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Oklahoma Originals

In addition to signature sites found in its primary tourist destinations, Oklahoma enjoys a lot of unusual attractions that add color and fun to a tour of the state. On my trip through the state, I found interesting characters and fascinating geography at almost every stop.

“We have 12 unique eco-regions, everything from the second-largest desert in the country to cypress swamps,” said Todd Stallbaumer, consumer and trade marketing director for Travel Oklahoma. “You can see a tallgrass prairie, timberland, mountain regions and more. Great times to visit are April, May and June, and we also have a wonderful fall season.”

There are loads of mainstream attractions to see in Oklahoma, but what many folks look for are only-one-of-its-kind people and places. Oklahoma delivers plenty of those. Take, for example, the annual Okie Noodling Tournament every June throughout the state, with a meet-up of contestants in Pauls Valley.

Noodling, for the uninitiated (and I was one of them), is a form of hand fishing. Judges for this contest look for the biggest fish caught by someone without the use of a traditional fishing line, hook, bait or net.

“They can go anywhere on Oklahoma waters to hand fish in their favorite honey holes,” said Erin Creach, director of tourism for Pauls Valley. “Then they have 24 hours to get the live fish to Pauls Valley for the official weigh-in. The winning fish typically weighs more than 70 pounds. We get around 10,000 people attending the festival that goes along with it. A lot of international people schedule their vacations just to be here.”

The crowd promises to be a concoction of local fishing enthusiasts, curious “outsiders” and news media from everywhere.


Route 66

Oklahoma has more drivable miles of a legendary American roadway than any other state. Travel 432 original miles of what’s left of famed Route 66 in Oklahoma. It originally stretched from Chicago, through America’s heartland, to Santa Monica, California. Known as the Will Rogers Highway — Rogers was an Oklahoma native and folk hero — or the Main Street of America, the road ran through dozens of interesting little Oklahoma towns. See a piece of Americana before the interstates arrived.

There are three noteworthy Route 66 museums in Oklahoma. They are the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, the Route 66 Interpretive Center in Chandler and the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. Each has nostalgic exhibits, videos and audio that paint mental pictures of what Route 66 was like in its heyday.

Along the route, stop and read some of the 120 historical markers that highlight the people, places and stories that line this distinctive highway. You may run into travelers from all over the world who fly to America just to ride along Route 66 on motorcycles or in rental cars.

There are hundreds of historic landmarks on Route 66. The Blue Whale in Catoosa, for example, is a family-oriented stop for fishing or for snapping photos where group members can snap a selfie with their friends walking onto the steel structure sticking out of a pond. Efforts are constantly in motion to preserve as many structures along the old highway as possible.


Gastronomical Delights

In Guthrie I made a stop at the popular Rock Café, a Route 66 landmark where cooks have been “slingin’ hash” since 1939. The original blasted sandstone building on Route 66 was gutted in a fire but has reopened, and even salvaged its original stove — “Betsy.” Talk about indestructible.

I also found a modern yet somehow nostalgic stop on Route 66. POPS is located in Arcadia, just northeast of Oklahoma City. You’ll quickly notice the 66-foot soda pop bottle out front. POPS is a modern diner, gas station, convenience store and gift shop. But what most people come for is, of course, pop. There are 600-plus brands of soda, some you’ve never heard of and others that you’ll remember from your childhood. Specialties include 80 varieties of root beer and 50 kinds of cream soda.

Another nostalgic eatery is Arbuckle Mountain Original Fried Pies in Davis. I pulled off Interstate 35 in southern Oklahoma for the sweet, all-natural fruit pies, which were bigger than I expected. Visitors can also order fried pies stuffed with other things, such as pizza toppings, broccoli and chicken, bacon, eggs and cheese, and Tex-Mex ingredients.

A quirky, but tasty place to visit, is the Route 66 Nuthouse in Claremore. Ask for Hazel, the “head nut.” Sample the delicious fudge or other treats and browse the Route 66 gift shop. Groups can stop in for lunch and be seated in the large back room.

One of the best places to eat in Ponca City, believe it or not, is at the airport. Enrique’s is busy every day as businesspeople and tourists rub elbows and gobble delicious Mexican dishes. How good is the food? Just ask the pilots. Some of them fly into Ponca City just to enjoy a meal at Enrique’s.