From Caddo Lake State Park I shot up to what struck me as the perfect roadside attraction to serve as my entry point to historic Route 66: the Blue Whale of Catoosa. Catoosa’s a little town just east of Tulsa; the whale was originally built for private use in 1972, then a public water park was built around it that operated until 1988.
From there we stopped through Tulsa, largely to pay a visit to the Greenwood neighborhood that was the site of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. A minor league baseball stadium (home of a Dodgers affiliate: the Drillers) now dominates the area. A large sports-themed brewpub occupies the corner across the street; a short walk down Reconciliation Way takes you to the Woody Guthrie Center, complete with an impressive mural of the iconic folksinger on one wall.
However, the tragic history of Greenwood is memorialized with more than just a street named Reconciliation Way. If you continue past the ballpark and the brewpub, you’ll find the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, with the “Tower of Reconciliation” at its center. Around the tower are plaques detailing how a neighborhood like Greenwood– “Black Wall Street,” as it was known– came to be in central Oklahoma, and the violence that unfolded a century ago that undid decades of progress. It’s a thoughtful memorial, but to my knowledge no reparations have ever been paid.
I’d used a site called Hipcamp for the first time to book a camping site on someone’s land in Yale, Oklahoma, just shy of an hour west of Tulsa. I went on to use the site later on the trip as well and definitely recommend it to scout conventional and unconventional campsites. I succeeded in making a fire this time, though I still ate only pizza leftovers from the Tulsa brewpub.
It was incredibly windy all through the night (that line about the wind coming sweeping down the plains proved accurate) and I wasn’t too disappointed that it was my last night camping for a bit (a cold front moved west with me and night temperatures plummeted in the high plain and desert I was entering). Yale happened to be the hometown of Jim Thorpe– I would also pass through the hometowns of Shannon Miller and Garth Brooks on my Oklahoman odyssey.
The next morning we made our way south to jump back on Route 66 and cruise it for one of its largest preserved stretches, which is to say, most of Oklahoma (the whole thing with Route 66 is that it was *the* great American thoroughfare until times went a-changing and Highway 40 effectively replaced it, rendering it nearly obsolete and upending thousands of miles’ worth of livelihoods. Huzzah!). My day took me into Texas and ultimately to Amarillo, but I’ll cover that in the next post.