Best of OKL 2017
Votes are in for the 2017 "Best of OKL!" See which local favorites are taking home the esteemed title.
Best Athlete: Russell Westbrook
By Laura Araujo
Photo by James Pratt
Russell Westbrook didn’t start out a star. In high school, he only made the varsity team as a junior. He was recruited to play in college, but rode the bench much of his first year at UCLA. The summer after his freshman season, he trained hard. When a teammate’s injury left an opening in the starting lineup, Westbrook took advantage of the opportunity to shine.
His two-year college career established him as the No. 4 draft pick in 2008. Days after he signed on with the Seattle SuperSonics, the team relocated to Oklahoma City. Since then, the 6-foot 3-inch point guard has been a driving force behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, leading the team to the Western Conference Finals four times and once to the NBA Finals.
During his career, Westbrook has been recognized as a five-time NBA All-Star and a two-time All-Star MVP. He recently completed the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan, recording double-digit points, assists and rebounds in seven consecutive games.
On November 17, 2016, Westbrook was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Jordan presented him the honor.
“I’m truly a fan of his,” Jordan said of Westbrook at the induction ceremony. “I see a lot of resemblance in his passion for the game of basketball in the way I play the game of basketball.”
Basketball greats Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson have also spoken public accolades about Westbrook’s athleticism and passion for the game.
With Westbrook’s contract set to expire after the current season, many anticipated the Los Angeles native would return to California. But in August, he signed on for three more years with the Thunder.
“There is nowhere else I would rather be than Oklahoma City,” Westbrook said during a press conference on August 4, 2016. “I’ve been here since I was 18, 19 years old. You did nothing but great things for me. Through the good and bad, you supported me through it all. [I] definitely want the opportunity to be loyal to you guys. Loyalty is something I stand by.” It’s likely this loyalty that has made Westbrook OKL readers’ pick for the state’s best athlete.
Best Made in OK Product: Griffin’s Syrup
By Laura Araujo
A fluffy stack of pancakes is a great way to start the day—even better when they’re dressed with a drizzle of Griffin’s Syrup.
For more than 100 years, Griffin Foods has been a proud Oklahoma-based company. The brand has become a household name, in part due to the popularity of its pancake and waffle syrups.
Brothers John W. and Charles M. Griffin founded Griffin Foods in 1908. Originally from Mississippi, the pair first opened a grocery wholesale company in Durant, Okla. In 1911, Griffin Foods was incorporated in Muskogee, Okla.
A century later, John T. Griffin, the grandson of one of the founders, serves as president of the family-owned company.
“Griffin Foods items have been in Oklahoma stores for years. That’s why we have such a loyal following,” says Cliff Beahm, Griffin Foods vice president of sales.
“John is proud to be an Oklahoman. He is a firm believer in employing local people and supporting the community.”
In 1930, Griffin Foods began manufacturing and selling its popular pancake and waffle syrups. The difference between the two products? Beahm says it’s subtle. The waffle syrup is slightly thicker, darker and richer. The pancake syrup is lighter in color and not quite as sweet.
“It’s a matter of personal preference,” he says.
Besides Griffin Foods’ track record of quality, a wide variety of flavored pancake syrups—everything from bacon and butter pecan to praline and pumpkin—helps set it apart. New to the product line is a three-ingredient organic syrup made with organic cane sugar, organic flavor and water.
Today, you don’t have to live in Oklahoma to enjoy the syrup; it’s available regionally, nationally and some is even exported.
So grab a bottle, cook up a short stack and enjoy this sweet, made-in-Oklahoma topping.
Best Fishing Spot: Lake Tenkiller
By Gail Banzet-Ellis
Year-round fishing is available at Lake Tenkiller where Park Manager Lessley Pulliam says fishermen and women can reel in a great catch during any season. Spanning more than 12,000 acres in the Oklahoma Ozarks near Tahlequah, the lake is known for its white bass and catfish as well as a smallmouth bass fishery.
“People fish for winter crappie, spring sandbass and crappie, fall smallmouth and catfish anytime of the year,” Pulliam says.
Residents from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Louisiana regularly visit Lake Tenkiller’s campsites and cabins to experience the great outdoors.
