I have traveled through all of the 50 states and have discovered that each state has its own distinct personality and look. The state of Louisiana brings to mind bayous, Spanish moss, and swamp areas. Kentucky conjures up fields of Blue grass, horse farms, and tobacco fields. For Oklahoma, it is prairie grass, Indians, and the prairie schooners of the Oklahoma Land Rush. In modern times, the prairie schooners of Oklahoma have given way to SUVs and family sedans all driving across Interstates and highways to reach their destination. LaVerne and I joined the combustion engine convoy and were headed out to the place that the Pioneer Woman calls home - Pawhuska. Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, hosts a cooking show on the Food Channel network and has risen to popularity among cooking show devotees in every state. My goal was to visit the area and see if she could possibly be real and live the wonderful life of a wife, mother, blogger, and food show star. As we drove a little farther down the road, I saw something on my left that looked like an entrance to a ranch with a sign across the road that said... OMG, it said Drummond Ranch! Ree Drummond is real. She does live on a ranch with her husband Ladd. She does have 4 wonderful children and a lodge where she cooks and entertains. She really does have a beautiful floral Kitchen Aid mixer that taught me what the word "covet" means. It's not just a TV show - it's life!
But, let's begin at the beginning. The distance from Houston, Tx to Oklahoma City, OK is 445 miles. The drive takes between 7 and 8 hours depending on how many stops are made. Getting through the Dallas/Fort Worth area can be a little tricky but soon you arrive at the border and leave the great state of Texas to cross into the great state of Oklahoma. I don't know if Oklahoma City is considered a destination vacation spot but if it isn't, it should be. The city is big enough to offer all desired conveniences but still small enough to keep a visitor from getting lost in the maze of traffic and freeways of larger cities. Conveniently, we stayed with LaVerne's daughter and had a centrally located home base to use while we explored all that the city had to offer.
For our first excursion, we ventured out to the Will Rogers Gardens. Will Rogers was an American cowboy, humorist, and social commentator from Oklahoma. He was born in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory and was tragically killed in a plane crash along with aviator, Wiley Post, on August 17, 1935 near Point Barrow, Alaska. Oklahoma has several memorials to him throughout the state. The gardens we visited cover 30 acres with an arboretum and a conservatory housing cacti and succulent collections. The park also features outdoor beds of daylilies, iris, azaleas, and other flowers all landscaped into beautiful settings alongside a serene lake where swans and ducks swam lazily around the park. We were fortunate enough to have clear, cool weather for our visit and walking around the trails, looking at the various flowers was a wonderfully relaxing way to spend our first day. We noticed a woman working on a bed of iris and it appeared that many bulbs had already been planted for the coming spring. I can only imagine that the park will be a blanket of magnificent color as the flowers reach their peak bloom in the coming months. The park's suggested best use is from April through October but I think the area would be enjoyable just about any time of the year.
The next day, we visited one of the country's premier museums - The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum renowned for its superb collection of western art and works by Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and James Earle Fraser. Fraser is well known for his sculpture, The End of the Trail. The exhibition wing features a turn-of-the-century replica of a prairie town named Prosperity Junction where visitors can walk down the streets and look in some of the store windows. Other areas of the museum have individual galleries that illustrate the western cowboy, Indian life, and life on the frontier. One of the most interesting displays features all the movie cowboys from William S. Hart and Tom Mix to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. There is even a small theater showing old western movies where LaVerne and I watched all the actors from our youth as we sat there playing "remember him?"
The layout of the museum is great, and there wasn't an exhibit that we didn't enjoy. The western paintings were incredible, and we spent a lot of the morning exploring the art and historical collection of the societies found in the Old West. We took a break for lunch at the Museum Grill and were pleasantly surprised at the great taste of the sandwiches and chili we ordered. Before leaving, we wandered through the manicured outdoor gardens and viewed western statues that were placed throughout the landscape. This museum is worth a trip to Oklahoma City just to roam through all the galleries and exhibits. It is a complete chronicle of our western heritage.
