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Beyond The Plains And Prairie: Blame it on Rodgers & Hammerstein

justin brotton - Saturday, August 01, 2015

By Michael W. Sasser

Oklahoma LandscapeWhen some people – particularly those in other states – think of Oklahoma, the first thing that might come to mind is the lyrics from the classic musical “Oklahoma!” by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Sure, there is romance and charm in those lyrics, and thus they are associated with the Sooner State. However, there is also the image of wind-swept plains, and little else, creating a lasting perception of a flat, homogenous landscape.

Well, there is “Oklahoma!” and then there is Oklahoma. And Oklahoma, the state, is far more varied in terms of its natural environment than flat plains. In fact, Oklahoma has one of the most diverse geographies of any state in the nation, providing residents and visitors opportunities to explore vastly different terrains, topography and eco-systems – often within just hours of one another.

"People say, 'Why see Oklahoma, it's all flat,' but that's not true," said Keli Clark, marketing coordinator for Oklahoma State Parks. "Consider Western Oklahoma, for example, one of my favorite parts of the state. There are mesas, canyons, dunes, salt flats, caverns ... far more than flat plains. In the southeast, there are swamplands. Hey, there are alligators down there! We have rocky and mountainous regions that are beautiful as well.

"In fact," Clark continued, "Oklahoma has 11 different eco-regions. Only California has more."

Given that Oklahoma also has more water-fronting property than any other state due to the massive number of rivers, streams and lakes, the image of a dry, flat, continuous topography comes across more like myth than reality.

"There is so much diversity that when you explore it, you get a whole different idea of what the state is about," Clark said.

Oklahoma's geo-diversity is a function of the basic geology of the region, according to Brad Bays, associate professor of Geography at Oklahoma State University.

"We are at the transition point between the Great Plains and the Ozark/Ouachita Mountain regions, which are the western extension of the interior highlands," Bays said. "The two mountain regions are the primary regions of Oklahoma in the eastern part of the state. The rest of the state is composed of east-to-west provinces reflecting the underlying geology."

Oklahoma's position at the meeting point of varied geological features creates interesting dynamics. The underlying geology of the state gets younger moving from west to east, for example. The lowest area of the state is in the extreme southeast, where the Little River enters Arkansas; the state's highest point is atop Black Mesa in the Panhandle. The elevation ranges from a low of 287 feet above sea level to a high of almost 5,000 feet above sea level at Black Mesa. Oklahoma's elevation gradually declines from the west to the east, which might surprise people familiar with the Ouachita and Arbuckle Mountain areas.

"The Arbuckle Mountains used to be as high as the Alps," Bays said. "Now, you can only see the extreme core of the range. It is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the country, with the oldest rocks being over a million years old."

However, all of Oklahoma west of 99 degrees longitude is higher than the well-known Ouachita Mountains.

"The top of the Ouachitas is about the same height above sea level as the western one-third of Oklahoma," Bays pointed out.

Besides underlying geology, Bays said Oklahoma's great variation in precipitation is the key factor in the state's geography. The rainiest part of the state might see 54 inches in a year, while the driest part of the Panhandle averages just 15 inches.

The result is a treasure trove of topography, complete with incredible variation in geology, flora, fauna and environmental conditions.

"I've lived in Oklahoma my entire life," Clark said. "Until I actually started working at this job, I didn't go see things. I still haven't seen everything that I want to. But I know that the image of Oklahoma as all flat isn't true at all."

Numerous parks and managed sites around the state provide a glimpse into the tremendous and scenic geo-diversity that Oklahoma has to offer.

Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve

Located in the Panhandle, Black Mesa derives its name from the layer of black lava rock that coated the mesa 30 million years ago. The area marks the point where the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie – and also where species of each habitat are at their easternmost or westernmost point. Visitors can hike to Oklahoma's highest point at 4,973 feet above sea level, and enjoy the Black Mesa Nature Preserve that includes 23 rare plants and eight rare animals.

"Black Mesa is one of my favorite parts of the state and is unique to Oklahoma," Bays said. "It's unique in terms of landscape, and you see vegetation very different than in the rest of the state."

Little Sahara State Park

Oklahoma residents might recognize that the western part of the state is arid. But sand dunes a la New Mexico or Utah? That's exactly the appeal of Little Sahara State Park near Waynoka. It boasts 1,600-plus acres of sand dunes, ranging in height from 25 to 75 feet. These vast dunes formed over time from terrace deposits left behind when the Cimarron River flowed over the area in pre-historic times. Today, dune buggy and ATV riding on the dunes is a huge attraction.