“The lake reaches depths of 156 feet near the dam,” Pulliam says. “The clear water, limestone bluffs and Ozark Mountains are a prime draw for fishermen and women.”
Lake Tenkiller caters to visitors with fishing structures and markers, provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. An annual fishing clinic is available to the public each May.
Pulliam says Tenkiller State Park’s 48 cabins as well as unique, Civilian Conservation Corps era cabins at the nearby Greenleaf State Park contribute to the lake’s enjoyable fishing experience. Bed and breakfasts and other marina attractions also are available in the Lake Tenkiller area. For more information, visit www.travelok.com
Best Outdoor Scenery: Talimena Scenic Byway
By Amanda Lester
Get out and explore the winner of the Best of OKL’s best outdoor scenery with the Talimena Scenic Byway through the Ouachita National Forest starting in Talihina, Okla., and ending in Mena, Ark.
The drive started in 1832 as a gravel military road. As more people used it, its beautiful views were discovered and talked about. President Lyndon Johnson decided in 1969-1970 to make the road a highway and it was dedicated by his daughter, Lucy; this began Oklahoma State Highway 1. In 1989, the roadway was named a National Forest Scenic Byway. In 1998, it was made an Arkansas State Scenic Byway and an Oklahoma State Scenic Byway in 2002. In 2005, it was renamed the Talimena Scenic Byway.
“Talimena Scenic Drive is a God-given venue,” says Mike Doughty, marketing coordinator for the Talimena Scenic Drive Association. “A person could take a whole week to explore it and the areas around it and not see everything.”
Doughty adds the drive includes more than 20 vistas with trails, historic facts and campgrounds along the 54-mile stretch of byway. There is something for everyone from horseback riding to hunting and fishing to ATV sites, biking and hiking—not to mention the drive itself. At each end of the drive, there are visitor centers to help plan the drive from Talihina to Mena.
For more information or to plan a trip visit www.talimenascenicdrive.com.
Best Kid-Oriented Event: Science Museum
By Amanda Lester
To some that is not a fun word, but to the staff and visitors to the Best of OKL’s Best Kid- Oriented Event, the Science Museum of Oklahoma, science is fun and more.
Located in Oklahoma City, the SMO was the Omniplex until 2007, when they wanted to restructure how and what science was displayed. SMO has physics, chemistry, biology and everything in between.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
The SMO takes that to a whole other level by engaging budding scientists through play.
“‘Revealing the wonder and relevance of science through play,’” says Clint Stone, director of education at SMO, “that’s our motto and we strive to make it a reality.”
The Science Live show helps children gain a basic understanding of chemistry and physics. Throughout the museum are oddities: a tinkering garage, a Segway course, a space exploration, a planetarium and a train, among other exhibits. Children of all ages can find something in the massive museum to play with, but more importantly to learn while playing.
Until January 8, SMO is hosting a da Vinci exhibit, including models of his inventions. The exhibit originated in Australia and was in Japan before coming to Oklahoma. Some items are not to be touched, but there is a hands-on section.
“This is the first time an exhibit like this has ever been to Oklahoma,” Stone says. “The exhibit has items that da Vinci invented and they are put together using tools and components he would have had.”
Load up the kids, and head to OKC to the SMO for playtime learning and fun. For more information, visit the SMO website at www.sciencemuseumok.org.
Best Bed & Breakfast: Willows Inn
By Laura Araujo
Stories sometimes give birth to dreams, and for Marketta Kidwell, it was a story that propelled her into a new career after retirement.
“I had read a book about a bed and breakfast and I thought it sounded like something fun to do,” she says.
In 1997, Marketta and her husband David, TCEC members, purchased their retirement home in Guymon, Okla. Soon after, Marketta went about transforming the five-bedroom house into the Willows Inn Bed and Breakfast.
The Willows Inn is situated on four acres southeast of town. The ornamental grasses and 50-foot Austrian pines surrounding the B&B give guests the feeling of being at a mountain retreat— without having to travel to the mountains.
Inside, Marketta decorated each of the four guest rooms and the Great Room, a common space, in an elegant-casual style, complete with leather furniture and local artwork. One of the guest rooms, the Heartland Suite, features a fireplace and a Jacuzzi tub.
