Ghost town day trip - Picher, OK (Most Toxic City in the US)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by waterboy222, Oct 10, 2014.

  1. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Grand Lake, OK
    This is my first ride report on ADV so bear with me as I piece it together. My GPS had not come in yet so to find this route, it was a lot of zooming in and out on my iphone maps to see where I was going or was going to end up..

    Bike is a 07 DRZ400SM with some wolfman luggage strapped on.. Just enough to stuff to put together a creekside lunch.

    This trip took me about 3.5 hours because of how close I live to this area. Its easily accessible on almost any bike. I have the stock Distanzia's on mine and they are completely toast and never had any issues getting around..

    If you're unfamiliar with Picher/Cardin/Tar Creek, there is a ton of information available online. Ill put a few key points in here that I think are the most important.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar_Creek_Superfund_site

    - Tar Creek is the most toxic area in the US as of 2014
    - The town was mined for lead and zinc and the waste rock (chat) was stored in huge mounds that look like sand dunes all over the area.
    - Lead dust from the chat piles blew into town and caused SEVERE health issues over dozens of years. 54% higher cancer rate than anywhere in the US and cancer rates rising 60% faster than anywhere else in the WORLD.
    - When the mines were shut down, the pumps that kept the water out of the underground mines were shut off and eventually filled with water. As the caverns began to wash out their pillars, they began to collapse the ceilings and create huge craters.. Bringing homes, businesses and livestock with them.
    - The water that was forced to the surface showed pH of 1.7. Burning the livestock, polluting the water and destroying the land.
    - There are 75 million tons of this toxic gravel. Wind gusts spread the Dust from the piles across mid-western America.
    - Mining companies dug 300+ miles of tunnels about 100 feet below the surface. Some areas are mined all the way to the tree roots and tunnels long enough to truck material from oklahoma to Kansas in dumptrucks assembled underground.
    - Mining companies had to puncture a natural underground water reservoir to get to the deposits underneath the surface. (Called the Rubidoux Aquifer that feeds the majority of NE Oklahoma)
    - When the mines were up and running 55 million gallons of water was pumped out each day. Now there is enough poisoned water underground to fill a million residential swimming pools.
    - USGS and Army Corps of Engineers surveyed the blueprints and found that the majority of the town had been undermined illegally. Meaning the tunnels and caverns went under the town and homes and made the area unsafe to inhabit.
    - Forced Government buyout of all homes and destruction of all properties impounded.

    Plenty more to read online if you'd like.


    So starting off at the house in Vinita OK...

    Attached Files:

    #1
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  2. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Grand Lake, OK
    Taking highway 2 north out of Vinita I headed East on 240 road. 90% of this trip will be dirt roads so I figured there wasn't much point in cutting out the pretty parts by taking the pavement and saving 40 minutes..

    Catching road 500 will lead you to an abandoned bridge. When I first started researching this bridge I had found a name for it online, but for the life of me I can't find it now. It was shut down many years ago and construction started on a new bridge. But once the town of Picher was dissolved, there was no money or need to finish the new bridge.

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  3. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    [​IMG](finally figured out how to post more than one pic per response, sorry, learning curve here!)

    The backroads around Northeastern Oklahoma are just gorgeous.. Most are well graded but dusty. Road 500 goes from dirt to gravel to paved to chat/tar and back to dirt again before fizzling out into an overgrown dirt road. If you look hard, you can see whats left of the old road closed / bridge out signs. The road looks like someones driveway so it doesnt see much traffic, but I knew better. I had been down this road when I was a kid with my Dad out reading water meters..

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    Arriving at the bridge, you couldn't see through to the other side so I walked it first to make sure it was really still a bridge and not a pier...

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    Once you push through the overgrowth a little you'll see it goes all the way across. The Commerce side of this bridge has seen a lot more traffic. Old firepits and lots of graffiti..

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  4. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

    Joined:
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    The Commerce side of the bridge shows a paved road leading right up to the first spar. I jumped on the pavement and went into town passing a number of bridge closed signs that were not so prevalent on the other side of the bridge.. Stopped for fuel and to clean the mud splatters off my visor before proceeding north on the mother road (Route 66). Just a 1/4 mile north of Commerce and the first chat piles come into view. They really do look like mountains or sand dunes, it caught me off guard for sure. Its impressive to see..

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    When you turn left and head into Picher you'll start seeing the EPA and DEQ trucks randomly along with the Marshalls Service setup. Passing the old high school gave me chills, we used to play them in basketball. Its unnerving knowing how many people my age that will die of cancer or other horrible health issues just because of the mining from their home town. The thoughts make me wonder about my own health, I remember sliding down these chat piles on a sled when I was about 13, sneaking in under the barbed wire at night and seeing how far we could get to the top before running out of steam and sliding down.. Never once washed our hands afterwards..


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    I remember seeing the "Dont put lead in your head" warning signs to wash up after touching anything in the area.

    There is hardly anything left of this town, it reminded me of one huge skate park. Nothing but concrete, foundations, driveways, sidewalks and hand rails. Made me want a shifter kart BAD!

    What homes werent bought out and demolished by the government were wiped out by a recent tornado, almost feeling like mother nature put the poor community out of its misery.

