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Things To Do In Central Oklahoma
Oklahoma, despite its rich history and patchwork culture, isn't usually included on the list of exciting places to visit. I've often seen people blink when Oklahoma is mentioned, as though they are trying to remember where they have heard that name before.
The central region, with its oil fields, cattle ranches and gently rolling terrain is not as scenic as the Green Country or Kiamichi regions and receives relatively few tourists, except those visiting Oklahoma City.
Certainly, "The City", as we call it, has some pretty cool places to visit. There is the zoo, which is well-renowned for its natural habitat layout and Oklahoma trails exhibit. Historic Bricktown offers some great night-life activities as well as day attractions, such as dining at Zio's Italian Restaurant which overlooks a swan-filled canal.
While you are there, you can check out the unusual Skydance Bridge, inspired by the state bird, the scissortail flycatcher, and the Centennial land-run monument composed of 45 larger than life bronze statues. OKC also has a its share of museums, nightclubs, art galleries, sporting events, and historical sites. Enough to keep you busy for a couple of days.
Don't just limit yourself to what is provided in the state capital though. Surrounding areas have locally famous events, sites, and festivals that can be interesting for the person looking for small town charm, family friendly atmosphere, and culturally rich activities.
Whether you are just passin' through to get to someplace else, visiting Oklahoma for curiosity's sake, returning home after a long stay elsewhere, or just looking to explore other parts of your home state, here are some events to check out in the Central Oklahoma, as well as a few suggestions for unusual places to see in other regions.
Our Sorghum is Delicious
Maybe it is because it is handmade while you watch, Wewoka sorghum seems to taste better. People come from all over the US to buy jars of this rich, brown molasses. You can sample:
- Sorghum suckers
- Sorghum candy
- Sorghum pies
- Baked beans
and many other delicious treats at the festival all made fresh from just-milled sorghum.
Wewoka Sorghum Festival
Nothing is as homespun as sorghum molasses and quilts, both of which are offered in Wewoka, the third Saturday of every October. Visitors to this free festival get to watch the production of Sorghum Molasses, as it is ground by a team of mules on an old-fashioned sorghum mill, cooked in the open, and sold to the masses.
As well as Sorghum, there is a parade, a beauty pageant, a quilt show, art show, live music, an antique tractor show, a classic car show, motorcycle show, stunt riders, and kids activities such as inflatables. Over a hundred vendors stretch from the trading post on the north end of Main street to the Seminole Nation Museum on the south end.These booths sell gifts, novelties and food.
Members of the Seminole Nation give demonstrations on their traditional handcrafting techniques such as quilting, quilling, weaving, and cooking. During the entire day the museum is open for free tours.
Each year the Sorghum Festival has a new theme, but there are some traditional highlights that people have come to expect. For instance, during the parade you can count on the brick plant truck to throw the most candy.
There are always one or two guys on Hustler mowers in the center of the parade that do stunt demonstrations in the street. And of course a demonstration of some of our county's outstanding horsemen and women. Some years there is even a gunfight re-enactment that is pretty realistic.
Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
Held every year in July, in Okemah "WoodyFest" has indoor and outdoor music concerts that draw thousands of attendees. This is another free festival, a stipulation imposed by Woody Guthrie's family.
It is funded by grant's from Oklahoma's Art Council and other donations, including those of the performing artists, who perform for no charge.
Some notable guest musicians have included Jackson Browne, the Kingston Trio, and Country Joe McDonald, as well as many contemporary rock and folk performers, such as Shawn Mullins. Guthrie's sister Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon and other family make frequent appearances.
Be sure to check out the awesome statue of Woody, sculpted by Creek Artist Dan Brook. It is located at the heart of downtown Okemah, on Broadway.
Prague, OK-This is a colorful celebration of Czechoslovakian and other Bohemian customs. Kolache is a fruit-filled dessert, much like fried pies. Every year in May the festival attracts up to 30,000 visitors, and over 50,000 kolaches (kuh-law-chee) are sold and eaten. That is a lot of fruit pies!
After you have eaten your fill of kolache and other ethnic foods, you are welcome to stroll around and take part in the other activities. There are dances, costumes contests, arts and crafts, gymnastics demonstrations, music, a two-hour parade, vendors, and crowning of the kolache royalty. This festival is made for people like me who think that most parades are too short.
While you are in Prague, take a moment to visit St Wenceslaus Catholic Church to see the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague. The statue of Infant Jesus is over four hundred years old, and was brought to Oklahoma in 1947, providing Catholics of Czech descent a chance to make pilgrimages without the dangers of returning to the Old World during a tumultuous time. The shrine is very beautiful and people of all denominations are of course welcome to admire the statue and light a candle for prayers.
Wetumka Sucker Day
Wetumka, OK-This festival isn't just for fun. It includes a life lesson. The first festival was held in 1950 when a travelling salesman scammed the whole town by convincing them they could have their very own circus, only to pocket the money and escape during the night.
Left with a bad taste in their mouths and stockpiles of supplies, the suckers of Wetumka chose to laugh at themselves for their folly, and declared a four day festival to remind themselves that everyone makes mistakes. It was also a great way to use up all the food, decorations and souvenirs bought for Circus day.
