travel

Cruisin’ in Your Own Backyard

By Rebekah Mercer

Sunsets on the water are something to behold – the water glistens and reflects everything in a warm glow that surrounds you and makes you feel everything is right with the world. There’s something about being on the water at that time of day that seems magical, and if you’re lucky enough to experience it, it’s a memory you won’t soon forget. But for the time challenged, it’s often an experience that’s out of reach, what with the struggle to get away from work and other responsibilities for a week or more. The high price tag involved with airline tickets and booking a cruise is also a tough pill to swallow for those of us on a budget these days. But there is hope yet. More than hope … there is a solution. You don’t have to travel far, and it won’t break the bank. You don’t even have to take off work.

Panoramic of Harkins Theatre and BricktownOklahoma City has two on-the-water experiences that you can enjoy in a weekend that will provide many of those warming memories you’re pining for, and a lot of just plain fun to boot.  Bricktown Water Taxi and Oklahoma River Cruises are both inexpensive and nearby, and they provide options for an afternoon or evening of fun that aren’t easy to duplicate anywhere else.

Here are all the details to plan a mini-cruise vacation that won’t break the bank or eat up your vacation time. Let’s start with something you’ve probably heard about, but maybe never experienced – Bricktown Water Taxis.

Where else but in our own backyard in Oklahoma City can you hop on a water taxi and enjoy a relaxing cruise through the city’s premier entertainment district, learn a bit about your state’s history, and stop off along the way to enjoy a movie theater, bowling alley or winery, along with shopping and restaurants of all kinds? For the price of one ticket and one parking fee, there’s no driving all over town or having to move the car, no long treks back and forth between locations. The water taxis are available every day, and the cost is only $8.50 per person for an all-day pass, with stops and pick-ups anywhere along the route included in the price.

If you aren’t familiar with Bricktown or haven’t ridden the water taxi before, you might want to start early – make one full circuit first, just to see what’s there. You can hop back on the next taxi to get where you’re going once you make up your mind. Harkins Theatres are just a few steps from your water taxi; but If you’re not in the mood for a movie, a game of tenpin bowling at one of the country’s most luxurious bowling alleys might be what floats your boat.

Toby Keith's I love this bar and grillAt RedPin Bowling Alley, you will get a luxury bowling experience. An oxymoron, you say? But at RedPin, it’s definitely not … let’s just say it’s not your average bowling experience. For example, your bowling shoes are delivered to you at your lane, along with personal service from waitstaff, who will take your food and drink orders and make that delivery also. The newly opened Basement Modern Diner offers American classics like handcrafted burgers, pizzas, fried pickles, whoopee pies and milkshakes made from fresh, local ingredients.

If you’re an oenophile (make that a wine connoisseur), then Put A Cork In It will be a fun place to make a stop. Free wine tastings are offered daily, and as they put it, “Every hour is happy hour at Put A Cork In It.” I don’t know about you, but that’s all I need to hear! They also offer handcrafted chardonnays, merlots and a variety of other popular wines.

And of course, you’ll want to stop along the way and do some shopping at retailers like Bass Pro Shop and the Red Dirt Marketplace, where you can find 50 retailers under one roof, including apparel, jewelry, pottery, toys, candles, books and all kinds of artistic creations. Bass Pro offers everything imaginable for the outdoor enthusiast – whether camping, hunting, fishing, archery … whatever your sport.

But you have to eat, right? Some of the city’s best restaurants have locations on the canal. For something new and different, try Bolero Spanish Grill & Tapas Bar. Or if a margarita on a balcony overlooking the canal sounds perfect to you, check out the great margaritas at Chelino’s. Maybe you just want to relax and enjoy a first-class Italian meal. If so, Zio’s Italian Kitchen is your ticket. There’s also a new casual and fun eatery called Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. According to those who have eaten at their Norman location, the tacos here are “to die for.” Other restaurants include Earl’s Rib Palace, Jazmoz Bourbon Street Café, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, Nonna’s Euro-American Ristorante & Bar and many more.

Water TaxiFor a special adventure, take in the Bricktown Blues and BBQ Festival happening June 15 and 16. It’s a free outdoor event at the corner of Sheridan and Oklahoma avenues offering continuous entertainment under the tents, rain or shine. For a list of entertainers and purveyors of food and drink, visit www.brewerentertainment.com/index.php?bricktown-blues.

Whatever you do, be sure to allow yourself time to see all the sights along the canal and sample all you can. For more information, visit See www.bricktownwatertaxi.com or call (405) 234-8263.

For those still thinking about magical sunsets, Oklahoma River Cruises offers Sunset Cruises every Friday night throughout the summer. For a $29 ticket, you get a sunset cruise, great music, free appetizers and sodas, and your choice of adult beverages from their cash bar. The boats offer air-conditioned cabins and are ADA accessible.

Devon Waterboat toursOther themed summer cruises are offered as well, including the Western Waters in June (country music), Disco Nights in July (shake your groove thing to the disco beat), Luau in August (Hawaiian-themed cocktails, appetizers and hula dancing) and Karaoke in September (are you brave enough?). Special Casino Nights and History Comes Alive cruises are listed on their website, with themes including Land Run, Cowboy and Rosie the Riveter. You’ll never experience fireworks like you will with a bird’s-eye view from the Fireworks Cruise on June 30. And for theater buffs, Shakespeare on the River in June and July features none other than William Shakespeare as your cruise guide.

The cruises also offer lots of information about the history of the river and planned improvements courtesy of MAPS funding, some of which include a floating stage, grandstands, rowing courses, a manmade whitewater kayaking venue and river beautification projects. Visit the Oklahoma River Cruise website for all the details at www.okrivercruises.com or call (405) 702-7755.

If you’re looking for a shorter river experience or just need to get from one place to another, transit cruises are also available. They offer access to Stockyards City, the Meridian Corridor and the Boathouse District. You can disembark at any of three landings (Regatta Park, Exchange Landing or Meridian Landing) if you want to do a bit of sightseeing. Other public transit options are available at each landing (trolleys and buses). However, due to all the downtown construction, be sure to check on schedules, times and possible cancellations at www.gometro.org/river-transit.

This summer, plan to make a weekend of exploring some of the great things Oklahoma City has to offer. You’re sure to discover new places and make lasting memories.

When Vikings Paid A Visit To Heavener

 

By Kimberly Thomas

viking helmsVikings roaming the hills of southeastern Oklahoma? Everyone has heard the history of Oklahoma from the Cowboys and Indians perspective, but few have heard the rich history that surrounds the small town of Heavener, Oklahoma. Just outside the tiny town of Poteau and up a winding mountain road lies Heavener Runestone Park, housing one of the biggest little mysteries in the state of Oklahoma.

 

Sitting atop Poteau Mountain, the park is almost three miles northeast of Heavener, off State Highway 59 and U.S. Highway 270. A winding trail descends into a beautiful, shaded valley featuring a small pavilion that encloses a mysterious slab covered with runic letters.

 

Rune Stones of PoteauThis runestone – about 12 feet high, 10 feet wide and 16 inches thick – is an inscribed rock usually left as a monument or as a claim for land. In Viking days, a runestone functioned to explain inheritance, mark territory, bring glory to dead relatives, or to serve as a reminder of important events. In some areas, they appear to also have been social and economic markers. When one group left a marker, it would stand over time to let others know which land belonged to which group. Most of the runestones from the Viking age use the same formula – along with a prayer, the text memorializes the person who raised the runestone, the social status of the dead person and place of death.

 

A Choctaw hunting party first discovered the runestone in the 1830s, but it came to be called “Indian Rock” after being rediscovered by white trappers who assumed that the markings were made by Native American Indians.

 

Carl F. Kemmerer, a local schoolteacher, sent a copy of the inscriptions to the Smithsonian Institution in 1923 on behalf of the Heavener Mason’s Lodge. The Smithsonian quickly responded that the characters were runic, identifying the eight symbols as Scandinavian.

 

They were initially interpreted to read “GNOMEDAL,” roughly translated as Sundial Valley or Monument Valley. The valley where the runestone stands still looks like a place where Vikings would roam, with waterfalls and lush greenery surrounding the large stone formations. It is a place of refuge that would beckon weary travelers, especially on a hot day, with the waterfall calling out to passersby.

 

Gloria Farley, a Heavener resident, first visited the stone with Kemmerer when she was a student, but the stone lay forgotten until she rediscovered it decades later. By then, local natives had been scratching their own names into the rock, thus destroying the original characters.

 

Celtic AccessoriesIn 1953, she led a group that believed the markings were made by Vikings traversing the Mississippi, Arkansas and Poteau rivers. She and her followers realized the importance of the slab of rock with the hidden message, and rescued the monument from obscurity. It was through Farley’s persistent effort that foreign experts studied the runestone and a state park was established.

 

Over the years, various theories have arisen regarding the possibility of Scandinavians passing through present-day Oklahoma around the eleventh century. Some believe that members of LaSalle’s expedition of 1687 made the mark. Others believe a Swedish captain leading a French colonization effort in the Mississippi valley around 1720 made the inscription.

