Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Stockyards City

You probably wouldn't think of the stockyard district of a town as a tourist attraction, but there are a few things to do in this part of Oklahoma City. That doesn't include the actual cattle auctions, which are held on Mondays and are open to the public.

First, OKC's oldest restaurant is there. Cattlemen's Steakhouse has been around for decades, and the steaks are still delicious. It's a friendly, casual place, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Second, this is definitely the place for Western wear. There are all sorts of boots, pants and shirts available in the relatively small shopping area. There are even a few cowboy hats, although I can't say I saw a lot of them.

And, you can gawk at this fine statue, located in the middle of that shopping district. The Stockyards just had its 100th anniversary in 2010, and that's no bull.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Gold Dome Building

It looks like the relatively famous Gold Dome Building in Oklahoma City is going to survive to live another day ... maybe decades.

The building, which is on the old Route 66, was built in 1958. It was a bank until 2001, when the owner wanted to close it because of the high cost of needed repairs. That prompted a big civic effort to save the dome, and put demolition plans on hold.

The building was put up for action and purchased in 2012, but the developer reversed his renovation plans and had hoped to demolish it and put something else on the property. An engineering firm tried its luck in 2013, but that didn't work either.

While the building looks pretty lonely now, help appears to be on the way. Natural Grocers has announced plans to put a store in there. Progress has been made in that transaction, so let's hope the business will thrive and the dome comes back to life.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Milk Bottle Grocery

You have to admit - this is darn near irresistible. How could you not get out of the car and take a picture of a tiny building with a milk bottom on top?

Once upon a time - in this case 1930 - this small building was constructed on a spot of a street car stop. It's right on the old Route 66 route, so it became relatively famous.

The first purpose of the building was as a very small grocery story. The bottle went up in 1948 - a nice plug for the local dairy industry.While the building has been used for many different businesses over the years, the bottle has remained separate.

The current advertiser is Braum's, which is a chain of restaurants in Oklahoma and surrounding states. While you can buy some hamburgers and sandwiches there, and it also has convenience store items, ice cream is the main attraction. Not only is it really good ice cream, but the prices are amazingly low. It didn't take long to us to adopt the place as the primary stop for treats.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Miss America Statues

Who is doing the recruiting at Oklahoma City University?

Someone knew how to pick winners there. The school had three of its students end up as Miss Americas in 31 years. I mean, what are the odds of that?

The trifecta is celebrated at the entrance to the campus in the Kerr-McGee Centennial Plaza. It's a nice salute to Jane Jayroe, Susan Powell and Shawntell Smith.

Oklahoma City is a relatively small school. It received some publicity for basketball when legendary coach Abe Lemons was here. Now in the NAIA level,  the Stars usually do very well.

By the way, Kristin Chenoweth, of Broadway fame, went here, so maybe she's next for the statue treatment.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Oklahoma Land Rush Monument

It's a little difficult to describe a land run. Therefore, it's only natural to have difficulty describing the monument to it.

The United States gave away land to settlers in Oklahoma in the 19th century on a first-come, first-serve basis. The authorities would shoot off some guns, and people went charging into the area to put down markers and stake their claims. The people who went in a little early were called "Sooners," which is how the state university's football team got its nickname.

That brings us to the monument, located near the riverfront just south of Bricktown in Oklahoma City. It's a long, long series of statues, shows a bunch of people heading into the state to get their land. The park is quite big and quite nice, by the way, and it's a good spot for an afternoon walk or run. There's plenty of free parking near Bass Pro, and definitely worth a stop.

I couldn't figure out how to capture the size of the monument in one picture. I'll leave it to someone else to show you in a video:

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark

Bricktown is the name for Oklahoma City's entertainment district, and it looks like they are doing a nice job with it. There are all sorts of restaurants and amusements in the area.

One of the biggest was opened to the public in 1988 - the baseball stadium. The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is the home of the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

It's a little hard to see the inside of the place in October, but as the picture shows it looks like a nice facility. Some famous Oklahoma ballplayers are honored in the plazas on the corners of the block. The one pictured here has a statue of Johnny Bench. Also given the statue treatment are Mickey Mantle and Warren Spahn (by the way, Spahn was born and raised in Buffalo). I didn't notice something for Joe Carter, but they did name one of the border streets after him.

Near the Mantle entrance are smaller plaques that salute some of the other heroes of Oklahoma baseball, such as the Waner brothers. It sure looks like a good spot for a ballpark.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Myriad Botanical Gardens

Back in the 1960s, the leaders of Oklahoma City wanted to have some sort of public park in the middle of downtown. It hired I.M Pei to draw up some plans, and by 1970 was ready to get to work on it.

It took almost two more decades, but the Myriad Botanical Gardens opened for business in 1988. The centerpiece of it is something of a tube that is something of a bridge over a pool of water. The inside of that tube is what is shown in the picture - all sorts of tropical plants are on display, and one end has a nice waterfall.

The facility remodeled in 2010, adding restaurants, an amphitheater, and garden areas. It's extremely well done, and certainly a wonderful addition to the city. There is metered parking on the streets bordering the 15-acre site.

One picture really doesn't do justice to the place. So here are a bunch of them, strung together for a video.


