Devil’s Rope Museum

Ouch!!  A sting from a normal sized scorpion can be very painful – I know this from personal experience.  But can you imagine encountering a foot-long scorpion?  I have come face-to-face with one of these giants, as evidenced by the following photograph.

I ran across this specimen (metallica hadrurus arizonensis) while visiting the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas.  And if this one isn’t large enough to frighten you, how about a scorpion the size of a human being?  It must have existed, because I read about it on the Internet – specifically, here.

But back to the Devil’s Rope Museum,  which claims to be the largest barbed wire historic museum in the world, and is the topic of this post.   I visited this museum while passing through McLean, Texas, shortly before writing a  previous post  regarding my pathetic little collection of barbed wire and fencing tools. 

McLean, Texas (pop. 830) lies along the path of old Route 66, which I happened to be exploring this past Fall.  After a delightful lunch stop at the Red River Steakhouse  (a place with real cowboys and cowgirls seated at the tables, excellent rib eye steaks, and great fresh cobblers included with all meals), the Devil’s Rope Museum caught my eye as I was departing town.  Grabbing my camera, I headed inside to see what might be on display.

The museum offers a variety of exhibits related to barbed wire and fencing, as well as barbed wire art, such as the scorpion (as seen in the first photograph), and the woven wire hat, seen here.

This photograph shows one example of the portable wire fence fabrication machines the museum has on display.

In times past, many rural ranchers utilized the top wire of their barbed wire fencing to transmit electrical communications signals (telegraph, telephone, etc.) from point to point.  These ranchers soon became well-versed in the concept of electrical insulators, and began using any appropriate items or materials that might have been on hand at the moment, as seen in the preceding photo.

In those parts of the plains states where timber was in short supply, substitute materials would be found for the construction of fence posts.  The photo above shows a clever seat/hand drill device used to bore holes in stone fence posts – a daunting task, indeed!

This is an uncommon earth auger designed to be powered by a vehicle’s 12 volt electrical charging system.  Perhaps these tools will make a comeback as a result of $4.00/gallon gasoline.

This is just a small sample of the thousands of styles of barbed wire that the Devil’s Rope Museum has on display throughout the building.

Here are some of the various designs and sizes of fencing staples that are on display, along with an explanation of what the different types of staples are used for.

The museum hosts a nice size collection of branding irons and brands, including this example of early land grant brands.

Because the Devil’s Rope Museum is located along old Route 66, the facility includes a small, but nice exhibit pertaining to the Texas portion of Route 66.

On display within this section of the museum is this mock-up of a 1940’s era diner, with all of the appropriate appliances and accouterments.

You may remember reading my previous post about the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.  If so, you may be interested to know that the cast model steer on display at the museum (seen above) is the steer that graced the original location of the Big Texan.  If you look back at that previous post, you will see that the current steer replica is vastly larger than this original one.

In addition to this small sampling of the exhibits at the Devil’s Rope Museum that I have depicted above, I also viewed a special photographic collection pertaining to the Dust Bowl era that afflicted the mid-west region in the 1930’s.  Seeing the disaster that took place, and the human devastation that resulted was a heart breaking experience.  Because I did not take photographs of the exhibit (for copyright reasons),  I have included  this link  to a website containing similar photographs.  It is well worth a click over to the site.

Elk City, Oklahoma – Old Town Museum Complex

Last month I took a road trip from Arkansas to California and back, which is a trip I have taken many times in the past.  In order to add a little more interest this time around, I decided to travel over as much of the original Route 66 as was reasonably possible, given the overall time I had alloted for this particular trip. Along the way, I sampled some of delightful places that this route took me near.

Since my camera is once again off traveling without me, I thought I would share some of the sights that I saw along Route 66 over the next few days.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have already posted about several of these sights already.  There was the post about the Nation Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  And then the post about the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and of course the Burma Shave signs  I ran across while driving on Route 66 in western Arizona.

Today’s post is about the Elk City Old Town Museum Complex, located along Route 66 in western Oklahoma.  The museum complex was quite impressive, particularly considering the small size of Elk City (population – approximately 11,000).

