This is the sixth post about our family's visit to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Here are the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts. Because I blog about educational travel, some of the places we visited gave me free admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits. Some locations we toured are free for everyone and we paid full price for the rest. That has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I recommend without hesitation. If there are gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love that particular attraction, hotel, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
It is a rare and special thing to have a nearly perfect travel day, where every place you visit exceeds your expectations, the weather is perfect, and there's no wait time for anything. Tuesday 4/11 was one of those days.
We started our morning at Myriad Botanical Gardens, a block from our hotel.
Myriad Botanical Gardens covers 15 acres and is absolutely gorgeous. Paths meander through all sorts of beautiful plants and water features.
There is an amazing children's area with gardens, play equipment, and much more.
Trevor's a bit past the target area for the children's area, but 10 years ago he would have begged to stay here all day and play.
That children's garden? And the rest of the outdoor space? Completely free and completely unfenced. And it is spotless - good job Oklahomans, taking care of this treasure!
There is one spot within the Gardens with an admission fee, which is the Crystal Bridge Conservatory.
You could skip it and still have a lovely visit to Myriad Botanical Gardens, but I highly recommend you pay the money to go inside. It's stunning.
Inside, you'll find a 3-story space filled with all sorts of beautiful and interesting plants. You can view them from the ground level, the 2nd story terraces, or the 3rd story Sensory Skywalk.
There are plenty of interpretative signs telling you what you're seeing. Swinging covers on the signs let you experience the plant's smell.
It's a magical space. We took a ton of photos, but I'll just show you a few more. I hope they inspire you to go in person.
Don't miss the gift shop when you go! It has so many things I wanted to buy! That's the downside of traveling with just carry-on luggage, but after the Christmas fiasco, none of us want to check luggage again.
From Myriad Gardens, we walked a half mile to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The memorial remembers "those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever." We entered through the 9:01 Gate, which symbolizes the last minute of innocence for the US regarding domestic terrorism.
Across the Reflecting Pool is the 9:03 Gate, marking when recovery, grieving, and healing began.
Between them, the unimaginable horror of 9:02.
The footprint of the 9-story Murrah Building is now a grassy field with 168 empty chairs representing each of the people who were killed. The short chairs represent children.
On the opposite side of the Reflecting Pool is the Museum and the Survivor Tree.
The Museum is immersive and captivating and inspiring. They could not have done a better job telling this terrible story. You start in a boardroom, where you listen to audio recording of an actual water rights case. You hear the bomb go off and experience the chaos and confusion. Even though you know it's coming, it's frightening.
You leave the room to find rubble and the first newscasts of the bombing.
You see the destruction, the possessions of people whose lives were lost or forever changed. The clock is frozen at 9:02.
Mangled window blings, file cabinets, and even doors.
From here, you learn about the recovery and the countless people who risked their own safety to try to help those trapped in the building.
You learn about the men behind the crime, whose names don't belong on my blog, and the planning that went into their act of terrorism.
Finally, you gaze out on the Survivor Tree and the Memorial.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is a must-see. I'm so glad I experienced it. Even though it was difficult at times, it was uplifting hearing the many stories of people coming together to help after tragedy.
We walked to our next destination, admiring Oklahoma City's art along the way. It would be a great city for an Urban Adventure Quest.
With full bellies, we headed two doors down to the American Banjo Museum. What a treat!
This is an outstanding museum. Whether you know nothing about banjos (like us) or are one of the world's premier banjo experts, this museum is for you. It's packed with interesting information. And banjos. It's definitely packed with banjos.
The museum traces the history of banjos, starting with its roots from enslaved Africans in the 1600's, through the minstrel era, and beyond. The banjo is widely considered the most quintessential American instrument.
I had forgotten that Kermit the Frog plays the banjo, but he features prominently in the museum and even stars in one of the videos.
Before visiting, I couldn't have named more than 3 banjo players off the top of my head (Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, and Steve Martin). I could have named four if I'd thought beyond humans to showbiz amphibians.
The museum is also home to the Banjo Hall of Fame, with winners in categories including performance, design and manufacture, and promotion. It turns out I knew more banjo players than three humans and one amphibian.
One more fun detail: there's a space where you can take banjos down from the wall and try them out. I love when museums provide hands-on opportunities like this.
The American Banjo Museum exceeded my expectations in every way. It's exactly the kind of museum I love the most: one that takes a deep dive into a topic I know little about, presented through interesting, approachable, informative exhibits and displays. It's obvious the people behind this museum love banjos.
We walked a short distance to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Not see a game, but to visit the museums it houses. They include the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Jim Thorpe Museum.
All three share the same space and it's not really clear where one stops and another starts, but they're all free so enjoy!
I thought this would be a brief pop in and look around stop, but it was much larger than I expected. The exhibits were very interesting, even to a someone who cares as little about sports as I do.
I particularly liked learning about the life of Jim Thorpe.
I also loved the children's area. See that sign? It says, "You can touch everything!" So cool.
The other super neat thing about the 3-in-1 sports museum is that it has an observation balcony overlooking the baseball field. We were able to watch the OKC Dodgers warm up for their game against the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.
We later learned OKC beat the Space Cowboys 4-3. We had no horse in the race, but it's always nice when the home team wins.
We walked across the plaza to Bricktown Water Taxi.
The mile-long Bricktown Canal was built in 1999 and cuts through the heart of Bricktown.
During the 40-minute narrated cruise, our guide (Connor) told us interesting facts about Oklahoma City and showed us the art, restaurants, and attractions in Bricktown.
I'm not sure about the other guides, but Connor kept us laughing (and groaning) with his corny jokes. Think Jungle Cruise - that type of humor. Steve totally cracked up when Connor told us about this bison-tennial art.
The water taxi offers a fantastic view of the Centennial Land Run Monument. With 45 figures, it is one of the largest bronze sculptures in the world.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable way to sightsee in OKC and I recommend taking the Bricktown Water Taxi.
We left Bricktown and walked a short distance to the Deep Deuce neighborhood. There, we ate at Deep Deuce Grill. It hit the spot.