Bricktown/Wichita Wildlife Refuge

~Here’s How You Do It

Oklahoma is proving to the world that it may just be the little engine that could. From the Grapes Of Wrath dust bowl to the thunder of an NBA basketball team, this windswept survivor of America’s heartland is taking its rightful place center stage.

If you find yourself in the land of waving wheat, there are many choices for adventure. On A Dime focused on several places worth their weight in gold in January during a little respite and will also mention a few other nuggets visited in the past.

Starting with Bricktown, in downtown Oklahoma City. Years past saw this former business area in decline but now the city is rehabbing, resurrecting, and refurbishing century old brick buildings and creating a gorgeous, multifaceted town in the process. From the Chesapeake Arena where the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team plays and first rate concerts are held to the winding canals offering leisurely water taxi rides to the restaurants with patios overlooking the water, this metropolis is experiencing an upward spiral that invites visitors to spend some time getting to know the heart in this land.

Devon Building view along the canals.
Devon Building view along the canals.

For our day trip, we began at sunrise and had the walkways around the canals to ourselves. Folks, you could literally begin the morning jogging the city streets or strolling, cameras in hand, as we did. The view of the fifty story Devon Building, as the sky cued up blue and then pink, was stunningly peaceful and followed by a righteous sunrise java at Elemental Coffee, locally owned and brewed daily.

Elemental coffee. Locally owned, roasted daily
Elemental coffee. Locally owned, roasted daily

After our caffeine infusion at Elemental, we hit a store that deserves some heavy-duty shout outs. Shop Good is what the name promises. In simple speak, a shop that sells items that do good. Every sale contributes directly to artisans, pays fair wages, and raises awareness for a number of non-profits benefiting the community. The items are not big box store priced but they send the message that individually created, quality items offer integrity in a way that mass-produced pieces do not. You can indulge in retail therapy and know that slave/child labor was not involved and your purchase is enriching individuals rather than corporations. While browsing Shop Good or java-ing at Elemental Coffee consider picking up a “local” card for $10. The card provides discounts and lists locally owned businesses throughout the city.

Interior Shop Good
Interior Shop Good

Now that individually owned businesses have been touted, we will offer kudos to one chain that imparts local flavor in an over the top, Oklahoma Disneyesque sort of spirit. Bass Pro will stomp the city out of any slicker with its camouflaged lazy boy chairs and massive fish tank that give the illusion of viewing the underside of a lake. And during the Christmas season, the decorations are top notch. A quick disclaimer, vegetarians, sit this one out as the taxidermy can be overkill (pun intended).

We closed out our day at the Bricktown Brewery and On A Dime is happy to share that you can partake in beer tasting with a selection of multiple brews for $5. In addition to beers that range from salt of the earth locals to the exotic java lager we decided on, the food was delicious as well. And a cost saving tip: split the bacon burger and sweet potato fries as the servings are generous. Adventurers, if beer is not on your list, try Chelinos for Mexican food and margaritas canal side on their patio (seasonal), but  if you share here, they charge a split fee.

Bricktown Brewery, food and beer, stellar
Bricktown Brewery, food and beer, stellar

One point of interest that we visited on a previous trip and is powerful to experience is the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial. Any stop in Oklahoma City should include this as the museum does an outstanding and compassionate job of not only sharing the enormity of the horror that befell Oklahoma but also illustrating in numerous exhibits the tragedy of terrorism globally.

The image of the empty chairs, each representing a victim in the bombing, is courtesy of the incredibly talented photographer, Andy Bonura.

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As a final note for an Oklahoma City get-away, there is only one drawback: no hostels. However, hotels can be had for usually under $75 a night if you look online.  And lastly, a couple of attractions worth exploring (especially for those traveling with kids) are the OKC Zoo, with its lovely landscape and excellent reputation, and the Cowboy Hall Of Fame. Add in 14 miles of running trail throughout the Bricktown area and beyond and you have something for everyone.

A fast and furious day of fun is achievable in Oklahoma City when combining points of interest if you take time to plan carefully and start early. Our day began at 6:30am and closed out around 4pm. The weekend agenda we had carved out had us transitioning from Bricktown and Oklahoma City to the back roads and wide-open plains of the southeast as we headed to the oldest managed wildlife preserve in the United States, Wichita Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge offers 59,020 acres of protected land, courtesy of two presidents, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. It is home to approximately 650 bison as well as elk, wild turkeys, and numerous longhorns. Altogether a total of 240 species of birds, 50 species of mammals, 64 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 36 species of fish have been identified in this protected area. The beauty of the refuge lies in its open range terrain where visitors are invited to camp in campgrounds as well as the back country and hike the multitude of trails that traverse the enormous area. A word to the wise, stop by the visitor center, peruse the museum, watch the short film on the history and then absolutely purchase the guide for hiking. This particular park is unique in its allowance and even encouragement of going off trail. After many park visits filled with warnings about not venturing off the trail, the experience at the refuge was the opposite. Even when beginning at a marked trailhead, the actual trail often veers off into multiples and then just fades. My guy has logged many hours exploring the refuge and though most places are easy for him to decipher, we did hit a couple that had us stymied. Where was the book we purchased? In the car. Do as we say…

The history of the Wichitas is rich and varied and there is a likelihood that some embellishing has taken place, which, by the way, we applaud. The boulder-studded hills are rife with symbols and drawings reportedly circa 1500s and Coronado. Stories of hidden treasure and gold and silver veins resurface often enough to draw treasure hunters but the main visitors are hikers looking to feel a sense of the wild west and that is definitely prevalent here. A reading of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove would be great prep for the character of this hearty land. When you see the bison and longhorns grazing with red tail hawks circling, the feeling of an era passed is tangible.

Bison on the plains. Photo credit Scott McEwen
Bison on the plains. Photo credit Scott McEwen

To see the Wichitas is an On A Dime adventure and in keeping with a cost friendly sojourn from more costly fare. The park itself is free as are the visitor center and film. Camping runs between $8 and $20 per night and even if you stop into the famed Meers Burger joint, you can split as the servings are huge.

Meers famous burgers
Meers famous burgers

If splurging is on your mind, opt for a romantic cabin for two. At $200 a night, one might pause as this authentic cabin is at the end of a non-descript road a few blocks from a town that is relaxed at best and Rip Van Winkle sleepy at worst; however, adventurers, if you decide to unplug with a sense of simple “ahh”, this cabin is your place. It is the bathroom that justifies the price per night as it is wild west gorgeous and includes a Jacuzzi tub for two with a fireplace at the end of the tub in addition to one in the living room.  Another feature that has the place worthy of the cost is the absolute pride of ownership and desire to make it a special get-away. The owner has been known to sprinkle rose petals on the floor and bed and have a tin of shortbread cookies waiting as well as pancake/waffle batter and syrup for the heart shaped maker in the kitchen. A coffee station is fully loaded and the bath comes equipped with toiletries and a large container of bubble bath. The décor of the cabin pays close attention to detail right down to the music wired throughout, including the porch.

View from the tub for two
View from the tub for two

For those looking to hike, camp, splurge on an overnight, or eat catfish overlooking the creek at the Riverside Cafe, Medicine Park and the Wichita Wildlife Refuge offer plenty to do and see. Take in a flaming pink/orange sunset on the plains and then watch the stars come out in the millions. This magical land of the past will romance even the most sophisticated city dwellers and have them donning a hat and spurs and looking to hit the trail.

O+K+L+A+H+O+M+A, you are more than ok, you are  fantastic.

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