Great Salt Plains State Park

And speaking of the vastness of pre-historic times, at one point, millennia before mankind, Oklahoma was covered in a vast ocean. The remnants today can be seen – and experienced – at this unique park comprised of leftover salt and Great Salt Plains Lake, north of Jet. An outdoor family sporting and equestrian playground, the park offers a glimpse into the distant past utterly different from anything else in the state.

"There is no racing like there is on other salt plains in the West, but the area is home to a unique type of selenite crystals with an hourglass shape that can only be found there," Clark said.

Foss State Park

Western Oklahoma's Foss State Park serves as an excellent example of the western region's topography. Recreational activities abound, although the best-known attraction might be the bison that roam, helping set a scene not that different than it was at least hundreds of years ago.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

A singularly distinct setting, Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, north of Pawhuska, is the largest protected area of tallgrass prairie on Earth, spanning almost 40,000 acres. Once upon a time, the region was comprised of considerable tallgrass prairie, a complex environment with diverse plants and animals. Today, though, this somewhat remote site is living history, possessed of tremendous beauty, roaming bison and almost an otherworldly sense of serenity. "Otherworldly," though, despite the fact that much of the region has looked not dissimilar to the Preserve.

"This is one of the few places left where you can still find the big bluestem grass that was originally all over Oklahoma and the West," Bays said.

Unlike parks, access to the Prairie is somewhat limited. A scenic route on public county roads, beginning and ending in Pawhuska, permits visitors to experience the heart of the tallgrass prairie and the impressive buffalo ... and a step back in time.

Alabaster Caverns State Park

Massive caverns beneath the earth might seem like something one would find farther west in the United States, but there is a fascinating and unique one right outside Freedom, Oklahoma. The centerpiece of Alabaster Caverns State Park is a cavern formed of alabaster, a rare form of gypsum. It is the largest natural gypsum cave in the world that is open to the public, and the only gypsum show cave in the United States.

"It's also one of four places where you can find black alabaster, as well," Clark said.

Beavers Bend & Hochatown State Park

This park near Broken Bow, in the mountainous region of southeast Oklahoma along the shores of Broken Bow Lake and the Mountain Fork River, is one of Oklahoma's most popular areas. It shares the spectacular beauty of places like the Tallgrass Prairie and Black Mesa, but is otherwise an entirely different environment, demonstrating the extreme diversity in Oklahoma. Here, vast forests of pine and hardwood trees, mountainous setting, the lakes and more rainfall on average than most sections of the state create a distinct environment for numerous adventures and activities.

Ouachita National Forest

Covering portions of LaFlore and McCurtain counties in southeast Oklahoma, this vast, beautiful and foreboding wilderness offers more than 352,000 acres of scenic preserved space. Hiking trails, mountain bike trails, horseback riding trails, hang-gliding opportunities, an equestrian camp, and numerous other outdoor and sporting opportunities attract plenty of visitors. However, there are many miles of unpaved forest roads, game trails and access to various types of terrains.

Numerous other distinct locations in Oklahoma exist, featuring geography and topography so diverse that it might be hard to conceive of them all existing in one state. In fact, the pursuit of the many different eco-regions of Oklahoma can take considerable time.

"I haven't seen everything yet," Clark said. "I only hope to live long enough to see everything in Oklahoma."

That's Oklahoma, not “Oklahoma!”

For information on Oklahoma’s state parks, preserves and the state's natural diversity, visit www.travelok.com.


Summer Travel: Walt Disney World Today

justin brotton - Monday, June 01, 2015

By Michael W. Sasser

Many years ago, visiting Florida's Disney World was a tightly focused occasion. There was the process of getting to Orlando – once a city almost entirely defined by Disney World – and then there was the Magic Kingdom. Home to famed roller coaster "Space Mountain," the pre-Johnny Depp ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" (currently being updated to include Captain Jack!) and an equally frightening "Haunted Mansion" and "It's A Small World" rides, the Magic Kingdom is quintessential Disney. It is the stuff of which children's fantasies – and those of more than a few adults – are born.

Today, Disney's footprint in the vacation mecca that is Orlando is far larger, more diverse and engaging than in years past. These days, Disney sites appeal as much to adults and teens as they do children; and for children, the offerings have never been more diverse.

