Road Trip — Tulsa, Oklahoma

How about a visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma? Spring break is always a good time for a road trip. North Texas Ramblings - The Center of the Universe in Tulsa OklahomaYou can travel to the Center of the Universe, spend the afternoon at an oil tycoon’s home, and visit one of the world’s tallest freestanding statues. Those are just some of the adventures waiting for you in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The second largest city in Oklahoma, Tulsa comfortably combines the sublime with the absurd. Beautiful art deco buildings grace the downtown area. However, there appears to be no city zoning logic with hotels, strip malls and residential neighborhoods clustered together throughout the city. This eclectic building mix gives the city personality and character.

Tycoon’s Mansion – The Philbrook Museum

Waite Phillips, oilman and business entrepreneur, donated his 72-room mansion to the City of Tulsa in 1938 for an art museum. The mansion, designed in Italian Renaissance style, is as much fun to explore as the art collection it houses. You’ll find an excellent exhibit of European art.

Perhaps most intriguing is the museum’s Native American collection. Park any preconceptions you have of Native American art at Philbrook’s front door and enjoy the exhibit’s vast diversity of expression and style. For three decades (1946 – 1979), Philbrook hosted an annual, juried show of Native American artists. Philbrook’s collection was, in part, built from these events. The Philbrook (2727 S. Rockford) is closed on Mondays and major holidays.

Hungry? Just south of the Philbrook Museum on Peoria Avenue you’ll find a several dining options. Charleston’s (3726 S. Peoria) serves an awesome chicken fried steak in a casually upscale dining room. Weber Root Beer Stand (3817 S. Peoria) is the place for root beer (in a chilled glass) and a burger.

Quirky Salute to Tulsa’s Oil Heyday – The Golden Driller

No visit to Tulsa is complete without a visit to the 76-foot tall Golden Driller statue located on the edge of the Tulsa Fairgrounds (4145 E. 21st). Purported to be one of the tallest, freestanding statues in the world, the Golden Driller is made of steel and concrete. He stands as a tribute to the days when Tulsa was known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

The Golden Driller truly is impressive and well worth a photo. His right arm rests on an actual oil derrick. In 2011, the statue received a facelift courtesy Tulsa based Bill Haynes Co. who applied a special, protective coating to preserve the statue.

The Wild Side — Tulsa Zoo

I confess. I love a great zoo. The Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum (6421 E. 36th) may not be the largest city zoo, but it does have an impressive variety of animals and exhibits. Be sure to take advantage of numerous zoo demonstrations and talks. Our family enjoyed the antics of the California sea lions: Briney (female, age 26) and Dorsey (male, age 19). The geriatric pair of sea mammals works for their living, putting on demonstrations for visitors twice daily.

The Children’s Zoo has the standard corral with sheep and goats for the kids to pet. But here’s the twist, the Children’s Zoo also has a collection of antique animals like the Highland cow and Jacob’s sheep. That’s right, Tulsa Zoo has domestic animals facing extinction as they are being replaced by new farm breeds.

Tulsa Zoo continues to renovate with new exhibits designed so that visitors experience both animal and their habitat. The Tropical Rain Forest transports you to a humid South American and the newly renovated Wildlife Trek recreates forest, desert and aquatic habitats.

The Tulsa Zoo is open 9 am to 5 pm year round (closed Christmas day).

Uncanny — The Center of the Universe

Part of Tulsa’s charm is its unique ambience. And nothing is more eerily unusual than standing in the Center of the Universe. According to the Tulsa Library website, “The ‘center’ is a worn concrete circle, 30 inches in diameter, in the middle of a 13 row circle of bricks. . . located at the apex of a rebuilt span of pedestrian bridge, originally built in the 1930s.”

Stand in the center of the circle and talk. You, but no one else around you, will hear the echo of your voice. It does almost feel like you’re speaking into a hole in the universe. Weird right?

The Center of the Universe is located on the Boston Avenue pedestrian overpass between First and Archer Streets. And, yes, the Bank of Oklahoma (BOK) building opposite the overpass does look a lot like the former World Trade Center. The World Trade Center (built 1973) and the BOK Tower (built in 1975) were designed by the same architect.

While downtown, enjoy the mix of architecture. Tulsa is famous for its Art Deco buildings constructed during the height of the oil boom. Of national note is Boston Avenue Methodist Church built in the 1920s (1301 S. Boston).

Walking Plano Parks

After our winter weather, do you have cabin fever? Time to get outdoors. Here are three Plano Parks with paved walking paths. So get on those sneakers and go exploring.