 

Alf Monge, a former U.S. Army cryptographer, asserted the symbols were a runic puzzle indicating the date November 11, 1012 – St. Martin’s day on our calendar. Monge claimed evidence showed that the creator of this puzzle was Erik Gnupsson, who was made Bishop of Greenland in 1112.

 

Dr. Richard Nielson, who obtained his degree at the University of Denmark, decided the markings should be translated as “GLOMEDAL,” meaning Glome’s Valley, which would indicate a land claim. Assertions have also been made that it could be “G. Nomedal,” with Nomedal being a Norwegian family name.

 

Many people believe that Vikings once roamed throughout Oklahoma, leaving their mark across the state long before the days of cowboys and Indians; however, scientists still question the validity of the runestone, pointing out that no verifiable Norse artifacts have been found in Oklahoma. Those who believe in the authenticity of the runestone remind us that other runestones have been found in nearby Poteau, Shawnee and Tulsa.

 

In 2003, the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission and Friends of the Heavener Runestone reached an agreement to hire an archeologist to search for a nearby cave rumored to have similar markings. The cave’s existence would support the theory that Vikings were the first Europeans to set foot in Oklahoma, but to date, there has been no report of the cave being found.

 

Whoever left the cryptic message would have thought the land was sacred, and modern Oklahomans agreed. In 1965, the Herbert Ward family of Heavener donated 55 acres to create a park. State Senator Clem Hamilton led the effort to obtain state funding, and Heavener State Park was built around the monument. The park was run by the Department of Tourism from October 25, 1970 until July 2011, when the state gave up the park.

 

“The non-profit group Friends of Heavener Runestone, in alliance with the City of Heavener, took over the park,” says Karry Kofr, park manager and events coordinator.

 

Today, Heavener Runestone Park is visited by tourists from around the world.

 

“Some have come from as far away as Spain and Denmark to see the runestone,” says Kofr. “Of course, there are many tourists from Arkansas, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, all over the United States.” The park makes an ideal vacation destination or day trip from almost anywhere in Oklahoma, offering nature trails, waterfalls, plenty of picnic areas and a paved sidewalk winding down the ravine to the shelter protecting the runestone.

 

For those heartier souls who like to camp, there are campgrounds available. There are also three pavilions that can be used for weddings and reunions, as well as a full-service community building that holds up to 100. In addition to a kids’ playground, an amphitheater is available for those who wish to stage their own shows. The park is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. until dark.

 

Heavener Park now hosts a biannual Viking/Celtic folk festival, held in the spring and fall. The lilting music descends into the valley and combines with the beauty of the landscape for an almost ethereal experience. Visit their website at www.friendsofheavenerrunestone.org for more information on park activities and past festival photos.

 

A student from the University of Arkansas created a class project that does a good job of highlighting the beauty of the autumn landscape at Heavener Park. You can find the nine-minute video by searching “meandmyhdcam” on YouTube.

 

From the top of the hill, you get a full spectrum view of the Winding Stair Mountains and the Tahlimena Drive. From this view, one can easily imagine why whoever marked the area wanted to claim it in all its glory. The runestone was clearly left as a remembrance, and Oklahomans have stepped up to continue to make its location a place to remember. With facilities for family fun and such a beautiful destination in our own backyard, visitors won’t soon forget the charm of Heavener Runestone Park. Oklahomans should make it a point to put Heavener Runestone Park on their must-see list.

Remarkable Fort Reno

By Randy C. Anderson

 

Fort Reno, just a few miles from the Chisholm Trail, is known for many things – it has been the home of the famous 9th and 10th Cavalries (the Buffalo Soldiers), and World War II German and Italian POWs are buried in the post cemetery. Frederick Remington, the well-known western artist, visited Fort Reno and drew many of his Buffalo Soldier, Cheyenne, Arapaho and cavalry drawings while there. Black Jack, the riderless horse used for the funerals of Presidents Hoover, Kennedy and Johnson, as well as General Douglas MacArthur, was raised and trained at Fort Reno. Will Rogers and other notables attended polo matches and horse races held there. Ben Clark, General Phil Sheridan’s favorite scout, lies at rest in the post cemetery, along with his Cheyenne wife, Moka, and five of their children. He is considered by many to be the most notable person buried there. In addition, many of the buildings still standing at the fort are said to be haunted.

 

Water TowerMy first visit to Fort Reno occurred many years ago, and I was looking for birds, not history. Oklahoma birders have compiled an impressive list of species seen on the grounds, so I went to check it out for myself. Fort Reno is an easy drive from Oklahoma City, lying just west of El Reno. While Route 66 passes right by the front gate to the fort, most visitors drive out on I-40. On that first visit, the birding was not so good, but the history of Fort Reno was remarkable.

 

I love Oklahoma history, and Fort Reno has added much to the history of the state. Fort Reno began as a military camp in 1874 at the request of the Darlington Indian Agency for help in protecting the Cheyenne and Arapahos located there. Troops arrived and established a camp on the south side of the Canadian River. The following year, the commander was authorized to make more stable arrangements, marking the beginning of the fort’s permanent structures.

 

The name “Fort Reno” was given by General Phil Sheridan in memory of a friend, Jesse L. Reno, who died in battle during the Civil War. The troops that served at the fort played a vital role during the Indian War era and the transition from being a territory to becoming a state. The most notable engagement between the troops from Fort Reno and the Cheyenne came in September 1878 when members of the Northern Cheyenne, led by Chief Dull Knife, broke out of the reservation and headed north to their homeland in Nebraska. Cavalry troops from Fort Reno pursued them through Kansas before turning back after being relieved. The movie “Cheyenne Autumn” is based on this event.

 

Troops from Fort Reno also had the responsibility to seek out and remove the “boomers” (led by David Payne) before the land run of 1889.

 

BarracksFort Reno operated as a permanent military base from 1874 to 1948. After statehood, the primary function of the base was as a quartermaster’s remount station for mules and horses. Mules were shipped to the Pacific and European theaters during WWII as pack animals.

 

During WWII, Fort Reno served as a POW camp. There are 62 German and 8 Italian POWs buried in the post cemetery. All but one of the prisoners interred at the cemetery came from other POW camps in Oklahoma (of which there were 30) and Texas. Most of the prisoners held in Oklahoma came from General Rommel’s Afrikakorps, brought to the camp by train from the east coast. The German POWs built the fort’s chapel in 1944, which is still a popular location for weddings.

 

Since 1948, Fort Reno has served as a USDA grazing lands research center.

 

There is always something going on at the fort. Weddings take place in the chapel, battle reenactments are held, memorial runs take athletes throughout the grounds, and “Tombstone Tales” are recounted; but the ghost tours are the most unique events. Being intrigued and a bit skeptical, my wife and I attended a ghost tour … and survived. While we did not personally see any ghosts, others claimed they did. The tour guides are experts on the subject, and I would not want to spoil the ghost stories you will hear if you should decide to partake of a ghost tour, so I will leave it to the tour guides to tell those tales. The tour was definitely different – walking the grounds at night with lanterns and flashlights while hearing which buildings are haunted and by whom. Your eyes straining through the darkness to see any type of apparition. I will say this – every time I have gone upstairs in the visitor center, I have gotten a weird feeling, as if someone was there watching me! The ghost tours occur once monthly through November. Dates and times are listed on their website.

 

Visitor Center

Visitor's Center

Do check out the visitor center, filled with lots to see, from artifacts to souvenirs, plus a nice selection of books about Fort Reno, the Cheyenne and Arapahos, the Buffalo Soldiers and more. The staff is always very friendly, helpful and informative.

 

Check out Fort Reno for yourself – it is an easy day trip. For more information on hours of operation, events and history, you can visit their website at www.fortreno.org.

Nature’s Wrath – Up Close and Personal

By Rebekah Mercer

Storm chasing is not for the faint of heart, but if you like being in the center of the action, come along for the thrill of your life!

 

In the middle of tornado alley on a rural road near Oklahoma City, the sky is a threatening sludge of black clouds tinged with brackish green and grey. It’s 6 p.m., or the “witching hour,” as storm spotters call it in tornado country. Tension hovers in the air all around, but it’s momentarily quiet as a band of four seemingly non-descript vans linger on the side of this country road. The air has a trace of something unseen and ominous as the occupants wait and watch. Suddenly, the sky cracks open with a violent barrage of lightning, and a wall cloud lights up from behind. There is a dip on one side, with what looks like a funnel formation taking shape. Engines come to life as the vans pull into the road, headlights streaming in the direction of the threatening weather. This is what they came for. It’s time to move!

This scene is played out all around the city during the spring and summer months as storm chasers and storm tour operators tempt fate, jockeying for position to be the closest to observe nature’s wrath. This relatively new form of adventure experience is fast becoming a popular business in Oklahoma, a state with some of the most severe weather in the country, and Oklahoma City serves as the base for many storm-chasing tours.

Cloud 9 Tours is one of these businesses, and if you’re in one of their vans when a storm like the one above brews up, it’s too late to turn back. You are about to get up close and personal with one of nature’s most violent and dangerous phenomena. And unlike most people (dare we say sane people?), you will not be heading away from the tornado, but toward it. Charles Edwards, owner and storm tracker for Cloud 9, tells me this is a typical scenario for his team and storm tour vacationers as they track storms throughout tornado season.

