Sep 12, 2011

Hands-on Natural History

There are so many neat places in Oklahoma that I want to show my son, but I've been waiting for him to get old enough to interact and enjoy each new experience. He recently had his three-year birthday, and while I know he's still too young to remember all the places we go, I took it as a sign it was time to explore.

One drawback of traveling with a young child is that there's always a possibility you will fork over lots of money for an experience and then they have a meltdown, forcing you to go home early. Luckily, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman has found a way to share their great exhibits with minimal risk.

The museum offers free admission every first Monday of the month, making it the perfect time to check out this wonderful facility while not feeling bad if you can only stay a short while. We went on Labor Day and the place was busy, but not so packed that you couldn't enjoy yourself.

Grayson is too young to read the exhibit signs and information, but he loved seeing all of the dinosaur bones and every display seemed to have an interactive element that he could touch or move. He would pull my hand in excitement as we walked from room to room and we discovered something interesting around every corner.

Once we toured each gallery, we made our way to the Discovery Room which was designed just for kids and has lots of hands-on activities. I'd recommend building in plenty of time for this room if you have children because there's so much to touch and play with in this part of the museum.

After exploring all of the indoor exhibits, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and walked through the trails behind the museum. Here's a view from the grassy field just south of the museum:

Grayson at the entrance to the Hall of the People of Oklahoma exhibit

The Hall of Ancient Life takes you on a tour of more than 4 billion years of Oklahoma's prehistory - from the formation of the planet through the last Ice Age.

 The Discovery Room was definitely Grayson's favorite part.

Grayson practicing his archaeology and excavation skills in the Discovery Room.

We also did leaf rubbings with crayons and he spent a good bit of time playing at the dinosaur table shown below.

As we were leaving the museum, my husband grabbed an application for museum membership. I'd say that was a good sign it was a hit with the whole family. Luckily, we live close enough to visit often and we had so much fun I know we'll be back!

If you're interesting in seeing more photos and a video gallery, or to print some discount coupons, click here.

Sep 7, 2011

Historically Fortified

Once upon a time in high school I had a teacher -- I’ll call him Mr. X -- with a Beatle’s hair cut and a lisp. He was about my height – short for a guy – and wore paisley print slacks and boring shirts. At first glance he was nothing to write home about, but then he started lecturing and this guy … he took teaching to a whole different level.

From the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, to the Beer Hall Putsch, to the Nuremburg Trials, for months on end Mr. X not only held sway over a roomful of high school sophomores, he mesmerized, entertained and enchanted us with history. More than 35 years later I still remember much of what I learned in his class.

Mr. X’s trick, besides being possessed with a flair for the dramatic, was an encyclopedic knowledge of the details and nuances of events and larger-than-life characters. He was a gifted story teller and all of us listening to him felt as though we had a ring-side seat for some of the most significant events in human history.

Today, in a large part due to Mr. X’s valiant efforts, I remain entranced with the stories of a place, and fortunately for me,  in our grand land of Oklahoma, we’re blessed with a veritable jackpot of destinations deeply embedded in a fascinating weave of geography, diverse cultures and legendary people.

Fort (Camp) Supply contemporary drawing

Take for instance Fort Supply in northwestern Oklahoma near Woodward. First established as Camp Supply in 1868 in what was then the western Cherokee Outlet, the camp originally served as General Philip Sheridan's supply base for a winter campaign against several American Indian tribes on the southern Great Plains.

The fort is perhaps best known for its role as the supply camp for Lt. Col George Armstrong Custer prior to his surprise dawn attack on the Cheyenne village of Peace Chief Black Kettle at the Battle of the Washita on November 27, 1868. Custer led the U.S. Army Seventh Cavalry in the attack, killing Chief Black Kettle and his wife, along with a number of the villagers, including women and children.