A Disney World Primer

Today's Orlando area Disney sites include four theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney Animal Kingdom (see below). Additionally, there are two water adventure parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), 36 resort hotels, Downtown Disney, spas, four golf courses, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney Wedding Pavilion and more – over nearly 40 square miles of land technically in Lake Buena Vista, an Orlando suburb. While each Disney component is popular, the parks remain the prime attraction – and the most distinct.

Admission to parks varies dramatically based, largely, on what type of pass is desired. With many options spanning the parks and desired number of days, Disney makes it easy to tailor plans to your needs. You will want to check online ahead of time for admission options and prices, and special deals often available.

A Disney World vacation can be extremely easy in terms of transportation and access. All parks are accessible via car, and Disney resorts and many private ones offer transportation from accommodations (from within and without Disney properties, respectively) to the parks. Additionally, the Magic Kingdom and Epcot are connected via tram, while Disney Animal Kingdom is accessible by boat from Epcot. Disney transport and the properties' interconnectivity make getting around easy. It's an easy process to fly in to Orlando, use Disney (or other) transportation from the airport to your accommodations, and shuttle buses and Disney transportation for the remainder of your stay – no need for rental cars or taxis!

The Parks

Walt Disney World's first theme park, Magic Kingdom, dates back to 1971 and has long been defined by the 189-foot Cinderella's Castle at its center. An absolute paradise of rides, shows, strolling characters and constant special events, Magic Kingdom is divided into six themed "lands" – Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, New Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Each has its own look, with rides and attractions built around its theme. Long-time favorites such as those mentioned above remain, but some have been augmented over the years. New Fantasyland has also enabled additional attractions. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Princess Fairytale Hall are among the newer attractions with broad appeal to children.

If Magic Kingdom pulls at the heart of the young, Epcot appeals to older youth and adults. Its Future World component features theme areas focusing on discovery and scientific achievements – in everything from technology to space travel, energy, the land, the seas and the environment. Although it's hardly possible to update components to keep pace with the rapid changes of technology today, leaving some aspects feeling strangely retro for a look "ahead," Future World is nonetheless deeply engaging, entertaining and optimistic. Epcot's second component is its World Showcase. Few Disney experiences are as engrossing as strolling through the 11 nations represented in the Showcase. Situated around the World Showcase Lagoon, each nation is represented in architecture, entertainment, very good culturally themed dining and shopping. Alcohol sales around the World Showcase appeal to adults as much as the good dining and terrific shows (particularly for dinner), and the authentic looking pub in the United Kingdom area is generally a festive spot.

Disney's Hollywood Studios is both a working film, TV and radio studio and a theme park. The curious can get a look behind the scenes at productions underway, as well as themed memorabilia and displays. However, the attractions are most likely to appeal to youngsters. Rides and experiences revolve around well-known Disney products. Among the most popular are “Toy Story Midway Mania!”, “The Great Movie Ride,” "Muppet"Vision 3-D, "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!", "Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage," "Voyage of the Little Mermaid," “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror,” Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” – to name but a few. With animation entertainment and even the interesting “Walt Disney: One Man's Dream,” if your children love Disney movies and entertainment, Disney's Hollywood Studios is a dream come true.

Disney's most recently added theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom, takes Disney's traditional anthropomorphism and infuses it with environmental experiences. Beyond the Oasis entry garden sprawls four themed lands – Africa, DinoLand USA, Discovery Island and Asia – over 403 acres that occupy jungles, forests and a vast savanna across the park. Themed attractions abound, with some of the most popular being DINOSAUR, "Festival of the Lion King," "Finding Nemo – The Musical," and Expedition Everest. Given the role that pristine settings and animals have played in the development of the distinct Disney culture, this 1998 addition to Walt Disney World was only a natural evolution – and a successful one, given the wild popularity of Disney's Animal Kingdom since it opened.

An Adult Respite

Although many Walt Disney World attractions fundamentally appeal to children of all ages, Downtown Disney appeals more to adults. The sprawling, easily accessible site houses a host of restaurants and bars, a wealth of eclectic shops, and the largest Disney character merchandise showcase in the world. An entertainment district includes a 24-screen movie theater, Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, and much more. While not intended solely for adults, it is a respite from the more youth-oriented Disney attractions.

For complete information about Walt Disney World and its many components, admission options, schedule of events, etc., visit https://disneyworld.disney.go.com.