Massive CycloneBut with a business history going back 15 years and a trained meteorologist as your navigator, you’re probably as safe as you can be while putting yourself near the eye of the storm. In reality, that is what visitors from around the world do every year, many of them repeat customers from as far away as Australia. Surprisingly, most of his clientele are not from the U.S., as one would expect. Edwards reports that two-thirds of them hail from Europe and Australia.

In addition to Edwards, the Cloud 9 team also boasts some other well-known weather phenoms. George Kourounis, driver for Cloud 9, has some pretty amazing stories to tell. Kourounis is famous for his TV show Angry Planet, and for being the first person to film inside a tornado, an active volcano and the eye of a hurricane. It’s hard to imagine how Kourounis could ever run out of stories, based on that background, but if it should ever happen, John Guyton, Mike Theiss and Edwards are all there to back him up, keeping things lively with stories and anecdotes from all their travels.

Cloud 9 is based in Shawnee, Okla., but the team travels as far as the Canadian and Mexican borders in some cases, covering up to 5,000 miles in a typical tour. Although the most intense storms typically take place in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, the crew and storm-chaser guests often travel across numerous state lines chasing the harrowing but elusive storms. Unlike some companies, Cloud 9 does not guarantee that you will see tornadoes on their 15-night tours, but they do report having chased as many as 14 tornadoes on a single tour. With state-of-the-art meteorology and GPS equipment and many years of experience, the company does offer some of the best odds for tracking and finding severe weather.

Edwards stresses, however, that much of their time is spent on the road and at sightseeing stops in-between storms. The Large and Bizarre Tour in Kansas is one of their favorite stops – largest ball of twine in the world, largest prairie dog, etc. – along with stops such as the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, home of the 72-oz. steak challenge.

“Although there are normally lots of thrills, it’s definitely not the vacation for everyone,” says Edwards. “You don’t see tornadoes every time, and we do a lot of travel tracking storms. But we do like to find those out-of-the way, side-road attractions to break up the trip and make it fun.” Good food is also part of any successful travel experience, and the team scouts out restaurants along their routes, according to Edwards.

Terrible Hail“We make an effort to track down all the good steak places. Once you’ve seen a tornado close-up, you’ve definitely earned a steak!”

Although he focuses on the tour’s safety aspects and their exceptional planning and instrumentation, when pressed, Edwards does admit to some dicey situations. One of them occurred in the Texas panhandle when he watched a tornado change directions and cross the road right in front of the van. Later in the tour, another tornado became hail-wrapped and, because it was pounding the vehicle so hard and fast, it was difficult to see where they were going, especially after the windshield was broken out. There was no place to turn around, and another tornado was right in front of them. But they managed to ride it out unscathed.

In another situation, a tornado was headed straight toward them, coming down the interstate in Kansas. Edwards had to turn around on the interstate and head the wrong way to outrun it.

“There was a semi headed into it, and we saw it get turned over by the storm,” said Edwards. It’s times like these when it really pays off to have guides and drivers who are really experienced.

But not all storm chasers work for tour companies or for local news teams and weather bureaus. There are a number of them who do it just for the adrenaline rush and the educational opportunities. Kyle Whipple calls himself a “recreational storm chaser” and has been involved with the activity since his college days. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a master’s degree in meteorology, Whipple and a number of his friends enjoy chasing storms for the first-hand experience and educational opportunities storm chasing offers.

“You can read about them and study them, but there is nothing like being right there to see it and experience it,” said Whipple. He relies on weather reports from the National Weather Service, which he tracks on his laptop in the car when he’s chasing.

Although he admits to not having the sophisticated systems professional storm chasers utilize, Whipple thinks most storm chasers know enough to stay out of the way of storms. He warns of more mundane risks that are likely to occur when storms are approaching.

“The most dangerous aspect is getting into a wreck. People are looking up at the clouds and the weather, and there are usually other storm chasers around the same area. Sometimes, people drive too fast when they’re in bad weather.” In addition to driving safety, his main safety tip for amateur storm chasers is to keep at least two tires on the road when they pull off to observe a storm.

“People get stuck,” he comments, “and that’s not good when a tornado’s coming.”

Regardless of whether you’re a storm chaser or an armchair weather forecaster, one way to add to your knowledge and experience is to visit the National Weather Center in Norman, on the University of Oklahoma campus. The center houses a number of organizations that work together to provide resources to study and deepen understanding of the world’s weather. The center is a research home for scientists, climatologists, meteorologists and students who are interested in learning more about weather science and about improving weather forecasting.

Chasing StormsTours of the facility are available free to the public and are offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. It’s important to note, however, that reservations are required and usually have to be made at least two weeks in advance. Highlights include the Storm Prediction Center and the National Weather Service Forecast Office. Each fall, they host a festival with hourly weather balloon launches, children’s activities and an open house. Call the center at (405) 325-1147 for information. A virtual tour can be accessed by visiting the NOAA website, www.norman.noaa.gov.

With severe weather in the forecast for Oklahoma every spring, storm-chasing vacations are just the ticket for those who are weather obsessed. The list below provides contact information for several tours in the area that should provide you with plenty of springtime weather thrills and chills.

When there are storms, there will be those hearty souls who like to be in the thick of it. If you are one of them, stay safe and send back pictures and videos for the rest of us, safely tucked away in our living rooms!

 

Cloud 9 Tours (405) 323-1145

www.cloud9tours.com

Storm Chasing Adventure Tours (405) 888-6391

www.stormchasing.com

Silver Lining Tours (832) 717-4712

www.silverliningtours.com

TRADD Storm Chasing Tours

www.traddtornadochasingtours.com

Memorable and Unique Valentine’s Day Getaways

By Rebekah Mercer

 

Are you dreaming of a Valentine’s Day gift that will surprise and delight? Do you want to plan something unforgettable so the memories can be cherished for years to come? Are you thinking of something that will take you away from the stresses and cares of daily life and give you time to focus on each other? Then what you’re looking for is a romantic getaway for just the two of you.

 

Distinctly Oklahoma has been scouting some great getaways for you that are just the ticket and are all within a few hours drive from Oklahoma City. Each of them offers unique pleasures, but they will all make you feel as though you’ve stepped into another world.

 

Arcadian Inn, Edmond

Captain's Quarters at the Arcadian

Captain's Quarters at the Arcadian

The Arcadian Inn is a boutique bed-and-breakfast that has won many awards and accolades over the years. Innkeepers Gary and Martha Hall, along with their two sons and Gary’s parents, make the inn a family-owned and operated business.

 

The house that encompasses the original B&B was built in 1908, but has undergone several transformations since then. While living in Edmond during the early years of their marriage in what she calls “their little fixer-upper,” Martha watched the big yellow house as it changed ownership several times. She dreamed of one day owning the three-story home on the corner of First and University, but back then it was all still a dream. After several years and a developer’s failed attempt to convert the house into office space, it was back on the market, but completely gutted and the grounds bulldozed.

 

In 1989, Martha’s dream came true when she and Gary bought the property. In just one year, they transformed it into what they envisioned as the culmination of their dreams for a romantic getaway. Today, the inn houses eight guestrooms in three adjacent buildings, connected by walkways and gardens. Each guestroom has an individual theme and décor, and each has its own double whirlpool Jacuzzi. In addition, one of the special touches is a private breakfast served in-room to preserve the privacy and seclusion of guests, many of whom come for honeymoons and anniversaries.

 

Crown Jewel RoomThe house now attracts travelers from all over, who come to enjoy the special brand of pampering that Martha and Gary envisioned. But it’s not all about the décor and the food, although both are exceptional. It’s the attention to detail and the special touches and packages that are offered to fulfill each couple’s fantasy of the perfect romantic getaway.

 

An obvious choice for Valentine’s Day is the Romantic Persuasion package, which includes champagne, souvenir champagne flutes, strawberries and crème for a special treat, and silk rose petals on the bed sheets.

The inn also offers numerous special touches to make your getaway even more memorable – a couples’ massage, roses by the dozen, spa baskets, or a private candlelit dinner for two. To book your getaway online, visit  www.arcadianinn.com/index.php.

 

Aaron’s Gate, Edmond

Echo Canyon At Aaron's GateIf you’re looking for something a little more secluded, with thoughts of a private getaway all to yourselves, we have you covered there, too. The Aaron’s Gate cottages are light years away from the city, but just a few miles from either Edmond or Guthrie. Each of the unique cottages is designed to be a romantic cabin in the woods, with all the amenities of a B&B but offering complete privacy. Each unit has its own full kitchen, luxurious bathroom, hot tub, sauna, Jacuzzi tub for two, gas fireplace, king-size beds and more.

 

Breakfast is prepped in advance and can be prepared in minutes at the cottage by following the simple instructions provided. Each cottage has a porch or outdoor sitting area to enjoy the woods and wildlife – a perfect spot for morning coffee or an afternoon glass of wine.

 

Valentine's Day Romantic DinnerThe cottages are designed with every detail envisioned to enhance your comfort and enjoyment. The Parrot’s Cove, an island-themed getaway, offers a screened-in porch with hot tub and European-style shower, with palm trees to complete the ambiance. The French Hen offers lavish French furnishings and décor, along with French boudoir amenities. The custom-built copper king-size bed and outdoor hot tub complete the exceptional features. The Meadow Lark Barn is in the style of an English barn – a two-story unit with an upstairs bathroom that is truly unique.

