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Road Trip – Oklahoma City

I’m a lover of the American in-betweens - those places most travelers flyover, or on their way to somewhere else capture a zipped view that looks like a shaky panned shot with my cheapest camera. The in-betweens of our nation’s highways are destinations for me.  And that includes those near and dear.

OKC National Memorial

OKC National Memorial

Oklahoma City’s bombing tragedy fifteen years ago headlined on the international stage and brought home the hardened truth that living on the Great Plains isn’t all that removed from the rest of the world. For the rest of the world, Oklahoma City’s tragedy had an even more broadly grim impact. If life on the Great Plains didn’t epitomize insulation and protection, then where did that leave everyone else?

The ensuing and equally documented triumph, trumped the tragedy. And instilled the belief that Oklahoma City lies at the nucleus of what still makes America great.  And if you doubt it, then you’ve not had a look around Oklahoma City. For there you’ll find all the appeal of a city that teeters masterfully on the fine line dividing mass produced modernity and swashbuckling American individualism.

Land Run Monument

The Land Run Monument at Sunset. My people.

Oklahoma City was domestically settled during The Land Run of 1889. Before that it was a trading post on a vast stretch of prairie known as “the nation.” To the nation outlaws fled, Redlegs after the Civil War, and God fearing individuals with the tenacity, fearlessness and ingenuity to pound nothing into something. All converged with the Native Americans who’d been here for centuries and a backdrop unfurled for one of the fiercest mixing of cultures on American soil.

Oklahoma State Capitol Bldg

Oklahoma State Capitol

Nowhere is the tumult of the early struggles captured and blended best with modern times as the concentrated area of Oklahoma City’s downtown. And maybe no time is more conducive to the discovery of the city’s unique treasures as the hours that bookend the day.

So you’ve seen  or heard of Bricktown. But have you walked the grounds of the Capitol at daybreak? Nosed around downtown after dark until you found the tucked away treasures of “The Curious Organism”, “1889”, and “Galaxy” sculptures?  Stood in the middle of the massive Land Run bronzes at sunset imagining the choke of dust kicked up at the start? Snooped and sniffed until you stumbled upon the underground tunnel entrances? Or watched in the hushed silence of night the twinkling lights of hope that illuminate the chairs in the National Memorial?

No? Then stop for a bit on your next flyover.  See these photographs?? You WON’T be sorry.

OKC heart of downtown

OKC heart of downtown

OKC  '1889' sculpture

1889 Sculpture

'The Curious Organism'

The Curious Organism. (hint - just to the left is an underground tunnel entrance).

Bootscootin' in style

Bootscootin' in Style

The Land Run Monument

Land Run Monument

Oklahoma City SRT (seriously recommended to-do’s):

Where to Eat:

These restaurants top my list of places that offer a combination of fantastic food with captivating environments.

  • Cheever’s Café. I never visit Oklahoma City without a meal at Cheever’s.  If there’s no time for Cheever’s, the trip can’t be justified.  Some establishments instill that sort of devotion by doing something repeatedly that few can emulate – they earn it.  I have three menu favorites from which I can’t break away. The Chicken Tortilla Soup – it has no equal. During the most recent feast, the chef shared the recipe with me. I’ll share that later. The Roasted Quail Short Stack: farm raised quail layered between corn tortillas with an ancho chile sauce and Mexican cheeses, then baked and topped with avocado salsa verde.  Mixed Seafood Tamales suspend large chunks of shrimp, lobster, halibut, and scallops in a handmade sweet potato masa drizzled with a sublime ancho cream.  Decedent. There’s a technique to eating these – don’t be shy about asking your waiter. Portions are generous. 405.525.7007; 2409 N. Hudson Avenue, 73103; www.cheeverscafe.com.
  • Nic’s Grill. For under $10 you’ll have the cheeseburger experience of a lifetime.  No superlatives can do this culinary experience justice. With only enough space to seat 15 people, the line forms outside well before Nic starts spreading lunchtime smiles at 11:00 (opens at 7:00 for breakfast).  Be early, or wait around until closer to the 2:00 closing.  And if you order the burger for take-out, be prepared to eat it in your parked car – that’s as far as you’ll get. Nic’s was featured on the Food Channel’s hit series, Diners Drive-ins and Dives. 1201 N. Pennsylvania Ave. 73107; 405.524.0999. There are NO call aheads for takeout orders and Nic takes weekends off.
  • Metro Wine Bar & Bistro. Go for the bread.  Try to maintain room for the food. And if you’re part of the early evening crowd, ask the waiter when you walk through the door to put the bread in the oven. My pick for a special dinner.  6418 N. Western Ave. 73116; 405.840.9463; www.metrowinebar.com.
  • Rococo Restaurant. Start at the bar gazing at the gargantuan jar of pineapple slices steeping in vodka and proceed from there to the Fisherman’s Stew.  2824 N. Pennsylvania Ave. 73107; 405.528.2824; www.rococo-restaurant.com.
  • Iron Starr Barbeque. Try the pulled pork sandwich (topped with cole slaw) or the bacon wrapped quail breast.  And always no matter the entrée, order the side of fried okra. The small, tender pods are fried whole.  Oh! 3700 North Shartel Avenue 73118; 405.524.5925; www.ironstarrbbq.com.
  • Deep Deuce Grill (as opposed to the Deep Fork Grill – also good, but…). Cozy gas lamps. In the historic deep deuce hotel and historic jazz district; 307 Northeast 2nd Street 73104; 405.235.9100; www.deepdeucegrillokc.com.  