Marketta ran the B&B by herself until her husband retired in 2006; today, it’s a team effort.
“David loves to cook and I love to socialize,” she says.
When it comes to food, David cooks up a full breakfast each morning. He enjoys serving guests a meal they can’t get everywhere—dishes like crepes, coconut-crusted French toast, frittatas, and stuffed croissants.
While David is in the kitchen, Marketta provides hospitality to help her guests feel welcome and at home.
“I love visiting with all of the different people and sharing our home with them,” she says “We’ve made lots of friends over the years.” The Willows Inn is open 365 days a year. Book reservations online at http://www.thewillowsinn.net or by calling 580-338-1303. Use your co-op connections card for a 10 percent discount.
Best Bucket List To-Do: Drive Route 66
By Gail Banzet-Ellis
The Mother Road is timeless. Opened to travelers in 1926, Oklahoma’s 408 miles of Route 66 draw thousands of motorists each year. The historic eight-state highway from Chicago, Ill., to Santa Monica, Ca., has experienced a resurgence in popularity and preservation. While some of the extra attention is due to the animated movie “Cars,” Route 66 experts say the road draws travelers searching for a sense of nostalgia.
“People drive the road to remember a simpler life,” says Marilyn Emde, executive director of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association and a member of Central Electric Cooperative. “They enjoy the retro motels and diners. Die-hard fans will only stay at mom and pop businesses along the route.”
Ken Busby, executive director of Tulsa’s Cyrus Avery Plaza and chief executive officer of the new Route 66 Alliance, says there are at least 10 major landmarks along Oklahoma’s stretch of Route 66. The Rock Café in Stroud, Blue Whale in Catoosa, Round Barn in Arcadia and many other iconic locations attract motorists from the United States, Europe and Asia.
“People are starting to talk about the road in a more meaningful way,” he says. “International tourists like the openness and freedom the route offers.”
Busby and his Tulsa colleagues established Tulsa’s Route 66 Alliance in 2015 to promote the road and the cultural richness of its host communities. As local efforts expand to preserve the decommissioned highway, the appeal of Route 66 will continue to grow.
“We want to promote the Mother Road and everything that goes along with it,” he says.
Best Horseback Riding Trail: Arbuckle Trail Rides
By Amanda Lester
Saddle up, buckaroos, and head out year-round to the winner of the Best of OKL’s Best Horseback Rides, Arbuckle Trail Rides. Located just north of Sulphur, Okla., visitors can enjoy a ride with Pete and Cheri Wolfe, members of People’s Electric Cooperative.
The Wolfes have around 20 horses to ride on private ranches, Duncan Lake, McGee Creek State Park and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (CNRA). They run the trail rides and raise Quarter horses along with employees Ashley Fleming, McKenzie McCaleb and Donna Johnson.
Pete, a native Oklahoman, and Cheri, a native Coloradoan, have been riding the CNRA for 36 years and have owned Arbuckle Trail Rides for the last 16. They were both professional horse trainers, specifically reiners, show and all-around Quarter horses.
“Do you know what old horse trainers do when they can’t ride young horses anymore?” Cheri asks with a laugh. “They trail ride.”
Trail horses have to be able to navigate any and all terrain, including rocks, water, bridges, flat and hills. They have to be gentle, calm and obedient.
“We buy horses from people or raise our own to use on the trails,” Pete says. “Before we put anyone else on them, we ride them for a while to make sure they can handle the terrain and they have the correct temperament.”
“Sleepy there, he’s had kids and people that have never been on a horse before,” Donna says as she points to the bay horse by the fence.
The Wolfe Ranch Quarter Horses is the beginning and meeting place for most trail rides. The Wolfes and their crew will have the horses saddled and waiting. Depending on where and how long the trail ride will be, the customer will follow them to the location or meet them there. Most of the rides are in the CNRA, about 15 minutes from the ranch.
Upon arrival, someone will help to tighten the cinch, give a few words of wisdom about the horses and the fun will begin. As the ride goes through valleys and small trails, the horses line up nose to end and walk, following each other. The scenery is absolutely beautiful and photo opportunities are readily available. For more information or to make reservations visit arbuckletrailrides.com.