 

Aaron’s Gate is a concept designed and built by Gary and Martha Hall, the sister property of Arcadian Inn. Each cottage has the same attention to detail, and each is a fully envisioned fantasy getaway. If you’re looking for something completely different, one of these cottages is sure to fit the bill. Packages to enhance your getaway include flowers, chocolates, massages, and other special treats. For a virtual tour and all the details about each cottage, visit www.aaronsgate.com/cottages.php.

 

Stardust Inn, Medicine Park

Stardust Inn FrontOur last getaway gets you out of town and, indeed, out of the decade. Medicine Park is a step back in time, back to the 1920s and 30s, to be exact, when it was first developed into a resort. But much of the history and allure of the area hearkens back hundreds of years before that. For centuries, the area was a campground for the Plains Indians, who revered Medicine Creek as “good medicine.” Native American influences are evident everywhere, and the town’s rich history is a large part of its appeal.

 

The town’s incarnation as a resort dates to 1908, when Senator Elmer Thomas envisioned it as a recreational area. He took advantage of the plentiful round red cobblestones to build a resort utilizing that unique and charming element. Virtually every house and shop is built in the simple Prairie style, with these cobblestones front and center.

 

Thousands were soon attracted to the town on weekends; it became a haven for the famous and infamous, including Will Rogers, Wiley Post, Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and many others. Today, it still prospers as a weekend getaway, and in 2010 was voted one of America’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns by Budget Travel Magazine.

 

Stardust Living roomIt is popular with those who enjoy getting out in nature and savoring the feel of a small town resort, while enjoying all the modern conveniences. Located at the entrance of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, it is less than two hours’ drive from Oklahoma City. With the wildlife refuge at your doorstep and lots of quaint shops and restaurants, it’s perfect for a one- or two-night stay.

 

Stardust Inn is the ideal place to enjoy the comforts of a first-class B&B while still maintaining the rustic feel of Medicine Park. Just a few feet from the entrance to the refuge, the inn features private entrances and a wrap-around porch with rocking chairs overlooking the nearby lake and woods. Each room features a two-person Jacuzzi , a coffee maker, WiFi, quality bedding and amenities. Much of the appeal of the inn comes from its décor and works of art, all of which are done by local award-winning artists and craftsmen.

 

Mornings are special at the inn, and a full breakfast is served each day by the owners, Pegi and Clark Brown. They are long-time residents and can arm you with all the information you need to make the most of your stay.

 

Popular with bird watchers and nature lovers, the nearby refuge also provides great hiking and wildlife sightings. Bison, elk, deer and longhorn cattle may be spotted, along with red-tailed hawks and prairie dogs. If you’re the type who prefers to enjoy nature and scenic vistas from the front seat of your car, you will enjoy the three-mile car ride to the top of Mount Scott, the third-highest point in Oklahoma. Be sure to bring your camera and your binoculars for some truly spectacular views along the way. For reservations, visit www.stardustinn.com.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, and be sure to make your reservations now to enjoy a special day full of romance and memory-making moments!

Seasonal Celebrations in Oklahoma City’s Cultural Districts

By Barbie Elder

 

Oklahoma City residents are seeing wonders being performed right before their eyes – it’s hard even for lifelong residents to imagine when Bricktown was an eyesore and an AAA baseball team was playing in an antiquated ballpark at the fairgrounds. This is the new Oklahoma City, a metro explosion that is the envy of the country. In keeping with these rapid fire changes comes the evolution of cultural districts, found in all your finer destinations.

 

Statue at the Adventure DistrictAnd before going further, it should be mentioned that these highlighted areas are an important economic component to future growth. Over the holidays, keep it local and enjoy shopping, dining and festivities in these exciting cultural neighborhoods.

 

Stockyards City continues to develop new shopping and entertainment options. Offering a true old west experience, visitors from around the world make the stockyards one of their first stops when visiting the city. Along with Cattlemen’s Café and Langston’s Western Wear, the Stockyard’s Mercantile has over 35 vendor booths featuring candles, unique clothing, collectables, jewelry and home décor. Oklahoma Native Art and Jewelry features 68 artists representing 28 tribes, while the Cross Bar Gallery carries the latest in western furniture, art and gift items.

 

Kicking off the holidays on Friday, December 2 is a tree lighting ceremony, followed by an open house to enjoy cookies, cocoa and cider along with special one-night-only sales. A festival holiday concert sponsored by the Stockyards City Main Street at the Rodeo Opry concludes the evening of festivities.

 

Saturday, December 10, the celebration continues at 10 a.m. with the annual Cowboy Christmas Parade, with 100 longhorn steers, rodeo cowboys, antique cars and more. Children are invited to have photos taken with “Cowboy Santa” at the Rodeo Opry.

 

One of the more creative areas in Oklahoma City is the historic Paseo Arts District, located from 28th and N Walker to 30th and N Dewey. This Spanish village dating back to 1929 is full of stucco buildings and tiled roofs. Today, it’s home to 17 galleries and 60 artists, boutiques and gift shops, making the Paseo a unique cultural destination.

 

One of the high points here is the Mariposa Gallery, which represents Jill Brett, Lyn Kopta, Maricel Kuhn, Bob and Bev Landdeck and Rema Imes. Special guest artists are also invited, including nationally known Prix de West artists. Consigned resale art by Richard Schmid, Matt Smith, Curt Walters and Dave Wade are available by appointment.

 

Aledante! Gallery features national award-winning southwest, western and contemporary fine artists, with an emphasis on American and western landscapes. Cynthia Wolf, owner and artist, is a fine art photographer specializing in southwest and western images. The gallery rotates its exhibits monthly and offers painting demonstrations and artist’s talks.

 

One-of-a-kind, handcrafted jewelry by Sheridan Scott is available at A Jeweler’s Art. The a.k.a is a contemporary art gallery and studio of Ashley Griffith, hosting guest artists monthly.

 

In Your Eye Studio represents ten Oklahoma artists working in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, glass, jewelry and pottery, while Avalon on the Paseo offers recycled and vintage treasures from clothes, jewelry and accessories to house wares and artwork.

 

Asian DistrictOklahoma City’s Asian district, located at NW 23rd and Classen Blvd., is an epicenter of culture and commerce. Many Vietnamese moved into the area during the 1970s and have transformed it into a strong and distinct community.

 

Some of the finest Asian restaurants in Oklahoma City are located here, and include a wide range of authentic Asian cuisine. Pho Lien Hoa, Lido and the Golden Phoenix are just a few of the many popular eateries.

 

Here, shoppers will find home to one of the largest Asian supermarkets in the region. Super Cao Nguyen features fresh products from several Asian countries. The Chinese and Vietnamese New Year celebrations each year offer a chance to take part in the festivities with dragon dances, fireworks and special New Year’s food.

 

One can then cruise, so to speak, over to historic Automobile Alley, located along N Broadway from NW 4th to NW 10th Street. Once home to over 50 car dealerships, this revitalization effort showcases a very creative reuse of existing businesses. Today, the district is thriving with unique restaurants, galleries, shopping and loft apartments.

 

Automobile AlleyIn its third year, Automobile Alley Lights on Broadway features more than 130,000 colorful LED lights draping the historic buildings, making for a magical holiday wonderland. Also on display are more than 2 million LEGOs used to construct OK Cityscape, presented at a kids’ eye view, brought to life with lights, sounds effects and animatronics. This year’s display presents a fun alien invasion, complete with spaceships, extraterrestrials and a host of special effects. Children can build their own creations in the Kids Construction Zone. Proceeds from the exhibit go to Oklahoma City Educare, a flagship early childhood education center.

From the 42nd Street Candy Company to the French Cowgirl, Gil’s and the Learning Tree, Western Avenue offers something for everyone. Restaurants range from local favorite hangouts like Cock ’o the Walk and VZD’s to the upscale Coach House and Bin 73 Wine Bar. Sushi Neko, the Lobby Bar, Musashi’s Japanese Steakhouse, Café Nova and the Metro Wine Bar and Bistro are some of the popular eateries located along Western Avenue.

 

During the holidays, Western Avenue is ablaze with colorful lights, and the Chesapeake Energy campus transforms into a winter wonderland. Trees throughout the campus and along both Western Avenue and NW 63rd have been meticulously wrapped in vivid LED lights, creating a feast for the eyes.

 

BricktownDowntown and the Bricktown districts come alive during the holidays, featuring several special events and destinations for the family, visiting friends and relatives.

 

Feel the wind in your face as you cruise down the slope at thrilling speeds at Chesapeake Energy Snow Tubing at RedHawks Field, or glide across the transformed icy entertainment zone of the Devon Ice Rink, which opens for a new season at the recently renovated Myriad Botanical Gardens. The rink will host a live deejay on Friday nights and a local radio team on Saturdays.

 

Visit the OG&E Garden Lights and free Crystal Bridge Sundays and rediscover the heart of the city. Visitors of all ages are invited to take a magical stroll through the beautifully illuminated Myriad Botanical Gardens each night during Downtown in December. As a special treat, the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory will offer free admission each Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. through New Year’s Day (including Christmas). Stroll the decorated Bricktown Canal and enjoy the shopping, dining and entertainment, all lit by OneMain Financial’s Bricktown Canal Lights.