The camp's name was changed to Fort Supply in 1878 when it was set up as a permanent military post, and the military presence for the next twenty-five years led the effort to keep the peace as soldiers patrolled the region to contain the tribes and keep out trespassers. Buffalo hunters, timber and horse thieves, whiskey traders, and “Boomers” were a continual threat to stability in Indian Territory, and the fort's troops participated in territorial land openings in the 1880s and 1890s, and in the Cherokee Outlet land opening in 1893. Fort Supply was closed as a fort in 1894, and later, in May 1908, the old post’s buildings and and grounds became Oklahoma’s first mental health facility.

The reconstructed stockade at Fort Supply is a replica of the original stockade built in 1868.

Today, the Oklahoma Historical Society administers five buildings and this reconstructed replica of the original 1868 stockade at the Fort Supply Historic Site.

An historic phots show the guard house shortly after it was completed in 1892.

The Guard House then …


… and now. Today the guard house hosts a number of fascinating artifacts and provides a greater degree of understanding about life on the frontier.

One of the rooms in the Fort Supply guardhouse, the restored office of the sergeant of the guard, provides insight into the workaday lives of soldiers at the fort.

One of the rooms in the Fort Supply guardhouse, the restored office of the sergeant of the guard, is full of insights into the workaday lives of soldiers at the fort. Notice the spittoon.

The restored guard house interior.

Guard’s sleeping quarters.

The teamsters cabin at Fort Supply is a rare example of picket-post construction.

One of my personal favorites is the teamsters’ cabin, a rare example of a picket-style log building, a frontier construction method consisting of vertically aligned logs, rather than the more well-known horizontal orientation.

Restored officers' quarters.

This 1882 duplex was the officers' quarters and is one of only two frame houses left on "Officers' Row."

A six-mule supply wagon at Fort Supply.

A six-mule supply wagon at Fort Supply. Can you imagine riding across prairie and mesas, through canyons and over buttes in this?

In addition to preserving Oklahoma history, the Fort Supply Historic Site also offers living history events and programs, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An excellent companion destination, just about 80 miles away, is the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site near Cheyenne.

Aug 24, 2011

Waylan's Ku-Ku Burger

Our Snapshot location is Waylan's Ku-Ku Burger! This Mother Road icon is a must-see (and must-eat) when you're in Miami, OK.

Located on Route 66, Waylan's Ku-Ku Burger is an original fast food drive-in chain from the 1960s and is the only location still standing. You can't miss the Ku-Ku birds greeting you at the drive-thru or on top of the building.

Austin and I can testify that everything is cooked to order and served up piping hot. From barbecue buffalo burgers and fries to onion petals and a pork tenderloin sandwich, we ate our way through their menu and it did not disappoint.

If you go, be sure and chat up the owner/operator Eugene Waylan. He's always there and I'm not kidding. The day we went he said he had a funeral to go to the next week so he was closing for a bit since he wouldn't be able to be in both places. He takes such pride in the restaurant's food and service that he personally oversees it's day-to-day operations. I saw him supervise the making of my delicious burger first-hand.

Another sign of a good dining spot is that locals love it as much as tourists. This was evident by the number of locals who recommended the place to us and were also eating there themselves.
I also love the unexpected details of Waylan's, such as this car parked out by the sign. It fits right in, don't you think?

On a related note, congratulations to Brandon Bowman our Oklahoma Dispatch Facebook Friend who posted the snapshot location and was randomly selected as the winner! We've got some Oklahoma goodies to send your way!

Aug 23, 2011

Snapshot: 8.23.11

The Green Buff has been busy traveling around the state and took a recent snapshot at one of his favorite places. To guess the location, just leave a comment on this blog or post on our Oklahoma Dispatch Facebook Page.

We'll gather the correct guesses and randomly select a winner tomorrow when we post the answer. We've got a t-shirt and trivia cards up for grabs so get guessing!

Aug 16, 2011

Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Tap Room

A former schoolhouse was repurposed into Grateful Head Pizza Oven & Tap Room just minutes from Broken Bow Lake.
Since I am a recent college grad, I am familiar with eating pizza. True to the stereotype, every college function and late-night “study” group I attended involved a cheap, ready-for-pick-up pizza that was worth the 5 dollars we paid for it. Now that I have left those days behind me, I am looking for restaurants to remind me that pizza can be an art form. Grateful Head Pizza and Tap Room in Hochatown is a place that is making the appreciation of that art much easier. It has everything I look for in a fun restaurant.

