Oklahoma: The Old West Revisited
Visiting Oklahoma is like stepping back in time—cowboys work the stockyards, oil derricks dot the landscape, and root beer is served in old-fashioned mugs.
- Weber's Superior Root Beer 3817 S. Peoria Ave., Tulsa, 918/742-1082, webersoftulsa.com, burger $3
- Greenwood Cultural Center 322 N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, 918/596-1020, greenwoodculturalcenter.com, free
- Cherokee Heritage Center21192 S. Keeler Dr., Tahlequah, 888/999-6007, cherokeeheritage.org, $8.50
A massive downpour makes for a harrowing two-hour drive to Oklahoma City. Mom seems drained of color when we finally get to the old warehouse district of Bricktown, where trains were loaded with cotton, wheat, cattle, and oil to be transported to the Texas coast in the early 1900s.
Beneath the railroad tracks that mark the edge of the district--now home to trendy restaurants and bars--a small pen contains nearly life-size plaster bison that have been painted by local artists. Our favorite is a five-foot-tall silver bison coming out of a silver disc, meant to resemble a buffalo nickel.
From there, we jump on the 25¢ trolley to go to theOklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The monument to the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is stunning in its simplicity: 168 empty chairs next to a reflecting pool where the building once stood--one chair for every fatality. Most poignantly, 19 of the chairs are child-size. Mom and I are both silent on the trolley ride back to Bricktown.
We try to shake ourselves out of it over lunch at an Italian restaurant,Nonna's. We both have salads drizzled with a hazelnut dressing, but the ambience is so dark and cozy I feel as if we're eating a late-night meal, not a light lunch. I'm actually drowsy when we emerge into the sunlight.
The constant exposure to country music has put us in the mood to see cowboys--or at least to shop for a cowboy hat. After browsing the expensive, custom-made hats atShorty's Caboy Hatteryin Stockyards City--a district that retains the look of an Old West town--we find decently priced clothing at theWestern Wear Outlet. Mom and I have a long debate over which color Stetson to buy my nephew before I settle on a red one with a white string for $20.
As we make our way out of the city on Route 66, we catch sight of a strange-looking structure on the horizon--a nearly 70-foot-tall soda bottle glowing pink and blue. The bottle beckons us intoPops, which sells more than 500 flavors of soda. The selection is truly overwhelming: I finally choose an orange one that tastes like a Creamsicle, while Mom decides to stick with a root beer.
Up the road is theRound Barn, which was constructed in 1898 to house livestock. The roof collapsed in 1988 after years of neglect, and a group of local retirees called the Over the Hill Gang donated the time and money necessary to rebuild the structure.
Guthrie, about 25 miles north, was the capital of Oklahoma for three years after the state was founded in 1907. We're totally enchanted by the town's more than 2,000 historic buildings, so we book ourselves a room atThe Pollard Inn, which was a bank in the early 20th century. Two old-fashioned safes still sit imposingly in the lobby, and the front desk is where tellers once sat.
- The Pollard Inn 124 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie, 405/282-1000, pollardinn.biz, from $85
- Nonna's 1 S. Mickey Mantle Dr., Oklahoma City, 405/235-4410, nonnas.com, salad $12
- Pops 660 Rte. 66, Arcadia, 405/928-7677, pops66.com
- Oklahoma City National Memorial620 N. Harvey Ave., Oklahoma City, 888/542-4673, oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org, memorial free, museum $10
- Round Barn Rte. 66, Arcadia, arcadiaroundbarn.org, free
- Shorty's Caboy Hattery 1206 S. Agnew Ave., Oklahoma City, 405/232-4287, shortyshattery.com
- Western Wear Outlet2235 Exchange Ave., Oklahoma City, 405/232-5018
Mom and I hit the road early so we can visit architect Frank Lloyd Wright'sPrice Tower in Bartlesville, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. Wright originally designed the tower in 1929 to be an apartment building in Manhattan, but the project was scrapped during the Depression because of a lack of funds. Years later, the H.C. Price Company, an Oklahoma oil pipeline and chemical firm, recruited Wright to realize his dream at its headquarters. The tower, which opened in 1956, is the only skyscraper Wright ever built. It now houses a small art museum with rotating exhibitions at the bottom, and a hotel and restaurant near the top.
We have just enough time for one more Oklahoma indulgence before we leave:Dink's Pit Bar-B-Que. The waitress recommends the house specialty, the sliced-brisket sandwich, which is a pile of beef, dripping with sweet barbecue sauce, stacked high on a roll. She wisely warns us not to order two baskets of onion strings.
On the way to the airport, Rhett Akins's "That Ain't My Truck" comes on the radio, and I turn up the volume so we can sing along. Soon, we're belting out the lyrics at the top of our lungs, and I don't even notice when my voice grows hoarse.
- Dink's Bar-B-Que 2929 E. Frank Phillips Blvd., Bartlesville, 918/335-0606, dinksbbq.com, sandwich $6.25
- Price Tower 510 S. Dewey Ave., Bartlesville, 918/336-4949, pricetower.org