 

Adventure District CasinoOklahoma City’s Adventure District gets into the holiday spirit with several special promotions and festivities.
Watch Santa deliver treats to the animals during the Deck the Zoo at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Visit on December 11 and 18 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and again from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

 

Several events are offered at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, including the 16th Annual Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas Ball on December 17, which includes a buffet dinner and visit from Santa. The museum store will offer festive holiday touches, including light refreshments, free parking and free gift wrapping, as well as a free gift with every purchase each Sunday in December until Christmas.

Remington Park features a Dodge Charger giveaway courtesy of Bob Moore. Now until December 13, Lucky Circle Card holders will earn entries for the chance at a new car just in time for Christmas.

 

Holidays are a special time for family fun, shopping, dining and entertainment. Oklahoma City’s cultural districts truly offer something for all ages. Oklahomans interested in the betterment of their area should make the effort to get out and explore these unique neighborhoods full of local businesses – keeping shopping local and supporting Oklahoma-owned and operated businesses will help sustain Oklahoma’s economy and support local jobs.

New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

By David Althouse

 

Oklahomans have flocked to New Mexico for decades. Whether for the starlit

skies, draping blue mountains and mesas, the sweet scent of sage after

an afternoon mountain rain, or skiing in the winter, Oklahomans

find reasons to vacation in the Land of Enchantment.

 

But the region of New Mexico that seems to see the most Oklahoma license plates is the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, an area encompassing the towns of Taos, Questa, Red River, Elizabethtown and Eagle Nest.

 

For anyone wanting to drown themselves in the history and romance of the American West, New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle offers a rich and rollicking first start. Fact is, if you make the first step by paying a visit, this veritable land of enchantment will more than likely pull you in for the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the Enchanted Circle is an 80-mile-long, high mountain route through New Mexico’s Carson National Forest, offering some of the most scenic and rugged country in the American Southwest.

 

Taos, brightly colored with hollyhocks and warm adobes, is located at the southwestern edge of the Enchanted Circle on New Mexico Highway 522, and is a spectacular place to begin your adventure. Originally referred to as Don Fernando de Taos, after Captain Don Fernando de Chavez, Taos is one of the oldest burgs in the United States. At 6,952 feet above sea level, in an embayment of those blue Sangre de Cristo peaks, Taos was first historically noted by Spaniards on Coronado’s expedition of 1540.

 

What those early Spaniards saw were multi-storied pueblos inhabited by the early Taos people, Native Americans who spoke the Tigua language, a relative of the Shoshonean linguistic family. Almost certainly, the burg was there long before the Spaniards found it, serving as a trading center for the natives of Taos Pueblo who traded with Comanches, Apaches, Utes, Navajos and even Pawnees.

 

Luckily for tourists, the Taos Indian Pueblo, located three miles north of Taos, is still being used as a residence today. Parking and entrance fees are used to operate tribal government as well as fund community events. To take photographs while at the Pueblo, permission from the office of Pueblo governor must be obtained.

 

From 1815 to 1837, Taos was a favorite wintertime destination of America’s storied mountain men. From across the west, mountain men would rendezvous in this sleepy burg, selling their pelts, buying supplies for their next foray into the high country, socializing with mysterious Mexican ladies, and guzzling “Taos Lightening” to help lift their spirits. These mountain men were some of America’s most famous loners, adventurers and frontiersmen, and their names evoke a feeling of freedom and

wanderlust to this day – “Old Bill” Williams, Uncle Dick Wootton, Pegleg Smith, Jim Beckwourth, Jedediah Smith, Jim Baker and Kit Carson.

 

Speaking of Kit Carson, the mountain man loved Taos so much that he decided to make it his permanent home. His residence can still be visited in Taos. The Kit Carson Home and Museum sits east of Taos Plaza on Kit Carson Road, within easy walking distance from the Plaza.

 

You won’t have to be in town long to realize that Taos is a veritable mecca of Southwestern culture, teeming with art galleries, museums and eclectic gift shops. And just because you’re on a journey to explore the entire Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico, don’t be in a big hurry to leave Taos. There’s enough going on here to keep you busy for a week or more – and perhaps even for a lifetime if you, like Kit Carson, decide to stay even longer.

 

If you’re a skier and find yourself in Taos during ski season, then pay a visit to nearby Taos Ski Valley, which hosts an array of lodges, restaurants and plenty of snow.

 

Take State Highway 522 north out of Taos and make the short drive to Questa. On this drive, you will be leaving the sagebrush flats surrounding Taos and entering the high country. As you make the drive north, you gain a bird’s-eye view of the sleepy mesas and distant peaks to the west. At first, you’re amid the great forests of the short pinion pine trees, and then, very soon, you’re among the tall pines, a sure sign you’re gaining altitude.

 

It wasn’t always Questa. Originally, the small town was known as Antonio del Rio Colorado, or St. Anthony of the Red River. In the 1860s, a postmaster took it upon himself to change the name. Perhaps he thought the name was too long and changed it for the sake of efficiency. Regardless, the city is now known as Questa, the Spanish word for large hill or cliff.

 

Two attractions stand out in the Questa area. The first is Cabresto Lake, a perfect place for canoeing, kayaking, hiking, camping and picnicking. Fishermen take heart – Cabresto Lake is also filled with delicious brook trout. Drive about a mile east of Questa on State Highway 38 and you will see the sign directing you to the lake, located off a well-maintained dirt road.

 

A little further east on State Highway 38, you will see a sign directing you to the Columbine Trail. Your eyes will have a lot to absorb along this trail: steep, rugged cliffs, aspen trees in abundance, butterflies enjoying the moisture from Columbine Creek, and wild mountain flowers galore. The trail is considered by hikers to be an easy to moderate hike.

 

Hugging Columbine Creek most all of the way, the Columbine Trail takes you in a southerly direction for 13 miles, ending up at Twining in the Taos Ski Valley.

 

Heading east on State Highway 38 again – destination Red River, which sits at 8,750 feet above sea level, enjoying summertime highs of 75 degrees and nightly summertime lows in the 40s or even high 30s. Be sure to pack a sweater or jacket for the trip.

 

Red River was founded by a rough-and-tumble lot in 1895 as a gold mining camp, and boasted of such mines as the Golden Treasure, Jay Hawk and Black Copper. The community’s salty crowd socialized in any number of wild and woolly saloons and brothels that were established soon after gold was discovered in the area.

 

Although the many mines have since played out, this is not the case with down-home western hospitality. As you cruise Main Street, you’ll see more than a half dozen lodges and cabins, a variety of gift shops, and catch the wafting aromas from such restaurants as The Lodge at River, the Sundance Restaurant and Capo’s Corner.

 

Upon arriving in Red River, you may want to take the ski lift up to the top of Black Mountain. When you reach the top, you’re at 10,350 feet above sea level. There, you’re afforded an outstanding view not only of Red River below, but also of the magnificent tops of the surrounding peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – an aerial view of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful country in the American Southwest.

 

Foe skiers, Red River offers a full-service ski area with lessons, rentals and lift tickets, all conveniently located in town.

 

There’s plenty to keep you busy in Red River. Whether you’re fishing, hiking, skiing, camping in the surrounding mountains, shopping at one of the many area gift shops, or eating good food at a restaurant on Main Street, it will be time well spent in this high-mountain, old west atmosphere.

 

Now ask the kids if they want to go to a ghost town – you knew their answer before you asked the question! So, get back on State Highway 38, the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, and head east over Bobcat Pass to the old west haunt of Elizabethtown.

 

Not much still stands in present-day Elizabethtown, but the remaining stone walls, foundations and timber pilings tell stories of a once-thriving gold rush town in the wild and raucous American West.

 

Just like Red River, its neighbor to the northwest, Elizabethtown traces its beginnings to the gold rush days of the last half of the 1800s. Beginning in the mid-1860s, Elizabethtown boomed into a genuine frontier gold mining camp complete with stores, saloons, hotels and dance halls. Throw in crusty miners, desperate criminals, con artists and shady ladies, and you get the colorful and lusty burg of Elizabethtown, or E-Town, as the locale was often referred to.

 

After having extracted the available gold from nearly every gulch and stream in the E-Town region by the 1870s, miners began to look for opportunities elsewhere on the frontier.

 

Before the glory days were over, the people of Elizabethtown had a story to tell. They had been bedazzled by the yellow ore dug from beneath their feet; they had enjoyed the foot stomping of Saturday night dances; and they had heard the roar of gunfire from notorious outlaws like Clay Allison and Black Jack Ketchum.

 

The best way to try to experience the sights, sounds and smells of what was once Elizabethtown is to stand where the town once stood. Stand near the rock-walled frame of what was once Remburg’s Store and listen to the story told on the wind, the same wind that blows through the store’s now open windows, across the creeks and gulches, and up and over the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

 

Cap off your tour of the Enchanted Circle in Eagle Nest, a quaint high mountain village located a few miles south of Elizabethtown. Eagle Nest sits at 8,382 feet above sea level, nestled between the two highest peaks in New Mexico – Baldy Mountain at 12,441 feet and Wheeler Peak at 13,161. A newly renovated main street offers numerous restaurants, gift shops and saloons, with year-round lodging available.