On The Road

Given Disney parks' popularity, traveling to Orlando from virtually anywhere in the country is fairly easy. While airlines' schedules and routes change, several carriers provide Oklahoma City to Orlando and Tulsa to Orlando routes, generally with a single layover – US Airways, American Airlines, United, etc.

For the road warrior, driving to Orlando can change the entire face of a vacation, with the beauty of the Ozarks, the Smoky Mountains, the Southern low country and the Gulf coast all among the scenery possible to take in depending on one's route. The most direct route can be tackled in approximately 20 hours from Oklahoma City, with much of the drive on Interstate 40. In Tennessee there are route options, and it is highly advisable to watch for signs about road construction and closings when deciding from there, as travel times can vary at any time based on these factors.

Top Tips

Lodging: While Disney resorts and in-park accommodations have many benefits, including easy access to the parks, centralized dining and recreation and plenty of special treats, less expensive accommodations abound. Just a few minutes from the parks, the suburb of Kissimmee offers numerous motels and hotels along US 192, a major artery with easy access to The Magic Kingdom and other Disney sites. You'll find nothing special about these motels except occasional kitsch, plus rates well below those of in-park and adjacent accommodations, less expensive dining and shopping, and a handful of alternate attractions.

Another option for the adventurous is camping. The Greater Orlando and general central Florida area are rich in campsites, from motor homes and travel trailers to good old-fashioned primitive sites for tenting out. There are countless options, with all offering a little something extra to the vacation experience. Disney even offers a fun option – Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground has more than 400 Wilderness Cabins and some 800 campsites available.

Timing and Temperatures: Despite it being 200 miles north of the retina-scorching sunshine and heat of Miami's famed South Beach, the Orlando area can get very hot and humid, particularly in the summer. The good news is the temperature keeps some potential visitors away, making for lesser crowds than one might imagine once school is out. The bad news is you will need to prepare and mitigate for the heat at Disney. You will want hats and sunscreen, sunglasses and definitely a constant bottle of water in hand. It's very important to stay hydrated and make sure children do too. Pace yourself, and take advantage of shady places in the parks and cool indoor spots.

Dining: Food, much of it themed, is ubiquitous in Disney parks. For the most part, it is solid if unspectacular. Fine dining is readily available, particularly at in-park resorts, Downtown Disney and in the parks themselves. For something distinct within the park, eat at a cultural-themed restaurant at one of the EPCOT World Showcase sites, which are fairly authentic and very good. Important: make your dinner reservations for in-park sites ahead of time or at one of the hospitality kiosks in the parks; plus, the kids will love the kiosk interface.

Stay Caffeinated: Starbucks lovers need no longer leave their preferred coffee drink behind when immersing themselves at Disney parks. Each now houses a Starbucks site, but keep an eye out or inquire about them, as they are discrete.

Safety: Given the number of people in Disney parks, they are remarkably, notably safe and secure. The biggest threat most will face is sunburn. Secondly, though, is getting lost – specifically, children wandering off or getting lost in the crowds. Parents should closely watch kids and speak to them in advance about what to do if lost. Children can approach any Disney employee for assistance, and parents should point out employee garb on entrance to the parks.  

Oklahoma’s Lakes and State Parks Offer Great Summer Recreation

justin brotton - Friday, May 01, 2015

By Judy Brotton

With more than one million surface acres of water, Oklahoma offers a vast selection of lakes with breathtaking views, sandy beaches, fishing, water sports, and overall family fun. Here are some of our state’s best lakes and state parks for weekend or weeklong summer getaways.

Oklahoma’s largest lake is Lake Eufaula, whichboasts 600 miles of breathtaking shoreline and 105,500 surface acres just made for swimming, boating, fishing and camping by the water. On one end of Lake Eufaula is Lake Eufaula State Park, and on the other is Arrowhead State Park.

Golfers will enjoy Fountainhead Creek Golf Club or Arrowhead Golf Course, while nature enthusiasts can choose to bike, hike or ride horses throughout the two state parks’ miles of trails. Kids will especially enjoy the Deep Fork Nature Center for a close-up wildlife experience, while paddle boats, miniature golf, sand volleyball and swimming pool are available at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort.

Crappie, striper, catfish and several types of bass are plentiful, so bring your own boat, rent one at various marinas around the lake, or use the enclosed heated docks in cooler weather.

