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Oklahoma

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Did You Know…?

  • Oklahoma has the world’s only capitol building with an oil well drilled beneath it.
  • Thirty-nine federally recognized Indian tribes are based in the state.
  • Will Rogers and Mickey Mantle hailed from Oklahoma.
  • The parking meter and rolling supermarket cart were invented in Oklahoma.
  • Indian tribes sought statehood in 1905 using the name Sequoyah.

Cowboys and Indians

Oklahoma is distinguished from other states as the real land of cowboys and Indians. While it is the official home to 39 tribes, more than 60 tribes are represented here. As is readily apparent, the cowboy culture is very much alive, as well.  Oklahoma also is famed for the oil that made some men rich and the Depression-era drought that made many men poor.

One might think a state immortalized in a classic Broadway musical (“Oklahoma!”) would do a little better in attracting visitors. True, there’s little in the way of glitz and glamour, but Oklahoma has a really good story to tell.

Many states had cowboys (and requisite cattle), but Oklahoma was once a piece of land set aside for Native Americans. It was the destination of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, who marched from their homes in the Southeast (this became the Cherokee Trail of Tears) to resettle in Oklahoma Territory. Having come from the South, many owned slaves, too. As a result of that history, Oklahoma is a major center for Indian culture, whether the visitor’s interest is special events, interaction with Native Americans or museums.

Oklahoma also is the site of the famous 1889 land rush whereby the federal government set a date, April 22, after which white settlers could claim land here (no other place in the world saw settlers arrive in such circumstances).  This was followed by oil booms, and then, simultaneously, the drought-induced Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, sending so-called Okies west, as described in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The cowboy culture survives in museums and in real life. Visitors can taste it all, beginning with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and moving on to ranches for extended stays and the rodeos or other festivals that reflect the state’s unique past.

Also, more than a million acres of water in the former Dust Bowl now attract visitors for boating, waterskiing and fishing. Hunting for deer and quail is popular, too.

All in all, Oklahoma offers a colorful history, some pretty scenery, hospitable residents and a pleasing mix of American cultures.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go mountain biking at the Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area, where trails are described as advanced or expert — or simply gut-wrenching. The trail at Roman Nose State Park is described as advanced.
  • Chase rattlesnakes and sample rattlesnake as food at the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby in Mangum. There are several such rattlesnake hunts in the state.
  • Drop in on another can’t-miss event: the World Championship Cow Chip Throwing Contest in Beaver, wherein contestants toss dung barehanded.
  • For a nice long ride on horseback or for a hike, choose one of the numerous trails in the state’s Recreational Trail Program.
  • Play in the dirt and sand: Take your motorcycle (or dune buggy or four-wheeler) to the state parks with setups for off-road driving: Beaver Dunes State Park; Lake Murray Resort Park, and Little Sahara State Park. You can camp in all three parks for an extended stay.
  • Get close to the source of your beef: Explore the Stockyards City cattle market in Oklahoma City. Sit in on a live cattle auction on Monday or Tuesday morning.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go camping or boating at the Pawnee Lake. See the Wild West show in Pawnee, as well.
  • Scuba dive or go fishing at Broken Bow Lake.
  • See the windmill museum in Shattuck, then look for sites on the Texas-Oklahoma Wind Power Trail to learn about this alternative to oil.
  • Sample Oklahoma steak.
  • Find a rodeo that fits your schedule. If you can, round out the itinerary with a powwow, too.
  • Attend the outdoor drama, “Trail of Tears,” performed in summer in an 1,800-seat amphitheater in Tahlequah.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See a town frozen in time. Guthrie was Oklahoma’s first state capital, but only until 1910, after which things got awfully quiet. Today, 100 buildings, or about 90% of the downtown area, are on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Take a sightseeing cruise or dinner cruise on the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees.
  • Have a guided tour of the 200 million-year-old alabaster cave in Alabaster Caverns State Park.
  • Play golf at Cedar Creek Golf Course, dubbed Oklahoma’s Little Augusta.
  • Look for whooping cranes and migratory waterfowl at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge. Approximately 300 bird species are attracted to the salt plains and nearby marshes and reservoir. (Also, be sure to protect yourself from the bright reflections from the salt flats.)
  • Find the annual Civil War reenactment event in Yale. Hear speakers discussing life during the war era, and walk through the camps and tents and see the recreated battle.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department at www.travelok.com