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The Sooner State takes pride in its ties to the many Native American tribes who first inhabited it, as evidenced by the many historical sites and monuments to the Shawnee, Cheyenne, and Arapaho people. Visitors are always stunned by the natural beauty that surrounds them, since 25 percent of the state’s total area is covered by forests and over a million surface-acres of water, many of which are man-made lakes. In fact, Oklahoma boasts over 200 bodies of water – more than any other state – so before we get started, let’s make sure to pack our swimming gear and strap down that kayak!
Starting off in Tulsa, there’s plenty to see and do no matter what time of year we plan our trip. The Philbrook Museum of Art hosts several traveling exhibitions throughout the year, in addition to the paintings and sculptures that call the Philbrook home. For a unique shopping experience, a trip to Utica Square is a must; for those anxious to break out the clubs for a quick 18-holes, there are plenty of top-rated golf courses in the Tulsa area to satisfy every level of player. Tulsa is also the home of some great special events, such as spring’s Mayfest, fall’s Oktoberfest, and the not-to-be-missed Tulsa Pow-Wow of Champions. There are plenty of places along the Arkansas River - as it flows through Tulsa - to go kayaking, hiking, or horseback riding, all in a green, picturesque setting, while still remaining within the city limits.
Heading east on the OK-51 for 15 miles brings us to the eastbound Muskogee Turnpike, which we take for twenty-five miles until we come to the southbound US-69. A quick six mile trip down the US-69 brings us to Muskogee, where we can experience some of the afore-mentioned Native American pride by touring the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. The Museum pays homage to the Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians, who were forced to relocate to Oklahoma following the Louisiana Purchase.
While in Muskogee, we shouldn’t miss the chance to tour an actual WWII-era submarine, the U.S.S. Batfish. Another cool historic spot is the Honey Springs Civil War Battlefield, just south of town. For a taste of the outdoors, Muskogee’s a prime spot, as it is surrounded by three major lakes – the Tenkiller, Fort Gibson, and Eufaula. Visitors to these spots enjoy all kinds of water activities - like water skiing and canoeing - and it’s a perfect place to catch sight of an eagle or two as they soar overhead. Lake Tenkiller is a popular spot due to its diamond-clear lake and limestone cliffs; we can even go scuba diving here.
Heading on down the road, we retrace our route back to the eastbound Muskogee Turnpike, which we stay on for about 18 miles before merging with the I-40-E. A little over 20 miles later, we pull in to Sallisaw, located between the serene Cookson Hills and the banks of the Arkansas River.
Historically, Sallisaw was the destination point for members of the Cherokee tribe who were forced to leave their original home in Georgia, and the Cookson Hills were used by notorious outlaws such as “Pretty Boy” Floyd, who counted on their rugged terrain to keep them out of the eyes of the law. Modern-day Sallisaw is an excellent place to pull over and enjoy the Ozark Forest, with its abundance of red and white oak trees and varied animal life, such as black bear, grey fox, turkeys, and deer.
While in Sallisaw, we should take the opportunity to see some of the Native American sites, one of the most significant being the cabin of famed Indian Sequoyah. While he was himself illiterate, he nonetheless developed an alphabet that enabled the entire Cherokee people to read and write in record time. His cabin was built in 1829, and is protected by a stone cover erected in the 1930s. The tour is well worth taking, and offers us an in-depth look at the man and his fascinating work.
Find a good spot to pull over and set up camp, because this is a place you’ll want to make the most of!