"Many a month has come and gone
Since I wandered from my home
In those Oklahoma Hills where I was born
Many a page of life has turned
Many a lesson I have learned
Well, I feel like in those hills I still belong.
'Way down yonder in the Indian nation
I rode my pony on the reservation
In the Oklahoma Hills where I was born
'Way down yonder in the Indian nation
A cowboy's life is my occupation
In the Oklahoma Hills where I was born."
"Oklahoma Hills," a song by Jack Guthrie and Woody Guthrie, says it well. And while the pony remains an option to explore the Oklahoma hills, the automobile is a convenient way to soak up the local color the state offers.
Travel is in the air. Spring gives way to summer and summer vacations. Staying close to home and exploring our own backyard is not only fun, but a way of understanding who we are as Oklahomans, native or not. And staying close to home has never been better, as all regions of the state are sprucing up and dusting off their door steps in an effort to gear up for summer travelers.
A great source of information to begin state explorations is the Oklahoma Travel and Tourism Department. The first step for summer travelers is to know the state's six diverse regions: Green Country, Red Carpet Country, Great Plains Country, Frontier Country, Arbuckle Country and Kiamichi Country.
Lindsay Vidrine, Public Relations Director for the Travel and Tourism Department, encourages people to take advantage of what the department offers travelers. "The Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department provides travelers with resources for planning the perfect trip or weekend getaway. This includes travel and event information, free brochures, attraction coupons, road trip ideas and much more."
She offered a glimpse into a few of the many travel itineraries and popular sites available within these regions.
So, let's take a trip shall we?
Let's start east in Green Country (Northeastern Oklahoma), the most watered part of the state which includes Tulsa, Tahlequah, Bartlesville, Muskogee, Claremore, Grove and Eufaula.
Too familiar with the Tulsa scene? Take time to veer off the Mother Road and commune with Mother Nature at Canebrake in Wagoner, just 40 miles east of Tulsa (thecanebrake.com).
Canebrake (celebrating the Arundinaria Gigantea, a species of bamboo native to the US) is an oasis of relaxation offering fine dining, activities like yoga, ropes courses and birding as well as beautiful accommodations nestled in the countryside. Just a dining excursion is worth considering. The Canebrake Kitchen serves BBQ-Mopped Shrimp, Buffalo Burgers, and Frenched Pork Chop.
That's not all, but there are many other delights to explore here, on your own.
Back to T-Town, head north to Bartlesville to view Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper at the Price Tower Arts Center. Surely we don't have to remind you to make a stop at Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve. It has more than 52,000 square feet of Southwest history with a working ranch of bison, elk, deer and cattle.
The outdoorsy types can find ample opportunities to fish, boat, golf, camp or hike on or around Grand Lake, near Grove. Ride horseback along 18 miles of trails around Lake Oologah or take a float trip down the Illinois River near Tahlequah. Want to go scuba diving? Head to Lake Tenkiller.
Need something to eat? Some interesting places to fuel up in this area include Click's Steakhouse in Pawnee, Russ' Rib in Bristow, and the oldest family-owned restaurant on Route 66, Clanton's Café in Vinita.
Red Carpet Country
The Northwestern part of the state is lovingly referred to as "no man's land," with its wide-open terrain. Hike to the top of Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma at 4,973 feet above sea level. Observe the four neighboring states from the peak. Explore Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom, OK. The caverns formed more than 200 million years ago and they are the largest gypsum caves in the world. Saddle up for a trek through the sparkling Gloss Mountains near Cherokee, or see the real salt of the earth at the Great Salt Plains State Park and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge near Jet, OK. Near Watonga, OK, ancient mesas and towering cedars make Roman Nose Resort Park an ideal place for hiking and biking.
View artifacts and read the history of this area at local museums. The Cherokee Strip Museum in Alva, OK, has one of the best collections of pioneer exhibits, American Indian art and artifacts in the state. View arrowheads, peace pipes and alabaster at No Man's Land Museum in Goodwell, OK. Learn about the rise of Conoco Oil at the Conoco Museum, Ponca City. The Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, Enid, connects you to the Cherokee Outlet Land Run.
And then revive yourself at one of Oklahoma's oldest bars and the home of some of the world's most famous fried chicken that comes served on a sheet of waxed paper at Eischen's Bar in Okarche, OK. Gotta have barbeque out in these parts right? Try Wagg's in Woodward, OK. If you make a stop in Guymon, OK, be sure to sample the renowned tasty green chile chicken-fried steak at Marla's Country Diner.