The complex is comprised of a replica old western town, with all the types of buildings you would expect to see in such a town, along with several museums, some of which I’ll show you in a moment.  Above is the Opera House replica (which can be rented for weddings and other occasions).

Here is a bank and mercantile building that is located along one side of the park, which is home to the museum complex.

Inside the buildings are authentic antiques from days of yore, such as the surgical facility shown in the photograph above.

There is a replica train depot which you can visit, along with an authentic railroad caboose that you can walk through.

This is an actual old school house that was originally located in a nearby town.  It was dismantled and rebuilt at this sight, and contains the  furnishings and accoutrements you might expect to see in an old school house on the prairie.

One of the museums contained in the complex is the National Route 66 Museum.  Visiting the Route 66 museum is the reason I sought out the Elk City Museum Complex in the first place.

Within this museum are displays of the scenes you would be likely to see while traveling along Route 66, such as the Navajo peddler depicted above, or the old-time service station recreated in the photograph below.

This sailor, hitching a ride along Route 66 in the southeast corner of Kansas, is a very long way from any ocean.  I wonder if his destination is the Atlantic, or Pacific ocean?

Considering that the National Route 66 Museum was the reason for my visit, I felt a little let down with it’s contents and displays.  I found nothing on display that was particularly unique or compelling, and if it were the only draw to the Elk City Museum Complex, I would have been disappointed.

The portion of the complex that I found most appealing was the Farm and Ranch Museum, which is comprised of an outdoor display area, along with a large indoor facility (seen in the background in the photograph above).

The museum owns a collection of windmills, each one with some special pedigree or unique feature.  The style shown above, with it’s unusual blade structure, is designed to operate in, and withstand very high winds.

There are old and varied farm implements on display outside at the Farm and Ranch Museum, many of which have functions that are not immediately recognizable to the average person.  All are well signed and documented, however, so that the visitor can learn about these pieces of farm machinery during the course of their visit.

Here is an example of the kind of old farm equipment you will find inside the Farm and Ranch Museum building.  The building is quite large and hosts a great number of items – from large tractors and implements, to collections of tiny agricultural U.S. postage stamps, and everything in between.

The Farm and Ranch Museum offers exhibits of items that you may never have seen or heard about, such as the display of hog oilers seen in the photograph above.  Hogs would rub up against the oily wheels of the hog oiler, and the coat of oil on the skin of the hogs would help to protect the hogs against flies and ticks.

Here is a very colorful display of old, cast-iron tractor and farm implement seats.  There are many more on display at the museum, but these are the only ones that are painted so colorfully.

This wagon is just one of many on display at the Farm and Ranch Museum.  In fact, there are several that I saw that would make perfect “yard art” somewhere on our property :)

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a visit to the Elk City Old Town Museum complex.  Perhaps not for the National Route 66 Museum, which I found disappointing, but for the excellent re-creation of an old town within the complex, and for the outstanding Farm and Ranch Museum, which (to me) was well worth the time and (modest) cost of admission.


Sandia Peak Tramway

Approaching the Sandia Peak Tramway facility

The Sandia Peak Tramway, just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, claims the distinction of being the world’s longest aerial tramway.  Situated on the valley floor at an elevation of 6559′ above sea level,  the tram base station (seen in the photograph above) is the starting point for a tram ride which will take you to the top of the Sandia Mountains.  The journey entails a 2.7 mile long ride, which crosses two support towers on it’s way to the mountaintop station, where the elevation sign tells you that you have reached an elevation of 10,378′.

In the photograph above, while you can see both of the support towers, the mountaintop station remains out of sight.  The second tower, which you can see is perched atop a ridge, sits about halfway between the base and mountaintop stations.  So the stretch of cable that you see in the picture is actually only about half of the total length over which the tramway travels on it’s way to the top.

Drive cable flywheel

I don’t know about you, but when I contemplate stepping aboard a tram car which will be suspended up to 1000′ above the ground below, I think about the robustness of the machinery in which I will be entrusting my fragile body.  So it is with a keen eye that I survey the general condition of the tramway equipment.