Located in Vian, Lake Tenkiller ’s steep stone bluffs and water that is crystal clear up to 28 feet deep provide great scuba opportunities, including an underwater dive park complete with sunken items like a school bus, helicopter, two boats, and even artifacts and homesteads left behind from before the lake was formed. Underwater terrain and rocky cliffs run as deep as 165 feet in places. With 130 miles of shoreline and 13,000 surface acres, the clear waters are perfect for spearfishing for non-game fish, water skiing, boating, tubing, and fishing for spotted and largemouth bass.

For family fun, try nearby Fin and Feather resort for sand volleyball, tennis, swimming pool and guest accommodations near the water. Nature enthusiasts can pitch their tent at Tenkiller State Park, but watch out for deer, quail, geese and rabbits. On the east side of the lake is the Belle Starr Campground, with waterfront campsites, picnic tables, grills, or RV hook-ups for those looking for a more luxurious camping experience.

Tenkiller State Park, known as Oklahoma’s “heaven in the hills,” offers a 1.5-mile nature trail for birding, so bring your binoculars. The 1.5-mile Tenkiller Multi-use Trail is paved trail for handicap accessibility. The park can accommodate tents and RVs, or stay in one of 39 cabins with fully equipped kitchens and satellite TV (some are pet-friendly). Kids will enjoy visiting the nature center and angling in the kids’ fishing pond.

Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees can be best appreciated while dangling 500 feet above the blue waters from a parasail. Although only about half the size of Lake Eufaula at 46,500 surface acres and 1,300 miles of shoreline, Grand Lake is situated in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and offers five park areas with plenty of lodging, dining and recreation activities. Travel the lake on a sailboat, leisurely pontoon, opulent yacht, speedy Jet Ski, or even water skis, all of which are available for rent at various marinas.

Fishermen will have plenty of luck angling for crappie, bass, catfish, bluegill and spoonbill.

Around Grand Lake, you will find many family-oriented activities, including paintball at D-Day Adventure Park; ATV and ORV adventures on five square miles of trails and rock structures at Hogan’s Off Road Park in Disney; or horseback riding and petting zoo at Monkey Island Trail & Hayrides.

The Cherokee area at Grand Lake State Park, located near the Pensacola Dam, is known for great fishing and water sport, along with a 9-hole golf course, RV and tent sites and a swim beach. More campsites are available at the Grand View, Riverside and Grand Cherokee areas, located below the Pensacola Dam.

Lake Texoma, providing some of the best striped bass fishing in Oklahoma, is located in Kingston. Also plentiful are crappie, white and black bass, sunfish and various catfish. Project lands are open to the public for hunting whitetail deer, bobwhite quail, mourning dove, ducks, geese, cottontail rabbits and squirrel.

Resorts and marinas abound, with over 600 campsites provided by the Corps of Engineers. Riding stables, equestrian trails and hiking trails will please nature enthusiasts. The championship Chickasaw Pointe Golf Club features picturesque views along Lake Texoma.

Spelunkers will enjoy Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom. The main cave offers daily guided tours of the world’s largest natural gypsum cave that is open to the public, along a family-friendly paved trail. Hardcore cavers can get a permit from the park office from March through September to explore the area’s four caves. Parties of at least three will need hardhats and flashlights, and wear boots and long-sleeved shirts.

A very special cave experience would be the Selman Bat Cave, six miles south of Freedom, Oklahoma – the only cave where the public can view bats. It takes about 45 minutes for a million Mexican free-tailed bats to leave the cave in clusters and eat their way through about 10 tons of flying insects nightly, traveling as much as 60 miles each night. Bats help local farmers as the only major predators of such night-flying insects as moths, mosquitoes, cucumber and June beetles, leafhoppers and even scorpions. Bats can consume more than 3,000 mosquitoes each night using echolocation. Evidence shows that the bats have been using this and three other nearby gypsum caves for more than a century as a maternity roost; the bats migrate 1,400 miles to Oklahoma each summer, where the females give birth and raise their young.

Beginning in July, the Wildlife Department offers summer bat watches – eight nights, on four consecutive weekends. A random drawing allows 75 people to attend each night, ending with stargazing at the nearby Selman Living Laboratory Observatory. There is a deadline to apply for the bat watches, so get your mail-in registration form at www.wildlifedepartment.com beginning May 26 to be in the drawing pool. Attendees must be 8 or older, and a check for all admission fees must be mailed in with registration. The area is closed to the public except on these viewing nights. Viewing dates for 2015 are each Friday and Saturday in July, plus August 1. Bus ride begins at Alabaster Caverns State Park, about a three-hour drive from both OKC and Tulsa.