 

Where to Stay:

Downtown is still what sets our major cities apart and Oklahoma City is no exception.  Stay downtown and wander around after dark.  There are unimaginable surprises. Bricktown is but one.

  • The Colcord Hotel became Oklahoma City’s first skyscraper when it was built in 1910 by Charles Francis Colcord. Ninety-six years later, a $16 million renovation by The Coury Collection transformed the 12-floor building into an upscale boutique hotel.  Large scale construction was going on in an adjacent lot when I visited late-March.  Ask about it before you book a room. 15 North Robinson Avenue 73102; 405.601.4300; www.colcordhotel.com.
  • The historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and garners AAA’s Four-diamond rating. 1 Park Avenue 73102; 405.272.3040; www.hilton.com.
  • Marriott’s Renaissance Convention Center Hotel. Another AAA Four-diamond hotel in the heart of downtown.  10 North Broadway 73102; 800.468.3571; www.renaissanceoklahomacity.com.
  • The Sheraton Hotel. Consistent. Modern. Excellent value.  Nice people at the front desk. 1 North Broadway Ave., 73102; 405.235.2780; www.sheratonokc.com.

 

What to See in Downtown OKC/Surrounding Area:

 Sights within walking distance of the hotels above:

  • Oklahoma City Museum of Art; closed Mondays; Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 5:00; Thursdays 10:00 – 9:00; Cocktails on the Skyline in the Museum Café,  Thursday 5:00 – 10:30; 415 Couch Dr 73102.; 405.236.3100; www.okcmoa.com.
  • Chihuly Glass Sculpture, “The Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick Memorial Tower”.  Dale Chihuly’s largest permanent exhibit can be found at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (see above). At 10 tons and 55 vertical feet of writhing, jewel colored blown glass by world renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, the tower piece is illuminated 24 hours a day.  Best appreciated by night.
  • The Underground. A three-quarter-mile tunnel system that links 16 blocks and more than 30 buildings in downtown. The original tunnel link was built in 1931 because William Balser Skirvin wanted to have an underground passage from his Skirvin Hotel on one side of Broadway to his new hotel, The Skirvin Towers, on the other side. Most of the remaining system was developed in the 1970’s. The Invited Artists Gallery sits beneath the intersection of Robinson and Robert S. Kerr with entrances from all adjacent buildings.
  • “Galaxy”. 14 tons of “Liberman Red” sculpture. Leadership Square (just across the street from “1889” sculpture).
  • “1889”. Dedicated in 1960 and commissioned by the Kerr McGee Corporation, this bronze inspires.  At the intersection of Robinson Ave. and Couch Drive. The “Galaxy” is right across the street.
  • Air Force Monument. Erected in 1964 the monument pays tribute to the U.S. Air Force. Couch Park.
  • “The Curious Organism”.  Created to pique the public’s curiosity about The Underground (see above). The tentacles extend more than 100 feet into the tunnel system.  NE corner of Broadway & Robert S. Kerr.

Sights requiring very short drives from the hotels above:  

  • State Capitol. Check out the oil wells and the 17-foot tall bronze Native American statue “The Guardian” on top of the dome honoring Oklahoma’s Native American heritage. 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. 405.522.0836. www.ok.gov.oklahomadome.com.
  • Land Run Monument.  A must-see. Moving. Southern edge of Bricktown on the Canal (far side of Bass Pro’s parking lot). www.crownartsinc.com.
  • Oklahoma National Memorial and Museum; open 24/7; 620 N. Harvey Ave.; 888.542.4673; www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org.
  • Automobile Alley was a popular retail district in the 1920’s and was home to most of the city’s car dealerships. Today a stroll through the area will take you past the art deco architecture tucking away galleries, upscale lofts, and offices.  North Broadway Avenue from West Park Place (just north of 10th Street) to NW 4th Street.  www.automobilealley.org.

