Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Impressions of...Oklahoma

I thought I would start this series of blog posts, Impressions of..., after leaving each state in which we spend time while on this grand adventure.  Here is where I'll document my thoughts about the state, its people and any other thing that I might have found interesting.  So, here we go with the first state, Oklahoma.

Prior to spending this time in Oklahoma, I never realized just how steeped in Indian history and culture the state was. By spending the little time we did in museums, I learned so much about the history of the state and about Indian tribes in general.  Broken treaties, the Trail of Tears and the current form of jurisdiction and ownership, Oklahoma certainly would not be the state it is today without the Native American influence.  Its people, at least in the areas we visited, seemed to be poor and the cities appear to be trying their best to upgrade and grow into destinations, rather than stops on the way to somewhere else.

Reservations as we know them in the west do not exist, but Indian owned casinos are everywhere.  From a small, bowling alley sized enterprise on a back country road to the "world's largest casino" on the Oklahoma/Texas border, gambling is as much a part of everyday life as going to Homeland, the most common grocery store we saw, after Walmart.

Tornado season was something I personally haven't had to deal with in over 30 years but since we visited in the spring, tornado warnings were almost every day occurrences.  The thought of going down into the ground, into a shelter, completely freaks me out, but it's just another part of nearly everyone's homes in their backyards or communities.  The humidity, at least in this time of year, wasn't particularly high, but I'm sure it has the potential to get pretty sticky in full summer.

Western Oklahoma looks a lot like Kansas to me, with flat prairies, dry land farming and tiny towns dotting the landscape.  But the eastern side of the state was a surprise with its rolling hills and plentiful lakes.  They may have been experiencing drought in the past, but while we were there, the lakes were filling up and the ground, in many places, couldn't hold any more water.

The actual population statistics of the three largest cities in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Muskogee  was a shock to me.  At 600,000, 400,000 and 40,000, they are similar to Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction respectively, but seemed so much smaller.  I was not intimidated by driving in any of the cities and found that they were easy to navigate.

Lots of well known people are from Oklahoma, but we either went through or stayed in the hometowns of Brad Pitt (Shawnee), Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert (Tishomingo), Carrie Underwood (Checotah) and Kristin Chenowith (Broken Arrow), just to name a few.  It's interesting to think about the beginnings of famous people when you see, in some cases, the itty bitty towns in which they grew up.

All told, I enjoyed our time in Oklahoma (mechanical problems notwithstanding!)  and would willingly come back.  Given unlimited time, there are many more museums, historical sites and attractions to see and beautiful lakes on which to spend a summer.  Not sure I could actually live here full time, but visiting was pleasant and educational and I'm glad we had the time here that we did.

One state down, 47 to go?

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