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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