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Oklahoma Travel Tips

The spirit of the persevering pioneer is everywhere in this state, from remnants of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush to the migration west on Route 66 of the 1930s Dust-Bowl refugees, and the 1950s and 60s family vacationers. Remembrances of restless spirits, those driven by force on the "Trail of Tears," those driven by desire for free land, or by sheer desperation, and those driven by family cars with fins, are all evident along the roads of Oklahoma.

STATE TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 652-6652

OKLAHOMA CITY

At high noon on April 22, 1889 a gunshot opened up Oklahoma's "unassigned land" to a race of more than 100,000 land seekers, all rushing to beat the day and beat each other in staking a claim before sunset. By nightfall, a town of over 10,000 inhabitants in tents, shacks and huts sprang up almost instantaneously. A few decades later oil gushed in, altering the city's economy and changing the look of the skyline to include oil derricks along with clock towers. A few decades later, the famous architect, I.M. Pei, further redesigned the Oklahoma City skyline to its present modern state of glass, chrome and clean lines -- but the derricks still remain.

Statehouse (405) 521-3356

The front of this 1917 Capitol has three distinct icons: Cowboys, Indians and Oil. A towering oil derrick stands like a tall sentry while two statues flank the main entrance of the building: a cowboy statue on the left and a statue of an Indian on the right. These three icons tell the tale of Oklahoma. Distinctly missing from this Capitol, however, is the classic dome,which was in the original design of the building but funds were diverted to make way for three additional floors, changing the design from a 3-story to a 6-story building --without a dome of course.

Check it out: . . . See if you can find the "hidden staircase."

Oklahoma City Bombing Site Memorial (888) 542-HOPE

It's almost impossible to think of Oklahoma City without recalling the image of that horrible April morning three years ago when a bomb exploded at the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah building, leaving a huge, gaping hole in the ground, a mass grave to 168 office workers who arrived at their desks that morning thinking it would be a day like any other. A chain link fence surrounding the site bears articles of clothing, flowers, wreaths, prayers and religious icons that have been attached to the fence by surviving loved ones. Across the street is a pure white statue of Jesus, his head bowed into the cup of his hand, the inscription reading, "And Jesus wept." Today the site is still raw with the recent evidence of the blast of terrorism. By the year 2000 it will contain a memorial, a sanctuary and a learning museum for the prevention of terrorism.

Myriad Botanical Gardens & Crystal Bridge (405) 297-3995

Walk into a rain forest, a desert, the tropics, and over, under and behind a cascading waterfall, all under the protective covering of a gigantic cylindrical greenhouse. Talk to parrots and watch love birds nestle together in the aviary. See the big whiskered catfish in the fishpond and notice the scattering bugs and lizards, pest-eating friends to gardens. Outside the Crystal Bridge are ponds, bridges and walkways with other plants and trees that spill out onto the busy city streets that surround this delicate garden.

Tip: Christmastime finds the gardens and the Crystal Bridge aglow in red and green lights and red poinsettias accompanied by wonderful Christmas music piped in overhead.

Oklahoma National Stockyards Exchange (405) 235-8675

A different kind of stock market. A visitor's catwalk overlooks one of the world's largest cattle markets allowing carnivores to get a fascinating look into steering steers to the meat market, and eventually to our dinner plates.

GUTHRIE

Guthrie shares the same history as Oklahoma City in that it was uninhabited until that famous gunshot on April 22, 1889 unleashed thousands of land-thirsty racers onto this recently opened territory. Designated as the capital city, Guthrie thrived much more quickly than Oklahoma City, attracting savvy business owners as well as farmers and ranchers. But in 1910, Oklahoma City was chosen as the new state capital and Guthrie's fantastic growth halted. As a result, the town's fabulous old buildings and squares escaped any "updating" and now boasts 400 blocks of turn-of-the-century edifices registered on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the Victorian-era buildings were designed by French architect Joseph Foucart.

Tip: Lunch at the restaurant "Granny Had One" is lots of fun. It's a beautiful Victorian building crowded with memorabilia and relics. The burgers are great, too. Although if it's Sunday and you want a beer with that burger, make it a domestic beer. No imported beers are served on Sunday. (The waiter couldn't tell us why.)

Drugstore Museum (405) 282-1895

In 1970 Ralph Enix, a 40-year veteran pharmacist saw the friendly neighborhood pharmacy gradually being squashed under the weight of large, impersonal drugstore chains. The Rx for this malady? To preserve the old-time pharmacy-soda fountain-candy store in a museum lest no one forget the importance of these Main Street meeting places. The site chosen for this pharmacy memorabilia was the 1890 Gaffney Building in Guthrie. Why Guthrie? Well, aside from collection of untouched old buildings and town squares, is the well-known pharmacist, Foress B. Lillie, who was one of the racers in the Guthrie Land Rush of 1889. Walk inside this old-time pharmacy and instantly feel the ache of what we now lack in American culture: a place to chat with locals, grab a snack, buy some medicine and leave feeling better, not so much because of the prescription the pharmacist mixed, but because of mix of people who asked after your health.

First Capital Trolley (405) 282-6000

Get a tour of the entire Guthrie Historic District on an old-time trolley that takes you past 400 blocks and 1400 acres of historic buildings. Find out about famous people who once lived here: Carry Nation, Will Rogers, Lon Chaney, and Tom Mix.

Route 66 Museum, Clinton, OK (405) 323-7866

It traveled over eight states, across 2400 miles, and past three time zones. It's been called Main Street of America, The Mother Road, and the Free Road. But as writer Michael Wallis says in his book, Route 66, The Mother Road::

"Nowhere is Route 66 more at home than in Oklahoma, where the pavement follows the contours of the land as though it had always been there. In Oklahoma, the East and the West collide on Route 66 and the state becomes the crossroads for America's Main Street."

The Route 66 Museum takes you on a sentimental journey down America's Main Street. It tells the tale of a road that began in 1924 in response to the new mode of travel, the motorcar, and continued serving America's hunger for motoring through the 1960s when the interstate became the road of choice for a society with very little time. Read about the times and look at relics and memorabilia from every decade of this paved ribbon of Americana.

OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK:

Council Road RV Park, Oklahoma City (405) 789-2103

The restrooms, showers and laundry room . . . filthy. Dropped a towel on the shower room floor -- for two seconds -- and it was covered with dirt, lint, and hairballs (Yuch). In the laundry room, all the washing machines were littered with some kind of white plaster crud. Too bad, cuz it looks like it was recently remodeled. New, but not clean. Well, whaddya want for only $75 a week?

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