Jim Stodola: Wealth of culture, just 2 1/2 hours away

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Jim Stodola/Courtesy photo
Hundreds of American Indian artists, dancers and performers come together for the Red Earth Festival, which happens in early June at Remington Park in Oklahoma City.
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Oklahoma City’s offerings worth the short drive

Yes, it’s only two and a half hours to Oklahoma City, the freeways are fixed, and it’s well worth the drive.

Two years ago my wife and I drove to Oklahoma City for the annual Red Earth Festival, for the parade, the pageantry, the paintings, the pottery and jewelry. The weather was great. This year, my wife checked the forecast, which said it would be sunny. We got up there and it rained for parts of three days. They had to cancel the parade.

But let me combine both years of activities, because you will want to go for the festival, which usually happens the first or second week in June. More than 100 tribes from all of North America attend the festival. The grand parade is downtown on Friday morning. Led by an honor guard of Indian military veterans, it is followed by more than 100 entries in full regalia, and a 50-foot U.S. flag carried horizontally, floats and drumbeats.

At noon the Grand Entry begins. The tribes proudly enter, dancing feathered and beaded and fringed from head to toe. Each outfit sports bright feathers of their tribes, some passed down from many generations, some worth thousands of dollars.

Later comes the competition dancing. It begins with the youngsters, 6- to 12-year-olds competing. Then the competition goes all the way up to people in their 70s. But even then you might see a 2-year-old standing alongside them dressed in the same colored feathers.

Younger men do faster foot-stomping in “grass dances” commemorating earlier years when they would stomp the grass so others could dance. Women in their “golden years” in more subdued deerskin dress are judged by how much they sway their 4-foot leather fringe.

There are upper and lower bustles, headdresses on rockers, bells, rattles filled with corn, pheasant feathers, eagle feathers, bright macaw feathers and a dozen other varieties of colorful feathers. Speaking of eagle feathers, two years ago one was accidentally dropped on the dance floor. The drumbeats stopped, the chanting stopped, the dancing stopped. An elder came onto the dance floor, prayed over it and picked it up. The dancing resumed.

On top of all this there is jewelry, pottery and artwork for you to bring home. We’ve done so both years. Bands provide live music. These are proud peoples and nations, and they rightfully show it. The festival’s awards and honors include being named Oklahoma’s Outstanding Event and making USA Today’s list of “10 Great Places to Celebrate American Indian Culture.”

The festival is not the only reason to visit Oklahoma City. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a must-see. Large stone and bronze sculptures and outdoor gardens offer photo opportunities. There is a three-frame painting that’s 15 feet tall and 36 feet wide. I was told that on the floor and in storage of 220,000 square feet, the museum holds more than 1,000 pieces of art and statuary.

The Oklahoma State Capitol building, its tall dome added in recent years, is impressive. The building itself is adorned with massive murals. Here, too, on five floors, are housed many beautiful paintings and large bronze statuary. Close by is the long, curved Oklahoma History Center with two stories and 215,000 square feet of art and artifacts.

The well-done reflecting pond with two clocks in tall stone monuments on either end, the 168 tall steel and glass-based chairs on the lawn, and the museum at the Oklahoma City National Memorial are somber reminders of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Back to something more pleasant. The nearby Myriad Botanical Gardens (free admittance on this part) and the accompanying Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory (which charges a fee) are out of this world, with ponds and waterfalls and plants that go on seemingly forever at several levels.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is another must see. It covers five centuries of American and European art. The highlight, though, is rooms of colored glasswork by the famed Dale Chihuly. At the entrance is a 55-foot-tall glass sculpture by the glass artist.

The Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum has high-tech interactive exhibits with famous and ordinary folks who “shaped the history of the state, country and world.”

For your entertainment on the southeast corner of town is Bricktown, a revitalized area with restaurants, bars, and a canal to either walk or take a boat ride along. It rivals the Riverwalk in San Antonio. Here also is the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, where the Oklahoma City RedHawks play. They are a minor league team affiliated with the Houston Astros. The Paseo Arts District has 20 galleries occupied by 75 artists.

On the west edge of town is Stockyards City, with shops and restaurants, and a photo opportunity in front of a giant bronze statue of a cowboy chasing a Longhorn steer. A still-working stockyard, the sign across the top of the entry road declares it “the world’s largest stocker and feeder cattle market.”

The old Route 66 passes through several parts of the city with a few remaining landmarks. I encourage you anywhere you cross old Route 66 in the country to check it out.

I have only mentioned places we have gone to in two trips along with a short foray up to Guthrie, the original capital of Oklahoma, and well worth it to view the city’s stately old buildings. But some of you may be interested in the American Banjo Museum, the National Softball Hall of Fame, the Governor’s Mansion, the 99s Museum of Women Pilots, the Oklahoma Railway Museum, the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum, Science Museum Oklahoma and others.

Remember, it’s all only two and a half hours away.

Happy trails.

JIM STODOLA, a contributing columnist, can be reached at jimstodola1@gmail.com.

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