Mission

MISSION:
To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain...

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin' lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land

And when we say 
Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!
We're only sayin'
You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla...  
Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla

We know we belong to the land

And when we say 
Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!
We're only sayin'
You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K.
L - A - H - O - M - A
OKLAHOMA!
Yeeow!
---Rogers and Hammerstein, 1943

I made it to another new state!!!  And I can't even think Oklahoma without singing the tune that made the state famous (in my mind).  Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I honestly can't spell it without singing the tune of the Sooner State.  I think it might have something to do with high school colorguard and the routine we did with swing flags... but that is another story.

Just driving through any state does not work for my quest - I have to experience something... and I did get that with my June work trip.  Yes, I went for work... but that does not stop me; I stayed the weekend to explore.  And explore I did.  The state made sure of that !  Months ago, I sent away for tourist information from the Tourism Bureau and I received a BOX of material; magazines for the state and the various regions, brochures of special locations, maps, information on Wineries, Native Heritage Areas, museums, Rt 66 attractions and outdoor adventures.  To them, I say "Thank You,"  I was very prepared for my trip.

I started my trip in Tulsa, and there I went to the Arkansas River and visited the Oklahoma Aquarium.  Honestly, what could you expect from a land locked state . . . well, a lot actually.  The aquarium was quite cute.  My favorite feature was the Oklahoma native section.  I saw so many types of catfish - even a gigantic blue one.  Here, they focused on the rivers and lakes of the state.  Signage next to each exhibit highlighted the areas of the state the fish could be found in and included fishing tips for all the sportsman!  The facility also housed a very large shark tank for nurse and bull sharks; they said it was the largest in the nation.  I was impressed with with eel selection - moray, electric, ribbon (you don't see those at most places).  I was treated to a cleaner shrimp feasting on a moray...

That night, I thought I was going to experience my first tornado, and I was none too thrilled.  Winds, small hail, knocking windows, and a storm warning was enough to rattle my nerves.  This was the one thing I did not want to see while I was here... I have no idea how locals life with that constant threat.  I never understood that argument that they are less destructive than hurricanes... at least you see them coming days in advance.


When I left the Tulsa office and headed towards Oklahoma City, I was told to swing down Rt 66 just north of OKC.  As I went through Acadia, I could see 2 "mother road" sites - one historic and one new.    Stopped by the Big Red Round Barn, which I can promise you is big, red and very round.  The architecture from the inside is quite beautiful.  The work the locals did on the reconstruction was impressive and kept an icon alive.  They should be applauded, and are everytime someone like me passes by and stops to check it out... It is a round barn on the side of the road, and perfect for community events with its open floor plan.  Down the street from the Barn is the new site - POPS.  Ever see over 500 beverage choices in one place?  Have a desire to... if you do, then head to Pops.  Here you will find ever soda flavor you could imagine.  Bottle line the windows in a rainbow of colors and a giant deco soda bottle beacons weary drives to fill up their cars and their stomachs at this gas station/soda fountain.  

I stayed downtown in OKC, within walking distance of Bricktown.  It worked out so perfectly... Bricktown is the center of nightlife in OKC, and all jokes aside, there was a lively nightlife in OKC.  Bricktown had a small riverwalk, a Triple A baseball Stadium, a movie theatre and a handful of bars, restaurants and clubs. 
And the weekend I was there... it hosted the Blues and BBQ Festival.  Could not have had better timing, a few nights, after it had cooled off, I was able to hang out and listen to some good music.  

There was quite a bit I wanted to see and do in the area.  Top most on my list was the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum.  I was in grad school when the bombing occurred, and it happened before the internet exploded with the current state of 24 hour news... I remember the bombing - reading about it, seeing footage, and I followed the trial.  But I had never experienced the bombing like I did with this museum.  It was simply overwhelming.    I broke down crying so many times, I lost count.  Everything that you see, read, hear in the facility puts you right in the middle of the day's events.   In fact, they have an audio tape that caught the sounds of the bombing and they put you in  room to experience the chaos of the moment the bomb went off (across the street from the taping). The mission of the museum is in part to ensure that those that "Leave Here Know The Impact Of Violence." I can attest that they are successful.  If you do not leave there with an understanding of what was lost and with a feeling of that loss, you have a hole in your soul.  Now, maybe I felt this memorial and identified with it because of September 11th, but either way, kudos to the community, the designers and the park service for a beautiful, powerful and amazing memorial.

