this:]

The lake has never reached more than 5 percent of its design capacity and now is effectively empty.

[Big time ouch.  Somebody really screwed up.]

Rapid declines in streamflow (related to large-scale pumping from the High Plains Aquifer) coincided with the completion of dam construction.

[Weak excuse.  Nothing to do with groundwater happens quickly.  Like I said, somebody really screwed up.]

The US Army Corps of Engineers states (emphasis added):

Visitors should be aware that the lake’s level can be very low. Depending on rainfall and evaporation rates, the lake may offer no water-based recreation and may not be suitable for swimming, fishing, boating or other activities.

Lake camping facilities and buildings have been dismantled for public safety by the Corps of Engineers as of October 2012.

I spent some time trying to find out some technical information about this incredible failure.  I’m sure the information exists, but not in the first 5 or so pages of a Google search (which is about as deep as I’m willing to go).

 Anyway, the Corps built campgrounds, access roads, a boat ramp, and all sorts of facilities.  For people who never came.  Thousands of acres of land was possessed by eminent domain, which now serves as a nature preserve (not all bad, I guess).

 Anyway, here are some pictures from AbandonnedOK.com.  Here’s a shot from the dam, looking out at the “lake:”

 shot from the dam, looking out at the lake

Here’s a shot from the “lake,” looking back at the dam:

 looking back at the dam

Here’s the top of the dam:

 top of the dam

I’ll close with this artsy shot of one of the abandoned buildings in the park:


That’ll do it.



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