Eclectic interior? Check.

Welcoming vibe? Check.

Delicious food? CHECK.

Seriously, I dream about this pizza. It is fabulous. The first thing you’ll notice about the menu is the simplicity. The restaurant has two great passions: pizza and beer. And really, when you are spending the weekend at Broken Bow Lake, what more do you need?  The foundation of any pizza, the crust, is hand-made from a family recipe and delicately flavored with garlic, which just makes the flavor of the pizza explode.

My personal favorite (I am a major veggie lover) is the Tree Hugger. It has artichoke hearts, giant green olives and tomatoes, among other star vegetables. I purposefully order a bigger size just so I can take some home and have it for the next meal.

We did the best we could, but there was still a lot of pizza left over.
Of course, there are a ton of pies that appeal to meat lovers, and while I didn't sample any of the beer on tap at the restaurant, I was impressed that they carried Choc Beer from Krebs, Oklahoma. During the summer and holiday weekends, the outdoor patio space features live, local musicians. The best way to keep in touch with their schedule is by liking them on Facebook. If you are ever in the area, check it out!

Jul 29, 2011

Unforgettably Epic

In north central Oklahoma, the land unfolds like a blossoming flower, raising undulating hills and seas of prairie grass toward the sun and sky. Pump jacks, cattle and small towns slip by the car window, and the frontier as it once was – a place of infinite possibility and lots of heart – and the place it is today, burrows deep into your heart.

Big sky country at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

It’s a journey that always feels epic.


Driving along State Highway 64, between Morrison and Cleveland, you’ll pass through cross-timbers country, an alluring mosaic of forest, woodland and prairie, and an area steeped in the history of the West. A particularly colorful slice lies just west of Pawnee, where atop Blue Hawk Peak, the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum makes for a mighty fine stopover and cordially captivating history lesson.


The legendary Wild West Show entertainer, Gordon Lillie, a.k.a. Pawnee Bill, and his wife, May Lillie were fascinating larger-than-life characters and the museum and ranch, their former home, is a picturesque place with a wagonload of family fun.


The centerpiece of the property is the Lillie’s 1910, 14-room dream home, brimming with family memorabilia, decorative arts and furnishings, photographs and original art work.


When my family and I took a tour, a friendly well-informed guide revealed all sorts of fascinating tidbits that made the history of this 100-plus-year-old treasure come alive. I don’t want to spill all the beans, but if no one mentions it when you take a tour, be sure to ask about spooky happenings.

The ranch, a 500-acre property, also houses a museum with exhibits related to Pawnee Bill, the Wild West Shows, and members of the Pawnee Nation, and includes the original ranch blacksmith shop, a recently restored 1903 log cabin, a large barn built in 1926, and an Indian Flower Shrine.

The Lillie's living room is full of Western character and charisma.

Western inspired living area of the Lillie’s mansion.

There's a wagon load of activities for little buckaroos at the Pawnee Bill Museum.

Kid’s area in the Pawnee Bill Museum – plenty of yippee-ki-yay fun to be had.


The old blacksmith’s shop.

wild west stagecoach

The barn houses plenty of goodies, including this stagecoach, used in the annual Pawnee Bill's Original Wild West Show.


Tour the drive-through pasture and you get an extra authentic, up-close look at herds of bison, longhorn cattle and draft horses.


The Pawnee Bill historic site is a microcosm of the West’s and Oklahoma’s epic history, bringing to mind the Oscar-winning 1962 film, “How the West Was Won,” filled with triumph for some, tragedy for others, and riveting stories. There’s fragility, whimsy and earthy courage here, along with a bit of everything in between.

