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The City of Durant: Beyond the Casino

Durant, a small town just north of the Texas-Oklahoma border, is known by most as the place of Choctaw Casino & Resort. One of the main casinos in Oklahoma, people come here from all places in hopes of winning big. But did you know that Durant is also home to other places of significance, such as the headquarters of the Choctaw Nation? Over this past long weekend, I decided to pay a visit to this town of over 17,000 to see what was there besides the casino.

After a one and a half hour drive up from Dallas, my first stop was at the Bryan County Courthouse, in the heart of downtown. Built in 1917, this three-story building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

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The Bryan County Courthouse.

Like most courthouses in the south, this one had a military memorial, as well as a Confederate statue on its front lawn.

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The military memorial.

Down the road from the courthouse was the Durant City Hall. Normally there isn’t much to see at a city hall(unless it’s the one in Addison, Texas), but a rather interesting display sat outside. It was none other than the world’s largest peanut!

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The Durant City Hall.

Well, not quite. After doing some research, it turned out that this peanut isn’t the world’s largest anymore, but was at the time it was built. In fact, Oklahoma is nowhere near the top when it comes to states that have a peanut harvest. Kind of a nutty deal, but nevertheless it was a neat little attraction.

Since I was already in downtown, I decided to stroll down one of the main streets. Like many of the town squares I’ve seen in Texas small towns, this area was dead quiet. As I recall, there weren’t too many vacant buildings, but most of the stores were closed due to Columbus Day.

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Downtown Durant.

From there, it was off to the Southeastern Oklahoma State University, located about five minutes away. I had heard about SEOSU in the past due to their aviation program, but never really looked much into it. Thus, when I was doing my planning for this trip, I was surprised to find this university so close to the Texas-Oklahoma border.

The buildings consisted of a mixture between old and new.

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southeastern oklahoma state university

While this university is quite small, some of its buildings don’t look bad at all! The library had a fairly grand look to it, and the Greek-style design made it fit into the campus environment well.

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Walking in these buildings, however, I have to say that there wasn’t anything notable about the interior design. The various hallways and classrooms were quite dated, and had somewhat of a high school-like feeling to them.

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Being that this university is located in Oklahoma, there was a connection to Native Americans. I passed by this building, which housed the Native American Institute. Here, there are a multitude of programs centered around Native American education.

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Speaking of Native Americans, the Choctaw Nation Headquarters was my next stop.

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The Choctaw Nation Headquarters.

This new building, opened in 2018, houses the various offices of the nation’s third-largest Indian tribe. From member registration to the legal department, pretty much everything is combined under one roof. Although no one was available to give me a tour, the first and second floors were open to the public. While the second floor had nothing but offices, there was some stuff on the first floor, such as the Hall of Chiefs and Tribal Council displays.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

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The Constitution of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The Constitution of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Chief’s office was also located on the first floor, and I got to tour his office, thanks to his friendly receptionist. It was pretty neat seeing the room in which the leader works out of.

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Chief Gary Batton’s office.
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The waiting area outside Chief Batton’s office.

In the lobby, there were some display cases containing Choctaw Nation artwork. If you want to take some Choctaw merchandise home, a gift shop sells t-shirts, artifacts, and more.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

Being that this was the heart of Choctaw country, many of the signs had Choctaw language on them.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

As I walked down one of the hallways, a display talking about domestic violence caught my eye. Domestic violence is still an issue within the Native American community, with 64% of Indian women being assaulted in their lifetime, according to the Choctaw Nation. There are facilities here where tribal members can seek help.

Choctaw Nation Headquarters

After all this sightseeing, I was ready for lunch. I decided to eat at Roots Cafe, an office building-like cafeteria attached to the headquarters.

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Roots Cafe.

Usually, I would expect the food of a place like this to be quite bland, but the Fettuccine Alfredo and green beans I got were actually pretty delicious!

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Surprisingly delicious!

After lunch, I had to start heading back to Texas. I found it pretty cool to see the Durant most folks aren’t privy to, as well as learning more about the Choctaw Nation. If you happen to be passing by Durant on Highway 75 and have some time to spare, I would suggest a detour, even if it’s just to see the world’s largest peanut and visit the “White House” of the Choctaw Nation!