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve 

Designated as a National Wildlife Federation habitat, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve features North Texas Ramblings -- Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano Texas200 acres of forest and Blackland Prairie. With over 2.3 miles of paved trail, Arbor Hills is ideal for strollers. The trail winds through forest, up a hill to a scenic overlook, and continues through prairie. At the trailhead, signs advise park users to watch for wildlife. The park supports a wide range of animals, from common grey squirrel to armadillo. The animals are shy and you are more likely to hear the scuttling critters in the ground cover, than actually see them. A well-designed park, the paved trail guides walkers and skillfully shields them from the development along the park’s perimeter. Covered picnic tables are available at the overlook and near the parking lot.

Located in west Plano, Arbor Hills is a popular spot on weekends for families and mountain bikers with the parking lot often filling beyond capacity.  To avoid the crowds, visit Arbor Hills on a weekday. Arbor Hills Nature Preserve is at 6701 W Parker.

Oak Point Park 

Another Plano Park nature preserve, Oak Point Park has an extensive concrete path system. The 3.5 miles of paved walkway winds through prairie, grasslands, and circles a pond. The pond provides prime duck and turtle viewing. The level pathway makes it an easy walk, though the green space is less scenic than at Arbor Hills.

The largest Plano Park with over 800 acres, Oak Point Park also has a series of natural surface paths that follow Rowlett Creek. An underutilized green space, Oak Point Park is quiet, even on the weekends. Located at 5901 Lois Rios Boulevard. The park has a covered picnic area.

Chisholm Trail

If you want a longer walk – say eight miles – check out the Chisholm Trail.  This green strip follows Spring Creek from Legacy south to Harrington Park. You can start the trail at Schimelpfenig Library (5024 Custer Road). Situated at the halfway point, the library provides adequate parking and easy trail access. From the library, head southeast. There is a paved pathway along both banks of Spring Creek with bridges periodically crossing the stream to connect the trails. The long linear parkway is bounded on one side by quiet residential streets and on the other by the creek. If you walk at dusk, the big rodents you see are not rats – they are shy nutria living in burrows along the stream’s banks. Intermittently along the pathway are small neighborhood parks with playground equipment. Chisholm Trail is a popular bike pathway and congested on weekends.

All three paved trails are open to bikers. To ensure a safe walk, remember to stay to the right of the trail and allow bikes room to pass. You can also bring your dog, if on a leash. Operated by the City of Plano, Arbor Hills, Oak Point, and Chisholm Trail are open from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

 

Economy in Action Exhibit

The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank has a free exhibit in its lobby entitled Economy in Action. The exhibit is chocked full of currency facts. For example, did you know that the North Texas Ramblings photo of Dallas Federal Reserve Bankonly paper currency bearing the portrait of a woman was the one dollar silver certificate? Martha Washington graced that now defunct bill. And did you know that without a central bank in the mid-1800s, there were more than 30,000 different types of currency in the United States?

From interesting information on paper currency, you enter the heart of the exhibit and learn more about the Federal Reserve. Dallas Federal Reserve Bank serves the eleventh district encompassing areas of Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico. It is one of twelve districts which comprise the central bank of the United States, more commonly known as the Federal Reserve. Look at a dollar bill. If there is the letter ‘K’ on the left side in the middle of the bill, then the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas placed that dollar into circulation.

Clever, multimedia displays discuss the inception of a central bank for the United States. You learn the story of how Dallas forefathers chatted up the United States Postmaster during a train trip to lobby for a Reserve Bank location in Texas.

The Economy in Action exhibit also educates on how the Federal Reserve works, monetary policy, and the roll played by each Federal Reserve District. Play the game show to see how much you know about the Federal Reserve. Or take the Bankers Challenge to understand criteria banks use to determine whether you get your mortgage or business loan. There is even a display to see how good you are at spotting counterfeit money.

When you go

The Dallas Federal Reserve is at 2200 North Pearl Street, Dallas. Security precautions at the building are strict. You must present a government-issued, picture id to gain entrance (passport for international visitors). Everyone goes through a metal detector. All firearms and weapons, including pocketknives, are prohibited. The self-guided tour is available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Federal Reserve building is located kitty-corner to Klyde Warren Park, a great place for a picnic lunch. Parking is available around the area in paid lots and on neighborhood streets. The visitor parking at the Federal Reserve building is restricted to group tours only.

