So, you may be wondering what to do on your way to or from Oklahoma City!
Here are some ideas to consider by Judi Voeller, N5KUO, Oklahoma resident since 1981.
If you are traveling by vehicle from outside the state of Oklahoma…
If you’ve never been to Oklahoma you may be very surprised to learn there really are some fun and cool things to do for everyone in your group, even on the way to the convention! I’m going to highlight some that are my personal favorites and note some that are still on my to do list. Oklahoma is a very large state with great diversification in the geography, people, and places, so even for those of us that live here, it’s going to take us a while to see and do everything on our explore lists!
Let’s start with a little history. The name “Oklahoma” comes from the Choctaw words okla and humma meaning land of the “red people” or Native Americans. Oklahoma’s history is very rich in Native American culture and this is evident throughout the state. No matter which direction you come from you’ll pass through several tribal territories as you head toward Oklahoma City, located in the center of the state. Take some time and enjoy the unique tribal cultures by stopping at area attractions or rest stops as you travel through the state for a richly unique experience.
Oklahoma is also known as the Sooner state. Oklahoma had a major land run in 1889 where certain territories were opened for white settlement. Land would become available to settlers who staked their property claims first. Those who started before the official starting time were known as “Sooners” because they staked claim to the land sooner than allowed. Later the state became known as the Sooner State and the University of Oklahoma became known as the Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma’s land grant college is Oklahoma State University and they are known as the Cowboys (yes, my rivals).
Depending on the direction you are coming from, here are some interesting places you may want to explore as you travel to or from the YLRL Convention. Check out the directions below to see what places might interest you!
- The Pioneer Lady Mercantile – Visit the store of Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Lady, in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. You’ll find a General Store, Deli, and Bakery. This is about an hour east of I-35 (turn off on Hwy 60 in Tonkawa and head to Pawhuska). I hear you should expect to wait in line if you do visit – or check out the website ahead of time for more information and/or reservations. You may be able to order your food online to avoid the wait.
–If you go, give me your recommendation on those red and white polka dot bowls that I really want!
- Tonkawa Casinos – Make a quick stop at one of the Tonkawa Casinos if you have the urge to check out some quick slots on your way to the conference!
- Oklahoma State University – if you enjoy checking out college campuses you might enjoy this one in Stillwater, OK. From I-35 South take Hwy 51 east about 30 minutes. OSU is home of the Oklahoma Cowboys (Oklahoma’s brightest orange). You can stroll across the beautiful campus on a self-guided tour or request to join a student led tour with a reservation!
- Eskimo Joe’s – this landmark Oklahoma restaurant may be more famous for the t-shirts and gear it sells than the food! But if you are up for a visit to this small town, check out their campus corner and get some grub from this iconic restaurant. It may be worth your while!
Coming from the northeast (Missouri) through Tulsa on I-44…
- Will Rogers Museum – a must see in Claremore, learn about his life, wisdom, and humor, and lots more! My new next door neighbor was the curator for this museum for many years and I can’t wait to actually go and check it out the next time I’m in Claremore. He’s even written a book about Will Rogers quotes! Hey, if you buy a copy I’ll see if he’ll autograph it!
- Oklahoma Aquarium – located in Jenks on the shore of the Arkansas River, this quality adventure highlights some really interesting aquatic life. Great exhibits and tons of underwater creatures. Been there and enjoyed it. Great for kids and adults alike!
- Route 66 – visit the link and order the Route 66 brochure. The publication includes all the great stops along route 66 and some of the very best places are on this part of your journey to the convention. Oklahoma has the largest stretch of the original Route 66! If you can get off the turnpike and make part of your journey along this route, check out the iconic Blue Whale, the Round Barn in Arcadia, and one of my favorites “Pops” Soda Ranch. I seriously love this place!
Coming from the south (Texas) on I-35…
This is known as Adventure Road and you’re in Chickasaw Country.
- Winstar Casino – just on the Oklahoma side of the Texas border in Thackerville you’ll find one the largest casinos in the country (excluding Las Vegas). Great restaurants, themed gambling, and an incredible pool and lounge make this a popular destination. This casino is huge, with a golf course, spa, a wide variety of restaurants, entertainment, and an incredible pool (and I can vouch for that)! But seriously-wear your comfortable walking shoes! Another great casino just east of I-35 in Durant is the Choctaw Casino. This casino boasts an incredible steak restaurant and has a family fun center. One of my favorites by far!
- Arbuckle Mountains and Turner Falls! Check out the oldest and only east/west mountain range in the U.S. If you have time, turn off for a visit to Turner Falls (admission fee) or Lake of the Arbuckles in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. This is beautiful countryside waiting to be explored! Check out the videos in the links and you’ll want to take a detour here. If you don’t have time, just pull off at the rest areas/lookout sites for an awesome view. Stop at Smokin’ Joe’s for some barbeque if you are hungry. I hear the portions are huge!
- Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies – just north of the Arbuckle Mountains in Davis, you’ll find an Okie favorite, delicious Oklahoma fried pies! Fried pies come in a variety of flavors, with cherry being my favorite! Warning: these are not for those watching their calories or cholesterol!
- Chickasaw Cultural Center – another one of my personal favorites, in Sulphur, you’ll learn about the history and culture of the Chickasaw people. Give yourself a couple of hours to explore this indoor and outdoor cultural center. This is worth the stop!