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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: National Memorial and Museum

It's difficult to believe for those of us over the age of, say, 35, but it's been more than 20 years (at this writing) since Timothy McVeigh used a homemade bomb to blow up the Murrah office building in downtown Oklahoma City. The details still seem fresh in our minds - especially the pictures of how one side of the building was simply gone.

Such people often visit the National Memorial and Museum, constructed on the site of the blast. The area carries quite a bit of an emotional pull, even if you didn't have a direct connection to the incident.

There are two parts to the visit. A two-floor museum is next door to the site. Visitors hear a tape on the second floor that was recorded across the street when the bomb went off (the timing was coincidental), and then see exhibits that include some of the wreckage, and videotaped stories of the people involved including heroic actions by first responders. The first floor has something of a shrine to the people who died in the incident, the story of the police investigation in the case, and a quiz of sorts on the legal issues raised by the incident.

Then visitors walk out the door to the grounds. There they will see a couple of giant gates that mark the passage of time that fateful day, a reflecting pool designed to provide calming sounds, and 168 chairs - one for every victim on that day. They are aligned by where they were when the blast went off, placed in nine rows - one for each floor of the building. There's also the survivor tree, which somehow lived through the blast. Seeds have been harvested and planted around the world. It's all moving.

There is a gift shop, and proceeds go to benefit the complex. They sell items from the annual marathon there. I picked up a t-shirt from that race, and I'll be proud to wear it to help remind people of a day in American history when we saw the worst and the best in humanity within minutes of each other.

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: State Capitol

This blog has quite a few pictures of state capitol buildings. This one, though, is the only one with an oil well in the parking lot.

Welcome to Oklahoma City. The capitol offers quite a welcome to visitors.

This building has an interesting history. It was built in the 1910s, but the state didn't have the money to construct a dome on top of it. So it sat incomplete for more than 80 years. Finally, the dome was added in 2002 - a couple of million pounds of stuff had to be removed first - and it makes for an impressive site.

There are the usual paintings of state history and local heroes (Jim Thorpe, Will Rogers and Mickey Mantle are included). The Governor has an office there, and the legislatures and Supreme Court have working space as well. Free tours are given on the hour during the week.

Fact of the day: Oklahoma has the highest percentage of Republican legislators in the country.

Odd fact: A list of Oklahoma governors shows that few have been able to make any sort of impression nationally. The most famous Oklahoma politician might be Carl Albert, a speaker of the house. 

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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

The cowboy is a distinctly American image. He spends his days in the sun, tending to his chores or duties. It's a hard life, but heroic in its own way. You've seen it portrayed in a bunch of Western movies.

That thought obviously led to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The slogan is "The West Begins Here."

Fine, but what exactly do you put in a Cowboy Museum? It's not that easy a question, since there aren't many personalities attached to the image - except for those in the movies (and they are well represented here).

Curators of this museum came up with a variety of ways to salute cowboys. There is a wing of attractive art pieces. Native Americans get their due in one area, as do rodeos. Do you want to see all sorts of types of barbed wire? This is the place. A Western downtown from the 19th century is recreated in "Prosperity Junction." Outside are some nice gardens, with a few statues, ponds and burial sites. The picture here is of a sculpture that greets visitors as they walk in. Very nice.

It's all well-presented, and done with an upscale touch. There aren't many cheap souvenirs in the gift shop. My guess is that the kids might get a little bored here after a while, so keep that in mind.

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Foyil, Oklahoma: Andrew Payne Statue

In 1928, C.C. Pyle - better known as Red Grange's agent - decided to put on a long, long race. How long? Los Angeles to New York, which added up to 3,400 miles when a non-direct route was used.

The runners followed Route 66 to Chicago, and then turned toward New York - which is why there are extra miles. The race didn't work out particularly well - conditions were difficult, financial problems stuck with Pyle. But someone had to win it, and Andy Payne was that man. It took 84 days to run the distance. It at least was worth it for the winner, who took home $25,000. Payne paid off the mortgage with the money.

Payne was from Foyil, Oklahoma, and he was mobbed when he came through his hometown during the race. Route 66 goes right through Foyil.

The town pays tribute to Payne with this statue, located in a park located along Route 66. Be careful of the mud when you walk up to the statue.

It's a happy ending for Payne, who was the Clerk of the Oklahoma Supreme Court for six terms.

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Foyil, Oklahoma: Totem Pole Park

There's a lesson with this particular item. If you are going to go all the way to Foyil, Oklahoma, remember to take a picture of the main attraction.

That attraction is the giant totem pole shown in the picture. It's the world's largest stone totem pole, and made by artist Ed Galloway over the course of 11 years through 1948. After Galloway died in 1961, the place sat empty until the Rogers County Historical Society took it over in 1989. The Society fixed up the place, which held up well in spite of 28 years of neglect.

The place also contains some other small poles and picnic tables. There's an 11-sided building that contains a gift shop.

Totem Pole Park is a few miles off state road 66. It's an odd place to visit, in part because it is so isolated. When we were there, it was a dark cloudy day and we were the only people around - the gift shop wasn't even open.

And, while I took a few pictures of the area, I forgot to get one of the main attraction. So this one is borrowed from another web site. Thanks for filling out my photo album.

Here's the full tour on video:

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Oologah, Oklahoma: Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch

If you're interested enough in Will Rogers to see a museum about him, you might as well go see where he was born. It is just up the road a few miles in Oologah, which if nothing else is fun to say if you are visiting.

