Welcome to Oklahoma, and the fourth to the last state in The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken. Oklahoma is a state before its time, and sometimes even sooner. We’ll explain that in a minute.
The 46th state in the Union, Oklahoma became part of the greater family in 1906. Rural by area versus population, Oklahoma is the 20th largest state, with the 28th largest population. It is bounded on the vast majority of the north by Kansas. Colorado has a very small portion of the northwestern border. New Mexico takes a small slice of the western border and Missouri an even smaller slice of the northeastern border. Arkansas has most of the eastern border, and Texas surrounds Oklahoma to the south and west.
The highest point in Oklahoma is a gradual climb to the top of 4,695 foot Black Mesa which stretches into Colorado and New Mexico. The lowest point is 289 feet above sea level on the shores of Little River at the Arkansas state line. The geographic center of Oklahoma sits eight miles north of downtown Oklahoma City.
Officially, the entire state is in the Central Time Zone. Unofficially, the folks out west in Kenton (near the Colorado border) consider themselves to be in the Mountain Time Zone. That’s where “a state ahead of its time” comes in.
What do we mean by “sometimes even sooner?” That is what happened as a result of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which set April 22 as Opening Day for non-native settlement. Tens of thousands of people jumped the gun, pouring over the Arkansas border, snatching up choice parcels of land. They came in…sooner. The name stuck and is the official name for the University of Oklahoma sports teams.
What are Sooners all about? Well, they are fiercely loyal to the state they call home. They may not like it when people from outside Oklahoma call them “Okies” because outsiders may not mean it in a complimentary manner. That doesn’t mean they don’t proudly call each other Okies, because they love the land and the vast vistas before them. Oklahoma is a flat state, much like her sister Kansas to the north. Oklahomans wouldn’t have it any other way. Some of them testify that they feel claustrophobic in mountainous country. They like to get back home, where they can look around.
Rural though she is, Oklahoma has four cities with populations greater than 100,000. Three of them won’t surprise you, but one might. The capital of Oklahoma and her largest city is Oklahoma City, home to 631,000 people. Tulsa has a population of 403,000. Norman, the home to the aforementioned University of Oklahoma, boasts 120,000 residents. Broken Arrow, just southeast of Tulsa, makes the population quartet with 103,000 folks in residence.
To the west of Tulsa, lies Lotsee, Oklahoma. According to the 2010 census, Lotsee’s population was two. We wish them health…and offspring.
Military/Politics: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Wilma Mankiller, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Actors: Iron Eyes Cody, Jennifer Jones, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Mason Dye, Bill Hader, Chuck Norris, Mason Cook, James Marsden, Lee Pace, Olivia Munn, Ted Shackleford, James Garner, Dale Robertson, Van Heflin, Tony Randall, Ron Howard, Noah Crawford, Brad Pitt, and Ben Johnson.
Entertainers: Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Patti Page, Will Rogers, Blake Shelton, Charlie Wilson, Taylor Dye, Jeremy Castle, Woody Guthrie, Vince Gill, Dan Rowan, Toby Keith, Mae Young, Ree Drummond, Dr. Phil McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.
Authors: John Berryman, Paul Harvey, Mary Pope Osborne, and Ralph Ellison.
Athletes: Mickey Mantle, Blake Griffin, Sam Bradford, Matt Kemp, and Johnny Bench.
Top Movies Filmed in Oklahoma:
True Grit (2010)
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Drive Angry (2011)
Major Oklahoma Airports:
Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport serves about 55,000 passengers each year, and Tulsa International serves just more than 1.3 million passengers annually. The state’s major airport is Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, greeting 1.6 million passengers each year. Dallas is the most popular destination from all three airports.
Weird and Wonderful Facts about Oklahoma:
The world’s first parking meter was installed on a downtown Oklahoma City street, July 16, 1935.
A life-size statue of a cattle drive, titled “On the Chisholm Trail,” stands in Duncan as a monument to the American cowboy.
The town of Okmulgee owns the world record for largest pecan pie, pecan cookie, and pecan brownie. It’s all part of the annual Pecan Festival, held in June.
Beaver is the Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World, hosting the world championships each April.
Oklahoma native Sylvan Goldman invented the first shopping cart.
The electric guitar was invented in Beggs by Bob Dunn.
Oklahoma City’s WKY Radio was the first radio station transmitting from west of the Mississippi River.
Belle Starr one of the world’s most famous female outlaws is buried in an isolated grave southwest of Porum, near the Eufaula Dam. There is a statue of her in Woolaroc.
To the surprise of no one who has lived there long, Oklahoma was the setting for the movie “Twister”.
The “Yield” sign was invented by Oklahoman Clinton Riggs and first used in Tulsa.
Let’s Take a Trip Through Oklahoma:
Let’s go! On the way, I will sing songs from the Broadway musical “Oklahoma!”