The day that I went to the Memorial, I also visited the OKC Zoo... I was told that by many at work that it was one of the best in the country.  It was large, it was organized and it was HOT!  The day I went topped out at 104 degrees.  Not ideal zoo weather.  Animals are trying to stay cool and there is always a line at the misting station. Like the Aquarium, the Zoo had an impressive OK native section - here called Oklahoma Trails.  It walked you through the distinct ecosystems of the state and highlighted the animals found there.  The OKC Zoo is all about the elephants... they have a love affair with them, and their habitat speaks to that love.  It is beautiful, large and full of toys and other goodies.  The city is celebrating the birth of a baby, their first.  So congratulations to the staff of the OKC (and the mom and aunt).

I also took time to visit the OKC Museum of Art, and see the special exhibit on the art of the New Deal.  Apparently this exhibit was put together by the Smithsonian, and I obviously missed it while in town.  It was worth the visit, and provides a good reminder as to why the arts are important no matter how bad the economy gets!  Unfortunately, the arts district, the Paseo, was more or less closed when I stopped by (... a lot of the galleries were not open on Sunday.)  I was able to dine on a great brunch with a gang of locals at the Picasso Cafe and wait for the Craig's Emporium to open - it was there that I found a great selection of costume jewelry and other trinkets for friends and family; cute butterflies for the nieces, a jeweled headband for an upcoming wedding, a halloween gift for a friend with a fun birthday... this place was stuffed floor to ceiling with great stuff.  And this was really the only major shopping that I did in Oklahoma.  So of course I picked up a few unique pieces for my collection - unfortunately no one there could tell me about them of the stones used in them.  

One of the highlights of the trip was the trip to southern Oklahoma - Sulphur... to visit the former "smallest national park" in the system.  That park, Platt National Park, was incorporated into Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  Not to be outdone by the zoo, the temperature that day of my visit reached 108 degrees, and most sane people spent the day in the water.  The park surrounds the Lake of the Arbuckle, and contains a mini niagra falls, various streams and springs (that yes, smell of sulphur).  The park was stuffed to the brim with families wading, floating, boating and swimming.  They lined the roads in cars and people ran around with their floating tubes.  I was jealous... I had packed my suit but forgot to nab a towel at the hotel.  The water was so refreshing and soooo necessary on that scorcher of a day, I kicked myself several times over.  I had to settle for cooling my feet off several times in the waters of the lake.

After a few strolls through the woods to see some springs, I was delirious 
from the heat.  I had to stop strolling around.  It was only a few miles, but those miles wiped me out to the point where I desperatley needed a nap.  There was no way I would spend more time exploring the park - I was annoyed, but it was just too damm hot!!! 
Still, I felt comfortable that I experienced Chickasaw since I meandered through areas in both "the Point" and Platt, I waded in the water, and I watched the dragonflies swarm.
 
When I needed a break from the heat, I visited Chickasaw Native American Heritage Center, and learned a bit about one of the larger native nations in Oklahoma.  A stunning facility with an absolute highlight ... a walk in a woodland setting that allows you to hear the stories shared to teach about nature and life.  Areas around the woods are on sensors and timers... if you take it all in, you are treated to story-telling. 
 
Of course the hot day would not have been complete without a trip to Braums for an ice cream!  Yum and ohhh so needed.  I still can't wrap my head around how a cone of ice cream costs less than $2 here and home in DC, I can't get out of an ice cream place for under $5.  Yummy and affordable - I'll take a double scoop then!

Thanks for a great trip Sooner State - you had much more to do than I expected!  If I head back, I will definately aim for a cooler time of year (wow - the heat), but you definately packed a punch for the few days I was there... and there was stuff missed. (Hello Rt 66 Whale!)

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