You should know that this is not the original location for the house. It was moved to a spot overlooking a lake, and it's a great place. The picture shows the entrance. The small plaque on the bottom right is a marker saying that one of the greatest names in journalism was born in the house.

Will's father did quite well for himself. The building is in Rogers County, which indeed is named for dad and not Will. Visitors can walk in and see the lower level of the house. The upstairs area is closed. It is free.

This really is a ranch. There are animals that hang out on the grounds; the horses are more than willing to come over to pose for a picture (they no doubt are hoping for a little treat). A small grass airstrip is next to the house.

Here's a better look at the facility:

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Claremore, Oklahoma: Will Rogers Memorial Museum

Will Rogers certainly had an odd career path.

He was born in the Oklahoma Territory, and became a cowboy. That led him to do some traveling, and he also learned some dazzling rope tricks. Those stunts helped him land a job in vaudeville, where he developed a friendly on-stage persona (which seems to be his natural state).

From there he moved into the movies, appearing in 71 films. Rogers then became a radio commentator, newspaper columnist and author. I believe he said he took his job as a columnist more seriously than any other.

Rogers died in a plane crash with Wiley Post in Alaska, cutting short his career. He's known today for his home-spun quotes about politics. For example, "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." Rogers was incredibly popular during his lifetime.

In part because of the way he died, his home town of Claremore, Oklahoma, which is northeast of Tulsa, wanted to celebrate Rogers' life in a big way. Therefore, they put together a large museum on top of the hill overlooking the city. Claremore did a nice job on it. The key is that there is plenty of room for the items to be exhibited - room to breathe, if you will. That includes a good-sized auditorium that shows documentaries about Rogers.

You can find plenty of quotes and movies about Rogers on line. But the roping tricks are even more impressive to watch. Take a look:

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Catoosa, Oklahoma: Blue Whale

It's rather interesting that one of the top attractions of Route 66 first came along past the road's biggest moments of fame ... and really opened up to the public well after that.

Say hello to the relatively famous Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma. It was built by Hugh Davis, starting late in the 1960s. Construction took place from 1970 to 1972. It turned into something of an attraction for people driving by, and Davis apparently welcomed everyone to hop in the pond and play on the whale.

Davis closed the whale in 1988, and it slid downhill for a decade or so before people realized that it needed to be brought back. It was restored and reopened, and Catoosa's number one attraction was back.

There is a concession stand that's open on weekends - a little disappointing, since we were there on a weekday, but understandable. There are tables for picnics, and the area is always open to those driving by.

The Blue Whale became iconic somewhere along the way. Maybe it's because just looking at it brings a smile that's as wide as a whale's mouth.

Learn more about the creature at the official website.

And let's walk around the whale:


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Tulsa, Oklahoma: Blue Dome Station

There's a Blue Dome District in downtown Tulsa. Now you know why. Presenting - the Blue Dome.

The building used to be a service station once upon a time, opening in 1924 for Gulf. In fact, the attendant lived upstairs in the building. He kept it open 24 hours a day, seven days away - and we'll assume he had some help at times.

More than 90 years later, the building is still in use, although the gas pumps are gone. It's a symbol for the neighborhood, which has a variety of bars, restaurants and other businesses. The concept sounds promising, although it looked like they have a ways to go yet with it.

By the way, it's easy to drive by it. The Blue Dome is on the near corner of a one-way street, and views can be obscured by the building in front of it. We went zipping past a couple of times before stumbling on it. So you are now so warned.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma: Prayer Tower

One thing about evangelist Oral Roberts - he was a believer in thinking big.

When he started building the university that bears his name, Roberts made sure to have some interesting architecture be part of the landscape. This might be the best example of it.

The prayer tower is more or less in the middle of the campus. It goes 200 feet up. The highlight is the walkway in the middle. It goes in a circle in order to offer a full look at the campus.

We didn't have much time for a visit, but made it in shortly before closing. We were instructed to take a lap in the building, stopping at designated spots to read a quote from Roberts and pray. Well, we didn't exactly follow the instructions, which made it quicker to get around. But it's a nice view. The inside portions of the tower have rooms designed for prayer by groups or individuals.

By the way, it's free.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma: The Healing Hands

Whoa. That's one big pair of hands.

The structure is how visitors are greeted at the main entrance to Oral Roberts University. The statistics tell some of the story. This is 60 feet high and it weighs 30 tons.

The praying hands used to be in front of a faith-healing hospital. However, that business didn't do too well and was eventually shuttered. The hands were shipped down the street to the university, where they seem, at the least, appropriate. Roberts at his peak was a well-known evangelist with a relatively popular TV show, although he did receive criticism for a flamboyant, expensive lifestyle.

There is a parking lot about a couple of dozen cars nearby, and it's an easy walk from there to the pretty campus. If you are in the neighborhood, bring a camera.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma: The Golden Driller

Think they do things big in Texas? Oklahoma takes a back seat to no one when it comes to a statue.

In fact, "The Golden Driller" is the largest free-standing statue in the United States. This is one big oil man.

This is the third Mr. Driller, according to Roadside America. The first was built in 1953 on the State Fairgrounds in Tulsa. It was popular enough to build a second one, and then a third - the current one, which went up in 1966.

This is now the official state monument, for what it's worth. It's pretty hard to miss at the entrance to the Fairgrounds, not far from downtown. The Driller is 75 feet tall and weighs 22 tons.