Great Plains Country
Historic sites, museums, charming towns and rugged landscape await the traveler in Great Plains Country in southwestern Oklahoma. In Duncan, the Experience Theater at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center is full of historical adventure. Take a nostalgic trip to the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. Military buffs will want to journey through the largest museum in the U.S. Army. The 26-structure Fort Sill National Historic Landmark & Museum near Lawton served as the holding place of celebrated Apache warrior, Geronimo, whose grave is located on the museum grounds.
Outdoor activities are plentiful. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton offers hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and rappelling. Quartz Mountain Nature Park near Lone Wolf provides fishing, boating, and relaxing with a round of golf or watching birds. Compact Guide to Oklahoma Birds by Lone Pine Publishers is a perfect resource for this sort of thing.
Forty nine miles of shoreline and close proximity to Quartz Mountain make Lake Altus-Lugert a great spot for hunting and fishing. Also known as the Indian Meridian Highway, the Chisholm Trail Historic Route, Highway 81, follows the route taken 133 years ago by Jesse Chisholm, a trader of Cherokee and Scottish descent.
Grilled steaks are an apropos meal out west, and Nicoli's in Anadarko will fix you up. Or try the Backdoor Steakhouse in Blair, located in a restored historic building. Salas Mexican Restaurant in Lawton has been serving Mexican meals since the '50s. Lighter fare awaits the diner at Squirrel's Nest in Marlow, where soups and salads are featured.
Just north, in the state's heartland, the towns of Stillwater, Norman, Edmond, El Reno, Chickasha, Guthrie, Shawnee surround Oklahoma's capital city.
Start out in Guthrie, the state's first capitol, where the downtown area recalls the Victorian world of old with its historic trolley tours and fascinating museums. While there, pay a visit to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
Just down the road, The Oklahoma City Museum of Art offers world-class exhibits, fine dining and an eclectic gift shop; and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in OKC is worth going to just to say you did. A travel must is to spend a solemn moment at Oklahoma City's National Memorial & Museum.
Main attractions in this area include the Oklahoma City Zoo, rated the third best family-friendly zoo in the country, and Martin Nature Center, an educational facility, recreational area and wildlife sanctuary.
Due north, your restaurant stops should include Eskimo Joe's or Hideaway Pizza in Stillwater. Or try the peanut butter soup at Benedict Market in Shawnee. But if you are stuck on the capitol, Bricktown in OKC has plenty of dining choices along the canal.
In south central Oklahoma, Arbuckle Country offers lots of outdoor excitement, as well as something for a rainy day. Indoor sports include a trek through the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum in Gene Autry, Ok. The kids will enjoy the Goddard Youth Museum, with its own 6,000 square foot fossil dig.
Outdoor water adventure awaits the traveler beginning at Lake Murray State Park, Oklahoma's oldest and largest state park, near Ardmore. Fishing, swimming and water skiing is mighty fine at Lake Texoma near Kingston. Try Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur for a less populated way to enjoy the outdoors. It's also known as the "peaceful Valley of Rippling Waters."
A few other watering holes include Turner Falls near Davis, a beautiful, 77-foot waterfall meandering down smoothly worn rocks into a large, natural swimming area, all nestled in the rocky gentleness of the Arbuckle Mountains.
Traveling directly east from the Arbuckles, discover the last of the six Oklahoma regions, and possibly the loveliest, Kiamichi Country. With 12 state parks and close to a million acres of wildlife, this is the destination for fishing, hunting and eco-explorers. The towns of McAlester, Broken Bow, Durant, Poteau, Hugo, Idabel, Atoka and Talihina are the outposts in this rugged region.
The American Indian history buff will enjoy visiting the Choctaw Council House near Clayton. Built in 1884, it contains the Choctaw Nation Historical Museum. The Overstreet-Kerr Historical Farm near Sallisaw is a destination as is the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, full of archeological and geological revelation.
Exploring is what this region is all about. Hike or bring your horse and enjoy the trails at Robbers Cave State Park and Lodge near Wilburton. The park area and trails once served as the hideout of such famous outlaws as Jesse James and Belle Starr. Explore Beavers Bend Resort Park in Broken Bow Lake or Mountain Fork River near Broken Bow for water recreational activities. Stick to land travel with a spectacular drive through an area like no other in Oklahoma, the Talimena National Scenic Byway, one of the nation's fall foliage destinations.
Eateries in these parts are eclectic, beginning with Cajun Creole at Abendigo's in Broken Bow. There's Italian food at Pete's Place, Roseanna's Italian Food or Isle of Capri in Krebs. Try Warehouse Willie's in historic downtown Poteau or try a chunk of famous jalapeno fudge in Antler's.
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