Beavers Bend & Hochatown State Park in Broken Bow is one of the state’s most scenic areas. Fly fish in one of the South’s best trout streams, as well as the Mountain Fork River and Glover River. Outdoor enthusiasts can hit the David Boren Trail, play golf at the 18-hole Cedar Creek Golf Course; go biking, boating, or horseback riding, or take a river float trip; scuba dive in Broken Bow Lake; or take a miniature train ride during the summer.

In far northwest Oklahoma lies Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve, the highest point in Oklahoma at 4,973 feet above sea level. Hike to the top of Black Mesa for awe-inspiring views of the scenic landscape found nowhere else in Oklahoma. Black Mesa is the spot where the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie, and is home to wildlife like golden eagles, pinyon jays, antelope and bighorn sheep. Stand at the “three corners marker” and you will at once be in Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.

One of Oklahoma’s original seven state parks, Greenleaf State Park in Braggs dates back to the 1930s and ‘40s, when the WPA built the cabins and structures. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the 18-mile hiking and mountain biking trail, including a swinging bridge that spans the lake. Largemouth bass and sunfish are plentiful in Greenleaf Lake, along with a swim beach and nature center. The park provides free pontoon boat tours of the lake, with history of the park’s wildlife and environment.

Jet, Oklahomais home to the Great Salt Plains State Park with its 11,000 acres of white salt flats and nearly 9,000-acre body of saltwater, nearly half as salty as the ocean. But don’t let the salt fool you – white bass, hybrid striped bass and saugeye are plentiful, and the water provides buoyancy for swimmers. From April through October, guests can dig for hourglass-shaped selenite crystals that are formed only here.

Birders bring your binoculars because the Great Salt Plains Lake and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge are a stopover for migrating waterfowl like the whooping crane and American white pelican as they travel through the Central Flyway.

Keystone State Park, located in Sand Springs, on picturesque Lake Keystone. Fish or water ski on your own boat, or rent one onsite. The park offers birding and wildlife watching, as well as a kids’ fishing pond and playgrounds. Tent and RV sites are available, as well as 22 furnished cabins with full kitchens, fireplaces and satellite TV. Pets are allowed in some cabins for a fee.

An on-site conference center with full kitchen is available for group meetings or special events, arranged through the main office of Keystone State Park.

Ardmore’s Lake Murray State Park is Oklahoma’s first and largest state park, and with 12,500 acres along Lake Murray, is a haven for fishing, boating and water sports. Nearby recreation includes about 1,000 acres of trails for ATVs, motorcycles and dirt bikes; an 18-hole golf course, equestrian trails, tennis, swim beaches and paddle boating. The park also features an extensive trail system for hiking and horseback riding, birding and wildlife watching.

In the middle of 6,000-acre Lake Murray stands Tucker Tower, originally constructed as a retreat for Oklahoma’s governor. It now contains a nature center and viewing deck.

There are nine RV campgrounds, available tent sites, as well as lodges, cabins and guest rooms located throughout the park, including three gated RV parks. Lake Murray Lodge offers 52 guest rooms and suites, five meeting rooms, a lounge, banquet catering, and lobby commons area with fireplace. An outdoor pool is available for lodge guests, but alas, no pets are allowed. They are, however, allowed in some of the 56 available cabins. Some of these are historic structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and feature kitchenettes. For daytime use, several large pavilions with outdoor grills are scattered throughout the park.

Off-roaders and ATV enthusiasts should head straight for Little Sahara State Park just south of Waynoka in northwest Oklahoma. Fondly known as “the state’s sandbox,” the park boasts 1,600 acres of sand dunes, some towering as high as 75 feet. Explore the dunes on dune buggies, jeeps, ATVs and motorcycles, all of which can be rented onsite. The park also has RV and tent sites, as well as picnic areas.

Visitors to Norman, Oklahoma have plenty of water sports and recreation to choose from at Lake Thunderbird State Park, including hiking, mountain biking and nature trails. Equestrian trails can be found at Lake Thunderbird Nature Center, while RV and tent sites, boat ramps and swim beaches are available around Lake Thunderbird.