This small mishap is now a yearly tradition, held the last Saturday of September, and offers not just a poke at the memory of being swindled. There are vendors, bands, food, a parade, arts and crafts, and antique autos.
Sucker Day is definitely a good example of Oklahoma spirit, humor and optimism. The joke was on Morrison, as the citizens turned a bad investment into a lucrative tourist attraction. I wonder if ol' F.Bam every came back to visit?
Boley Rodeo and BBQ Festival
Established in 1904 as The Black Town of Boley Oklahoma, and later shortened to Boley in 1907, this town is located in Okfuskee County Oklahoma, in the Creek Nation and is steeped in history.
Boley was the largest of the all African-American towns in Oklahoma, and the most prosperous. It featured the first Black bank to receive a National charter and the first Black owned telephone and electric companies. It is one of the friendliest towns in Oklahoma, which is what made it a favorite hideout for bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd, who warned his men to never cause trouble in Boley.
For a long time, the citizens of Boley and Floyd had a good relationship. He was well-known for being generous to the poor. However, one of his henchmen took it upon himself to try to rob the Boley bank during Floyd's absence. He was thwarted, losing his life in the attempt.
The Boley Rodeo and BBQ festival began in 1911. It now draws over 30,000 guests every May. It is a two day event, featuring an all day BBQ, rodeo at night, and parade.
Boo on Bell Street
Do you love Halloween? The citizens of Shawnee Oklahoma do! Every year Shawnee hosts a huge Halloween bash called Boo on Bell Street. It is the ultimate daylight trick-or-treating event.
If you want something more than candy, there are numerous other ways to scare up some fun, including a pet costume contest, car show, carnival, vendors, haunted tours, live entertainment, a variety of contests, a hayride, parade and street dance.
Besides being a safe place for young children to enjoy Halloween, this is event is great because it is run by non-profit organizations. Therefore the money collected from carnival games goes to support charities, and to keep Boo on Bell Street an annual tradition.
Did I mention that Shawnee OK is where Brad Pitt was born? If you have no interest in Halloween, you can always get your picture taken beside the road sign declaring this. But I strongly suggest you check out Bell Street. After all, the sign is there all year, but there is only one day when you can see a dog in a superman suit!
Visit Bell Street for Halloween fun!
If you are part of America's motorcycle culture, or just like admiring bikes, there are plenty of events involving two wheels. From big rallies that attract thousands to small poker runs that raise money for charities, there is no doubt that Oklahomans love their motorcycles.
- Hawg Lakes-Located near Tecumseh, OK, this rally has everything. Live entertainment, games such as "plank ride" and "slow race", vendors, bike shows, and camping. The event spans three days and draws bikers, fans, and curiosity seekers from all over the country. (October 4-7, 2012)
- Seminole County Fallen Heroes Memorial Ride-This charity run was organized to honor the memories of two sheriff's deputies killed in the line of duty, and over the last four years has grown to be a yearly tradition, drawing bikers from all over the Oklahoma, as well as other states, to show support for law enforcement. Starting and ending in Wewoka, where a special park was built to host it, the ride has a number of events such as live music, vendors, tee-shirt tosses, auctions, and door-prizes. (September 8, 2012)
- Sparks America Rally-Considered a major rally, this Bike event runs 24 hours a day for over a week, and benefits numerous charities. Attractions include a burn-out pit, camping, vendors, swimming and bonfires. NOTE: This event is probably advisable for adults only.
- Oklahoma City Motorcycle Show-Motorcycles, vendors, tattoo contest, and roller derby. What else could you want?
Don't want to sound like a tourist? Pronunciation Guide for some unusual Central Oklahoma names:
Weird Things To See
Here are few places in other parts of Oklahoma you might want to consider checking out if you are into the unusual or just want to something to tell the folks back home.
Mt. Olivet Cemetery-Hugo Ok: Hugo was once known as Circus City, the place where several shows wintered. At the right time of year you can still drive by the circus grounds and see a giraffe or the second largest elephant herd in the U.S. But even more interesting is a section of the Mount Olivet cemetery devoted to departed show folk, with uniquely shaped tombstones, such as a ferris wheel.
Sasquatch-Rumor has it that he and his family live in the woods in Honobia OK. (believe it or not, that is pronounced "Hoe-Nubby") Every year, dedicated sasquatch enthusiasts camp in the hills with cameras hoping to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot.
Heavener Runestone-Not only is it interesting to discover a huge bolder covered with viking runes in the middle of Oklahoma, the park built around it is simply beautiful. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.
POPS-In Arcadia, OK, off Route 66, you can visit POPS soda ranch, and slake your thirst from a selection of over 600 different flavors of soda. You won't have any difficulty finding it, just look under the 66 foot illuminated soda bottle sculpture!
Route 66 and Beyond
As you can see, Oklahoma has some strange yet fun stuff going on. Take a trip on Route 66 sometime and check out the roadside attractions. Then take a few side roads and visit the small town festivals and events.
It might not be the state with the biggest parties, but it is full of friendly people and cheap, often free, entertainment. If you are in the market for a budget-friendly vacation trip with something for everyone, Oklahoma may just have what you are looking for.