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From pristine mountain streams and piney forests to peaceful lakes and sandy beaches, Oklahoma's 51 state parks and numerous wildlife refuges and recreation areas offer up a wealth of outdoor adventure. With 12 distinct ecosystems, landscapes range from mesas and sand dunes in the Southwest to wetlands and waterfalls in the Southeast, with mountains, unexplored wilderness and prairies in between.
The fabled "Main Street of America" (Route 66) crosses Oklahoma for 392-plus miles (and in fact was born here; the road's architect, Cyrus Avery, lived in Tulsa). Route 66 enthusiasts will tell you there's no better place to cruise--travelers find neon-lit diners, drive-in theaters, mom-and-pop gas stations and many of the famed Route 66 icons within Oklahoma's borders. The state also is home to the National Route 66 museum and a state Route 66 Museum.
More than five million artifacts-including the largest apatosaurus skeleton ever unearthed and the Cooper skull, the oldest painted object in the New World- are housed at the newly-opened Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman. Part of the University of Oklahoma, the museum is the largest university-based museum of natural history in the world, and contains the most extensive collection of prehistoric artifacts outside the Smithsonian.
Dedicated April 19, 2000, five years after the tragic bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, visitors can now pay their respects at the outdoor national park site honoring the 168 victims. Adjacent to the outdoor memorial are the recently completed Oklahoma City National Memorial Center and the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.
Not far from the memorial is Oklahoma City's newly-renovated Bricktown Entertainment District, offering restaurants, shopping, night life, a canal with water taxis, and the Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City Redhawks, a triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers baseball team. New businesses and attractions are in the works.
Guided tours of the newly opened Cheyenne Heritage Trail are now available. Tours include a visit to the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, where Lt. Col. George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry made a surprise attack on the village of Chief Black Kettle, plus related sites and the new Cheyenne Cultural Center. Visitors can stay in an authentic Cheyenne tipi, eat with and hear stories from members of the Cheyenne tribe, and more.
Oklahoma's cowboy and ranching heritage stretches back to the days after the Civil War, when Texas drovers brought cattle north along the Chisholm Trail, stopping here to fatten the herds on lush prairie grass. The culture is still strong. Oklahoma has more horses than any other state, and there's likely to be a cowboy to go with every horse. Visitors can taste cowboy life and campfire coffee at a variety of rodeos, guest ranches, trail rides and chuck wagon feeds.
The state's unique political and cultural history has made for a rich, colorful and outright exuberant heritage that Oklahomans delight in sharing. The state has more than 300 museums and historic sites, ranging from the unique outdoor windmill museum in Shattuck to Apache warrior Geronimo's grave site at Fort Sill, to art-filled treasures like the Gilcrease and Philbrook museums in Tulsa, and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Once known as Indian Territory, Oklahoma is still home to more American Indians than any other state; 39 tribal headquarters and members of at least 67 tribes make their home within its borders. Oklahoma is a place where time-honored traditions, cultural experiences and artistic expressions are components of everyday life. Among the treasures, visitors will find Native American art galleries, historic sites, powwows, dances and festivals, including the largest Native American festival in the world--Red Earth held every June in Oklahoma City.
When dining in Oklahoma it helps to know an inside tip or two. When you order tea, it's likely to be served over ice, even in December. And wood smoke curling into the sky and a parking lot full of pick-up trucks usually means you've come across a barbecue "joint." Expect beef, pork and chicken smoked over hickory or mesquite and served up with white bread, coleslaw and tangy sauce. Oklahoma's official state food is chicken-fried steak: Oklahoma beef, batter-fried and smothered in cream gravy.
Photos and wording courtesy of Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department