More Kicks on Route 66 – Eastern Oklahoma
Our recent Route 66 trek began in St. Louis, Missouri and ended in Amarillo, Texas. We drove about 800 miles between the two cities over four days. Traveling Route 66 truly is a kick, but navigating it is sometimes tricky. Although, having to get on and off of the interstate highways when the route ends or backtracking because it’s easy to get lost is just part of the adventure.
Now, on to our first stop…
OK-KS-MO Tri-State Marker
Thanks to Google Maps, we had to backtrack to find this off-route site. While Google took us close to it, we kept ending up at a casino and resort in Oklahoma. We finally found it on an almost hidden gravel road next to the resort. Sadly, after all the time and gasoline spent looking for the marker, we found it to be quite unremarkable. We got the cheap thrill of standing in three states at once though, so the stop wasn’t a total failure.
Tired and hungry, we got on the turnpike, paid our toll, and headed west. We couldn’t find a place to eat, so we got back on Route 66 near Afton, Oklahoma hoping to find food. All we found was barbecue, so we paid another turnpike toll and headed to Catoosa which was our stop for the night. Just when we were both on the verge of becoming hangry, we were gifted with a spectacular Oklahoma sunset. Oh, how nature’s beauty soothes the soul!
Catoosa is located on the banks of the Arkansas River and is home to about 7,100 residents. A couple of museums, the Hard Rock Casino, and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa also call the city home. The reason for our stop? The Blue Whale of Catoosa, of course!
In the early 1970s, Hugh Davis built the whale on the edge of his family’s swimming hole as an anniversary gift for his wife Zelta who collected whale figurines. Local residents showed so much interest in the site that the Davis family eventually added a picnic area and opened it to the public. The swimming hole was closed in 1988 due to Hugh’s failing health. He died in 1990. When Zelta died in 2001, the park fell into disrepair, however, local volunteers joined forces to restore the beloved whale. The City of Catoosa purchased the property in 2020, and today it remains a favorite stop for travelers on Route 66.
Oklahoma, the eastern part of which was known as Indian Territory
prior to becoming a state, has some of the greatest place names ever. Most of them are from Native American names or words, such as: Quapaw, Catoosa, Pawhuska, Chickasha, and Watonga, just to name a few. Our next stop got its name from a derivative of the Creek tribe’s word tallasi which means “old town.”
With only a couple of things we wanted to see in Tulsa, we didn’t spend much time there. Our goal was to see relatives who live just south of the city. Luckily, we were able stop long enough to learn about Cyrus Avery, the “Father of Route 66.”
This beautiful bronze sculpture depicts Avery stopping his Ford on the 11th Street Bridge as the automobile startles two horses pulling a wagon carrying oil barrels.
U.S. Highway 66 Association
In 1927, while serving as a member of a board appointed to create the Federal Highway System, Cyrus Avery successfully advocated for the establishment of the U.S. Highway 66 Association. The association was instrumental in ensuring that the road was paved in its entirety, a major undertaking which was completed in 1938. Furthermore, the association continued to promote Route 66 tourism for more than forty years. In 1970 the association changed its name to Main Street of America Association. However, with new interstates bypassing the old highway, or replacing sections of it completely, the association dissolved in 1976. Click here for a short National Park Service article about the origins of Route 66.
One picture, three eras. The photo above shows the current Route 66 Bridge (left) crossing the Arkansas River, the original Route 66 Bridge (middle) also known as the Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge, and Interstate 44 (right). Cyrus Avery Memorial Bridge is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
We found the 32-story University Club Tower apartment building to be intriguing with its retro vibe and location overlooking the Arkansas River. Completed in 1966, the tower is supposedly the first major building in the U.S. to be designed using a computer.
Moving on Down the Road
Trivia: Indian Territory, which was comprised of most of the eastern half of Oklahoma, almost became the state of Sequoyah. Tribespeople living in Indian Territory held a constitutional convention and overwhelmingly voted for Sequoyah’s statehood. However, due to party politics on the national level, the plan failed. The people of Indian Territory were forced to see their lands merge with Oklahoma Territory to become the 46th state as Oklahoma officially joined the union on November 16, 1907.
Chandler, Oklahoma helps to preserve its Mother Road heritage with the Chandler Route 66 Interpretive Center. The center is housed in the Chandler Armory building which was constructed in 1937 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the center is part museum, it also has a gallery that features videos and artwork depicting the history of the route. We enjoyed watching the videos from the unique seating the center has installed for the comfort of its guests. It even has vinyl beds to lounge on while watching the videos. Needless to say, it is a very laid back, relaxing experience, especially for weary travelers.
Eight miles west of Chandler is Warwick, Oklahoma, home of the Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum. We spent over an hour in the museum where we saw some unique motorcycles and learned the history of the building as well.
The building was constructed for use as a gas station in 1921 by John Seaba and his wife, Alice. Later John turned the building into a machine and engine rebuilding shop but sold the business in 1951. In 1995, the building was sold again, refurbished, and reopened as an antiques store. The current owners purchased the property in 2007 and have restored the front to look like the original gas station. The addition of the motorcycle museum was completed in 2010.
Trivia: Oklahoma’s official state meal includes barbecued pork, chicken fried steak, sausages and gravy, fried okra, grits and squash. The state bean is the black-eyed pea, and the state fruit is the strawberry. Pecan pie is the official state dessert.
This is where we close the post but stay tuned for more of our Route 66 adventure coming soon. Thank you so much for joining us on the eastern half of Route 66 Oklahoma.
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Travel safely, and we will see you on the road!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.