Osage Hills State Park in Pawhuska features 1,100 acres of lush forests, rocky bluffs and serene waters of Lookout Lake and Sand Creek. Hikers and mountain bikers will find many trails to choose from, many offering glimpses of wild turkey and white-tailed deer along the way. Bass, perch, catfish and crappie are just some of the fishing found in the two lakes. The park offers tent and RV sites, along with cabins constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, featuring fireplaces and kitchens. For a small fee, you can bring your pet.

Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton boasts having been a former hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr. Nestled in the Sans Bois Mountain range of southeast Oklahoma, the 8,246-acre park provides hiking to the outlaw cave, rappelling down rock walls, horseback riding along wooded equestrian trails, camping under the stars, and hunting wild game in the adjacent 3,800-acre wildlife management area. Enjoy canoeing or fish for trout, perch, bass and catfish on Lake Carlton, Lake Wayne Wallace and Coon Creek.

Tent and RV sites are available, as well as equestrian campsites, or book one of 20 rooms at the Belle Starr View Lodge, all of which have scenic views of Coon Creek Lake and the wooded valley below. Park views and fireplaces are available at 26 cabins, plus fully equipped kitchens and satellite TV; some are pet-friendly. “Honeymoon” cabins available, as well as group camps that can accommodate 160-250 people, open from March through November.

Robbers Cave State Park offers two indoor community rooms looking out over Lake Carlton, and an amphitheater, swimming pool and beach, paddleboats, a nature center and miniature golf.

More gypsum cliffs are evident in the scenic canyons of Roman Nose State Park in Watonga, named after a Cheyenne chief. One of Oklahoma’s seven original state parks, recreational activities include hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding the nature trails, as well as an 18-hole golf course and swimming pools. Camp along the shores of Lake Watonga in your RV, rent a teepee from April through October, book one of 11 cabins, or stay at the Roman Nose Lodge, originally built in 1956 but recently remodeled to emphasize its original mid-century design. With three natural springs and two lakes, enjoy no-wake boating, canoeing and trout fishing, but no swimming is allowed in the lakes.

So whether your summer activity of choice is swimming, boating, mountain biking, spelunking or fishing, there is a lake or state park in Oklahoma that will suit you perfectly!

More information on these and other Oklahoma lakes is available at www.oktravel.com


justin brotton - Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Estes Park, situated adjacent to the Rocky Mountain National Park northwest

of Denver, offers visitors the quintessential Wild West vacation, with a

multitude of outdoor activities to be enjoyed amid one of the most

spectacular mountain settings on the North American continent.

By David Althouse


”estesThere are two different vacation worlds in Estes Park. If you’re in the mood for all the trappings of a tourist town, Estes Park offers the Tee-shirt shops, ice cream parlors, candy stores and pizza joints. If you’re of a mind to enjoy rock climbing, four-wheel tours, hiking, snowshoeing, horseback riding, mountain biking, paddling, boating, river rafting and fishing – all amid one of the most picturesque locales in the world – then get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in this Rocky Mountain eagle’s nest.

It’s impossible to talk about Estes Park without mentioning Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most popular national parks in the United States, attracting approximately three million visitors each year. The park offers 415 square miles of dynamic landscape featuring towering mountain peaks, aspen and subalpine forests, lowland meadows, multiple lakes, rivers and numerous hiking trails.

The tallest peak in the park is Longs Peak, a great crag rising 14,259 feet in altitude, making it the only “14er” in northern Colorado.

Many other great granite rock walls are there for the climbing, along with 360 miles of trails, gigantic herds of elk, trout in numerous streams and lakes, and starry skies at night. Think of Rocky Mountain National Park as one vast outdoor playground with few limits for the adventurer at heart.

With 113 named peaks reaching 10,000 feet – 71 of which extend above 12,000 feet – Rocky Mountain National Park offers some of the best climbing on the continent. Climbers mention Rocky Mountain National Park as rivaling the Grand Tetons in availability of diverse landforms and conditions. Longs Peak, the 15th highest peak in Colorado, is a popular climb in the park, involving a 16-mile round trip with 4,700 feet of elevation gain.

Maps, brochures and books are available at any of the park’s four visitor centers – Alpine Visitor Center located on Trail Ridge Road; Beaver Meadows Visitor center located on U.S. Route 36, three miles from the town of Estes Park; Fall River Visitor Center, located on U.S. Route 34, five miles west of Estes Park; and Kawuneeche Visitor Center, located one mile north of the town of Grand Lake on U.S. Route 34 at the west end of the park.

