February 5, 2015

A Memorial and Cowboys

For two people who claim that large cities are mostly to be avoided, we have actually spent a surprising amount of time in urban areas, especially on our two-week excursion into Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Although it’s not that big of a deal to drive our RV, we’ve found it to be much easier to leave the RV and the cat behind at the campground and drive the Subaru into the city.  On our two-week trip, however, we were traveling without the car.

In Little Rock, we were able to visit the outlying sites on a Sunday and then park the RV at a campground directly across from the downtown area.  We could then get around on foot or on the streetcar.  That worked out perfectly.  A similar solution, however, was not available in Oklahoma City, the next stop on our itinerary.  When we arrived there on December 10, we selected a campground just outside the city and figured we’d drive in and hopefully find a level place to park at the three stops we wanted to make.

Every now and then, a light goes off in my head, and in Oklahoma City I came up with the idea of renting a car.  The idea became even more appealing when I realized that I could use my Hertz points at a neighborhood location.  Not only would the rental cost less than $2.00 for the day, but Hertz would also pick us up at the campground.  Sold!

Our first stop was the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a place to remember the bombing that targeted Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and to honor the victims, survivors, rescuers and everyone else who was changed forever.  The design of the outdoor memorial was selected in an international competition and includes a number of symbolic elements.  Perhaps best known, and most touching, is the field of empty chairs.  Each chair symbolizes a life that was lost.  It was very special to visit the memorial in December and to see the wreaths that had been placed on every chair.  It was a gloomy day while we were there, but the weather was actually appropriate for this somber, yet uplifting memorial.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Field of Empty Chairs

The adjacent Memorial Museum is housed in the former Journal Record Building that withstood the bombing.  Interactive exhibits led us on a chronological journey through the events of April 19, 1995, and presented the story in a very compelling way.  It took me a few minutes to understand the first few chapters until I realized that we were meant to actually experience what began as a day like any other, but soon would erupt in confusion and chaos.  The sounds and visuals were so real that I actually had chills.  Although loss is certainly a major focus of the exhibits, the amazing journey of resilience, justice and hope gets equal billing.  I admit that I had been somewhat reluctant to visit the museum.  I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.

Viewing TV News Reports on the Bombing

Examples of Devastation - The Clock Stopped at 9:02

The Damaged Area of the Journal Record Building

Perhaps we should have saved the memorial and museum for the end of the day, but we were able to change gears and make our next stop at the Oklahoma State Capitol.  Although every capitol is unique in its own way, this is the only one with an oil well in the front yard.  Yes, we are in oil country!  Another unusual tidbit concerns the dome.  The capitol was constructed between 1914 and 1917, but the dome was not added until 2002.  It is a beauty!

Is That an Oil Well in the Front Yard?

We enjoyed our self-guided tour of the building and especially admired all of the artwork.  Most are contemporary pieces installed during the capitol’s centennial and are intended to celebrate Oklahoma’s history and its prominent citizens.  I especially admired the bronze by Allan Houser, one of the most renowned Native American artists of the twentieth century.  The piece is entitled As Long As the Waters Flow, which refers to President Andrew Jackson’s vow to Native Americans that they shall possess their land “as long as the grass grows and the rivers run.”

Paintings Are Scattered Throughout the Capitol

As Long as the Waters Flow, by Allan Houser

Tim and I saved the most lighthearted stop for last – the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a first-class museum – but I tend to smile when I’m looking at cowboys!  After enjoying a great lunch at the museum restaurant, we tried to make the most of the short time we had.  There is so much to see, and an hour or two is not enough time to do justice to the numerous exhibits.  But, we tried.

The museum’s permanent art collection contains a broad representation of the paintings and sculpture that tell the story of the American West.  I discovered a few new-to-me artists, as well as many old favorites. 

End of the Trail, by James Earle Fraser

We skipped the firearms exhibit and moved directly to the Western Performers Gallery.  This exhibit brought me right back to my childhood and the TV shows and movies that I grew up with – from James Arness and Gunsmoke (the first show that my family watched on our very first TV) to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (the one song that my father requested for his funeral – “Happy Trails”).  And, let’s not forget John Wayne.  These movie cowboys were all heroes to me.  It seems I’ve always been a sucker for a good, old-fashioned Western.

Western Performers Gallery

I Grew Up with Movie and TV Cowboys

Tim Is Also a Western Movie Fan

We wrapped up our tour with a stop at the American Cowboy Gallery.  Cowgirls were not forgotten here, nor were Native American and African American cowboys.  Naturally, we had to admire the boots and the hats and the saddles.  This tribute to the working cowboy, as well as to cowboy history and culture, was a fitting way to end our visit to one of my favorite museums.  

A Lone Cowgirl in the American Cowboy Gallery

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