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Report 1071: Accidental Tourist in Oklahoma City

By Rome Addict from AZ, Summer 2006

Trip Description: A Quick weekend trip interspersed between two weeks of business meetings ends up being astonishingly interesting and nice.

Destinations: Countries - North America

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

Page 1 of 1: An Accidental Tourist in Oklahoma City

Before I start let me state that everything was accessible with the primary drawback being distances involved. Like most of America attractions are spread out so the wheelchair tourist needs to have an automobile (even in downtown Oklahoma City) and drive between attractions.

In the middle of June my boss came up to me and said - "Mary you are going to Norman Oklahoma for training the second and third week of July." My first instinct was to say, "Who did I piss off now?" Fortunately I've been practicing keeping my mouth shut.

So I went home and told hubby - guess where the USPS is sending me in July? Since we live in Arizona he couldn't think of any place hotter so he gave up. I said Norman Oklahoma to which he replied, "Oh the garden spot of all Bolivia," (remembering Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

To make the trip even lovelier the company refused to fly me home on the weekend so I was stuck. I didn't mind during the week, busy with training but Saturday and Sunday loomed large and BORING! What to do for two days? Well first of all Norman wasn't going to be my destination for those two days. The options were Dallas (six hours) or Oklahoma City (45 minutes). I figured it was Indian Country at least there is a casino somewhere and I could go visit the Oklahoma City memorial.

So I got on line and I went down to the front desk of the hotel where the very helpful clerk loaded me up with brochure upon brochure.

Who knew? Tons of really interesting, artsy, non-football oreinted things to do!!

Saturday morning a co-worker and I trundled down to the local rent a wreck $45 for two days and 600 miles. Off we went. First stop was the Oklahoma City art museum. This was one of the largest Dale Chihuly installations in existance. Bigger than the Bellagio in Vegas I truly enjoyed this part of the exhibition. The pinotecco (painting gallery) was your typical American collection of second tier European and good American artists. But the Chihuly exhibition was truly worth while.

Next stop? The Cowboy Hall of Fame. I am a closet rodeo fan (well I guess I just outed myself) and I had wanted to visit this museum. After wandering around lost for about an hour, we finally stopped at a Best Western where there was not only the Oklahoma sci-fi convention but a belly dancer convention!! We got directions and headed off. The collection here was predominantly American western artists from 1900 to 2000. Very few of the big names (in western art) but it still was an enjoyable gallery with the contemporary Indian art taking the prize in my mind.

After two hours there, we headed back downtown to the Oklahoma city memorial. Like Colloseo this is a place of the unquiet dead. The memorial with the chairs is touching but the actual museum is gut wrenching. I walked through it with tears streaming down my face. It is a series of artifacts found on the bomb site, and first person eyewitness accounts. The museum is located in the old Oklahoma Department of Water rights building, which sustained major damage in the blast.

They had the doctor who did the emergency amputation of the woman's leg on video. He talked about having an army field kit but there was no way they could anesthetize her. They gave her Versed, a sedative, tied a tourniquet and then he crawled over her head and shoulders and lying on his stomach, started the amputation. All the while a fireman stood by with his arms around this massive beam. If the beam shifted they had 3-5 seconds to get out or they would all be killed. If the fireman felt the beam move his job was to hollar out. The doctor talked about three different times he thought he had successfully completed the amputation. On the fourth try he went back in and all his instruments had been dulled - all he had was a pocket knife. On the fourth try he was successful.

After the museum, we headed out toward the street where the fence was decorated ala the Vietnam memorial and the fencing around the WTC site. Mementos abound from people who have left stuffed toys, flowers, candles. Of course the various victim memorial wreaths, pictures etc. The most touching were memorials left by families of 9/11 victims reaching out to the families of Oklahoma City victims.

Terrorism whatever its motivation is never justifiable.

The museum closed and saddened we walked down to the re-developing downtown of Oklahoma City called Bricktown. Lovely turn of the 19th century brick buildings for about 3/4 of a mile line either side of the street. We went to dinner at Noni's where we had Ceasar salad (AWFUL) and I had gnocchi with gorgonzola and co-worker had lasagna. Both were good but not Italy. Stuffed like ticks we headed back to our hotel.

Sunday morning bright and early we headed for Tulsa, OK. Tulsa is the home of the Gilcrease Institute. Arguably in the top three western/Indian museums in the USA. The other two being the Heard and the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Gilcrease early on recognized the genius of Russell and Remington and the institute has the largest collection of Remington and Russell paintings and sculptures as well as a great collection of Moran (landscape artist) and several Bierstadt (most of those are in LA). Again a great collection of native arts including an athabaskan totem absolutely perfectly preserved. We had packed a picnic and ate it on the grounds of the Gilcrease.

After spending several hours immersed in these lovely views of an America that no longer exists, we headedd north to the Nature Conservancy's Tall grass prairie preserve. This 32,000 acre preserve along with some Oklahoma state park lands is the largest, last preserve of native grasses extant in the US. Originally stretching from Minnesota to Texas and Illinois to the Rockies this type of grassland has been lost to farming and development except for this last vestige.

The conservancy has introduced buffalo as a range management tool and now has among the largest buffalo herds in the continental US with over 2000 head of buffalo. We saw several hundred roaming in a herd. The herd didn't quite blacken the earth from horizon to horizon as far as the eye can see. But it still was a breathtaking sight.

At 5:30 we called it a day and drove back to our hotel.

So if you are ever stuck in the middle (of the USA) don't despair, the pluses are many, the major minus is that the road signage stinks. From misleading to non-existant. Does someone go around stealing road signs? We were within three blocks of the Oklahoma City memorial and drove around for 30 minutes before we found it!! Oh, and I still can't find decent Italian just another minus.

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