Wonder what size T-shirt he wears?

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Tulsa, Oklahoma: Sonic Center of the Universe

It's tough to know why this particular spot earned the name "Sonic Center of the Universe." That sounds a little pretentious.

But no matter what you call it, you should visit it if you happen to be in downtown Tulsa. Park on Archer St. (meters available) and cross the overpass bridge that runs above the railroad tracks. In fact, the old railroad station is on the other side of the tracks.

Then stand in the middle of the circle of the picture. And say something loudly. Don't scream, but speak up.

You, and only you, will be able to hear an echo of your voice come back. It doesn't work a few feet away, but it will work for you.

And that's why it's the Sonic Center of the Universe. There are concrete planters around that spot in the plaza, and someone has guessed that the sound reflects back to that point. But that takes a little of the romance out of it, and a little romance is always welcome.

By the way, that's one big building in the background - the BOK Tower. It's the centerpiece of downtown, and the second-tallest building in Oklahoma at 52 floors.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tulsa, Oklahoma: Route 66 Village

Drive down the road from the Avery Plaza in Tulsa, and you'll come across another tribute to Route 66.

It's something of an open-air museum for the moment. There's the oil derrick, pictured here. Supposedly this is the site of the first oil strike in Tulsa history; the substance has been a part of the city's economy ever since. Tulsa calls itself "The Oil Capital of the World." There is a train nearby, complete with a steam engine.

I have seen literature that indicates there's more to come on this plaza. We'll see. The Avery Plaza also has some good-sized plans for the future, and you'd think it would be easier to make one nice attraction rather than two small ones. In the meantime, the Village might be worth a brief stop to some.  

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Tulsa, Oklahoma: Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza

There are a couple of things you should know about the Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza in Tulsa.

One, it's been called the symbolic midpoint of Route 66. OK, the key word is symbolic. The midway point is actually in Texas. You are on your own for that.

Two, it may be a difficult chore to find this without a little help. The new state road of Route 66 merges with the Interstate, and bypasses downtown. You'll find yourself on the way to Kansas if you keep going.

Cyrus Avery was a leader in Haiti when U.S. Route 66 was being planned. The idea behind the Chicago to Los Angeles road was that it would take a Southern route to go through the mountains. Therefore, the road had to turn West somewhere. Avery did some lobbying, and the road took a turn in Tulsa. That was good for the city's wallet, and this is his reward.

The plaza has a nice sculpture of the wagon running up against the automobile, a symbol of the old versus new. Plans for the area include an interpretive center and souvenir shop, restaurants, etc.

Here's how the place looks in video form:


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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Stroud, Oklahoma: Rock Cafe

You gotta eat somewhere when driving down Route 66. The Rock Cafe is a good spot for that.

As you could guess, it's been around forever - at least in terms of Route 66. The food is fine, the waitress is friendly, and so on.

The Rock Cafe's claim to fame, though, is a movie connection. Some people from Pixar visited the place in 2001, and immediately started to work on using images and a character ("Sally the Porsche," if you are curious) from the place for their movie, "Cars." The sign might look a little familiar in that sense. The inside has some souvenirs of the film.

We happened to be there when a couple of businessmen were driving a stretch of Route 66 in an attempt to call attention to a device that tries to improve communication between hearing and deaf people. Think of two laptops tied together, so that you can type your words so that both will see it. It's actually an interesting concept, perfect for young people who send texts and Facebook messages. (Old folks who don't type might have a tougher time.) The two representatives were quite nice, and gave us t-shirts for our trouble.

By the way, the bathrooms are filled with graffiti, so bring a pen when you do your business. Even the hallway has a ton of message. Be polite, and the staff will leave it up. 

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Chandler, Oklahoma: Mural

For those driving between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Chandler probably is the biggest city along the way. It has a little history, and there are enough people around to make it all work as a town.

You may know a little about how people lined up on the borders of parts of Oklahoma to get free land. Chandler had its own land run in 1891. A mere six years later, a tornado ripped through the town and caused all sorts of damage. There are 12 buildings still upright from that day, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The scene pictured above is something of a welcome to travelers coming in from the West. There's a mural of the Route 66 sign painted on the wall a few dozen feet west of the scene shown. There are some old signs still on brick walls in town, including a hotel (the space is now partially filled by a karate school). And in the middle of town, work is progressing on fixing up an old Phillips 66 cottage-style filling station. The shell looks good, but there's nothing inside yet. Might be a good stop for tourist information some day.

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Chandler, Oklahoma: Route 66 Interpretive Center

This place certainly makes a good entrance when it comes to luring tourists inside. It's a former Armory, built during the 1930s. They say the walls are 20 inches thick, so this place will be here for a while.

The Oklahoma National Guard left it in 1971, so the decision was made some years later to turn it into the Route 66 Interpretive Center. If you are wondering that exactly that is, well, you probably aren't alone.

There are a few relics from the golden age of Route 66, but the heart of the exhibit is the videos that are available. You can even sit in car seats or lay on replica beds and watch them.

At least in theory. When we were there, about two of the six videos were actually working. Without those, it's fair to say the value of the visiting experience was lessened considerably.

The gift shop had some interesting items, and the one employee was friendly, so that helped. It looked like the rest of the building was used for a variety of functions, as there is a big hall in the back and a nice meeting room.

