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June 6, 1995

A lot of us have been grumbling for years about Oklahoma's roadside information centers, the ones located just inside our state lines where tourists can pick up directions and brochures telling about points of interest to visit. We've griped that ours just don't measure up to those in Texas, for example. Now I take some of that back. Laura and I just made a short trip to the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area in New Mexico, and let me tell you a couple of things we discovered.

Motorists crossing the Texas Panhandle east-west on 1-40 have to go all the way to Amarillo to find a tourist information center, and that one is located in a very temporary, very tiny movable building while major repairs are underway on the real building. I had nearly forgotten where we were going by the time we got to Amarillo. Also, if you're headed west, you have to climb a pretty steep winding stairway and cross on a pedestrian overpass because that's the only way you can read the information center from that lane of traffic. Eastbound travelers don't have that problem.

Give Texas credit, though. At least they are expanding and improving the Amarillo information center, even if it is a long way from the border.

We often gripe about Oklahoma's rest stops along the most heavily traveled highways. There just aren't very many of them for starters, and the ones we have are woefully short on facilities. This is no great revelation. We've all been hearing complaints like this for years. And of course the reason we don't have better rest stops and information centers is the lack of money, we're told.

Yeah, right. But try to explain that to the lady in the booth next to ours at a family restaurant on the highway out in the Texas Panhandle. She was venting her spleen on our Oklahoma toll road fares, loudly announcing that it cost her $8.50 to cross this state, and that the services on our highways were nil. Does all of that toll road fare go to retire bonds? Isn't there even a dab left over to put in some better facilities for travelers? We get a lot of black eyes because of this.

New Mexico has good highways and helpful tourist information centers. There is much to see and do in that interesting state, but it takes more than a few days just to scratch the surface. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief time there.

Perry now has a selection of antique and collectible shops and we are riding the crest on that one. Everywhere you travel, businesses like that are thriving because tourists are eager to buy the things you find in such places. Our Tourism Committee in the Perry Development Coalition recognizes the demand for such items and in due time will be announcing some plans to make the most of the situation.

Most tourists seem to be especially seeking things that are indigenous to specific communities or geographic areas. The first thing that comes to mind in that regard here is the splendidly crafted articles coming from Jim and Sandra Garvey's woodworking shop. Their products are already greatly in demand throughout this state, thanks to some good exposure at arts and crafts festivals, and they will surely have an even bigger market locally when our tourist business begins to take off. I know there are other types of Perry-connected crafts that would interest visitors, and we need to be making plans for offering all of those things.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe are fascinating places to visit, even for just a day or so. Albuquerque is bustling and growing. Sandia's proximity has made it a technology center and despite defense cutbacks, research and development are going forward in several areas, including those that impact nondefense industries. The University of New Mexico adds greatly to the city's cultural, arts and education facets. Beautiful new homes adorn the hillsides around Albuquerque. Santa Fe is unique. At the turn of the century, civic leaders there concluded that Santa Fe would never be the state's financial center, so they resolved to develop the area for its artistic appeal. Today dozens, perhaps hundreds, of artists -- sculptors, painters, writers, musicians and others -- make their homes there. Santa Fe is the third largest art center in the U.S., ranking only behind New York and Los Angeles. It is a haven for patrons as well as artisans. The city is now home for some big-time celebrities, including Cher, Oprah, Ted Danson and Carol Burnett. They have lovely homes with magnificent views and as much privacy as they desire. Native Americans display their wares from licensed stalls on the central plaza; prices are reasonable and the quality is first rate.

We did not have nearly enough time to check out more than a fraction of the possibilities, but it was enough to warrant a longer visit at some other time. These are just some more or less minor thoughts that come to mind after a one-week journey away from Perry. Even a brief absence makes one thing clear, however: This is still a great place to live, even if those other places are marvelous to visit.