Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Day 33 & Day 34 - Oklahoma City

We spent two nights in Oklahoma City staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Bricktown. Oklahoma City was a surprise for us, we didn't expect to enjoy this city so much. We walked everywhere and felt very safe, there didn't seem to be any areas within the main downtown areas that as a tourist, you should avoid. It was a very clean city with an arty/trendy vibe.

It looked like around town they were putting in a Trolley Bus service which would have been useful as it was 97F and a little too hot to be walking around in all day but we stayed hydrated and stopped off where we could for a quick blast of aircon!

We walked from our hotel in Bricktown through the Business district, to Park Plaza, Midtown and then back to Bricktown via the Arts District.

We visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum which remembers the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19th 1995. The memorial and the museum were really thought-provoking and put into perspective the lives that were lost and the impact it had on those who survived, the rescue workers and the families and friends. We hadn't realised the number of children that died or were injured; there was a day care facility in the building which was badly hit by the blast. Each of the chairs in the memorial garden represents someone who died, the smaller chairs are children. One story that stood out for me was of the lady whose leg was trapped by a key beam holding the building up, without any real drugs, a doctor had to cut her leg off from the knee in order to save her. He did so with whatever knives he could find, including a pen knife.

We met Ian, a National Parks Ranger, whilst visiting the memorial gardens. There was actually a really loud siren going off and little worried that no one seemed to be panicking and running indoors, I asked Ian what was going on. He told us it was just a weekly test of the tornado sirens and not to worry until he starts running, then we should run too! Ian was really knowledgeable about the events of the attack, how it unfolded, the motives and what happened after. We really enjoyed his story telling and all the information he provided. Thank you Ian!

We spent the afternoon in Midtown and then the evening back in Bricktown. It was a Saturday night so party night but we struggled to find somewhere to chill out and relax with a drink that didn't require an expensive entrance fee or was so busy that service was slow. We ended up with an early night but we'd had two nights out in Oklahoma City felt we had managed to get a good taste of the night scene, especially around the Bricktown area.

Lee Special - Kraftwerk Love

Those with more than a passing interest in electronic music may have noticed in the pictures and videos that I was wearing my Kraftwerk Autobahn t-shirt in Wichita.

I haven't had many comments on my clothes whilst on the road (aside from "I love your shorts, man" in a hotel lift), but in Wichita the Kraftwerk love was in full flow. Twice within the space of about 15 minutes I had a verbal hat-tip from strangers who acknowledged the German musical pioneers, and a fair few other knowing smiles.


Lee Special - Twice the Ice

We often need to find ice for our cooler, to keep the provisions we have either bought or snaffled from hotels cool. We found bagged ice from camp stores and supermarkets to be quite expensive, and kept seeing these Penguin-decorated Twice The Ice machines in almost every town we drove through, so thought we'd give it a shot:

Day 33 - Wichita & The Chisholm Trail

We started the morning off visiting a couple of 'must see' places in Wichita. The first one was the number one attraction (according to TripAdvisor) the Nifty Nut House. This store was huge and it contained nuts, dried fruit and sweets. We sampled a lot of different nuts and sweets and ending up buying some spicy corn, sea salt, caramel and chocolate covered popcorn and some caramel mixed nuts.

We then headed to another top Wichita attraction, the first ever Pizza Hut! It was located at Wichita State University and took us a while to find as it was moved to a new location at the end of last year. Whilst we were searching, it was a good opportunity to see an American university. It was huge and all the facilities looked super modern, including the massive baseball stadium which looked just as big and impressive as some of the national team stadiums.

We found the Pizza Hut which was very small brick building, I guess all businesses start somewhere! There was a museum inside but it wasn't open when we visited, I took a couple of photos through the window although they didn't come out very well due to my shadow.

We left Wichita and headed for Oklahoma City via the Chisholm Trail. The Chisholm Trail is an old cattle drive route where animals would be herded by cowboys from the ranches in Texas to the railway in Kansas. Once you get out of the big city and cross the Oklahoma state line, the trail becomes a scenic road through farmland, with a couple of historic markers and a few small towns to stop off on the way.

The ladies at the Oklahoma Tourist Information stop were very helpful and gave us a lot of information about the Chisholm Trail and Oklahoma. It helped us to decide what to spent our time seeing. We decided to stop off at a town called Enid for lunch.

The tourist guide said that Enid had "boundless opportunities, vibrant shopping, unique places to eat, and original events and attractions". It was very quiet when we visited but that could be because it was a weekday and the shops were not very tourist focused but it did have a nice walking route that took you a couple of blocks around the main square.

Enid was one of the stops for people on the Chisholm Trail needing food or water. There were a number of statues and information boards about the trail. We didn't see all of these as they are located in and around the town, included in a number of parks but our walk around the downtown area gave us enough information.

We found a 'unique' place to eat, a British pub (well an Irish pub called Callahan's, decorated with British memoribilia and serving British style food). We really wanted to try local food on our trip but we really couldn't resist trying the American version of our Doner Kebab. It was not quite the same, if anything, it seemed healthier (grilled meat on a pita style bread with salad and feta cheese) and it was really good!

One from unique and fun thing we found in Enid was the bridge on Main Street. Despite looking like a monster, having flashing lights and a large height sign, trucks are still gobbled up with it (hit the bridge as they're too big)! We passed under without being eaten but Fin is only little. 