The visitor centers feature nature exhibits, topographical map displays and helpful park rangers more than happy to answer questions.

A wide variety of wildlife roams these parts. Bighorn sheep, black bear, bald eagles, marmots, wild turkey, red fox, coyotes, bobcats, moose, chipmunks, golden mantled ground squirrels, and small birds such as gray jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, Stellar’s Jays and magpies all share living space in and around Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Nearby Lake Estes and the Lake Estes Trail offer abundant opportunities for boating, biking, fishing, jogging, skating and sightseeing. The lake offers four miles of shoreline as well as close-up looks at elk and other wildlife.

Estes Park offers two golf courses for those looking to get into the swing on their vacation. The Estes Park Golf Course, an 18-hole located at 1480 Golf Course Road, is one of the most scenic courses in the country, while the Lake Estes Golf Course is a 9-hole set of links located at 690 Big Thompson Avenue (U.S. 34). At either course, you will enjoy thinner air at 7,500 feet and maybe even the visit of an occasional elk to watch your tee shots.

For rodeo fans, Estes Park offers the award-winning Rooftop Rodeo, a Wild West event held each July against the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Each night at the Rooftop Rodeo, in an arena surrounded by scenic mountain views on all sides, fans enjoy Women’s Professional Barrel Racing, along with six different Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events including bareback bronc riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and the ever-popular bull riding.

The Rooftop Rodeo has been voted the PRCA’s “Best Small Rodeo of the Year” five times, and “Best Medium Sized Rodeo of the Year” in 2012 and 2013.

A wide variety of restaurants in and around Estes Park offer everything from fast food to elegant cuisine. You name the food, and you will find it in this high-mountain heaven. Some of the restaurants even offer outdoor dining alongside the river running through downtown, making for a perfect Rocky Mountain dining experience.

One of the greatest lodging experiences in all of the American West is found in Estes Park at the historic Stanley Hotel. Built by F.O. Stanley, co-founder of the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, which built the Stanley Steamer, the Stanley Hotel held the distinction of being the first fully electric hotel in the world when it opened in 1909.

Today, the Stanley offers rich historic charm within the original buildings while maintaining all the comforts and amenities, such as lush bedding, flat-screen televisions and spectacular Rocky Mountain views.

Several hotel destinations are located within the Stanley.

The Cascades Restaurant and Lounge offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and is known for great Angus beef, fresh seafood, sandwiches, pasta, distinctive Colorado specialties and handcrafted cocktails from their historic menu.

The Cascades Whiskey Bar is popular for its complete dinner services, and for the largest selection of whiskeys and single malt scotches in Colorado, along with a sizeable American and international wine selection sure to excite the most discerning palate.

Located on the lower level of the Stanley is Steamer’s Café, home of hotel souvenirs, a variety of soft drinks, house-made gelato, light snacks and coffee.

For a wider selection of Stanley Hotel gifts, the Chrysalis at the Stanley, located in the hotel lobby, features Stanley logo wear and souvenirs such as jewelry, clothing, books, videos and other one-of-a-kind treasures.

The idea for Stephen King’s story “The Shining” traces its birthplace to the Stanley Hotel. While staying in Room 217 of the Stanley in 1975, King found original inspiration for his psychological horror novel that was released two years later, and made its appearance as an unforgettable movie starring Jack Nicholson in 1980.

While none of the big screen version of “The Shining” was filmed at The Stanley, the later miniseries of the same name was.

King was not happy with the Hollywood version of “The Shining” as it strayed too far from his novel. He regained the rights to his work from Warner Brothers in 1996 and went on to produce a miniseries version of the work, which was filmed at the Stanley Hotel and at specially-built hangars at the old Stapleton Airport in Denver.

Visitors to the Stanley might also recognize locations within the hotel where scenes from the original version of the 1994 comedy “Dumb and Dumber” were filmed. According to our tour guide, actor Jim Carrey reportedly stayed in Room 217 while staying onsite at the Stanley. One night Carrey stormed from the room and exclaimed he would never return to the famous room again. Just exactly what Carrey experienced while staying in Room 217 may never be known.

In case you want to find out, you can book Room 217 yourself, or participate in one of the ghost-hunting tours offered by the Stanley.

For more information about the majestic views, unmatched mountains, endless outdoor adventures, high-mountain events, and historic lodgings offered in and around Estes Park and the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park, visit www.visitestespark.com.

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