Okay, suit yourself. No singing, but we’re going to have a great time. We will take our most detailed look at Native American lifestyles, and see some great landscape. Later, in Oklahoma City, we’ll visit the site of something we can only hope doesn’t happen again.
Way up north, near the Kansas line, we start our trip in the town of Bartlesville. That’s where Woolaroc is located.
The Woolaroc Museum presents one of America’s most unique displays of Western art and artifacts. Twenty-five tribes claim Oklahoma for their tribal headquarters, and much of the Native culture is displayed here. Native American cultural art, pottery, baskets, beads, and blankets are here to be enjoyed and appreciated. One of the world’s most complete collections of Colt weaponry is here, as well.
Surrounding the display is one of the outstanding western art collections in the world! It represents and shines a light on the culture and lifestyles of the people of the American west.
This afternoon we’ll drive through Tulsa on our way to Oklahoma City. We’ll spend one night at the Governors Suites Hotel for $89. We want to be rested for tomorrow.
Do you know what I mean when I say “The Oklahoma City bombing?” On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed in a cowardly act of domestic terrorism. The bombing was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, with help from Terry Nichols.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is on the site of the bombing. It is comprised of two distinct components. Hand in hand they do a marvelous job educating us about the senselessness of terrorism and violence.
The Outdoor Memorial is a beautiful 3.3-acre site in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. It takes in the Murrah Building but also the former Journal Record newspaper building and five other parcels of land that were located just to the north of the bombed building.
We will quietly and respectfully enter the Gates of Time, and learn the story. The display features symbols, such as the Field of Empty Chairs, a reflecting pool, and the survivor tree. Later we’ll see the rescuers’ orchard, the survivor wall, a children’s area and the fence that originally protected the crime scene. Even today the fence collects objects of remembrance and hope. Perhaps we will leave a teddy bear before we leave the area.
Here, we find ourselves unutterably moved by The Field of Empty Chairs. The 168 chairs represent the lives taken by this horrific act. They stand in nine rows to represent each floor of the building. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children.
Inside, the Memorial Museum tells the story of that spring day. We will virtually walk through that morning. We’ll see the sights and hear the sounds of what the people in Oklahoma City have worked to overcome. We will hear the wretched sound of the bomb, and from investigators, rescuers, survivors, and family members who lost loved ones.
The museum is a tribute that tries to offer an inspiring contrast between the brutality of the evil and the tenderness of the local, national, and international response. The folks in charge want us to believe the world is more good than bad, but you are forgiven if that is a hard lesson to assimilate in the face of what we just saw.
I think we will spend one more night in our OKC hotel after the emotional expenditure of this stop. We’ll continue on in the morning.
Seventy-five miles from Oklahoma City we find the town of Davis. Six miles southwest of downtown Davis is Turner Falls Park.
“Oh, you’ve learned I’m a sucker for a good waterfall?” Guilty.
Turner Falls Park is named for Mazeppa Turner. He was born in Virginia and married a Chickasaw native named Laura Johnson. They moved to Murray County and in 1878 he and his wife settled into their cabin along Honey Creek. Turner discovered the nearby waterfall and was granted the naming rights.
More than just a waterfall (though you are right that the falls alone would be enough for me), Turner Falls Park is an amazing hiking area with a hidden surprise. Built into the hillside is an English castle!
As for the falls, the minerals in the water cast a light green tinge to the water. It is a swimmer’s delight and a waterfall lover’s must-see. It isn’t the highest falls we’ve seen, and it doesn’t carry as much water as some, but it is a delightful little waterfall, located in a delightful little park.
The old west was about a lot of things. Much of the gunfight business is overblown and exaggerated, but this part of America was always about a place to get away. McGee Creek State Park is still that way. On the shores of 5,900 acre Atoka Lake, McGee Creek has tent sites for primitive camping.
While those sound like fun, we’re renting a cabin in the “gentleman camping” section of the park. “Gentleman camping” is a term of our invention to describe temporarily living outdoors, but with some comfort amenities. We rented a place for $65 a night. It’s time to relax and put our feet up.
Our trip is going to end at Robbers Cave State Park. As we learned in Missouri, this part of the United States is absolutely dotted with holes in the ground crying out to be visited. Robbers Cave is one of those.
Robbers Cave is as wooded and mountainous as Oklahoma gets. It’s a great place to escape for a couple of days. We’ll hike the ridge trail, and afterward, take a dip in the lake. This afternoon, we will get a guided tour of the cave.
While at Robbers Cave State Park we will take a moment to reflect on what we have seen. Oklahoma is a state in touch with its reality as the home to millions of Native Americans. While the relationship of white to Native will never be perfect, Oklahoma seems a place at peace with the conflicts of the past and the hope of the future. We wish them well as we move further west.