 

One of the main summertime attractions is Eagle Nest Lake. Covering 2,200 surface acres, the lake offers skiing, fishing and boating. Fishermen flock from far and wide to catch the lake’s abundant trout. The city of Eagle Nest has also been known to offer a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks display over the lake’s reflective water.

 

There is no better place than the quiet and solitude of Eagle Nest for reflection on one’s tour of the Enchanted Circle, for the village is free from the congestion and noise of larger towns. The only congestion you might find is near one of the local hiking trails, where there are an abundance of trophy elk, deer, mountain lions, mountain cats, bear, beaver, chipmunks and turkey, and even the occasional golden and bald eagle.

 

Once you have toured this cool, high mountain land of Native New Mexicans, mountain men, miners, cowboys, outlaws and adventurers, you will certainly know that northern New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway is aptly named.

 

And you’ll understand how generation after generation of Oklahomans became hooked on New Mexico for a lifetime.

For more information about New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, visit www.newmexico.org.

Your Weekend “Eureka” is Just a Short Drive Away

By Judy Brotton

Our readers have suggested we travel outside Oklahoma’s borders and write about one of their favorite weekend getaway locations – Eureka Springs, Arkansas. According to Mike Bishop, president of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, Oklahomans number second only to local visitors in this scenic Ozark Mountain town.

 

“The City That Water Built”

 

Eureka SpringsFor hundreds of years, Native Americans had believed in the healing powers of the many springs in the valley of present-day Eureka Springs – once thought to be the site of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. As invalids and health seekers flocked to the area, a town grew up around the 63 live springs. Hundreds of wooden structures dotted the hillsides, from small cottages and boarding houses to fine hotels. A festive atmosphere prevailed, as music played in Basin Spring Park and visitors hiked from spring to spring, walking stick and tin cup in hand, to “take of the waters.”

 

Fire was the greatest danger. Three “Great Fires” in the late 1800s destroyed most of the early wooden buildings, so brick and native limestone were used to rebuild. By the turn of the century, Eureka Springs had the third largest population in Arkansas – the city had a railroad, electricity and the springs. Peaking in 1905, the time of healing waters had all but ended by 1910.

 

Today, Eureka Springs is a terrific destination for all types of vacationers. For water sport enthusiasts, there are Beaver Lake’s 500 miles of shoreline and 30,000 acres of crystal-clear water. Table Rock Lake winds down from Branson; Kings River and the White River border the city. Lake Leatherwood City Park, the fifth largest city recreation area in the United States, has 85 acres of spring-fed water surrounded by 1,600 acres of Ozark Mountain countryside.

 

Eureka GazeboLodgings abound, from old-fashioned motor courts and historic hotels to modern motels, secluded cabins, safari-like tree houses and scores of cozy B&B inns.

Distinctly Oklahoma enjoyed the comforts of The Heartstone Inn, a B&B located on the downtown Historic Loop. Owners Rick and Cheri Rojek purchased the 1903 Victorian home a dozen years ago after corporate careers, opting for a quieter life in Eureka Springs. Rick prepares a gourmet breakfast for guests each morning, while Cheri bakes breakfast treats, plus sinful brownies and cookies for afternoon snacks. In fact, recipes from their wonderful kitchen appear in this issue of Distinctly Oklahoma.

 

 

 

The Grand Tour

First time visitors will want to explore the entire Historic Loop. Although Eureka Springs was and still is a walking town, for those with walking issues, the Eureka Springs Trolley runs every 15-20 minutes.

 

Another option is a Eureka Van Tour, hosted by Michelle McDonald in the guise of “Savilatea Grace deChorum,” offering stops at many of the sights and a detailed history of the area, including stories involving some of the town’s most notorious characters and incidents.

 

 

Food, Glorious Food!

 

Chicken Fried Steak With BBQ and VegOld Main Street, bordered by Leatherwood Creek, was lower in elevation than Spring Street and prone to frequent flooding, prompting the nickname “Mud Street.” When the town was rebuilt after the Great Fires, Main Street was raised to the second-story level of buildings, turning ground floors into basements. The “Downtown-n-Underground” tour takes you through many buildings with doors and windows that were once aboveground.

 

Mud Street Café is one such “underground” location. Upon entering the front door, one immediately walks down a flight of stairs to what was once the ground floor. Known for their award-winning breakfast and lunch menu, the eatery offers freshly baked scones, muffins and espresso service, with menu choices that include Breakfast Croissants, Mexican and Greek Omelets, Veggie Hash Browns or Grits and Mud Muffins.

 

In the heart of historic downtown sits Local Flavor Café, a favorite of locals and visitors for the past decade for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and Sunday brunch. Chef-owned and operated by sixth-generation Eureka Springs native Britt Evans, the café is an eclectic mix of fine wines and half-pound burgers, Fish Tacos and Jamaican Jerk Prime Rib. Their various menus include Gingerbread Waffles, Prime Rib & Eggs, Baked Brie, Pear Pistou salad, Crab Cakes, regular or Turkey Reuben and a dessert Cheese Plate.

 

Located in The Quarter is Lovin’ Oven Bakeria, described as a “bakery that married a Pizzeria.” This great little place serves fabulous from-scratch pizzas – whole, by the slice, New York-style or deep-dish Chicago-style. There are also appetizers, soups, salads and, of course, desserts in the “Bakeria” – muffins, scones, brownies, cookies, cinnamon rolls and fruity streusel bars.

 

Chef James DeVito opened the highly acclaimed DeVito’s of Eureka Springs in 1988 for fine Italian cuisine. James daily prepares the fresh pastas, sauces and Italian bread, while his wife, Teresa Pellicio, often bartends and acts as hostess. Long-time headwaiter Howard Aleshire explains that trout is the signature dish, harking back to the 1950s when DeVito’s grandfather, Albert Raney, started his first local trout farm. The menu includes the house specialty, Trout Italiano – boneless, butterflied trout sautéed in olive oil and garlic – plus entrées like Chicken Bolognese, Pork Loin Capperi, Veal Piccata; Eggplant, Chicken or Trout Parmesan; New York Strip, Chargrilled or Lemon Trout, and Filet Mignon.

 

 

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh Yes!

 

KittyA tour of the 400-acre Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge brings one just three feet (and two fences) away from lions, tigers, ligers (a hybrid cross between a male lion and tigress, existing only in captivity), cougars, leopards and bears. Some were rescued from troubled zoos, but most from private owners who purchased cubs as exotic pets and relinquished them as adults. Animals are kept in cages when first rescued; larger natural habitats are built for them over time.

Visitors are encouraged to attend the daily 5 p.m. feeding of some 1,000 pounds of chicken, donated by Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart. Staff Zoologist Laurie Vanderwal and the rest of the TCWR staff are on hand to guide tours.

 

A Mecca for Artists and Art Lovers Alike

 

A legacy of Alice Walton, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will open near Wal-Mart’s home base in Bentonville, Arkansas on November 11. The museum will house Walton’s vast collection of American art from the Colonial era to the present, concentrating on the 19th and 20th centuries

Eureka Springs is home to more than 20 galleries and over 200 working artists. The nationally recognized Eureka Springs School of the Arts recently celebrated its lucky 13th anniversary, and attracts over 600 students and 50 instructors from around the United States and several foreign countries. Classes are offered in every medium imaginable – painting, lampworking, bookmaking, pottery, metalsmithing, glassworking, basketry and more. Roger Muterspaugh, CEO of ESSA, has already implemented growth, with several new studios on the 40-acre facility and plans for a residential facility for students and instructors in future.

 

A Night at the Opera

 

At nearby Inspiration Point, behind a bright blue cinderblock wall, nestles the Opera in the Ozarks – home to a 60-year tradition of preparing young high school and college graduates for a career in opera, while offering audiences the experience of professional-quality live performances. The students, national and international, study and practice during the four-week summer workshop, then present three operas during the next month. Oklahoma’s own Leona Mitchell spent a summer here.

 

A Woodland Sanctuary

 

ChapelThorncrown Chapel is the vision of Jim Reed, a former schoolteacher from southern California. Designed in the Organic Prairie style by E. Fay Jones, disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, over five million visitors have passed through this place of inspiration since it opened in July 1980. Jones later designed the nearby Worship Center, which holds up to 350 guests for larger weddings and seminars.

Although Jim Reed passed away in 1985, his wife, Dell, 81, still works at the chapel, while their son, Doug, is the pastor of this “traveling ministry.”

Patricia Taylor, Thorncrown’s Minister of Music for the past 28 years, plays piano and sings during the 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday services … an inspirational experience in the chapel designed to blend with nature. Jim Reed succeeded in his vision of creating an uplifting place for weary travelers.

 

A Mansion Fit For a Queen

In 1891, Curtis Wright originally built the beautiful Queen Anne Mansion in Carthage, Mo. for his wife and eight children. Almost a century later, the home was purchased by Ron and Mary Lou Evans for $160,000, dismantled piece by piece and moved to its present location in Eureka Springs. Each stone was numbered, and the house was sawed into pieces fitting onto 40 flatbed trucks. It took a year to dismantle and rebuild, at a cost of  $500,000.