 

Road Trippin’ to Tulsa

Memorial Day weekend, the family and I decided to all pile in the car and do a road trip to explore the state of Missouri. Since that route would take us north into Oklahoma, we decided during our trip planning to detour for a day to check out the city of Tulsa, located on the north side of the state.

Having already checked out Oklahoma City back in November of last year, Tulsa was the other big city in the state yet to be visited. With a population of just over 400,000 people, this place is home to a number of companies such as Bank of Oklahoma and QuikTrip. When doing my research, I initially thought that the only places to see there were the art museum, and a few works of public art, since that was the description Google provided of the city. After doing some more probing though, I found out that there were quite a few cool destinations that make the “Oil Capital of the World” unique in its own light.

The first part of the drive up U.S. 75 was mainly interstate, however after crossing the state line, there were a few times where the highway became a local road. After about 2 hours, we reached the small town of Atoka, where we had two options. Either continue on 75, or take the Indian Nation Turnpike. Opting not to pay tolls, we chose the former option.

It turned out that 75 became a country back road until reaching the I-44 junction. It was a good fifty minutes to an hour of driving until we started to see other cars close to the interstate. I didn’t feel unsafe, but my folks did. I can understand their reasoning, being that there weren’t a lot of other vehicles to be seen or even cell service for a good portion of it.  However, we passed thru some of the most quaint small towns I’ve seen to date. In those places, there was usually just a one street downtown, with a small city hall and volunteer fire station nearby. American flags were seen waving on the front entrances of many buildings and houses. I feel like this is the heart of America- beyond the big cities, the small towns and farming communities are what makes up the backbone of the country.

At last, we saw signs pointing the way to the interstate. After getting on I-44, it was about a one hour drive into Tulsa. Upon arriving, the first place we headed to was the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. Founded in 1998, this museum has 19,000 square feet worth of planes, exhibits, and artifacts depicting the history of aviation and the role Tulsa played in all of it.

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The Tulsa Air and Space Museum.
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A hangar packed full of planes and exhibits makes this a great place for anyone interested in aviation!

After entering and paying the $8 admission fee, we started walking around the museum. Just then, one of the docents told us that boarding was about to begin for a movie on- board an MD-80 jetliner that was part of the outside display. We lined up and went outside to see what this was all about. After stepping on board, we headed all the way up to the front of the plane. We then sat down in what used to be the first class cabin, with the original seats still intact!

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We entered thru the back of the plane. No idea what that random submarine is doing there!

The film, titled Flight Experience, talked about the history of the plane we were sitting in, careers in aviation, and Tulsa’s involvement in the aerospace industry. Without spoiling anything, I will just say as a pilot, I noticed that there were several parts that were far from being realistic. However, for someone that’s just interested in aviation, it is a clip worth seeing.

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Projectors on the side walls provided for a pretty cool experience.

After the movie finished, we got to see the cockpit as we disembarked. This plane was in service with American Airlines for 26 years and was used on their domestic routes.

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The flight deck of an MD-80.

Heading back into the museum, we started taking in all the exhibits. One of the first things that caught my eye was a fighter jet. This jet, a retired F-14, was in use by the U.S. Navy for many years before being donated by the museum. Standing next to it and being able to see it up close and personal was super neat.

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The F-14 protected America and her allies for over 30 years. Look at that wing!

There was a ladder that I climbed up to see(and hopefully sit in) the cockpit.  Unfortunately, the entrance to the cockpit at the top was roped off, but I could still peer in. The power in these fighters is incredible.

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Although a fighter jet is much different than the small single engine planes I fly, some of the instrumentation is still the same. The museum really did a great job of preserving this bird in its original condition, allowing visitors to see this mighty beast for themselves.

Another cool thing was the front facade of the Tulsa Municipal Airport’s terminal. Built in 1931, this terminal has had many famous people such as Amelia Earhart and Will Rogers pass thru its doors. It served as a gateway to a booming oil town and northern Oklahoma.