If after touring the mansion and ranch, you crave an extra helping of Old West adventure, be sure to return for Pawnee Bill's Original Wild West Show, a renowned extravaganza recreated by the ranch the last three Saturdays in June each year.


When road tripping, dining is often almost as important as the sites you see. If your family is anything like mine, after an adventure like this everyone’s famished. Fortunately, if you mosey on in to Pawnee for the chow at Click’s Steakhouse, you’re treated to memorable homemade food and downhome friendly service.

Click's Steakhouse.tollhouse pie

At Click’s the steaks are big, tender and juicy, and the signature Tollhouse pies – oh my. Think flaky crust and luxurious silky filling. Satisfied moans and sighs tell the story. And don’t miss the yeasty, homemade rolls. They melt in your mouth like butter.

Tart and crunchy fried pickles are a great start to meal at Click's.

Last but not least, try the fried pickles – finely sliced, deep-fried, tart and crunchy – they’re bite-sized morsels of savory contrasting flavors and textures that leave the taste buds longing for more. Or as our daughter Callie put it, “Totally epic.”

Jul 25, 2011

The CCC: Day 3, Part 2

After recovering from our Meersburger food coma, Jessica and I stuck to the two-lane roads and continued to our last stop: the Chickasaw Cultural Center (CCC) in Sulphur. The CCC is one of our Encouraging Conservation in Oklahoma (ECO) certified properties, and I was excited to see how the facility looked in person since I had read so much about it. The CCC is the largest tribal cultural center in the United States, and the buildings are situated on 109 acres in the Chickasaw Nation. The CCC is adjacent to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and just minutes away from Turner Falls, so it is the perfect pit stop during a weekend of family fun if you want to take a break from the hot summer weather.
The amphitheater hosts lectures, plays, craft demonstrations and cultural ceremonies.
The vivid colors and sounds of the stomp dance give you a chance to experience a time-honored Chickasaw tradition.
From the Honor Garden to the Traditional Village, every space was constructed with an intention to both educate and preserve Chickasaw culture while honoring the history of the tribe.  Even with no previous knowledge of the Chickasaw nation’s history, I emerged from the experience with a respect for their past and an excitement for their future.
This traditional village just begs to be explored. 
A statue of an 18th Century Chickasaw warrior stands vigilantly in the center of the property.
Even after our three day experience, I still felt like there was so much more to explore. For me, that is when I know my road trip is successful. It leaves you ready to dive into your next adventure. I am already planning weekend trips back to Roman Nose, Medicine Park and Sulphur! 

Jul 19, 2011

The Meersburger Experience: Day 3, Part 1

I hope Jessica's post helped you see the charm of the prairie dog. Seriously, aren't they the cutest animals?  But our trip experienced even more charm after our visit to the Wichitas when we explored the town of Medicine Park.

Even Medicine Park lampposts are adorned with cobblestones.
Medicine Park is the oldest planned resort in Oklahoma, and it's known as America's cobblestone community due to its use of round, red rocks on every building, walkway and bridge. The swimming hole flows with what used to be considered healing waters, and people still flock to the town for some relief from the summer heat. As I stepped onto the quaint paths of Medicine Park, I instantly fell under its spell.

Bridges make it possible to walk from one side of the town to the other, which is separated by a river and swimming area.

And how could you not be enchanted with such a place? Medicine Park is one of the most charming places I have ever been in Oklahoma, and part of the appeal is the rich hospitality found amid the town’s citizens. Clark and Pegi Brown, owners of the Stardust Inn Bed and Breakfast, are the perfect examples of this. At breakfast, we heard all about the history of the Brown’s stay in Medicine Park while being treated to Big Sky Bread Company’s Granola and Pegi’s homemade quiche.  I continued to relax and bird watch from the inn’s porch until we left the area, headed for the world-renowned Meers Store & Restaurant.

This building is the only thing left of Meers, a boom town in the Wichita Mountains.
I must confess that eating a burger at Meers has been a dream of mine for a long time. I had pretty high expectations, seeing how the Meersburger has won national awards. My anticipation grew when I saw how many people were in the restaurant on a Wednesday at 11 a.m. And the experience was complete when a man from New York at the next table told me that the burgers were great, but the homemade ice cream and peach cobbler were the real standouts on the menu.

