My Top 6 Oklahoma Experiences
I’ve been inspired by this article, brought to my attention by obscure, local social blog The Lost Ogle. In case you’re too lazy to click, it’s a Lonely Planet article by a native Oklahoman (Robert Reid, the U.S. Travel editor) about his favorite Oklahoma experiences.
I’ve done my fair share of intra-state traveling, mainly due to my two years as part of a college drama group that traveled every summer to church camps and youth rallies scattered all over the Midwest. Without these summer-long road trips, I never would have experienced anything in the western part of our state, and likely very little in the southeast. That said, while I’ve covered most of Oklahoma and seen everything from its plains to its deserts to its mountains, I’ve actually done very little like what’s described in the Lonely Planet article. Very few random museums, very few POIs (Points Of Interest) outside of Oklahoma City. So that article, obviously written by an Oklahoma lover, has motivated me to go do more in this state that I now call home. I plan on taking some weekends this fall to delve more fully into the Sooner State, including checking off some of the items on Reid’s list.
In the meantime, I still have a list of favorite Oklahoma experiences, and I share it with you now. Note this is just throughout the greater state and does not include Oklahoma City experiences. That’s for another post.
1. Quartz Mountain State Park
One of the camps my drama group visited frequently was near Quartz Mountain State Park, one of the most beautiful places in Oklahoma, in my opinion as a lover of mountains. There’s just something majestic about these craggly rock formations – parts of the Wichita Mountains – rising from otherwise flat plains. It’s a lot like landscapes I’ve seen in Arizona/New Mexico.
Climbing them is not hard and doesn’t take long, and the view is spectacular. Many hiking trails snake through the park, and the drive is only a couple of hours from Oklahoma City. I even plan on returning here in a couple of weeks.
2. Center of the Universe
In the middle of downtown Tulsa, on a bridge over a vast series of railroad tracks, lies the Center of the Universe. Were you aware?
I’m still not entirely sure what narcissistic Tulsan named this oddity or why they chose such a grandiose designation, but, hey. Every town needs its thing. And Tulsa has the Center of the Universe, a sculptural formation that provides interesting acoustic qualities. Stand in the center and hear your echo all around you, etc. It’s not anything that hasn’t been done before, but I like it mostly because of the many trips I’ve taken there with my Tulsan friends. Somehow something so mundane always ends up being a blast. Check it out if you can.
One of my first ventures into any sort of alternative music scenes was this excellent festival (also called Diversafest) that took place in downtown Tulsa every summer. I saw the Flaming Lips there for the first time, as well as tons of local bands, both great and not so great. I remember being extremely disappointed when local band Kunek, whom I loved, canceled their show one year and then promptly broke up. It was definitely a sad day. Side note – Kunek are now reincarnated as Other Lives, and are making it big. Check out their new album.
The best part about D-Fest is getting to wander around Tulsa’s Blue Dome district, which is really historic and eclectic, while being the only festival in Oklahoma so far to bring in some pretty major acts. (The Norman Music Festival, which I’ll cover in my OKC post, is getting bigger and better every year with some pretty big bands also). Unfortunately, they’ve canceled D-Fest the past few years, but I sincerely hope they bring it back again.
4. Beavers Bend State Park
Deep in the most southeastern part of Oklahoma lies Broken Bow Lake and Beavers Bend State Park. This hilly, forested section of the state is vastly different from the flat plains of the western half, and usually not what people think of when they think of Oklahoma. One of the best representations I’ve seen recently is in “True Grit”, when Rooster Cogburn and gang venture into “Indian Territory”, AKA eastern Oklahoma. As can be seen by the movie (and trailer) it really is a beautiful place.
While I’ve visited the area a couple of times, my favorite memory is from one fall when one of my friends got a weekend cabin for a group of us. We hung out, cooked over a fire, visited the Beavers Bend Folk Festival and Craft Show, and just had a great, woodsy Oklahoma time. There’s no place like Southeast Oklahoma in the fall.
5. Floating the Illinois River
I’ve taken the scenic drive from Tulsa to Tahlequah many times, always with the same purpose: to float the mighty Illinois. Although, “mighty” probably isn’t the right word. More like “sluggish” and “meandering”. But still fun, especially if you’re with 75+ other college students. Even if you’re not, it’s still a blast, and the area is beautiful. When you’re done, drive back to Tahlequah and feast at one of Oklahoma’s most delicious (and clever) pizza places: Sam ‘n Ella’s. (Get it?)
6. Cain’s Ballroom
And finally, back to Tulsa to one of the coolest music venues anywhere. This old, western-style ballroom (and before that, a massage garage for its rich owner) has history out its ears. Now, Cain’s Ballroom is one of the top venues in the nation, both for its atmosphere and the top-notch acts it draws. One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was there (the Decemberists), but that soon may be replaced with my upcoming Fleet Foxes concert, also at Cain’s.
If you don’t want to visit for the music, visit for the western decor and classic hardwood dance floor. It’s one of Oklahoma’s greatest assets.
Read the next post in this series, My Top 8 OKC Experiences.