Explore OK {Panhandle & Autograph Rock}

An unexpected result of homeschooling my kids has been a deep interest and appreciation in history for me. I’m constantly looking up random facts about places, people and events. Driving to Crested Butte we decided to go through the Oklahoma Panhandle. If you picture Oklahoma as a pan, the skinny long part is the handle…thus the Oklahoma Panhandle.

mapThe Panhandle is unlike the majority of the rest of the state. I live in an area of the state known as Green Country…lots of trees, hills, etc. The Panhandle is a flat plain area of the state. As we were driving through I began wondering about the history of the area. It turns out that the area was once known as “No Mans Land”. This area of land once fell under the Texas territory, but the Compromise of 1850 and the Missouri Compromise meant that Texas (a slave state) could not extend its border past the parallel 36°30? north. When Kansas became a state, its border was set at the 37th parallel. This left a strip of land 34 miles wide and 168 miles long between Texas and Kansas. Squatters, outlaws, and settlers filled the land, which lacked government. Eventually the strip would be designated part of the Oklahoma territory and is now known as the Oklahoma Panhandle. So fascinating to me!

8.15OKpanhandle-018.15OKpanhandle-02The area also included the Cimmarron Cutoff, part of the Santa Fe Trail. As we drove the roads, I wondered how much has changed in the last 200 years. So much of the area seems untouched. It is incredible to think that early settlers, explorers, and adventurers traveled through this area seeing much of the same sites.8.15OKpanhandle-03Chris is a master at finding random locations to visit. As we approached Boise City, OK, he had the idea to stop at Autograph Rock. We had never heard of the place, but a few quick phone calls set us on a side trip.

The clean water of Cold Springs Creek was an oasis to travels along the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail.  The sandstone bluff provided a resting place for travelers on the trail to set up camp, tend to the sick, care for animals and prepare for the rest of their journeys. Those stopping often carved their names in the sandstone – hundreds of names, the oldest belonging to T. Potts in 1806. Nearly forgotten now, 150 years ago this was the beaten path. Autograph Rock is located on privately owned land now. The Sharp family, committed to historical preservation, allows today’s travelers to also journey to these rocks and take in a glimpse of our country’s history.8.15OKpanhandle-048.15OKpanhandle-058.15OKpanhandle-068.15OKpanhandle-078.15OKpanhandle-088.15OKpanhandle-09An owner of a mule and oxen train, F.B. Delgado frequented the trail and left his name numerous times.8.15OKpanhandle-10As we walked around, we imagined the area full of travelers…traveling much differently than how we got there. Families maybe a little like ours on their way to a new adventure. It is incredible to think how this once popular area is now so remote. Highways cut through the land several miles away and travelers rarely find themselves among these rocks today. I’m thankful to those that work to record history and those that invest in the future by sharing pieces of the past.8.15OKpanhandle-11As we began the drive back to the main highway, we drove down gravel roads surrounded by corn fields. An Oklahoma storm was brewing on this Saturday night and I spotted a lone farmer cutting across his field. And my heart filled with gratitude.8.15OKpanhandle-12Tips regarding Autograph Rock:

  • You must get permission to visit first. Contact the Cimarron Heritage Center at (580)544-3479 to request permission and get directions. We called about 30 minutes before we got to town. The center was about to close, but they graciously gave us permission to visit Autograph Rock and taped directions to the front door for us. I love Oklahoma.
  • The drive from the Cimarron Heritage Center to Autograph Rock takes about 30 minutes and it out of the way. Part of the road is dirt/gravel. We did not have our trailer. If we had the trailer, we probably would have unhitched it and left it at the Center.
  • During our visit, the grass was really high near the rocks. My younger kids complained it was itchy. It would have been idea to wear pants and boots instead of shorts and flip flops.
  • There are safety warnings regarding snakes and falling rocks. We didn’t see either, but you should be aware.
  • The land is private property. There are no bathrooms, picnic tables, trash bins.
  • It is closed during the winter.
  • It is pretty remote, surrounded by fields. Be sure you have snacks, water, and such just in case something happens and you get stuck. Nothing like that happened to us. However, if your car were to break down it would be a lot of walking until you found some help. If your cell phone worked, it would probably still take a bit for someone to get to you.
  • If you have a chance to read up on the Santa Fe Trail before your visit, it would be completely worth it!

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  • Cathy S. - I am struck by the F.B. Delgado signature it looks like it was stamped in to the rock. My oldest daughter is in 9th grade and studying OK History this year. Their assignment is to tell about little known facts about OK. Maybe this is some place she could talk about. Thanks for the OK History, not sure this native Oklahoman has ever heard of this place.

  • heidi e. - LOVE this post. I enjoy history too, though I never knew that until recently as an adult. Funny how that works.. kindof wish I could turn back time and pay attention in history class again!