 

The 12,000-square-foot home was purchased in 2005 by current owners Steve and Lata Lovell, who began a major restoration project and finally opened the mansion as a museum in May 2010, offering a glimpse of genteel elegance and wealthy life in a bygone era.

 

 

On Top of Crescent Mountain

 

In 2011, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa celebrated its 125th anniversary. Sitting amid 27 acres of woods, hiking and walking trails, the beautifully landscaped gardens are lush with flowers and butterflies in spring and summer months. Martin and Elise Roenigk purchased the hotel in 1997, beginning “The Rebirth of a Legend” into what is today a mountaintop spa resort on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Known for “guests who checked out but never left,” the Crescent, called “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” hosts nightly ghost tours for paranormal enthusiasts. Learn about more than a dozen ghosts, including Michael, the strapping Irish stonemason, and the “ghost in the morgue.”

 

Originally built as a resort hotel, from 1908 to 1932 the Crescent College & Conservatory was founded to educate young women during the hotel’s off-season; it closed to guests in 1937 when “Dr.” Norman Baker purchased the “Castle in the Air” and operated it as Dr. Baker’s Cancer Curing Hospital. A morgue in the basement came in handy since rumor had it he “killed more patients than he cured.”

 

Visitors can enjoy the “leisurely art of dining” at The Crystal Dining Room, where meals consist of five full courses: soup, salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert; but first, a cheese tray with garlicky crostini, three types of cheese, pesto and two varieties of smoked olive oil for dipping. Maitre d’ Ryan Muniz recommended the Signature Crescent Strawberry Soup and the Crab Lorenzo appetizer, first served at the Crescent Hotel’s grand opening.

 

Entrées include Pecan Salmon, a Crescent classic for over a decade, and 10-spice Beef Tenderloin Filet, seasoned with their award-winning spice rub. Their “Farm to Table” and “Pasture to Plate” concept ensures all-natural, organic and antibiotic-free produce and meats, from local farmers and vendors.

 

 

 

Not to be Missed

Citizen’s Bank, site of the Great Bank Robbery of 1922, which marked the first automobile used in a bank heist;

The Great Passion Play, featuring over 250 actors and live animals;

The many Eureka Springs oddities named in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”

 

Unfortunately, the weekend is over, but there are many more sights to see. You’ll just have to plan another trip to Eureka Springs.

 

 

For information:

www.eurekasprings.org for calendar of upcoming events, complete restaurant menus, plus a list of all local lodgings and sights mentioned.

www.eurekaspringsthenandnow.org for a complete history of Eureka Springs.

 

 

Oklahoma’s Illinois River – Peaceful, Easy and Safe

By Barbie Elder

 

There may be no Oklahoma experience to match it – a float trip down the Illinois River brings to mind all the sublime sensations Mother Nature has to offer – from one’s first blissful cool-down in the water and the reassuring smells of the verdant shoreline to an almost otherworldly silence that obliterates the cars, highways and civilization that are far beyond the next horizon.

 

This activity is about more than the recreation. For families, it’s quality time while forgetting the daily grindstone; for friends and groups, it’s about the adventure, pulling together to reach a goal; and for those who are, well, more than friends, it’s Oklahoma at its most romantic.

 

Illinois River RaftingLocated near Tahlequah, this Class II River offers easy float trips for all ages – there are several options for the length and type of craft perfect for any individual or group. Actually, the river offers over 60 miles of clear water rippling over flint rock and is said to be the best canoe stream in the state, with interesting and sometimes challenging waters. Its banks are comprised of high bluffs, gravel bars and lush forests.

 

Wildlife is abundant along the Illinois River and includes deer, fox, bobcats and a wide variety of birds.

 

In 1977, the Oklahoma Legislature created the Oklahoma Scenic River Commission, which recognized that some of the free-flowing streams and rivers possess such unique natural scenic beauty, water conservation, fish, wildlife and outdoor recreational values of present and future benefit to the people of the state. In the words of the legislation, “It is the policy of the Legislature to preserve these areas for the benefit of the people of Oklahoma. For this purpose there are hereby designated certain ‘scenic river areas’ to be preserved as a part of Oklahoma’s diminishing resource of free-flowing rivers and streams.”

 

Several canoe outfitters are available along State Highway 10, which runs along the river.  Most offer canoes, one- and two-man kayaks, and large rafts. Depending on skill level and ages, the outfitter can determine the best mode of traveling down the river. Outfitters offer 6-mile canoe and kayak trips, usually lasting for two to three hours, and 13-mile trips, which take from three to five hours. If one opts for a raft, the 6-mile trip will take anywhere from three to five hours, and the 13-mile trip will take four to six hours. Some of the outfitters even offer overnight trips.

Rafting the Illinois

Rafting is a popular option for families, as they are much more stable and can hold more floaters. Nearly impossible to tip over, rafts are more difficult to maneuver.

Experienced floaters will probably prefer the canoe or kayak, which travel faster and maneuver better than rafts. They are also more prone to tipping over, so should floaters decide on a canoe or kayaks, they should be over the age of ten and must be able to swim.

 

 

To start the adventure, livery drivers shuttle floaters up the river and do all of the heavy lifting to get the float trip underway.

 

What to Bring

Floaters should bring plenty of water or hydrating drinks along on the trip, especially in extreme temperatures. Styrofoam and glass are prohibited on the river, so stock up on recyclable cans and plastic bottles. Of course, make sure you have plenty of sunscreen, and reapply often. Sunglasses and hats are a must, and outfitters recommend you wear shorts, a T-shirt and water shoes.

 

What Not to Bring

Valuables should be kept in a zip-lock bag or, preferably, left at home (do not leave any valuables in your car). Some outfitters will hold car keys and other personal belongings.

 

Outfitters

Many float trip outfitters also offer camping, cabins or motels as well as amenities such as swimming pools, volleyball and basketball courts and picnic areas. Outfitters have Internet websites with detailed information and photos to help select the perfect floating experience.

 

Along the river, one can find All American Float Trips, which offers a water slide seven stories high into the river, as well as an 18-hole miniature golf course.

 

Diamondhead and Arrowhead Float trips have been in business along the river for many years, and are known for their customer service and well-trained staff.

 

War Eagle offers five trips, including one overnight, as well as a game room and a water slide for kids of all ages to enjoy.

 

A staple along the river for over 40 years, Peyton’s Place offers camping cabins and a bunkhouse.

 

Tubing the IllinoisSparrow Hawk Camp offers inner tubes which, while slow and difficult to maneuver, provide the coolest trip as floaters are actually in the water. The livery recommends this manner of transportation for short trips, since the tubes will only go as fast as the current.

 

Consider this – the Illinois River contributes some $12-14 million annually to the local economy each year.

 

SAFETY

And while this communion with all things magnificent can be as safe as riding a bicycle, this past summer has seen a three-year stretch with no misfortune turn into five fatalities from Memorial Day to mid-July.

 

According to Ed Fite, executive director of the Scenic Rivers Commission, these tragedies are painfully avoidable.

 

“What is especially tragic about this latest bout of incidents is that Oklahomans, who usually have great heads on their shoulders, seem to have lost pure common sense when on the river,” he said. “The Scenic Rivers Commission has always told floaters that even simple precautions can make all the difference in the world when it comes to safety.”

 

The Importance of a Life JacketFirst and foremost, according to Fite, is the wearing of a life jacket.

 

“These days, there are all kinds of floatation devices that can fit any body style, any age or any gender,” he said. “One might think they are the best swimmer in the world, but when a current is too strong or someone falls into a water hole, a life jacket is usually the difference between life and death.”

 

Exacerbating the danger on the river, according to Fite, is the abuse of alcohol by floaters wishing to bring their own brand of party to the water.

 

“There are few public situations where an over-indulgence of alcohol is appropriate,” he said. “However, when combined with water recreation, there is absolutely no place for it at all. This is not a moral declaration – it is a truism that has contributed to too many funerals.”

 

Another river danger, according to Fite is over-exaggerated horseplay.

 

“We see on commercials and other television programs and films young people throwing each other in the water, jumping off cliffs, etc,” he said. “Without completely testing the water situation, people who participate in this type of behavior are flirting with danger at a very high level.”

 

Canoeing the IllinoisWith tensions rising on the river currently as a result of these recent devastations, Fite wants to remind potential floaters that by following all posted guidelines and employing smart thinking, a float trip down the Illinois can be an experience not easily duplicated in the state of Oklahoma.

 

“Water recreation in our part of the state offers a staggering opportunity to commune with nature, while also enjoying fellowship and fun not soon to be forgotten,” he said.  “Don’t forget – this is Oklahoma recreation at its finest, and a wholesome, inexpensive experience for the whole family.”

 

Chillaxin’ at Oklahoma Lakes

By Barbie Elder

 

Are the unseasonably hot temperatures giving you cabin fever? Are you lingering in front of the frozen food aisles at the grocery store? Do you yearn for the cool mist of water on your face? Oklahoma is fortunate to have so many lakes for recreation. Whether you long to jump waves with a jet ski, enjoy a leisurely ride on a pontoon boat, swim on a beach or cruise around on a paddle boat, Oklahoma lakes are full of locations offering boat rentals, sandy beaches, nature centers and even helicopter tours.

