By Molly Evans and Tony Beaulieu
Oklahoma is home to a surprising number of “World’s Largest” attractions, as well as other odd, quirky, and interesting things to see. If you’re planning an end-of-summer road trip, here’s your list of sights worth pulling over to see.
1. Ames Astrobleme Museum, Ames
Astrobleme is a fancy word for crater. The rural town of Ames is home to an astrobleme more than eight miles wide that formed about 450 million years ago when a meteor struck pre-Oklahoma soil. The crater is buried by approximately 9,000 feet of sediment, which made it unrecognizable until 1991 when it was discovered and then used as an oilfield. You can learn more about Ames’ prized possession at the onsite Astrobleme Museum, open 24 hours a day since 2007.
2. POPS, Arcadia
On the outside, this neon-retro filling station boasts the “World’s Largest Pop Bottle,” but visitors flock to POPS for what’s inside. POPS has thousands of varieties of soda (or pop) available from hundreds of producers both mainstream and unfamiliar. Guests can purchase a bottle of regular root beer or cola or try some of the more offbeat flavors like Lenin-Aide (Soviet-themed lemon soda) or bacon and hot wing-flavored sodas. It might take a while to pick out your pops.
3. Round Barn, Arcadia
It doesn’t defy physics, but it does command attention down the road from POPS on Route 66. William and Myra Odor built Arcadia’s Round Barn in 1898, but not without skepticism from their neighbors. Many thought a round barn an impossible feat, so Mr. Odor proved them wrong by soaking fresh cuts of oak lumber and installing jigs to bend the wood into a curved shape. The barn flourished and faltered as a community hot spot over the years until its restoration in 1992 by Luke Robison, a retired building contractor and longtime admirer of the barn.
4. Roadside Revolver, Atoka
A pleasant drive on Highway 69 might come to an abrupt halt when you see a large revolver pointed at you. The revolver isn’t loaded with bullets, but instead, barbecue. It’s a meat smoker constructed by the nephew of the owner of the Three Way Oil Company, which is located behind the revolver, off of the highway.
5. Boise City Bomb Memorial, Boise City
Did you know Oklahoma was bombed during World War II? Pilots in a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber mistakenly dropped six practice bombs on Boise City, located in the panhandle, during a testing on July 6, 1943. Fortunately, the town square was empty at the time of the incident, but several buildings were destroyed. And there’s no ill will in Boise City; they have a replica of one of the bombs at The Boise City Memorial, located in front of the Red Chamber Caboose.
6. The Blue Whale, Catoosa
Although Oklahoma is a state of manmade lakes, it manages to have 20-by-80-foot blue whale beached on the side of Route 66. Hugh S. Davis had the idea for The Blue Whale when he was 60, knowing his children, Blaine and Dee Dee, enjoyed playing in the pond on the family’s property in Catoosa when they were young. After two years of construction, The Blue Whale with its wide-open smile and small baseball cap was opened in 1972 to the public. Since Davis’ death in 1990, his kids have taken over the ongoing restoration efforts of The Blue Whale, which remains a favorite watering hole of Route 66 passersby. (Here, a video by This Land TV in which The Blue Whale is the main, if imaginary, attraction.)
7. World’s Largest Peanut, Durant
The town of Durant loves agriculture and to pay tribute to that prosperous industry, a giant peanut was erected in 1974 for the public to appreciate. The monument is dedicated to the Bryan County Peanut Growers and Processors and is located on the southeast corner of Durant City Hall. You can visit the peanut anytime, but note in your calendar that in June 2023, the time capsule buried just feet in front of the peanut will be reopened.
8. World’s Largest Totem Pole, Foyil
Tying into Oklahoma’s rich Native American history is the world’s largest totem pole in Foyil, Oklahoma. A retired art teacher built the approximately 60-foot-tall monument over an 11-year period from 1937 to 1948. Even though other totem poles made from wood surpass the Foyil totem in height, it’s still the tallest constructed from cement.
9. Grave of Elmer McCurdy, Guthrie
Elmer McCurdy is a long-forgotten, low-rung outlaw from Oklahoma’s Wild West days, so why is his grave a roadside attraction? McCurdy was killed in a shootout in 1911 on suspicion of train robbery. After no family members came to claim his body, McCurdy’s body became a sideshow mummy and toured the United States. By the 1970s, his body was a sideshow attraction in Long Beach, California—where he had been painted to glow in the dark and hung from a noose. Both the owners and patrons had forgotten that he was a real corpse. An accident during the filming of an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man” revealed “The Dummy” to be actual human remains, and his long-forgotten origins were traced to Oklahoma, where he finally rests in Guthrie next to fellow outlaw Bill Doolin. Read more about Elmer here and here.
10. Viking Runestone, Heavener
Did Vikings once roam the prairies of Oklahoma, centuries before Columbus embarked for the West Indies? Residents of Heavener say yes, and claim to have a genuine artifact to prove it. The Heavener Runestone is similar to other rune stones claimed to have been found in nearby Poteau and Shawnee, Oklahoma—The Heavener and Poteau rune stones in fact bear the same inscription in Norse, “Valley of the Gnomes.” The Heavener stone, however, has been subject to more professional archaeological and anthropological scrutiny and study. Despite a general consensus among professional archeologists that the Heavener Runestone is most likely a forgery, the stone is still on display with an educational guided tour for curious visitors. (Read about the time Thor moved to Heavener.)