The official website has more information. Assuming the video machines get fixed, it's worth a stop.

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Warwick, Oklahoma: Seaba Station

You have to be alert to come across the top tourist attraction in Warwick, Oklahoma. It's a restored filling station on Route 66, and it contains the owner's personal motorcycle collection.

This building has gone through a variety of lives over the years. It opened for gas in the 1920s, even before Route 66 opened for business. From there it went into engine repair, and then turned into something of a gift shop. And now, it's a motorcycle museum.

We aren't too interested in motorcycle history, but some of you certainly are. A stop for those people, then, is definitely in order. A visit to the website might fill in some gaps too. They need a little updating, since there's a page that talks about something planned for 2010.

And here's a look at the facility in 2011:

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Arcadia, Oklahoma: Old Round Barn

We've missed out on the full effects of an attraction a few times because we arrived just after closing time. In this rare case, we were too early - the Old Round Barn wasn't open for business yet.

Oh well. It still makes quite a sight on the old Route 66. Apparently it dates back to 1898. The roof collapsed a little less than 20 years ago, but a bunch of people chipped in and got it fixed.

I'm told there's a small souvenir shop, and that it is a steep flight of stairs to see the top of the barn. Oh well. Next time I'll have to sleep in a little later.

Here is a link to the official details of the place.

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Arcadia, Oklahoma: Pops

Our first stop during a relatively short drive down the old Route 66 (now state road 66 in Oklahoma) is the iconic Pops store, located a bit northeast of Oklahoma City.

The bottle in front of the store lights up, so it might be beautiful after sunset. But it's quite a scene even at 9 a.m., when we were there. The statue is, of course, 66 feet tall.

This is essentially a convenience store with a small restaurant and gas station. The selling point is that there are close to 500 different types of soda pop there. I don't known if Ho Jo Cola is represented, but they certainly have lots of choices. (Bring a bottle opener if you are come.) This list is said to include Chicken Wing cola. They do have a few souvenirs, including the best sweatshirt I saw on Route 66.

By the way, Pops also has a couple of outlets in the Oklahoma City airport. You can get a few different flavors of pop there, although the choice doesn't compare to the home store.

Here's the video on the store:

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cleveland, Ohio: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Everything is still up to date at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which remains a stunning attraction a couple of decades after its opening - and almost that long since my last visit.

The building itself is stunning, thanks to the work of I.M. Pei. The facility has done wonders for the lakefront of the city, with the Browns' stadium and a science center nearby.

Visitors go down a floor and start to work their way up to the top. Level One, for example, has tributes to rock's roots, Elvis Presley and other legends, costumes and memorabilia, etc. It takes quite a while to get up to Level Two. There are plenty of films along the way, and naturally music at every stop. Level Three has a film about the inductees, followed by a long hallway with the signatures of everyone who has been picked. It's a little less dramatic than the old approach of ending the tour at the top with tributes, but it's a fun idea. The two two floors, which are small, are reserved for special exhibitions. In our case, it was "Louder than Words - Rock * Power * Politics."

Let's just say that just about anyone who likes the music will want to spend a few hours in there easily. Others might never come out.

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Marion, Ohio: Warren Harding Memorial

I have been to a number of Presidential graves, and the chief executives who died in office usually have the biggest memorials. Garfield and McKinley have big ones, while Kennedy's is on the understated side.

Here's the memorial for Warren Harding in Marion, Ohio. Sure enough, it's a big one - as he died in 1923 less than three years after his election. It is on a big plot of land on the corner of a Marion cemetery, only about three miles or so from his house.

The problems of Harding's Administration didn't fully come out until well after his death; his Interior Secretary was the first Cabinet officer to go to jail. So Harding was well remembered in death, especially in Marion as you'd expect. The name of the high school sports teams in Marion is "the Presidents." Of course.

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Marion, Ohio: Warren G. Harding Home and Memorial

Here's one for the history nerds of our audience.

Warren Harding made a little bit of history during the 1920 Presidential election. His personal campaign consisted of several speeches from his front porch. Thousands would come in to this little town in Ohio to hear the speeches, which were delivered about three times per week. Harding went on to win the election.

His home has an odd bit of history. Harding and his wife moved to the White House after he won the election, and Warren died in 1923. All of the possessions in the home were already in storage, as someone was "house-sitting" in the meantime. Therefore, a visit to the place now really is like going to the house in 1920. Yes, there's air conditioning and all that, but it's filled with original items from Harding's time.

There is a small cottage in the back. It was built for the press covering the 1920 election, and now serves as the place where tours begin and souvenirs are sold.

The organization that runs the place is collecting money for a Harding library, which they hope will be built by 2020. Good luck to them. 

One little warning - the tour we received was a long one, going past the suggested 90-minute time. In fact, we had to leave early to get somewhere. Allow yourself a little extra time if you are stopping by. That nasty little Teapot Dome stuff did not come up in the tour, so you'll have to go elsewhere to learn what went wrong in the Harding Administration.

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Delaware, Ohio: Birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes

We all have to be born somewhere, including Presidents. Wherever that spot is, it should receive some sort of marker. Rutherford B. Hayes is in a special class in this area.

Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio, which is located roughly in the middle of the state a bit north of Columbus. The catch is that the building that served as his birthplace was torn down a while ago. The space probably has had a number of uses since then. But right now, it's a BP gas station.