 

Reach For The SkyLongtime Oklahoma City resident Ginny Goresen, now living in Texas, has enjoyed many of the Sooner State’s refreshing waters. “When my children were old enough, we purchased a boat and began traveling to different lakes around the state each summer. They are all great places, and each offers different scenery, things to do and places to see.” Ginny and her family finally settled at Grand Lake in a cabin on the main lake. “Even after we moved to Houston for my husband’s job, we kept the cabin. It’s such a great escape for us to relax and spend time with our family and friends. The 4th of July holiday is spectacular there, and we have views of all the fireworks around the lake from our patio.” Ginny added that they enjoy the lake year-round, but of course, summertime is the best.

 

Here are some suggestions for you and your family to escape the heat, and have some fun just a few hours from your doorstep.

 

Head south on I-35 to the heart of the Arbuckle Mountains. Just east of the interstate, in Sulphur, enter an oasis known as the Chickasha National Recreation Area. Little Niagara is a refreshing waterfall often described as “frigid” even in the hottest of weather. Adults and older children enjoy leaping from the rocks making up the falls into the beautiful natural pool of water. The area is lush with foliage, with picnic tables along the stream. The nearby Travertine Nature Center offers special activities, exhibits, dioramas, an interactive learning area, and live fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds of prey from the area.

 

Find beautiful vacation cabin rentals at the Lake of the Arbuckles and Veterans Lake. Premiere Lake Property represents private cabin owners offering vacation rentals, and does a wonderful job of customizing your getaway – from rustic and cozy to tasteful and romantic. Arbuckle Boat Rentals offers pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks and tubes.

 

Turner Falls has long been known as a must-see destination in Oklahoma. In recent years, the Arbuckle area has expanded the amentities and includes horseback and ATV trail-riding adventures. Don’t forget Arbuckle Wilderness, the new Chickasaw Cultural Center and, of course, Bedré Chocolates.

 

Lake Murray Sunset

Seen Above: Sunset At Lake Murray

Just a few miles south on I-35, Lake Murray is spring-fed and one of the clearest lakes in the state. Home to Oklahoma’s oldest state park, Lake Murray Water Sports and Mini Golf offers plenty of water entertainment, including paddle boats, canoes and kayaks, sailboats and water bikes for rent. The park also offers a fun water trampoline and slide, plus a challenging miniature golf course.

 

A sandy beach with roped off swimming area is fun for all ages, as well as being dog friendly. For the more skilled adventurer, Lake Murray is a popular scuba destination because of the clarity of the water. Also, explore Tucker Tower Nature Center, built in 1933 by the WPA and designed to be a governor’s retreat. The medieval-style fortress looms over the lake, with displays that include part of one of the largest meteorites of its type ever discovered, fossils, wildlife exhibits and other artifacts.

 

Lake Murray offers a resort, cabins and camping. Lake Murray Bed and Berth has floating villas that accommodate anywhere from 4 to 18 people, while nearby Ardmore offers many well-known chain accommodations.

 

Lake Texoma is a water playground for both Oklahomans and Texans alike. Whether you choose to swim, rent a boat or take a cruise, there are plenty of options from which to choose. Texoma is known for its islands and private coves, great for swimming.

Grandpappy Marina, Cedar Mills and Highport Marinas offer personal watercraft, pontoons and ski boat rentals. At Catfish Bay Marina, you can rent houseboats, pontoons, paddle boats and canoes. Lighthouse Resort and Marina rents wave runners, catamarans, a party barge and fishing pontoon boats.

 

There are many vacation homes and cabins in the area to rent, some with outdoor decks, barbecues and swimming beaches, and can sleep anywhere from two to a large crowd. The official lake association site, www.laketexomaonline.com, offers a comprehensive list of lodging facilities as well as other information about the area. Another great resource, Vacation Rentals By Owner at www.vrbo.com, offers online booking and plenty of photos to view before you rent. From the very basic cabin to high-end luxury, this site helps you find the best accommodation for you and your family.

 

Lake EufalaHeading east on I-40 takes you to Lake Eufaula. Known as the “gentle giant,” Lake Eufaula is the 15th largest lake in the United States. You have to travel off the interstate to find the beauty in Oklahoma’s largest lake.

 

Jellystone Park Camp and Resort is a new development on the lake, and is a wonderful family destination. Yogi Bear and his friend, Boo Boo, welcome you to the park, offering two swimming beaches, paddle boats and canoes, miniature golf, a fishing pier, shuffleboard, horseshoe pit, basketball and volleyball, swimming pool, and a restaurant with a lake-view patio. There is also an indoor and an outdoor theater, and a fire truck that takes the kids for rides. Cabins sleep up to six people, and feature flat-screen TV with cable, WiFi and kitchens.

 

Lake Eufaula State Park offers a nice swimming beach area and a new nature center. Cole’s Evergreen Marina offers pontoon and houseboat rentals, while Eufaula Cove Marina rents pontoons and ski boats.

 

Lake Eufaula Bed and Breakfast has quickly become a favorite destination for couples and families alike. This beautiful home has five bedrooms, each with a private bath. The Family Suite has a king-size bed for the parents and two sets of bunk beds in an adjoining room. Elaborate gardens lead out to a sandy beach along the lake.

 

Check out upcoming concerts at Eufaula Cove Amphitheater. Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown, featuring Willie along with several of his friends, will kick off the Independence Day festivities. Plumb Theatre, home of the Longtown Opry, is a family-friendly music venue with gospel shows on Fridays, and country music each Saturday night.

 

East on I-40 and north on US 82 leads you into the foothills of the Ozarks and the clear waters of Lake Tenkiller. The State Park offers several amenities, including a swimming pool, swim beach, scuba dive park, nature center, paved hiking trail, bicycle rentals, playground, kids’ fishing pond, marina, restaurant and recreational programs.

 

Aqua Cycles and Funyaks can be rented at Burnt Cabin Marina and Resort, as well as pontoon boats. Or rent their new lakeside cabins, each with a large deck. Cookson Bend Resort and Marina rents one-, two- and three-bedroom cabins with kitchens and patios with grills; pontoon and ski boats are available, and picnic tables are located within the resort complex. Sixshooter Resort and Marina cabins have direct access to the lake, and have pontoon boat rentals. The floating Skipper’s Restaurant is casual and family-friendly, offering indoor and outdoor seating, where kids love sharing their French fries with the catfish.

 

Tenkiller is a popular destination for divers in Oklahoma and surrounding states. Rock cliffs and rolling hills that surround the area can also be found underwater. Equipment rental is available, and there are dive instructors at the lake to gain certification. Divers can see relics of an old western town that was flooded – buggies, roads, homesteads and farm equipment can be seen in the clear water, along with an old jailhouse, wagon wheels, jewelry and arrowheads. These are protected by state law, so look, but don’t touch!

 

Traveling northeast from the Oklahoma City metro area is Keystone Lake. The sandy shoreline at Walnut Creek State Park is ideal for swimmers and water enthusiasts, and swim beaches are located in the Tall Grass Cove and Frontier campgrounds. Feyodi Creek has paddleboat rentals, and Keystone State Park has cabins, bike rentals and a playground. Pier 51 Marina rents pontoon and ski boats, as well as wakeboards, water skis and tubes.

 

Grand Lake, Northeastern OklahomaContinue northeast to Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, Oklahoma’s most developed lake area. Bernice State Park offers a new nature center, swimming beach, picnic area and playground. Cherokee State Park, near Disney, has a swimming beach and picnic area. Historic Pensacola Dam is located nearby, and offers free daily tours in the summer.

Shangri La Marina is home to the popular Island Joe’s Kentena, an open-air club and restaurant featuring lunch, dinner, full bar service and live entertainment on weekends. It is also host to Sail Grand, offering boat and personal watercraft rentals, water trampoline for the kids, parasailing and yacht charter services.

 

Cruise the lake on the Cherokee Queen, a paddlewheel riverboat. The twin-decked, 67-foot Cherokee Queen I has been one of Grand Lake’s most popular attractions, and her sister ship, the Cherokee Queen II, boasts three decks and two dance floors. Both ships offer air conditioning and are reminiscent of Mississippi riverboats. Cruises glide past Monkey Island, Har-Ber Village, lakeside scenery and beautiful homes along Grand Lake. Take an afternoon cruise Wednesday through Sunday, or evening dinner cruises available Fridays and Saturdays.

 

One of Grand Lake’s newest attractions is Island Copters, offering 10- and 20-minute or custom tours on select summer weekends. H2O Sports Rental at Honey Creek offers jet skis, pontoon boats, paddle boats, runabouts and ski boats, tubes, skis and wakeboards.

 

There are so many options for places to stay, from cabins, motels, hotels and condominiums to vacation homes and bed and breakfasts around the lake. Visit www.grandlakefun.com for a comprehensive listing, with web links for more information.

 

Oklahoma is fortunate to have so many great destination lakes from which to choose. Instead of spending your summer vacation money on airfare and baggage fees, try taking your family to one of our terrific lakes and rent a boat, relax, swim on the sandy beaches, or try scuba diving. It’s amazing that we have all of these options right here in our own backyard.