- Bedre Fine Chocolates – a must stop for your chocolate fix in Davis! These fine chocolates are handmade on site. This chocolate is exceptional, but you are going to need to keep it in a cooler or in your car with the air conditioner on because it will melt if you don’t! Don’t worry, if you can’t pick up some chocolate here, you should be able to find Bedre Chocolate in some of the specialty shops in Bricktown in OKC. My favorite thing is to create my own bag of assorted meltaways. These are soooo good!
- Riverwind Casino – Been there, done that–actually a number of times! Riverwind is the casino closest to our home in Norman, OK. The casino is clean, well maintained, and has many slots, table, and card games. It has a great pub with very reasonable prices and many events such as concerts, etc., are held regularly. Just be sure to check the upcoming schedule and purchase event tickets in advance if you want to catch some entertainment while heading to or from the convention! Riverwind is about 30 minutes south of the OKC convention hotel.
- The University of Oklahoma – OU boasts two amazing museums, the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art and the Sam Noble Museum of Oklahoma Natural History. The art museum is free and the other is very reasonably priced. These museums have incredible displays and are worth a visit. Both are part of the OU Norman campus, so while there you can also drive or walk through the college campus and/or visit Norman’s historic campus corner with it’s variety of unique shops, bars, and restaurants. Since both Michelle and I reside in Norman (and I work at OU), we can make recommendations of our favorite shops, restaurants, and things to do including family friendly fun, such as Andy Alligators or Hey Day, whether cruising through or staying longer for a visit.
- National Weather Center – The National Weather Center is a partnership between OU and all levels of government and private industry. This includes teaching, research and professionals from many agencies all working together. These various “offices” coordinate, study, and report on all things weather. This amazing facility offers tours (reservations required) that highlight all the advanced technologies used to monitor our weather and keep us safe. The NWC is in Norman on the OU campus. A point of interest is that the National Weather Center Amateur Radio ClubWX5NWC shares a radio room with the Oklahoma Student Amateur Radio Club W5TC at the weather center.
- The USS Batfish (aka Muskogee War Memorial Park) – take a tour of the USS Batfish, a World War II sub that sits in a small pond in Muskogee. The Batfish is rich in history and you can take a guided or self-guided tour. The Batfish also has its own amateur radio club, WW2OK, and they have regular meetings and special events right on site. You just might meet some hams while visiting there! Michelle’s been there with her grandkids to tour the submarine and to get on the air! I’ve been there with the Boy Scouts and my family.
- Honey Springs Battlefield – located just outside of Checotah, (known as the home of Carrie Underwood), this is a famous Civil War Battlefield with walking trails and a not yet completed visitor’s center (hopefully to open soon). If you’re really into Civil War history and checking out battlefields (as you would a national park), this might be worth a stop.
- Lake Eufaula State Park – is the largest manmade lake in Oklahoma and it really is huge. Great camping, RVing, boating, fishing, and all the lake activities you can handle. This beautiful lake has many “lake towns” with a wide variety of local food and unique shops to explore!
- Jasmine Moran’s Children’s Museum – if you have kids under the age of 10, check out this awesome museum in Seminole. Less than 30 minutes south of I-40 the kids will have a great time with hands on fun! My kids absolutely loved this place when they were younger!
Coming from the west (New Mexico) on I-40…
- Route 66 Museums – the first museum is in Elk City and the second is in Clinton. These museums offer a personal journey of the mother road experience. Check out the sights and sounds of this iconic era. Visit the gift shops for all your Route 66 gear (a must do). Order your Oklahoma Route 66 The Ultimate Road Trip brochure here.
- Water-Zoo Clinton Indoor Water Park – bringing kids along? Like a good splash in the heat? Stop at the water park to cool off! Lodging, food and fun are available. It’s suggested that you make reservations due to the popularity of the water park in August.
- Stafford Air & Space Museum – this smaller museum is a real gem in western Oklahoma. With coordination from the Smithsonian, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force Museum, it’s stated that you’ll find “one of the finest collections of aerospace artifacts in the central United States.” It’s on my list to check out.
- Lucky Star Casino – You’ll find several Lucky Star Casinos coming from the west. The Clinton location is one of the larger and more popular sites in the western part of the state.
- Oklahoma City Outlets – stop by the outlet mall for some great designer items or some popular fashion brands. Really great prices and quite a nice selection. I’d pass on the food court and grab a bite at the local top chain restaurants nearby if you are hungry. You’re just about 8-10 miles from downtown now!
Regardless of which direction you are coming from, there are plenty of interesting stops you can make along the way. This list is just the beginning. Oklahoma is also home to plenty of local wineries, incredible eateries (my favorite is Mexican), and of course, casinos from every direction. The geography of the land is extremely diverse, and depending on the direction you are coming from, you may see the tall grass prairies, ancient mountains, gorgeous lakes, wide open skies, and our red dirt as far as you can see. So, come one, come all, and let me know if you have any questions or would like more information about any of the attractions or adventures in Oklahoma. We’d like you to enjoy the journey here and home as much as the convention!
I just completed my convention registration–so be sure to send in your registration now (or by the early bird registration deadline of April 30, 2018) in order to be included in the early bird prize drawing!
Safe travels! 33
Judi N5KUO, Norman, Oklahoma USA
Photos by Leah Ohse, W3LEO