At least someone had the good sense to put a marker by the street in front of the gas station. Here it is on 17 E. William St. We not only got to see the marker, but we filled up with gas for the trip to see the Harding House. It's something of a two-fer.

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Columbus, Ohio: Capitol Square Complex

Ohio's state capitol is rather typical in terms of design and use when compared to other states. It has chambers for the branches of legislature, lots of offices and meeting rooms, painting of former governors, etc.

This one does have a couple of extra touches. There's something of a museum on the ground floor, which includes a glass version of the state seal shown in the picture. Is the sun rising or setting, as Benjamin Franklin once asked about a similar seal.  The capitol has a cafe and gift shop.

In addition, there are the usual historical statues around the grounds. William McKinley has a big one; he is portrayed waving to his wife - which he apparently did every day while going to work, since he stayed at a hotel across the street.

Tours are available hourly during the middle of the day (10 to 3); check the website for times. We had a brand-new guide on our visit; he did fine.

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Columbus, Ohio: World's Largest Gavel

This is billed as the world's largest gavel. Who am I to argue?

It is located in a reflecting pool just a few blocks from the Ohio state capitol. The area is in the midst of a ground of judicial buildings, and you can see the river from the plaza there. It's an easy stop if you are in downtown Columbus and have a few spare minutes - particularly if you are waiting for a guided tour of the capitol.

The lesson: If you really want to hammer out justice, and hammer out a warning, get a big gavel.

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Columbus, Ohio: Ohio Stadium

There aren't many cathedrals for college football left, but this is certainly one of them. Ohio Stadium has seen a lot of glory since it opened in 1922.

The place went through a major renovation almost 20 years ago, and it now holds more than 100,000 people. That makes it one of the largest stadiums of its kind in the country.

The interesting part, at least for those who haven't been inside, is the location. The stadium is right in the middle of the academic part of campus. There are all sorts of educational buildings around it. In other words, they bring 100,000 people seven times a year to a place not exactly designed for such traffic. I'm sure they have a good shuttle bus system worked out at this point.

This is the main gate at one end of the stadium - a very impressive welcome. When we were there in late August, a drum group was practicing just inside the gate.

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Columbus, Ohio: Praying Mantis

Some attractions don't come with explanations. Like this one.

It's a giant praying mantis, ready to attack visitors to The Ohio State University. It is next to the Agricultural Engineering Building parking lot. Who knows what academic  prankster thought of putting it up, but it certainly is a change of pace from the rest of the campus.

The insect is on the other side of the street from the Ohio football stadium, and it's on the other side of the bridge. Go down Woody Hayes Drive, take a right and a right and head for the circle at the end of the street. It's in with the bushes.

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Columbus, Ohio: Jack Nicklaus Museum

When you are someone like Jack Nicklaus, you've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. It comes with the territory of golf's greatest golfer. You've got trophies from 18 major championships, other title trophies, awards, etc. It's tough to find space for it all.

Nicklaus decided to start a museum. He picked Columbus as its location, since he grew up in that area and attended Ohio State University. Therefore, you can relive Nicklaus' golfing life in the museum there.

Pictured is one side of the display of Masters' championship trophies. The Masters material is in one room, and other awards from majors have their own rooms too. There are videos everywhere. In addition, there are plenty of clubs, bags, etc. around. Jack's den has been recreated, and there are sections devoted to his golf course design and college days. The souvenir stand has some items for sale, although you should be warned that the golf shirts are really pricey.

Wayne Gretzky had the same problem as Nicklaus, and put some of his stuff in a Toronto restaurant. It's nice to have such items shared with the public.

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Newark, Ohio: World's Largest Basket

There's a story behind this picture that may have a sad ending. We'll have to wait and see.

Back in the 1990's, the Longaberger Company needed a new corporate headquarters. So it built one, seven stories high, in the shape of one of its baskets.

It's an impressive site. The main east-west road goes right by it, as it is a few miles east of downtown Newark. It's fair to say the building jumps out of the horizon - 160 times the normal size of the regular basket.

Sadly, the company has fallen on some hard times. It closed this office early in 2016, and moved the administration in with the production plant. There reportedly is a little matter of back taxes of $650,000 or so that needs to be squared away. The town isn't too interested in taking over the building, and it might be tough to find a buyer.

When we visited, the lawn needed some mowing and the trees and shrubs had turned overgrown. It's a bit of a mess. Still, it's definitely a reason for tourists to drive through Newark.

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Zanesville, Ohio: Y Bridge

The biggest tourist attraction in Zanesville might be a bridge that's relatively small.

Then again, it is in the shape of a Y.

That's right - when driving over from the east side of the river, you have to decide whether to go left or right before you reach the riverbank. There aren't many Y bridges in the world, and this is supposedly the only one of its type.

A little park overlooks the bridge and the town on the southwest side of the short. There are signs to guide visitors. And on the way, take a look at the pots on an open lot that are made to look a little like Stonehenge.

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Zanesville, Ohio: Bicentennial Legacy Monument

Sometimes you just stumble on a piece of history. This statue along the waterfront in Zanesville, Ohio, is an example of that.

The statue that is shown here no doubt was planned for 1976, our nation's 200th birthday. The idea was to take four county residents who were about 50 years apart. And here are the winners.