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Moving on, many artifacts talking about the different eras of aviation were exhibited in the glass displays. The explanations accompanying them were very detailed and allowed me to get an understanding of what made it so significant.

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The explanations were thorough and the artifacts well preserved.
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An old uniform worn by a captain at American Airlines.

This museum also contained a small upstairs section. It featured an aviation library. Its collections ranged from engine maintenance guides to pilot operating handbooks! If I had more time, I could have easily spent an hour or two just digging through its shelves.

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After leaving the Air and Space Museum, we drove around the airport to get a feel for things. Tulsa has a pretty big airport for its size. A big part of that is due to the largest airline in the world, American Airlines. American has their maintenance base here, so many if not all of their planes are flown in here to be serviced. As we drove right past the maintenance base, we could see a few big hangars. It was a very big piece of space they occupied.

Upon getting done having a look at the airport, it was off to downtown Tulsa.

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Driving into downtown.

One building immediately stood out as we were coming in – the BOK(Bank of Oklahoma) tower. Rising 667 feet high into the Tulsa skyline, it is the second tallest building in the state. It was built in 1976, and was designed by the same architect that devised the World Trade Center towers in New York City – and it shows!

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A striking resemblance to the Twin Towers in New York City.

What the downtown area was missing though, were people. In the 15 or so minutes we spent driving around, there was barely anyone to be seen walking the streets. Except for one place: The Center of the Universe, which happened to be our next stop.

Located on a bridge overlooking a railroad yard, at first glance it looks like just a circle with bricks paved around it.  However, it is really much more. When you stand in the middle and start to talk, you will hear your voice echoing like you are speaking into a microphone. Anyone else not standing in the middle doesn’t experience that effect. I did a few tests, with me shouting. I could distinctly hear my own voice echoing, while Dad and other visitors said they didn’t hear anything abnormal. As I looked around, I couldn’t seem to figure out why that spot was so special. I highly doubt the place is really the center of the universe, for so just a name that someone put on.

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The center is where the magic happens. Looks like just a normal piece of concrete to me, though.

Doing some research afterward, there have been a few explanations that come off as plausible. The first is that a hollow echo of sorts was created via an expansion joint in the inner circle, causing the echo effect. Since it was built on top of a bridge, I guess that could be a possibility. The second hypothesis is that the echoing is simply caused by the person’s voice reflecting off the half circular concrete planters located around the spot. Being that I’m not a physics major, I couldn’t tell which(if any!) of these explanations were the correct one. Nonetheless, it was a super neat and definitely very unique place, probably the only one of its kind in the nation.

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The concrete blocks that hold all that greenery might have something to do with the echo effect, some say.

From there, we were all hungry. We quickly decided on dinner at Olive Garden, which is one of our favorite restaurants to visit as a family. The drive there from downtown was about 10 minutes, and the food and service were satisfactory. What was different about this place though, was that they charged for a sample of their house wine. In Texas, Olive Garden provides this stuff complimentary, but seeing a 25 cent charge on the bill made me wonder if it had to do with state laws governing alcohol. Wasn’t a problem though, as we all just wanted to have a nice dinner and get going. (The wine was good and worth the quarter!)

After dinner, we checked out our last attraction in Tulsa, the Golden Driller statue. This statue is probably one of the most representative things of the city’s background in oil production. The nation’s sixth tallest statue, it was erected in 1952 on a temporary basis for the International Petroleum Exposition. It was then put up again six years later for the same exposition, and finally gained permanent status in 1966. It sits right outside the Tulsa Expo Center, where both locals and visitors alike can take in the sheer size and history behind this landmark.

This statue is worth seeing even if you are just passing by Tulsa on your way elsewhere. With this being Oklahoma’s state monument, it serves as a Route 66 like roadside attraction that reminds you of the industry that brought Tulsa and Oklahoma to life.

Upon getting done at the Golden Driller, we headed for the hotel. It was getting close to 7, and everyone needed some rest since we had more driving to do the next day. The main focus of our trip was tomorrow, as we would be crossing the state line into Missouri and checking out Springfield. Tulsa had been a nice stop, and now I know even more about the state that sits above us!