I love getting to experience my city for new visitors. I also really enjoy showing people what’s so special about Route 66. Today, I was able to do both AND showcase some of Oklahoma’s unique landscape for my friend Rose.
I met Rose in 2010 when I attended my first DragonCon. If you’ve never heard of that, it’s one of the largest fan conventions in the country; 75000+ geeks and nerds descend on downtown Atlanta over Labor Day weekend and have a blast. I’ve met up with Rose every year since and she has become a great friend. A few weeks ago, she discovered she would have a long layover in Tulsa, thus visiting ME for a change. I jumped at the chance to show her around.
Early this morning, I picked her up & we went to breakfast at the Atlas Grill downtown to talk about our options. I floated a few ideas and I saw her eyes light up when I mentioned the possibility of seeing bison; it became an easy decision. Before we headed out of town, though, we had a few stops to make.
I gave a brief driving tour of downtown Tulsa, talking about our Oil Capital history and the architecture she was ogling from the car window. We drove by the Cain’s Ballroom and the Woody Guthrie Center, which allowed me to talk a little about our musical heritage. We stopped at a seemingly insignificant sidewalk and I lead her up a bridge…to the Center of the Universe. She marveled at the secret echo chamber hidden in the middle of the city. We left downtown and visited the Golden Driller, too. He’s the most famous landmark in the state, after all!
Satisfied with a few T-Town landmarks, we headed north. I shared family stories and my personal history with our journey as we weaved through Osage County, through the home towns of both of my parents. After we passed through Pawhuska, the road turned from asphalt to gravel. The trees slowly disappeared and the sky opened up. We crossed a double-sized cattle guard and found ourselves on the largest tract of remaining tallgrass prairie in the world.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve spans 45,000 acres. It feels massive, but it’s roughly 4% of what once stretched from Canada to Texas. It’s the most endangered ecosystem in the world. Today, the preserve is home to over 2,000 bison. Though I was worried we might not see many animals, my fears were unfounded. A small group of bison greeted us near the entrance and when we reached the middle of the preserve we encountered a herd of 100+ grazing near the gravel lane. It was stunning to be in that landscape and witness one of North America’s mightiest creatures. Rose was so excited! The Nature Conservancy was also performing a controlled burn in the distance, which made for an interesting backdrop.
After stopping at the visitor’s center (many thanks to docent Shelby for the great information on the Preserve and the wildlife!) we looped around the southern half of the preserve and returned to Pawhuska. We stopped for coffee at the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, Ree Drummond’s shop/restaurant that has become a sensation. I wrote about the first time I visited the Merc here. Even on a mid-week afternoon, the line to eat stretched down the block. Thankfully, the line for coffee was much shorter and the second floor had plenty of seating so we could enjoy our brief visit.
When we headed back to Tulsa, I realized we had time to make a significant detour and still arrive in time to pick Samantha up from work. We diverted through Claremore and drove Old Route 66 for a few miles; I talked to Rose about Will Rogers and the Okie contribution to Mother Road history before arriving at one of the road’s most famous attractions, the Blue Whale. I didn’t know how she’d react considering we had just come from a bonafide nature conservation area, but she adored Blue and his charming brand of kitsch. She even climbed up into his top section!
We returned to Tulsa right as Samantha was off work. We ate dinner together at McNellie’s & had dessert at Braum’s, each providing a bit of literal local flavor to the day. The whole trip was tremendously enjoyable; although we only had a day together, I felt that I had given an excellent crash course in local sightseeing AND spent a ton of quality time with my friend. I hope she can return soon so we can explore a bit more…I love getting to show off my home state!