 

 

Where to Shop:

  • The Paseo Arts District. Located at 28th & North Walker to 30th & North Dewey is the oldest Arts District Community in Oklahoma City. The Spanish style architecture is home to a vibrant group of artists with substantial involvement and support from the larger community. They continue to build the district into one of the most creative art venues in the country. The Paseo is home to 17 galleries and more than 60 artists, all within walking distance. Intermingled with the galleries are restaurants, a coffee house, clothing boutiques, gift shop, yoga studio and graphic arts studio. Annual artist festival Memorial Day weekend.  405.525.2688.
  • Nichols Hills Plaza. 6484 Avondale Drive, Nichols Hills, OK 73116. 405.842.6558
  • 50 Penn Place. 1900 NW Expressway, 73118. 405.848.7588. www.50pennplace.info.
  • Penn Square Mall. The one and only and still slightly infamous. Intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and NW Expressway. 405.842.4424.
  • The Consortium. Home. Clothing. 4415 North Western. 405.602.5005.

 

Just for the night vibe:

  • “Cocktails on the Skyline” in the Museum Café. See address and hours above for the OKC Museum of Art.
  • La Baguette at the Colcord Hotel. Now incorporates the Oyster Bar. 15 N. Robinson Ave., 405.601.3800.
  • Interurban Express (for lunch or after work hour cocktails). 204 N. Robinson; 11:00 – 8:00, kitchen open until 6:30; 405.235.4448; www.iucityexpress.com.
  • Makers Cigar Lounge.  Home to a hidden, quiet cigar lounge. With leather couches and dark paneled walls. After dinner drinks or just a place to relax. 25 S Oklahoma; 405.606.9000.
  • The Paseo Arts District (see above).
  • Nonna’s Purple Bar. Fun. 1 Mickey Mantle Drive on the 2nd floor of Nonna’s Restaurant. 405.235.4410. www.purplebarokc.com.

Resources:

www.downtownokc.com

www.bricktownokc.org

www.automobilealley.org

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Chihuly

www.thepaseo.com/

www.alliedartsokc.com

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The Salt Plains of Oklahoma’s Lost Sea

It’s not really lost.  Gone is more like it. There is a difference. Being one of those nuances of the English language we wallow with on occasion the issue must be wallowed, else I can’t move on. Consider this a divertissement to the rest of the post. So if I lose a ring fighting a 3 lb. trout while flyfishing the Yellowstone River, it’s lost from me, but not gone.  The trout got away too. Bad day. I’d consider the fish to be gone but not lost. If I’d landed him and made streamside ceviche, then he’d be gone. Say I lose my way. Definitely not gone. If it were gone I’d never find it again. I’ve tested that one.  What about lost at sea? Possibly lost and gone. And all for the point Oklahoma once had a sea but now it’s gone. But not lost. And yes I think and write like this stone cold sober.

Oklahoma's Lost Sea

Sundown. Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.

A day hot enough to create mirages on the searing highway provides a vivid imagination the creative force to visualize the sea that once flooded the Great Plains. The tangible remains of the sea are now an expanse of salt flats. The only place in the world where chocolate brown selenite crystals with hourglass sand inclusions are found.  Beats me why the state of Oklahoma hasn’t pounded home that travel destination highlight.

A shallow sea covered western Oklahoma during the Permian Period (200+ million years ago). The mountains worn down, sand and mud eroded from land in the eastern half of the state and were carried by rivers flowing westward. The climate becoming warm and dry resulted in deposits of gypsum and salt from the evaporating sea water. The salt layers still underlie much of the area, but at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge they’re dissolved by natural ground-water flow, the resultant brines drying and crusting on the surface.

One of nine National Wildlife Refuges in Oklahoma, the refuge is designated as the “largest such saline flat in the central lowlands of North America”. As well as being habitat for over 300 species of birds, the refuge has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area, a Member of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and critical habitat for the endangered whooping crane. Hourglass sand inclusions and whooping cranes. I believe that noteworthy.

Oklahoma's Lost Sea

A certain area of the 10,000 acre salt flats at the refuge still has gypsum concentrations high enough to continually grow the selenite crystals. From April to October, rotating designated areas allow a free-for-all dig, with a few restrictions on what amount of crystals can be removed. Bring your shovel, sun screen, and plan to get dirty.