The restaurant contains relics from its century-long history and is drenched in a Western vibe.
He was right. I shared the massive burger (fixed Cowboy style, with mustard, dill pickles, tomatoes, purple onions and lettuce) and fried green tomatoes with Jessica. Honestly, there is no way that either of us could handle a 7-inch Meersburger on our own, especially when dessert is on the way. The homemade ice cream tasted just like my grandmother used to make, and the peach cobbler was warm, chewy and sweet. I don’t think I can adequately convey the deliciousness of this lunch experience, but I have to encourage you to put this experience on your bucket list immediately. There is nothing like it elsewhere in Oklahoma. One word of warning, though: Meers Store & Restaurant does not accept credit or debit cards, so go with cash in hand. If it weren’t for Jessica, I would probably still be there washing dishes. 

Iced tea in glass jars? The perfect combination. 

Jul 12, 2011

Eat a Cheeto, Save a Prairie Dog: Day 2, Part 1

Kaylee has written some excellent entries encapsulating the wonderful time we had on our Western Oklahoma road trip. Our hope is that these ideas will encourage you in your summer travel plans to look at what is in your backyard that you haven’t yet discovered.

I have heard about the Wichita Wildlife Refuge or simply “The Wichitas” most of my life However, my family lacks that necessary outdoorsy gene so we never made it down to Southwestern Oklahoma with a tent in tow. I would be lying to you if I claimed to have gained any great outdoor skills in recent years, but I have come to appreciate more of these activities and love the reprise from city living that nature so kindly offers.

View from Mt. Scott at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge.

I was very excited to finally visit the Wichitas and see what all the fuss was about. Kaylee and I had a wonderful guided tour where we were regularly reminded that this is a wildlife refuge not a park meaning the animals take precedence over the humans. There are so few places left where that is the case and it is an ongoing conversation at the refuge as to how best to preserve the land as a sanctuary for the animals. There was a stillness and calmness about the place that was incredible. I loved watching the bison roam and observing the prehistoric looking longhorns.

Wonderful exhibits at the Refuge's Information Center.

But the real pièce de résistance was waiting for me and I didn’t even know it. As my blog post mentions, prairie dogs also live in the refuge. I couldn’t have been more excited. I love prairie dogs. Now before you get all judgmental (“who loves rodents?!”), let me explain. 1. Prairie dogs are adorable. 2. Baby prairie dogs are insanely adorable. 3. They are fascinating to observe. Now given that point 1 and 2 are obvious statements of fact allow me to expand on point 3.

Prairie Dogs! Baby Prairie Dogs!

Prairie dogs live in towns and they communicate with each other with high pitched chirping noises. They live underground in what I like to call prairie dog condos with different rooms for different activities. (See Fantastic Mr. Fox for a cute visual on subterranean living.) They warn each other of predators and they protect their own. They are highly social and have little prairie dog kisses (no lie) for their family members. They are also a keystone species and an important part of the ecosystem balance in the grasslands.

Prairie Dog on alert.

The prairie dogs also chirp to warn each other of predators or impending danger. Unfortunately, they do not have a warning call for their greatest danger. The Cheeto. Well, technically any human snack food but apparently the refuge prairie dogs have a penchant for the cheesy orange treat. We could blame it on the prairie dogs for being so cute that of course we would want to share our snacks. But human food causes them to lose their hair, exposing their darker skin to the other prairie dogs who then assume a predator is in their midst and banish the poor prairie dog from their town.

I learned all of this on our guided tour and I am sure had I shown intense interest in another species I would have returned armed with new knowledge about it. The staff at the refuge is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable and the fact this place even exists and exists in our backyard is wonderful. So do yourself a favor and take some time to chill out among the wildlife, take in the views and meet the prairie dogs, but by all means keep your Cheetos to yourself.