Saturday, May 10, 2008

Back on Route 66

Claremore, OK, sits proudly on the old Mother Road, Route 66. Claremore and the smaller towns nearby like to capitalize on Route 66. of course; if you can keep the tourists off the Interstate and bring ‘em to town, they’ll bring dollars to your community.

To get to Claremore, we left Oklahoma City Sunday morning on Interstate 44, the Turner Turnpike. This was our first experience on a turnpike, and we didn’t know what to expect in the way of tolls and toll booths. On the entire stretch from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, just about 100 miles, we had one tollbooth, where we paid $8.50 to buy our four axles the right to pass. This gave us clear sailing, very few on-ramps and off-ramps to deal with, and absolutely no scenery to look at. We didn’t escape the construction zones, however.

I-44 through Tulsa is free, and we left the Interstate just before the Will Rogers Turnpike (where tolls began again), heading northeast on Route 66. Just up the road we stopped at the little town of Catoosa for gas and some grocery shopping.

Back on 66, we sailed past and nearly missed spotting a Blue Whale, with kids playing on and around it! We had seen pictures of this whale in some of the promotional material for Route 66, but had set it aside, not knowing exactly where Catoosa was. We made a note to come back the next day.

Just a little farther along the road was Claremore, and we found a nice campsite at the Cherokee Casino and Will Rogers Downs. This was another first for us, casino camping. We were on grass, with full hookups, including 50-amp electric. When I went into the casino to register, I signed up for their promotional club card, and they handed me $5! It didn’t take long for Suzy to get in there and claim her promotional $5 as well.

Monday was a fun sightseeing day. We returned to the Blue Whale and learned that it had originally been built in the early 1970s as an anniversary gift, later turned into a play and swimming area for local kids. It closed in 1988. Today it’s open again for picnicking, playing and photography, but closed to swimming.

At Foyil, OK, we visited Totem Pole Park, home of the world’s largest totem pole.

For 25 years (1937 until his death in 1962), Ed Galloway worked on building this park with its centerpiece totem pole. He used 28 tons of cement, 6 tons of steel, and 100 tons of sand to construct the 90-foot tall pole.

Featuring 200 carved pictures, including images of Native Americans and Pacific Northwest totem animals, the pole rises from the back of a turtle. It’s quite a sight!

He included in his park other large folk art pieces honoring Native Americans.

Another structure Galloway built was this 11-sided Fiddle House, a museum displaying some of Galloway’s more than 300 handcrafted fiddle bodies and other inlaid wood artifacts.

After Galloway’s death in 1962, the park was left to the weather. But his family and friends, with the help of regional historical societies, have restored it, so once again it is a roadside stop for Route 66 travelers.

The same day, we made a pilgrimage to Will Rogers’ birthplace near Oologah, OK. Rogers’s father, Clem built the original log cabin. Clem Rogers was a dignitary of the Cherokee tribe, later a judge and a senator, and he wanted to build a fine home. He succeeded, one room at a time.
Although the exterior of the finished two-story home is bright white clapboard siding, the interior walls of the original cabin area still display the plain logs and chinking.

The family home had to be moved to its current location on a hill when the river was dammed for a lake. They still run longhorn cattle on the spread, but the only animals we saw were burros, horses, goats and a few chickens.

This, of course, in not an active "Will Rogers Rest Area" along ... Our Life on Wheels.

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