Our next outing was a venture to Lake Hefner in northwest Oklahoma City. This lake was built in 1947 as a reservoir to expand the water supply for the city. It has become a premiere location for sailboating, fishing, hiking, and golfing or just for an outdoor picnic. There are trails around the lake and numerous parks for the younger visitors. There is also a lighthouse that is used mainly for photo ops. We enjoyed watching the sailboats skimming along the water with a good wind in their sails; we saw braver souls than I parasailing high over the water while being towed by motorboats, and smaller, single person boats floating lazily close to the shore. We drove almost the entire circle around the lake and saw a golf course that was in full use, people jogging or speed-walking on the trails, and a few children flying kites or just enjoying the area with their parents. The lake is a wonderful recreation area for the city and has many great restaurants where diners can enjoy good food and a beautiful view of the lake.
Soon the day for our quest to find the Pioneer Woman arrived and we eagerly climbed into the car for the 147 mile drive to Pawhuska. We took Interstate 35 as far north as Tonkawa and then headed East on State Highway 60. The drive took us deep into the prairie grass of Oklahoma and straight to Osage County. Osage is the largest county by area in Oklahoma and was created in 1907 when Oklahoma was admitted as a state. The area contains the Osage Nation Reservation, and Pawhuska is the county seat. Most of the county is in the Osage Plains and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve that serves as an example of the tallgrass that once covered the North American continent and is the only protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. The preserve is also home to the Tallgrass Prairie bison herd that was started in 2009 and continues to grow.
Driving to Pawhuska, we had passed a large wind farm field where huge turbines stood like giant galactic sentries guarding the countryside. Wind farms have always look other-worldly to me, and as we drove close to some of the towering windmills, I was fascinated by the size of the blades that turn slowly and steadily, mesmerizing anyone who looks at them too long. Soon, we passed the Drummond Ranch sign, and the excitement set in. We knew it was only a few more miles to Pawhuska. When we entered the town, it was a surprise to find the large developed downtown business area that is home to the Mercantile, the retail store of the Pioneer Woman. The streets were lined with red brick buildings, and there was an abundance of activity in the small town. Something about the architecture and color of the buildings made me feel like we had traveled back in time to the oil boom of the early 1900s. The most outstanding architectural feature of the town was the Triangle Building situated across the street from the Mercantile. The once crumbling building has been renovated and now serves as the Frontier Hotel. The town of Pawhuska is surrounded by cattle ranches, and a casino opened by the Osage Nation in June of 2003, as a means of generating revenue for the tribe.
As we drove further into the town, I wondered if I would be able to find the Mercantile amidst all the red brick buildings. I shouldn't have even given that a thought for as we drove through the outer city limits; we could see a crowd of people standing on the sidewalk in front of the store. We were lucky to get a relatively close parking space only a couple of blocks away. As soon as we entered the "The Merc", I was immediately impressed with the finished construction and layout of the store. Ree Drummond had shown the progress of the re-modeling of the building on her cooking show, and it was interesting to follow the progression of work as her crew turned the old building into a well-configured retail establishment. The store has a great layout. There is a large, open ground floor well stocked with lots of wonderful Pioneer Woman merchandise to browse and purchase. The second level contains a bakery/coffee shop. There is also a dine-in restaurant connected to the store, and since it was a cloudy, cool, Tuesday, the wait wasn't that long to get lunch. LaVerne and I both ordered the same thing: homemade tomato/basil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Everything was delicious which is to be expected since cooking is behind the success of the Pioneer Woman. There is a full menu with more hearty meal offerings but somehow, the comfort of tomato soup and grilled cheese just seemed fitting.
Besides the Mercantile, the Drummonds opened The Boarding House and the P-Town Pizzeria. Also in the works are a steakhouse and saloon that will be part of the Pioneer Woman franchise. There is no doubt that the Drummonds gave a boost to the historic town. Other businesses have opened due to the increased numbers of tourists flocking to the city, and the common belief among the merchants is that there is enough business for everyone. If you plan a trip to the Mercantile, before you go, visit the Pioneer Woman's website at www.themercantile.com. The site offers information for your visit as well as online shopping. Under the Visit the Merc tab, you can get information on taking a Lodge Tour. Tickets are only available on the day of the tour and can be picked up at the Mercantile. Dates for the tours are listed on the website. There is also a tab for Nearby Attractions that will give you information on places to see in the area as well as other places to eat and shop in the town. The Mercantile and Pawhuska are "must sees" for all little old ladies and young ladies too, plus, there are enough attractions in the area to please the little old men and younger men as well.
If Oklahoma hasn't been on your radar as a place to visit, I think you should reconsider and set your prairie schooner to cross the state border and visit all the wonders that Oklahoma has to offer. As the song says "We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand."
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