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.