Oklahoma has unique, striking landmarks along its roads
Genesis: In the Beginning is a roadside monument in Stratford, Oklahoma. Photos by Elaine Warner
Roadside attractions have been around as long as there have been roads—or Rhodes—although the Colossus of Rhodes was technically beside a harbor not a highway. Rome’s Arch of Constantine was erected along the Via Triumphalis. Both of these monuments celebrated victories—one in gratitude, the other self-advertisement.
America has its share of magnificent monuments. But it took the advent of the automobile to encourage a subset of these structures. As Americans began to travel, enterprising entrepreneurs erected a variety of monuments designed primarily to encourage travelers to stop and spend money.
The premier example of this genre is the iconic Mount Rushmore. The main purpose of this landmark was to encourage tourism in South Dakota. Most of America’s roadside attractions pale in comparison. Nonetheless, creation of roadside oddities persists, encouraging travelers to stop if only for a photo op. Not all are motivated by monetary gain, but for whatever reason, their existence begs explanation. Oklahoma has its share of attention-getters. Here are a few you can’t miss.
Cimmy the Cimarronasaurus, Boise City
Cimmy the Cimarronasaurus, a life-sized sculpture of an Apatosaurus, stands outside the Cimarron Heritage Center on the north edge of Boise City. The creation of Texas artist Joe Barrington, it’s put together like a slotted child’s toy. The dimensions, 65 feet long and 35 feet tall, are based on the measurements of dinosaur bones found in the western part of Cimarron County. According to museum director Jody Risley, a TCEC member, the late Norma Gene Young was the mover behind this earth-shaker.
“She’d always liked dinosaurs, Risley said, “and offered to write a book and donate the proceeds to fund the sculpture.” The book, “Footsteps: Family Histories of Cimarron County,” sold enough copies to completely pay for the work.
Cimmy the Cimarronasaurus, Boise City | Photo by Elaine Warner
Golden Driller, Tulsa
The Golden Driller is a monument to a time when oil was king and Tulsa was the throne. It was erected in 1953 for the International Petroleum Exposition. Made of angle iron, concrete and plaster, the Golden Driller was once the world’s largest free-standing statue. Today his 76-foot height doesn’t even put him in the top 10. Still, he’s an impressive figure, especially when he stars in photos with mere humans. Look for him at the Tulsa Fairgrounds.
Golden Driller, Tulsa | Photo by Elaine Warner
Blue Whale, Catoosa
The Blue Whale is located just up the highway in Catoosa. Although it is on Historic Route 66, it wasn’t built as an attraction on the Mother Road. It was constructed in the ‘70s after the iconic highway was supplanted by the interstate. Hugh Davis built the blue behemoth as an anniversary gift for his wife—obviously the girl who had everything. Local youngsters enjoyed sliding and diving off the cerulean cetacean into the small pond where it sits. Today there’s no swimming allowed but guests can still enter the belly of the whale or enjoy a picnic on the grounds.
Blue Whale, Catoosa | Photo by Elaine Warner
Totem Pole Park, Foyil
Totem Pole Park isn’t on Historic Route 66, but you can bet that travelers made the short detour off the Route to visit this quirky spot. After retirement in 1936, teacher Ed Galloway built a stone house on 20 acres near Foyil, helped by former students. His next project was to build the world’s largest totem pole as a tribute to the American Indian. In addition to his 90-foot masterpiece, he constructed other folk art pieces, picnic tables and a building now used as a gift shop and museum. Be sure to take time to admire his woodwork in the little museum.
Totem Pole Park, Foyil | Photo by Elaine Warner
Genesis: In the Beginning, Stratford
Genesis: In the Beginning is one of the most intriguing roadside pieces—and not created as one. It rises in a weedy field in front of People’s Electric Cooperative member Robbie Lunsford’s welding shop. The sculpture of the giant hand with a butterfly on the index fingertip is 30 feet tall and not quite finished.
“I keep saying one of these years I’m going to finish it,” Lunsford says.
As for the inspiration behind it, he says, “It’s just what I thought up.” For many it’s inspiring; for others, it’s utilitarian. Lunsford’s mother, Jeannie, also a cooperative member, says, “One of my friends told me, ‘We give directions from the hand.’” You can see it on Highway 177 about 1 3/4 miles south of Stratford.
Genesis: In the Beginning, Stratford | Photo by Elaine Warner
Myrtle, Elk City
Myrtle, an over-sized kachina, and her companion Ya’at’eeh are located on the grounds of the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City on Historic Route 66. The tall oil can constructions were originals on the Mother Road, formerly located in front of the Queenan Trading Post 2 miles west on the old highway. The Trading Post went out of business when the interstate came through. Both Wanda Queenan and the kachinas eventually found their places at the museum. Wanda worked there until her death. The kachinas are still standing on the historic route—luring visitors into the history of that famous road.
Myrtle, Elk City | Photo by Elaine Warner
Pop’s Bottle, Arcadia
Pop’s Bottle is a real attention-grabber, especially at night when its concentric rings, lit with LED lights, change color. But it’s really the whole complex that makes this spot special. The 66-foot bottle, complete with crimped straw, sits on the side of Historic Route 66 to the west of Arcadia. It draws visitors into the 21st century version of a roadside gas station. But what a station! Designed by Oklahoma’s premier architect, Rand Elliott, and commissioned by Chesapeake Energy founder, the late Aubrey McClendon, this combo gas station/diner seeks not to copy or re-create earlier incarnations but to capture the essence and spirit of the road. Architect Elliott can fill paragraphs about the thought behind the design but, boiled down, he says, “Aubrey came to me and asked me if we could build the coolest filling station in the world.” And they did. Pops has been acclaimed internationally including this salute from Design/Curial, an architecture, design and art super-site: “The World’s 10 Best Filling Stations.” Now that’s a real roadside attraction!
Pop's Bottle, Arcadia | Photo by Elaine Warner