The gate leading into the crystal digging area is located six miles west of Jet, Oklahoma on US 64, then north on a dirt road for three miles, then east one mile. Don’t get lost.

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And From the Ashes…

DSC00117

It happens when I’m not looking. And usually takes a goosing from the first thunderstorm of the season to deliver me from my refrigerated stupor. This year in the absence of early tornado warnings, I ratcheted to an upright and cheerfully alert position from crumpled truculence all by myself. I’m quite proud. And very happy to report Spring is here.

One month ago this:

tulsadowntownsnowscene copy

Downtown Tulsa March 2010 Snow

Today this:

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This is what Okies look forward to in the coming weeks. Notice the smiles on their faces.

100_0974

Thank you Trevor & Beth for this photo. I discoverd it on your memory stick. That's right, the one I still have.

For those wanting the rest of the camping series, keep checking back. For now, go camping. Or fishing.

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Oklahoma Fried Potatoes & Rocket Science

The hot, powdery sand sifts into every nook of my flip flop clad feet. It’s the same sand from which a garden has annually erupted for as long as I can remember – more than 3 decades. The same except for the fluffing of it by fertilizer; some years from the best fertilizer — shoveled from the chicken coop by my sister and me. The same exceDSC04789 copypt for the fertilizer and the various crops of vegetables that have been rotated through to ward off the weariness from the same ole plants year in and year out. Gardens get bored too.

Close to embarrassing myself in front of citified nephews that have no idea what a potato plant looks like, I recognize the row of plants from which my Dad has already enjoyed several suppers. Prying the plant from the ground takes a bit of doing. The soil is hard and protective of its treasure. Large and small, red and white, the pebbled potatoes show themselves.  The tops are chopped; the potatoes drop into a brown paper bag. The same befalls the onions.

DSC04801 copy

The yellow crooked neck squash is just blooming. Darn. And I don’t see any okra this year. Pride checks my yell to question where the okra might be.  I grew up here. I should know this. The nephews are watching.

Every supper of my youth witnessed a platter of fried potatoes cooked in a black, tar bottomed cast iron skillet. Being the family cook most nights, I learned the process well.

Like most dishes of this deceptively simple sort – biscuits, pie dough, venison, and fried chicken all fall in this lot, the lie behind the perceived ease to whip up one of these dishes drives many a Southern woman insane.

In other words, there’s a technique. It takes the right temperature, the right amount of oil, when to turn, how much to turn, how long to leave the lid on while the potatoes soften to the perfect consistency before the browning begins, etc.

So maybe it’s not rocket science…

Classic Southern Fried Potatoes

  • Potatoes — any kind, any color, any size
  • Onions — the same
  • A bit of yellow squash and/or okra if you have it or your parent’s is past the bloom stage and you can pluck whatever size you can get away with. And of course, find the okra.
  • Salt & pepper
  • Oil — to your taste — I like peanut or vegetable oil. Canola will work. Olive oil too, but it will lend a different flavor. And then there’s lard.

DSC08508 copyI don’t peel a new potato, but you can if you want.  As far as the cutting up technique, I tend to cut the potato from end to end into something less than 1/4 inch slabs; then from side to side into shorter pieces but still about the same thickness.  Chop the onions.  For the yellow squash, I slice into rounds of about 1/4 inch. The same with the okra. Yep, all in the same bowl will do just fine.DSC08510 copy

IF you’re using a bit of squash and/or okra with the potatoes, sprinkle some flour and cornmeal over everything. Sometimes I’ll do this even with just potatoes and onions.  The grit from the cornmeal is a learned craving, or a crazed learning. Take your pick.

Put enough oil in either a seasoned cast iron skillet, or a non-stick skillet (like the one I use when my Mom’s not looking) to come up to a bit less than 1/3 of the depth of the pan. You’re making fried potatoes here, NOT french fries, so we’re not deep frying.  Heat the oil to about 375, or until a slice of potato sizzles.  Dump it all into the pan.

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Salt and Pepper the top layer liberally and put on a lid, or like my Mom, turn a plate over the skillet. If the lid doesn’t rest firmly on the skillet, don’t panic. It will do its job just the same if resting initially on the heaping pile o’ potatoes.

Here’s where the rocket science comes in: cook until the potatoes begin to soften (test with a fork), then remove the lid. Start checking the bottom of the potatoes for browning. Once they start browning, turn.  Don’t expect to turn them like a pancake. No. Turn whatever your spatula will hold, then turn the rest the same way.  Salt & pepper again.  You may need to turn a few times after this first turn.

