May 6th-9th, 2014: Oologah Lake, OK to Oklahoma City, OK
Distance: 150 miles
After a restful two nights and one day in Oologah Lake, Oklahoma, we were ready to set off west on 66 once again – this time with our sights set on Oklahoma City!
We joined back up with 66 a few miles east of our campground, and our first town of the day was Claremore, Oklahoma – home to several notable attractions including the J. M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum (the world’s largest private firearm collection), the Will Rogers Memorial, Will Rogers Downs, Oklahoma Military Academy Museum, the Lynn Riggs Memorial Museum (author of the musical “Oklahoma!”), and the historic Belvidere Mansion.
Continuing 10 miles down 66 from Claremore, you can’t miss the giant grinning, bright blue whale on a former swimming hole. With picnic tables and restrooms, this was a great spot for lunch and some photo ops, as you can even walk inside the whale’s mouth and body! The park has been maintained by community volunteers, and donations were graciously accepted in a collection box near the gate. We were sure to contribute a few dollars to thank them for preserving such an iconic roadside attraction and for allowing us to have a whale of a good time (groan)!
Soon we found ourselves in Tulsa, the second largest city in Oklahoma. The road grows busier as you approach, then goes directly through the city, and many classic hotels and neon signs have been preserved to admire as you drive by.
We weren’t up for a side trip that day while towing a trailer, but a bit south of 66 is the photogenic giant Golden Driller statue, a tribute to Tulsa’s former status as the oil capitol of the world.
There’s also a nearby Route 66 Harley-Davidson dealership, complete with an exhibit about the legendary road, and of course it’s a great chance to pick up a souvenir Route 66 shirt for yourself or the Harley lover in your life.
If you have additional time to spend in the city and love history and buildings, there are Tulsa architecture walking tours available that showcase the city’s art-deco buildings and many historic landmarks. I wish we’d had time to do that, but maybe next time!
For the train and transportation geeks, be sure to stop at the Route 66 Historic Village just outside Tulsa to see a restored Frisco 4500 Steam Engine, passenger car, caboose and oil derrick. The oil derrick stands 194 feet high and is the historic site of the first oil strike on June 25, 1901 that make Tulsa the “Oil Capital of the World.”
In nearby Sapulpa, curiosity and hunger compelled us to stop at the adorable Happy Burger for lunch – an old fashioned roadside burger stand operating since 1957. It was quite hot that day and we didn’t want to leave the dogs alone in the car or trailer with no air conditioning, so we chose to walk them up to the take-out window with us, then eat in the car, which we had parked across the road in a larger parking lot. It was greasy and delicious – just like a burger stand meal should be!
With full bellies, we made our way to Chandler, Oklahoma, home of the Route 66 Interpretive Center, showcasing videos and exhibits about the mother road.
Chandler is also the location of the home and studio of the author of the EZ-66 guide book we’d been using for our drive: Jerry McClanahan. While it sounds strange to stop at a stranger’s house, especially with an RV, he encourages anyone enjoying his book to say hello. We were so glad we did – he had a great little collection of photographs, paintings, books, and some other souvenirs available to purchase. We bought a commemorative map, got his autograph in our guide book, and he took a picture of us and our Airstream to add to his guest wall.
Downtown Chandler, Oklahoma is also home to a 1930 Phillips 66 station (one of several stations in Oklahoma) that’s being restored, and in nearby Warwick is the Seaba Station antique motorcycle museum.
A few other side trips are mentioned in the EZ-66 Guidebook, including another section of well-preserved 1920’s road, but we had some miles to cover before dark, it was onward to Arcadia, home of a restored 1898 round wooden barn. Supposedly the only round barn in the United States, the bottom floor boasts a museum and gift shop that detail its construction and restoration, and the upstairs is an event space that’s open to the public.
It also provides an opportunity to get a great lesson in acoustics, as you can whisper something on one side of the giant barn and be heard as clearly as if you’re standing next to a person on the opposing side. Don’t divulge any secrets in the round barn, we were told by the employees!
Just down the road from the round bar was POPS, a newer roadside attraction boasting a 66-foot-tall soda bottle that’s colorfully illuminated at night. While it’s neat looking from the road or parking lot, the convenience store was mobbed with people when we stopped. However, they did have a nice gas station and in the store is a diner and a very impressive collection of sodas available for purchase if you do want to do some shopping.
At this point, were were diverted off 66 and onto the interstate, to head to our campground near downtown Oklahoma City.
We spent the next day exploring Oklahoma City, and at the recommendation of the extremely kind and helpful people at the OKC visitors bureau, we toured the interesting National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the state capitol, which we’re pretty sure is the only state capitol with its own working oil derrick!
Oklahoma City was a surprisingly beautiful and hip city overall, especially given how little we’d heard about it prior, with many outdoor activities like canoe and kayak rentals on the Oklahoma River, miles of paved walking/biking/running trails, a downtown botanical garden with a children’s play area and urban dog park, a vibrant art, music and entertainment scene in the Bricktown neighborhood, and a relaxing little canal walk area lined with restaurants and bars, ending at the minor league baseball stadium. We were able to take in an evening game and had a lot of fun – and not just because it was dollar beer night! Okay, maybe partly because of that…
We ended the day on a somber note, with the extremely touching and beautiful Oklahoma City National Memorial for the victims of the 1995 federal building bombing. It was intensely sad at times, but an extremely well designed museum and memorial that we very strongly advise seeing at least the outdoor portion of.
Rounding out our two-day visit, we stopped in nearby Norman, Oklahoma, where we visited the National Weather Center, home of the NOAA Storm Prediction Center and Norman National Weather Service Forecast Office. We wrote a separate blog about what we learned there, but it was a great tour that we highly recommend anyone checks out while in town.
More than a couple days would be needed to really experience Oklahoma City, but we had to move on, so the next day we would head to our final section of Oklahoma Route 66, and the beginning of Texas’ portion, toward Amarillo.