11. Spider VW Bug, Lexington
For those with arachnophobia, you may want to skip this attraction on the west side of Highway 77, south of Moffatt Road in Lexington. It stands at 13 feet and resembles a black widow spider, but its body is nothing but an old, hollowed-out Volkswagen Beetle.
12. Third Oldest Working Light Bulb, Mangum
One of the oldest burning light bulbs in the world has been illuminating a room in the Mangum Fire Department for 87 years. The original installer of the bulb in 1927 is as much a mystery today as why it continues to burn almost a century later. Mangum’s small claim to fame has attracted interested tourists from across Oklahoma, neighboring states, and the globe to come and gaze at the octogenarian light.
13. Coleman Theatre, Miami
The Coleman Theatre started in 1929 as a Vaudeville movie theater. George L. Coleman, Sr. built the Spanish Mission style theater, and his family donated it to the city of Miami in 1989 for restoration. The interior of the theater doesn’t match the façade, but it’s every bit as beautiful with gold leaf trim, stained glass, a mahogany staircase, a 2,000-pound chandelier, and other elegant details reminiscent of the Louis XV era. If you can’t make any of the regular productions, films, concerts or art exhibitions, you can stop by for a tour every day except Monday.
14. James Garner Plaza, Norman
Now more than ever is the time to see the bronze James Garner statue on Main Street in Norman. The city’s favorite son died in July of this year, but his 10-foot statue immortalizes an image of young Garner as his 1980s TV role of Bret Maverick.
15. The Gold Dome Building, Oklahoma City
A lot happens under Oklahoma City’s Gold Dome. Originally a bank, The Gold Dome Building, located on Northwest 23rd Street and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contains a lobby, boardroom, and dance studio among other unique venues. The building’s exterior dome makes it one of the most architecturally interesting roadside attractions. The Gold Dome is a geodesic dome, similar to the exterior of Spaceship Earth at Epcot in Walt Disney World and other structures around the world.
16. OK County 66, Oklahoma City
This Route 66-themed museum created by Oklahoma City resident John Hargrove is a reconstruction off all the major Route 66 attractions—only scaled down. The property includes smaller versions of pretty much every Route 66 oddity, from Twin Arrows, to a Volkswagen Beetle buried half way in the ground to a mini-replica of Catoosa, OK’s own Blue Whale.
17. Cavanal Hill, Poteau
There’s a fine line between a large hill and a small mountain. The minimum height for a mountain is 2,000 feet, so Cavanal Hill at 1,999 feet claims to be the world’s highest hill. The name “cavanal” comes from the French word for “cave”. The hill was a famous landmark for the French and Native Americans back in he early 19th century. Today, the hill is used for biking, hiking, and the Cavanal Hill Killer 5-miles Walk. It is pretty tall, considering you can see Arkansas’ Mount Magazine on a clear day.
18. Bond of Friendship Statue, Skedee
Standing face-to-face on top of the “Welcome to Skedee” sign are Chief Baconrind and Colonel Ellsworth Walters shaking hands. Baconrind, chief of Osage Nation in the early 20th century, and Ellsworth, “the official auctioneer of the Osage Nation” formed a bond after Ellsworth brought the luxury of the oil boom to Skedee in the 1920s. Currently, Skedee is regarded as a ghost town, but the monument harkens back to the harmony and prosperity of the Baconrind-Ellsworth days. Read more about the heroes of Skedee and the making of the friendship monument.
19. Spiro Mounds, Spiro
Oklahoma has a Native American archeological site stretching over 150 acres and over a thousand years into the past. The Spiro Mounds provide a look into the mysterious Spiro Indian culture, which flourished from 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D. The site has 12 mounds and numerous artifacts that indicate the influence the Spiro people had in the trade network, political structure, and religious practice across the southeastern U.S. If you want to visit, make sure to call ahead.
20. America’s Tallest Buddhist Deity, Tulsa
A 50-foot-tall statue of a Buddhist deity stands near the Tam Bao Buddhist Temple in Tulsa. The statue of the Buddhist goddess of compassion, Quan Am, has towered over the trees along 21st Street since 2011.
21. Golden Driller, Tulsa
Residing outside the Expo Square in Tulsa, The Golden Driller stands regally at 76 feet with its hand perched on an oil derrick. The Driller has been a landmark in Tulsa since 1966 and the official state monument since 1979.
22. Praying Hands, Tulsa
The world’s largest praying hands reside at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. Much of ORU’s architecture is mind-boggling, but the hands—standing 60 feet and weighing 30 tons—are the dominant eye-catcher.
23. Twister Museum, Wakita
In 1996, the small town of Wakita had its claim to fame in the film “Twister,” about an F-4 tornado. The museum offers a look into the filmmaking process and the effect that film had on the town during the summer of ’95. Another cool thing: The museum’s building served as the production company’s “on location” production office and set and art department. The museum is only open from April to September. (Here’s a list of the best made-in-Oklahoma movies.)