John McIntire essentially founded the town. He worked opn the National Road, and was given three 640-acre tracts of land in Ohio. McIntire worked hard to build up the city and attract visitors. Zanesville was named the county seat because of his efforts. McIntire then headed a company that built a canal and dam, and the company exists to this day. It has assets of $13 million and gives scholarship grants each year.

Noah Norris was the last Civil War veteran to die in Zanesville. He was 98 at the time. Norris was African American who saw action in Virginia in North Carolina. Supposedly his selection honored the "common person" who saw his duty when it was needed and did it. The other two people are more famous - author Zane Gray and astronaut/Senator John Glenn.

We took a wrong turn in looking for the Y-Bridge, but discovered the park in the process.

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Norwich, Ohio: National Road and Zane Gray Museum

What do you do for museums when you are in a small town with a couple of claims to fame? Make one museum that honors both.

At least that's what the good citizens did in Norwich, Ohio. That's why we have the National Road and Zane Gray Museum.

The National Road was America's first highway. The idea was to build a highway from Cumberland, Maryland, to St. Louis - cutting down trees and building a road along the way. Construction started in 1811, and didn't quite make it to St. Louis. The growth of railroads slowed the use of the National Road until cars came along early in the 20th century. Now it's U.S. 40, upstaged a bit by the nearby Interstate that takes a similar path.

There's a diorama that checks in at 136 feet long, and tells the story of the development of the National Road and the cities along the way. There are also examples of the types of vehicles that traveled on it over the years.

Then there's Zane Gray, who wrote more than 80 books and specialized in novels of the Old West. Some of Gray's work is on display, and a replica of his study is available to see.

The staff takes you around the place and explains all of the exhibits, which is helpful. There is a bridge and mile marker outside of the place that was used with the National Road as well. I'm not sure this is a stop for everyone, but it ought to satisfy the curiosity of those with an interest in either subject.

Here's a closer look:


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New Concord, Ohio: John and Annie Glenn Historic Site

We never know where the next American hero will come from. However, those who would try to bet on such things would never have picked New Concord, Ohio - mostly because of its size. New Concord is a college town located east of Columbus.

Yet New Concord did something very right, because John Glenn grew up there. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth from space, and later went on to a distinguished career in the United States Senate. He even went back to space on the Shuttle to help scientists learn about the effects of space flight on older people.

It is hard to imagine just how exciting it must have been to have lived in New Concord during Glenn's flight in 1962. When he was honored in a parade afterwards, people had to park well out of town and walk for miles to join the huge crowd.

Glenn's boyhood house literally has been picked up twice and moved to different locations in New Concord. It's now right on Main Street, and visitors are welcome. The main floor is filled with family artifacts from the 1940s. Guests are greeted by an actor playing a member of the Glenn family, who gives a tour and shows the significance of many of the items. The living room is shown here. (By the way, by 2017 the museum plans to switch this part of the exhibit to 1962 in terms of memorabilia.) Other rooms in the house have plenty of exhibits too.

John and Annie Glenn also are a great love story. They literally were in the same playpen as children, as the families were close. They were married around World War II, and are together as of 2016 - he is 95, she is 96, and living in Columbus. You might remember that Annie overcame a stuttering problem, and has done more than her share of talking since then. That took a little courage too.

This is a bit off the beaten path, although at least it's just off an Interstate. And it's definitely worth your time to stop.

Here's a documentary on Glenn and New Concord done around 1963, with Jack Webb providing the narration. It's charming in its own way:


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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cambridge, Ohio: Hopalong Cassidy's Boyhood Home

If you like old Westerns, you probably know plenty about Hopalong Cassidy. Hopalong was a fictional character who was on the dangerous side. But an actor named William Boyd came along, and he became a Hopalong Cassidy who was a friend to all. That combination worked for more than 60 movies.

Everyone has to be from somewhere, and Boyd grew up in Cambridge, Ohio, which is east of Columbus near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 77. This is the side of the building that served as Boyd's home until he was 14 and moved West. You can see a little white sign on the right marking the house, with the mural of Hopalong next to it.

There is a museum for Cassidy in town. It's in the back of an antique mall, but it's rather difficult to tell on the website just how open the museum is. The annual festival has come to an end, and the antique store is only open once in a while. So after looking at the evidence, we didn't bother stopping. We just jumped out of the car and took a quick picture.

Fans of Hopalong will be happy to get this close, at least. And a video remains of what the museum looks like:

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St. Clairsville, Ohio: Belmont County Courthouse

Sometimes there are unexpected treats just off the Interstate. This was one of them.

Welcome to St. Clairsville, Ohio. We felt that we needed to see the pizza chef statue in town, and made a quick detour. You can read about it in Roadside America.

But while looking for the pizza chef, we parked near this building and marveled at the design. It was the Belmont County Courthouse, sitting on the highest point in town (you can see it from the Interstate, I'm told).

The space has held a court house for more than 200 years. It first went up around 1808, when St. Clairsville was enjoying a boom because of the National Road. Then a new building went up in 1888, and it's still there today. Didn't have time to go inside, but I bet it's nice too.

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Wheeling, West Virginia: West Virginia Independence Hall

The road to statehood for West Virginia more or less began here, at a former customs house in downtown Wheeling.

When the Civil War was about to get started, those in the eastern part of Virginia were ready to leave the Union in order to keep slavery going in their part of the world. But some people in the western part of the state didn't particularly like that idea. Therefore, they called a meeting in his particular building. It authorized the counties to start the process to form a new state.