    This is an idea of what the neighborhood streets looked like.. The Fire hydrants had all been sawed off halfway up, I assume for salvage and the power lines are mostly laying on the ground. I didnt see any signs that prevented people from driving through the old neighborhoods..

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    Its hard not to act like a hooligan with this kind of territory in front of you but out of respect for the people who were forced out, I passed through quietly...

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  5. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    Mining offices, long abandoned after removing the lifeblood of the town from underneath the ground and leaving the aftermath behind for the residents to deal with..

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    Picher School.. boarded up and cameras in place..

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    The marshalls service is using the back side of the school as their hub. I saw probably 6-8 black tahoes parked there but no activity ..
    #5
  6. nevada72

    nevada72 Milwaukeeish

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    Just a tip - use 800 as a max width for your pics so the words don't disappear off the edge of the readers screen. Makes it hard to follow.

    Aside from that - interesting ride so far. What a shame about the history of that place. Like our own Chernobyl.
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  7. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    The mine ponds. Most of these have been backfilled and the water removed for remediation. The water that was being pumped out of the tunnels back in the mining days was pumped into tar creek until it turned the water permanently red from the metals reacting with the chemistry in the water. There has been a couple of documentaries made about this area and one was called "Tar Creek: The river runs red".. The other one was about Pripyat where Chernobyl happened and they likened Picher to that area. They showed all the similarities about what a community looks like when nature takes its back..

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  8. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    There are only 11 residents in the town and one business. A pharmacy owned by second generation of Picher families. A number of people from other towns still go there to get their medications and help support the lone store. I wish I had taken the time to go in and buy something. I noticed activity at the Pharmacy, a couple of the chat wholesalers and at the Ottawa County road office located next to the pharmacy.

    Downtown is still standing, barely.. Most of the buildings dont have any roof left because of the tornado that took a number of lives and decimated what was left of the poor town..

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    #8
  9. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    My photos are turning out way too big, I apologize to the readers for the extra scroll work to see everything at once. Ill get the hang of this!

    THis is an outstanding collection of images on Pinterest for anyone that would like to see more of this area..

    http://www.pinterest.com/builderkay/picher-oklahoma/ I cant take any credit for those pictures but they do tell an amazing story...

    Back in the day:
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    And after the tornado...

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    #9
  10. katbeanz

    katbeanz earthbound misfit, I Supporter

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    Ghost town in the title, I'm in! Too bad about the circumstances. :cry

    :lurk
    #10
  11. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    [​IMG]

    What an awesome place to ride, if it wasn't the most toxic place to ride..
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  12. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    For safetys sake anytime there was dust in the air, I stopped and let it fade before proceeding...

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  13. WVhillbilly

    WVhillbilly Long timer

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    I just watched a show about this last night on Netflix.
    Sad story for sure, but I love to wander around in abandoned places.
    #13
  14. waterboy222

    waterboy222 Dirt Road Explorer

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    Sorry again for the large pictures.. Hope you enjoyed the ride. Still getting the bike outfitted so on the next ride report Ill have some better pics and more info. Thanks for reading!

    A quick youtube video from CNN about the town....

    <iframe src="//www.youtube.com/embed/nV0EKE9nGgA" allowfullscreen="" height="315" width="560" frameborder="0"></iframe>

    If you are from Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, or anywhere near this YOU NEED to go see it. This town will put a lump in your throat when you see what can happen when industry regulations are pushed aside. Im in the chemical industry so Ive seen first hand some of the terrible things that we do to our earth and this one really hits home, because it IS home.. There are no signs keeping you from going through this town. Its now owned by the Federal Government and WE OWN IT. Exercise your right to view what is left of this area before they put up more cables and signs and take it from us. Enjoy!
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  15. CaptnSlo

    CaptnSlo Long timer

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    This is really interesting stuff. Thanks for posting it.
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  16. Piki42

    Piki42 Been here awhile

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    wOW...amazing. Had no idea about this
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  17. bluestar

    bluestar sheep shagger

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    Good RR. :thumb

    I've read some about the place before but it's different with a firsthand account by someone who has actually been there. Wish I had known about it back in 2011. I passed real close to that area on a road trip and it would have been interesting to see.
    #17
  18. nevada72

    nevada72 Milwaukeeish

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    Man......looks like the zombie apocalypse.

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    I like this pic - (cropped version) - it's rather ghostly

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    Thanks for sharing this. Very very interesting. I get down to the Ozarks often and have considered picking up part of Rt 66 west from there so I may give that town a look. Wearing a mask of course.
    #18
  19. kkm

    kkm Adventurer

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    You have lead we have Nukes. Looks like a good idea not to play on the tailing piles. Here in Nevada we have lots of man made and natural radiation. I had to buy a survey meter just to check all the rocks I have gathered over the years. I have samples that are up to 60K cpm. Any body want some.
    Kevin
    #19
  20. rufus

    rufus We're burning daylight...

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    Back in the early 80s' those chat piles would be covered with bikes and dune buggies every weekend. I spent the day there several times. 1983 was the last time I rode there. I was coming home from an MX race in Kansas and stopped to climb a few hills. It was a lot of fun. It was a huge strain on your machine to hold it WFO for 20 or 30 seconds climbing the bigger hills. I got way LESS than 10 MPG while riding there on my 440 Maico.
    #20