They’re done, umm, when you say they are. You ARE the cook, aren’t you?  Done correctly, you can pull them apart in chunks of alternating layers of creamy potatoes and crunch.  P.S. They’re fantastic cold. If you have any left.

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Oklahoma Rocket Science

For more foodie fun, check out Wanderfood Wednesdays over at Wanderlust & Lipstick!

The Annual Itch

Just about the time we’re contemplating a jail break from the confines of our air-conditioned homes, the light and air begin signaling fall. The itch to wander off the beaten path starts gathering steam as the sun starts changing its slant on the Earth. Our thoughts, as we look upon an errant runner of Bermuda grass, turn suddenly from being annoyed by it, to the desire to be like it – free to meander and roam.

Those far-off looks in our eyes and that nagging restlessness have only one diagnosis – wanderlust. The condition has only one cure – ROAD TRIP!

So get out a map (or not), buy some sandwich fixin’s, gas up the car, clean and fill the ice chest, throw in some fishing gear (just in case), recharge the camera battery and load up.

Barnsdall, Oklahoma barn

old dairy barn, north of Barnsdall, Oklahoma

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** This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Urban Tulsa and will be of most interest for you Okie readers. HOWEVER, anyone desiring to see some of Oklahoma, in this case North and East Oklahoma, should save this for a future trip. Some of you do want to see Oklahoma, right?!

The specifics (directions, mileage/driving time, and recommended side trips) are here.

Scenic Road Trip #1 – East Loop to Jay

This loop heads east from Tulsa towards Locust Grove on Highway 412. The route delivers three state parks, Lake Eucha S.P.(pronounced ooochee), Spavinaw S.P. and Snowdale S.P.; takes you past both of Tulsa’s water supplies, Lake Eucha and Spavinaw Lake; will have you checking out one of the earliest permanent settlements in the state at Salina; puts you on a portion of Rt. 66 on the return trip (from Claremore to Catoosa); and provides a photo opportunity at one of Oklahoma’s best known curiosities – Catoosa’s Blue Whale.

Scenic Road Trip #2 – North Loop to the Tallgrass Prairie

Heading north of Tulsa, this road trip pivots around the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. The grass reaches its full height in early fall and grows among 650 other plant species. Look for large brown animals roaming. As many as 2,500 head of bison, the largest land mammal native to the Western hemisphere, live on the prairie. Osage Hills S.P. is along this route, as is Bad Brad’s Barbeque (918-287-1212) in Pawhuska.

Scenic Road Trip #3 – South to the Talimena Drive, Southern Variation

This is the classic fall circuit for Oklahomans – Talimena Drive.  This variation diverts south to Broken Bow after completing the length of the Talimena Scenic Byway. From Wilburton to Broken Bow, the entire stretch is a designated scenic drive.

The trip passes five of our state parks and one National Recreation Area – Okmulgee’s Dripping Springs S.P., Wilburton’s Robbers Cave S.P., Talimena S.P., Winding Stair Mountain N.R.A., Broken Bow’s Hochatown S.P., and Beavers Bend State Resort Park. To do this trip justice, plan for two days.

Scenic Road Trip #4 – West Loop to Little Sahara/Anadarko

This western circuitous route encompasses two of Oklahoma’s most surprising topographic wonders – the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge and Little Sahara S.P.

The sea salt of The Great Salt Plains was deposited by an inland sea that once covered the area. The world’s only known deposit of selenite, a crystallized form of gypsum, is found here.

Ancient deposits of quartz and volcanic rock have eroded into the sands dunes of the Little Sahara. Approximately 1,500 acres of the shifting dunes were set aside for the state park.

The wide loop meanders past five state parks: Keystone S.P., Great Salt Plains S.P., Little Sahara S.P., Watonga’s Roman Nose S.P. and Hinton’s Red Rock Canyon S.P., with several others located in the surrounding areas.

The entire route from Little Sahara S.P. to Anadarko is a designated scenic drive.

Nicoli’s Italian American Restaurant in Anadarko is worthy of a refuel (for you, not the car). Call for reservations at 405-247-6340; open only on Friday and Saturday evenings 5 – 9pm. www.scaffettas.com.

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So your appetite’s whetted for Oklahoma travel?  Order the 2009 Travel Guide from www.travelok.com. You can also order free maps and a glove box full of additional state-wide resources.  Want to know more?  Steve’s Sundries (in Tulsa) carries, Off The Beaten Path Oklahoma and Oklahoma Curiosities; both worthy of any Okie library.

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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