    I’m amazed by the travelers’ handwriting! I imagine it was so relaxing carving, so neatly and precisely, into the rock. Maybe Delgado was an artist at heart.

  • Diana - i feel like autograph rock may have been on the Oregon Trail game, if you took the south detour? Maybe?? I love the history behind places like this too!

  • Jenny - Wow! What a neat place to visit. I bet it was amazing, standing there and looking at all the names. How fun!

  • Cara - I’ve loved your recent set of travel posts! Hope to visit some of these areas with my family some day.

  • Naomi - We read about Sallie Fox, a pioneer who girl traveled on the Sante Fe Trail and signed her name on Autograph Rock. Thank you for sharing your adventure so we could see pictures of the rock!

  • susie - If you ever come to wyoming again make sure you visit independence rock south of casper. We often drive past it and my kids like hiking to the top and looking at the old names. Lars commented how much time they spent carving each letter- so different then people now days! Neat area.

  • Dee - So, my last name is Delgado and I used to live in Norton, Ohio…this post has me all goosebumps and stars!

  • Amy K. - Not only history, but art too!

  • Christi S. - I recommend the book “The Worst Hard Time.” It’s about the Dust Bowl that hit that part of Oklahoma and Texas. I’ve heard of Autograph Rock, and it might be from this book. The description of the land during that era and what the settlers/farmers went through is fascinating. My grandfather was a young boy living in North Texas at the time. What he remembers of this time is amazing (and scary)! After reading the book, I can’t even imagine living through something like that now! You and your oldest son would enjoy it…might be a bit much for the younger ones.

  • Kat - Hi Ashley,
    I really enjoyed reading this. As I am getting older I find myself becoming a lot more interested in learning history too. I am in Australia and I don’t know a lot of American history. What you shared today is not something I would of have learned had you not blogged about it. Over the years of reading your blog I have come to learn more and more about Oklahoma and I have to remind myself occasionally how far away it is. It seems familiar now and just next door….and I feel like I’m on a holiday with you. If I ever get to the U.S. I will have some spots to check out. Thank you.

  • Lacey - How cool! I love learning about the settlers and history such as this. Isn’t it neat how they didn’t just carve their names, but thought to include the year? Almost like they knew it would be historical. 🙂 AND that they carved their names so fancy!

  • Caitlin Weaver - You’re explanation about how the Panhandle came to be reminded me of the show “How the States Got Their Shapes”. Have you seen it? You and your kids would probably love it 🙂

  • Lindsey G - Hi Ashley! I loved this post, history is so fascinating to me as well! Autograph Rock looks really cool, especially since I am from Dayton, Ohio… So neat to see that autograph from here all the way in Oklahoma!!!

  • Jenny B. - I’m so impressed with the typography of all the autographs. If I tried to chisel my name into a rock, I’m sure it would look like crude scratches. I know sandstone is soft as far as rocks go, but still… they obviously did it carefully and didn’t rush.

  • Angela O - Oh, I love this! Digging into history makes me all giddy. I’m so looking forward to tying it in to our homeschooling when we start next year. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  • Denise L. - This was fascinating to me. From the history to the story of how permission and directions were given to you to your excellent suggestions should others want to visit Autograph Rock. Really glad I didn’t miss this post!

  • Brittany - Thanks for your Oklahoma posts! As an Okie living abroad, I am always thrilled to see these!

  • Sarah - I know nothing about this part of the country – thanks for sharing! It looks really lovely! I love that last photo.

  • Monique - Very cool. We have rocks similar near where we leave in Saskatchewan Canada (at Roche Percee). The North West Mounted Police travelled through the area and set up a NWMP Post in my city. We can still see one of the carvings from an original Mountie that came west on that trek. Coincidentally there was a Metis guide that helped the mounties on that trek and his name was Jerry Potts 🙂

  • Gabrielle McDannold - This looks amazing! We live in SE Oklahoma and it’s nothing like the panhandle! Definitely going to have to take a family vacay next year and check this out! Thanks for the idea 😀

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I love this! It reminds me so much of the Disney movie Cars – about the towns that were forgotten when the highways went through. I love finding treasures like this!

  • Marla - I’m a farm wife from Boise City and I’m so excited you spot lighted this cool piece of our history. The panhandle is often overlooked, but it’s really an amazing place to live (and visit)!

  • AshleyAnn - Kate – Yes! I was thinking that too 🙂

  • Liene - …. really really love this post! So interesting!

  • Carla - What great photos! I’m from Green Country, too (although we now live in Texas) and lived in Oklahoma until adulthood but have never been to the Panhandle. I didn’t know it was so pretty. (Found your blog through a Pinterest photo on decorating a notebook.)

  • Jentre Hanes - I was born and raised in Boise City and the panhandle is such a neat part of our state. There are several other interesting sites in Cimarron County and some of the best star gazing in the country (hardly any light pollution). Thanks for spotlighting such a neat place. Most people don’t see the beauty of the panhandle.