Based on the information passed along here, it sounds like the idea was more or less railroaded through by all concerned. Votes weren't taken in public, and that probably depressed the vote of the losing side. Once the idea was passed along to Washington, President Lincoln was rather anxious to figure out a way to get West Virginia into the union and weaken the South. There were all sorts of Constitutional issues involved, but they were overlooked under the circumstances. Thus, West Virginia became a new state.

The front of the meeting hall is shown here. The second floor has a Governor's office as well as a large collection of flags from the Civil War. The floor has more displays to go with some post office boxes (one of many former uses of the building) and some souvenirs. A statue of Francis Pierpont, who is called "the father of West Virginia" because he led the initial "rebellion," is right outside. Next door has a mural of the June 20, 1861 meeting. 

Admission is free, and the staff member there seemed quite happy to see us. Based on the guestbook, I'm not sure how much company she's had lately. I don't think a lot of people know the story about West Virginia's birth, so this is worth a stop for history buffs.

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Wheeling, West Virginia: Oglebay Resort and Conference Center

This is listed as a standout attraction in the Triple-A Guidebook. I'm not sure if that's a good description of the place, but it's certainly nice.

Oglebay is something of a hotel, spread out a few miles into the country on the outskirts of Wheeling. You could call it the foothills of the Appalachians.

The resort has plenty of hotel space, a couple of golf courses, restaurants, and conference rooms. There also is a zoo, a couple of lakes (one of which is pictured here), hiking trails, miniature golf, some shops, an amphitheater, and boats for rent. During our brief visit, we even had a deer come within 30 feet of us to check out the surroundings.

I would guess the place gets really crowded in December, when the Christmas light show comes on. You can see some of the permanent displays, or at least the dark version of them, year-round. So it must be spectacular. Let's look at it:

This really would be a good spot for a conference, weekend stay, etc. for those within a reasonable distance of it. I just might not call it a tourist stop for those driving through.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

It doesn't seem fair to have only one picture from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The place is massive, room after room of plants and natural wonders, and I only get to use one picture here.

So I guess it had better be a good one, and this works pretty well. You are on your own for the type of plant it is.  To me, it looked like fireworks.

It takes a couple of hours for a casual viewer to go through all of this. There are several inside rooms, and a few outside gardens.  I can't imagine what someone who loves this type of place would do here - probably check in to a hotel and make a weekend out of it. Phipps Conservatory must have gotten a ton of private support since it opened in 1893.

One other note - glass artist Dale Chihuly worked on several special pieces to be placed around the place, including four major ones and 26 other ones. It really adds to the beauty of the place.

And for those who want to convince a baseball fan to stop in the area, the Conservatory is located in Schenley Park, where the Pirates' home for many years - Forbes Field - was located. (Home plate is still on display.) But sports buffs will even enjoy the stop here, as it has to be one of the best of its kind in the country.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: PNC Park

For those who love their baseball parks, PNC Park in Pittsburgh is on anyone's list of the favorites. It's been open since 2001, and everyone instantly agreed that it's one of the best facilities of its kind of the nation.

PNC Park isn't too big, and has some nice little oddities that give it some character. For example, you can actually sit next to the right field scoreboard. There's not much foul territory.

Outside, there's a nice statue to Pirates great Honus Wagner right behind home plate - Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente get similar honors in the outfield. The first-base foul line parallels Mazeroski Way, after the Pirates' second baseman. And the bridge in yellow above is the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which many fans cross to come to the game.

Then there's the view. Like the one above, taken on a perfect night for baseball. I've never been to San Francisco, which is known as a fabulous ballpark. And it's hard to top all this.

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Fred Rogers Statue


I recently visited the North Shore of Pittsburgh, and came across this statue of Fred Rogers, the beloved children's television personality. I snapped a picture from this angle, and then took a look at the shot later.

Sadly, Fred didn't have a head in my photo. Rats.

Until I get back to this location, I have to rely on the good wishes of I am using their photo, and hope they don't mind. (If they do, I'll take it down immediately.)

Rogers' show ran from 1968 to 2001. He won a Presidential Medal of Honor and a Peabody Award. Rogers died in 2003, and this statue was dedicated as part of a tribute to children in 2009. Fred would have liked that. Up close, the statue makes him look something like a superhero, but the material works just fine at a distance.

The North Shore has gone through a wonderful transformation as of late, and - yes - Fred makes sure that it's always a beautiful day in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland: Lögberg (Law Rock)

This is something of an odd place for a flag, but then again it's an odd place for a Parliament.

Iceland's legislative body started meeting in this area in 930, and continued to do so through 1798. It's a rather remarkable story. As settlers moved into the island, some sort of government was necessary. So each year, people would gather here to talk about the political matters of the day. It was an easy trip for most of the population, and the summer gatherings became something a festival in a sense. Temporary structures were set up for business and housing purposes.

Lögberg (Law Rock), which was in the area shown in the picture, was the center of the legislative action. At times, political readers would read some of the laws of the land aloud. There were discussions about the laws, so you could certainly say it was the Supreme Court of Iceland as well. Eventually, the place lost its legislative duties, but it still had a judicial functions. Executions often were carried out at that region. The region became a national park in 1930.

For more on Iceland in general, click here

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