Machinery above the cable counterweight pit

The two photographs above show some of the visible machinery that powers the tramway.  While a cursory visual inspection of the equipment (by an untrained and unqualified inspector such as myself) really provides no actual useful information, it still serves to quell my jitters about the impending ride I am about to embark upon ;)

Support aparatus for gondola

The tram gondola is suspended from a tri-cable system.  The two outer cables, which are stationary, actually provide the support for the car, while the third cable (in the center) serves to haul the gondola up the mountain.  The cables are designed in such a way that any one of them is capable of supporting the gondola if the need arose (or so I was assured by the gondola operator).

If you look closely at the photograph above, you will see a ladder that is affixed to the gondola support.  Every morning, before the public may board the tram, maintenance employees make an inspection run up and down the mountain.  One employee rides on the roof of the gondola, while another one stands at the top of the ladder pictured above, inspecting the cables along the entire length of the tramway.

Tram car departing the base station

Now that I have reassured myself that the round-trip journey on the tramway will not jeopardize life or limb, I am prepared to board the tram for the ride to the top of the mountain.  The tram car can be seen departing the base station above, beginning the approximately 15 minute trek to the mountaintop station.

Looking out over Albuquerque, N.M.

As the tram car rises in elevation, the city of Albuquerque appears smaller and smaller as each minute ticks by.

View on the way up the mountain

As spectacular as the view is looking down toward Albuquerque, you will find the scenery provided by the canyons along the steep mountainsides to be equally dramatic.

The tram will traverse four ecological life zones along the way from bottom to top: the Upper Sonoran Zone (6500′), the Transition Zone (7200′), the Canadian Zone (8500′), and the Hudsonian Zone (10,000′).  An information sign indicates that this is the equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Alaska, although I do not quite understand how zone changes as a result of elevation gain equate to a northward progression of latitude  (readers – please feel free to educate me on this point).

Mountaintop tram station

After a wonderfully scenic 15 minute ride, the tram car arrives at the mountaintop station, where passengers disembark to enjoy the activities available at the top of the mountain. 

Quite a climb!

As you may imagine, the views available from the mountaintop station, situated at 10,378′ are grand.

Sighting tubes

On a clear day, approximately 11,000 square miles of New Mexico landscape are visible from the top of the mountain.  There are several viewing platforms available, and each one has a clever viewing aid, as shown above.  Each of the steel sighting tubes are aimed at a particular landmark.  By keying each tube to a legend on the chart, it is easy to identify the prominent features that are visible to the viewer.

Rugged terrain near Sandia Peak

There are many activities available to those who arrive at the mountaintop.  There are 24 miles of mountain trails available to hikers and bike riders, which meander along the rugged terrain of the Sandia Mountains.

One of several chair lifts

In the winter, skiers can utilize the services of 4 chair lifts and 2 surface lifts.  In the summer, chairlift rides (along the back side of the mountain) are available on weekends, and mountain bikes can be rented for trail exploration.  The Four Seasons Visitor Center is located atop the peak, and is staffed May through November with Forest Service Rangers and volunteer interpreters.  Besides the Double Eagle II cafe, the High Finance restaurant, specializing in steaks, prime rib and seafood, is located at the top of the mountain.

Approaching tower #2

When you have had your fill of activities, you will board a tram car for the 2.7 mile journey back down to the base station.  As your tram car descends, it will eventually cross paths with the ascending tram car, which serves to mark the halfway point of the trip.  Each car travels at 13.5 MPH, so the closing speed between the two gondolas is 27 MPH.  When viewed from the perspective inside a tram car, 27 MPH is pretty speedy, especially if you are trying to take a photograph of the passing tram car.

Completion of tram ride

Reaching the base station, your trip has ended in a mere 15 minutes, but the memories will probably last a lifetime.  If you are traveling in the vicinity of Albuquerque, it is well worth the $17.50 (adult) fare to experience a ride on the longest aerial tramway in the world.  I highly recommend it, and don’t forget your camera and hiking boots.