You certainly can’t drive the “Will Rogers Highway”, aka Route 66, and not stop at his memorial museum in Claremore. We lucked out and got in just before the group of school kicks headed for the front door. I had no idea he was such a colorful character, a major syndicated newspaper columnist; author of six books; star of 71 motion pictures, and America's premier radio commentator. A fascinating man and the museum spurred us to do more research on his career, life and writing. We didn’t linger here because our next iconic stop was waiting for us….
…the Blue Whale, in Catoosa, OK! It was built by Hugh Davis in 1972 as an anniversary gift for his wife who collected whales (another reason to be eternally grateful that I do NOT have any “collections”)! And yes, it was big. It was Blue. And it was one of the best kitschy stops we made.
A quick stop at SONIC for a little afternoon snack and we were on our way down the road to Acadia, OK., home of the Round Barn, another must see Route 66 photo stop. The bottom floor is now a flea market that helps raise money for the upkeep of the barn. The real gem is the second floor where you can see the construction of the walls and the roof. The barn had fallen to disrepair for a few decades and the roof collapsed in 1988, but a restoration project brought it back to its glory using the original building techniques. Truly a work of art!
Before our next stop, Steve got to drive one of the few strips of original Portland cement laid for Route 66 in Davenport, OK... Steve remarked on how cool the road was, but the he would have needed a kidney belt “back in the day”!
By far, the most somber stop of the trip was the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. We got here late in the afternoon. The description from the website reads: The Memorial Museum takes visitors on a chronological, self-guided tour through the story of April 19, 1995, and the days, weeks, months and years that followed the bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. This is the story of one of the largest terrorist attacks on American soil. The story is told in chapters, and takes visitors through this historical event beginning early morning April 19, 1995, and ending with a message of hope for today.
In MY words, it is one of the most impactful of any of the memorial I have ever seen. Starting with the entrance area that is an outside chalk garden for children to play at.
The memorial is almost beyond words. The design of taking you through what started out as “any ordinary day” and proceeding from there was an immediate hook. Barring the Holocaust Museum, I don’t think I’ve ever been as moved. I felt a sense of vulnerability from the beginning and had to fight back tears the whole way through. The victims and survivors were presented in a dignified yet highly personal way.
It took me a couple days to realize that for me, it was because the tour presents the day from the victims and survivors point of view. There was never a time where I stopped to think about where I was that day – the presentation of the museum kept me completely engrossed in the events of those who were there, the victims and rescue personnel, as well as the 168 people who lost their lives.
After the inside museum, we went out to the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, a place of quiet reflection that encompasses where the Murrah Building once stood, as well as the surrounding area devastated during the attack. It provided me with an opportunity to decompress after the intensity of the self-guided tour. After walking the grounds, we took a long stroll around the neighborhood and then headed back to the hotel. We were grateful the days’ timeline just happened to end with the museum. A leisurely drive afforded us some more time to decompress.
We picked up a dinner from Cattleman’s Steakhouse, a highly recommended foodie stop, took it to the hotel and enjoyed a quiet evening in the room. Dinners like this were great – we’d buy one meal to share, more than enough food and saved ourselves a bit of money as well!
Before we wrapped up OK and headed to Texas, we stopped at the Ultimate Car Wash to give the Tahoe a little love. All spiffed up and shiny we drove off route 66 when we got to Weatherford, OK to see the Wind energy Center display. As of 2008, Weatherford was home to the second-largest wind farm in Oklahoma. Honestly, the initial draw was to see an actual blade up close, but we learned a lot while we were there. And the blade? It was even bigger than I ever imagined and had a gorgeous curve to it as well that surprised me.
We stopped in town a quick lunch at a nice looking little place along the main drag called the Downtown Diner. TWO hours later, we headed out, stomach’s full and tied at a dozen or more games of hangman and tie tac toe that we played to pass the time while they made our salad and fried chicken basket!
Oklahoma was wrapped up with two Route 66 museums. The one in Clinton was a bust, but the Elk City one made up for it and was a great representation of the history of Route 66. You’d think that by this time, one Route 66 museum would be pretty much like the other, but each one had their own spin on the route as well as a niche of collectables whether it be cars, food items or just general memorabilia. Elk City’s sported a replica of a drive in movie where we stopped to watch too many trailers of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. We laughed until our sides hurt!
Texas greeted us with our first tumbleweed across land that is a flat as the eye can see with the rare tree or two to break the horizon. We were looking for an ice cream stop and laughed because it was just not in the cards for us to have that treat this afternoon. There wasn’t even one we could find listed on the GPS! In Groom, TX, we found not only the Britten Leaning Water Tower, but a 19 story free standing Cross that can be seen from twenty miles away.
All that “BIGNESS” prepared us for our dinner at the Big Texan in Amarillo that evening. As we checked into the hotel a few miles down the road from the restaurant, Steve saw a card for free limo service to and from the Big Texan, so we dropped our bags in the room and the limo was there in five minutes to pick us up. Our driver’s personality was almost as big as the horns mounted on front of the limo!
We got to stroll around the place for a bit before a table was available – the restaurant itself is a Route 66 legend and everything about it is BIG, from the restaurant that houses the two story dining area, massive open view kitchen, the shooting range, cowboy maze, bar and gift shop to the hotel next door. It’s massive!
We enjoyed a few drinks, great steak dinners and saved a few of our rolls along with some steak for a nice dashboard lunch the next day. There was a young man from Italy who gave the 72 oz free steak deal meal a try and although he made a valiant effort and was a great sport, he just hit the wall about 45 minutes into his hour of allotted time. They average seven attempts a day for the free 72 oz steak deal a day, but VERY few winners!