African American Museum Dallas

The African American Museum is a Fair Park treasure. Unlike many of the Fair Park buildings, the museum is not an art deco building, but a newer structure built in the 1980s. North Texas Ramblings African American MuseumLight, airy, and spacious, the building’s grand foyer sets the mood. Galleries branch off from the foyer on two levels. Said to be one of the finest in the nation, the ground floor houses an extensive folk art collection.

Special Exhibits

The museum features African American artists. During a recent visit, I enjoyed the gallery featuring Maryland-based, LaToya M Hobbs. Working in a mixed medium of printmaking, acrylic, and collage, Hobbs’ larger than life art is expressive and beautiful. “My work is an investigation of the point where the notions of race, identity, and beauty intersect concerning women of African descent,” writes the artist. The Hobbs’ exhibit will be at the African American Museum through April 30, 2015.

Freedman’s Cemetery

The real gem of the museum is its Facing the Rising Sun exhibit. I was at first skeptical about an exhibit centered on the archeological excavation of a cemetery. From about the 1850s through early twentieth century, much of the Dallas African American community lived north. Just outside Dallas city limits, the area became known as Freedman Town (about where Uptown Dallas is today). Freedman Cemetery was the burial site for the town. The cemetery fell out of use only to be rediscovered in the 1990s during an Interstate 75 expansion project.

Facing the Rising Sun is so much more than just a display of cemetery artifacts. Throughout the exhibit, you’ll find kiosks with monitors. At each kiosk, you can pick topics, like schools, to learn about life for African Americans living in the Dallas area. Learn about Tom Thumb weddings, African American social clubs, and Sunday afternoon teas. It’s a cornucopia of culture from about 1890 through the 1950.

Sculpture Garden

A small, sculpture garden surrounds the museum. The Bottle Tree, made of metal and glass, anchors the outdoor sculptures. The Bottle Tree is the work of students from the Patsy Eldridge of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

When you go

The African American Museum is located in Fair Park at 3536 Grand Avenue, Dallas. The museum is free, though there is a charge for groups of 20 people or more. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, contact the museum at (214) 565-9026 or visit their website at aamdallas.org

Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas

If you are looking for a trip over spring break but don’t want to go too far afield, consider a trip to Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas. The park is actually the set of historic buildings that comprise Washington. The nineteenth century town transports visitors to the Washington Parkpast when great western pioneers like Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Stephen Austin traveled the Southwest Trail.

Washington History

Originally a supply depot along the Southwest Trail, Washington grew into a major town in the 1830s. In its heyday the town boasted 16 doctors, 17 lawyers and three hotel keepers along with a host of craftsman and merchants — impressive for a frontier settlement.

It’s this golden age – 1830 through 1880 – Historic Washington State Park captures with its living history exhibits and reenactments. Over a dozen buildings have been restored including the 1836 Courthouse that served as Arkansas’ State Capital during the Civil War; a tavern purportedly where Houston, Crockett and Austin planned the liberation of Texas from Mexico; Greek-Revival styled homes built in the mid 1800s; and even a log home circa 1835. Other buildings like the blacksmith shop are reconstructions.

The 1874 Hempstead County Courthouse houses the park visitor center. For a nominal $8 (children are just $4), visitors can take a walking tour through several of the historic buildings. Costumed docents at each building bring history to life with stories of Washington’s past. Allow at least three hours for the walking tour. Not all buildings are open each day, but visitors will be able to tour at least eight of the historic structures.

What you’ll see

The 1920 Print Museum is a favorite with its functioning antique printing press. First published in Washington in 1839 the Washington Telegraph is the oldest, continuously published weekly newspaper in Arkansas.

The legendary Bowie Knife was made by Washington resident James Black, a silversmith, for frontiersman James Bowie. Visitors learn more about the Bowie Knife and blacksmithing at the blacksmith shop.

Those interested in antique weapons will want to visit the B.W. Edwards Weapons Museum. Housed in the Old Bank Building, over 600 historic rifles and pistols are on display.

Other historic buildings provide visitors with a glimpse into everyday life. Homes of prominent Washington residents are furnished as they would have been in the mid 1800’s.

In addition to the walking tour, Historic Washington State Park hosts several reenactments throughout the year including a Civil War Weekend in November. A favorite time to visit the park is in March when thousands of naturalized jonquils create yellow flowering carpets throughout the town. The park’s Jonquil Festival, a three-day event with craft fair, is in mid-March.

When you go

Before you leave the park, be sure to dine at the Williams’ Tavern Restaurant. Located in a historic 1832 building, Williams’ Tavern serves southern food at affordable prices. The restaurant is on the grounds and open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Historic Washington State Park is located eight miles northwest of Hope, Ark., on Highway 278.  The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.