After Enid, we carried on down the Chisolm Trail through a number of different towns heading towards out next stop, Kingfisher. 

Kingfisher has a lovely old fashioned main highstreet and its not difficult to imagine what it would have been like back when the cattleman would visit. On one side of the highstreets is a monument to the trail and to the creator of the trail Jesse Chisholm. The stores along the highstreet were trailored to local needs so we didn't find anywhere to stop for an ice cream, coffee or beer but maybe this is an area that not many tourists stop off at so there is no need for these stores. 

Next we headed to another stop recommended by the ladies in the Oklahoma Tourist Office, the Chisholm Trail Museum.

Our favourite part of this museum was the Pioneer Village. There were two houses, a school, a church and the first bank building in Kingfisher. The building and their contents were in great conidition and original, even the contents felt original and I think most of it was!

It was really interesting to learn a bit more history of the trail how it originally went through Indian Territory, how Jesse negotiated safe passage with the Indians (he could speak 14 dialects!) and then how the trail ended with the land rush of 1889.

From Kingfisher, we headed into Oklahoma City where we are due to spend the next couple of nights.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Day 32 - Mushroom Rock, Hutchinson & Wichita

Our plan today was to head towards Wichita going via Mushroom Rock State Park and Hutchinson.

I had read about Mushroom State Park in one of our Best Road Trips of America guides. It is the smallest state park in Kansas at just 5 acres in size. Lee wasn't very keen to stop off at this park as he had read somewhere online that it was just two mushroom shaped rocks that you view from your car, he also wasn't overly happy when he saw the single track dirt road we needed to go down to reach it, memories of the Smoky Mountains came back! But we were both glad we made the short detour. Whilst the park is small, it was empty. One of the mushrooms was close to the car park but the second one was a short walk away over a pretty bridge and into a prairie. It was worth the stop!

Next stop was the town of Huchinson. The drive took us through a lot of farmland, small farming towns, huge cooperative grain stores and lots of railway lines (we assume to move the grain around the country).

I'm sure we will be writing about this in the future as we move into Texas but over the last few days, we have seen fields full of Nodding Donkeys (or Pumpjacks). For people who live in this area, its probably nothing very special but for Lee and I, this is the first time we've seen this working in real life to pump oil out of the fields and to see so many of them as really impressive.

There were two recommendations for attractions to see in Hutchinson. We planned to only do one but they were both so awesome, we ended up doing both!

The first one we did was the Cosmosphere. Lee is a huge fan of all things space, owning two telescopes (which rarely get any use in the UK!). We really didn't think that this small city in Kansas state would compare to the Kennedy Space Center which we saw 8 years ago when we were in Florida for our engagement but it did. We were both really tempted to say it was better the the Kennedy Space Center but it really needed a full day or several days to take in all the information, exhibits, films and activities. We only walked around the museum which unlike other space museums we have been to, starting telling the story of space travel from Hilter's rule, through the cold war, to the Apollo programme, the Shuttles and then finally to what the future could hold. What was most impressive about this place was the amount of memorabilia they had collected and a lot of it was very unique. For example, they had WW2 rockets, parts of the Berlin wall, the Apollo 13 capsule, an entire SR71, replica lunar lander and moon buggy and lots of astronaut equipment including a toilet! We had a huge amount of fun but it was information overload.

The next attraction was the Strataca underground salt mines. We hadn't realised until we visited that Hutchinson is the salt capital of America. It has been home to salt mines since 1887 and is nicknamed of "Salt City". Strataca is the only working salt mine you can visit in the US, it is mined by the Hutchinson Salt Company and over 500,000 ton of rock salt is removed each year to be used on the roads in winter or in animal feed. The tour takes you down 650 feet to an area that was mined in the 30s, 40s and 50s. In the mine is a museum that tells the story of the mine and the difference in salt mining over the years, a ride on a train on the original tracks they used to move the salt out of the mine and a ride in the dark on a tram. Parts of the mine that are not used any longer for mining are now used for storing documents, media and artifacts, including movies and pictures from Disney and Hollywood movies. Apparently the constant temperature and humidity makes it the perfect locations for keeping these items safe and in their original form. We were also allowed to choose our own piece of salt to take with us after the tour. You can't eat it or do anything with it really, its just a decoration and will hopefully make it through the remaining 5 months and come back with us to the UK.

Here is our film of these two attractions:

We left Huchinson and headed to our final destination for the day, Wichita. We stayed in a lovely hotel in Old Town called Hotel at Old Town which was a fantastic location for reaching some local bars and restaurants but we also had a suite with a huge hot tub.

We really enjoyed the Pump House which is a converted Gas Station where we had Southwest Egg Rolls (chicken, corn, cheese, spinach and herbs rolled in tortillas and fried) and a Beer, Pig and Cheese pizza (garlic, cream cheese, beer onions, bacon and mozzarella on a pizza), the bar opposite our hotel call the River City Brewing Company where we sat on the balcony watching the world go by and Morts: a cigar and martini bar where there were hundreds of different martinis on the menu, I only managed to try a few.

Old Town in Wichita is an old industrial area that has been converted into trendy bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. We're noticing this has happened in a number of cities we have visited, the downtown areas are business-focused and for tourists there isn't a huge amount going on, especially if you visit at a weekend but the old industrial areas are where it's now happening.