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A Black Hills Bonanza

Natural splendor in South Dakota



 



“There’s gold in them thar hills!” was the motto of the first rush of non-Native visitors to the Black Hills. The metal motive fizzled, but the scenic attractions of the western third of South Dakota kept the visitors coming.
 

The Black Hills are part of an ancient mountain chain covered with dark green pine trees that look black from a distance. The area’s appeal was kicked up a notch with the addition of the sculptures on Mount Rushmore. Today, tourists come to marvel at the memorial, enjoy national parks, watch wildlife and motorcycle through the mountains.

South Dakota is like a good buffet – the choices are nigh overwhelming. Here are some of my recommendations – mix and match at your leisure, and then consider coming back for another visit.

 

Start your exploration in the charming little town of Hot Springs, home to the Mammoth Site, a massive excavation area where more than five dozen mammoth skeletons have been discovered. Also in the area is the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, where you can see wild mustangs – descendants of Spanish horses and Choctaw ponies – running free across the prairie.

Wind Cave National Park is home to attractions above and below the ground. The prairie over the cavern is a sanctuary for native species whose numbers have dwindled over decades; bison, elk, antelope, mule deer and prairie dogs now re-inhabit the landscape. Wind Cave inhales and exhales like a living being through a small opening, and its original entrance was thought to be the birthplace of the Lakota Nation. Although lacking spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, Wind Cave is noted for boxwork, sheets of geometric deposits.

Another option in the area is exploring the beautiful calcite crystals, boxwork, drapery, stalactites and stalagmites of Jewel Cave National Monument. Several different tours are offered. The most popular, the Scenic Tour, involves going up and down 723 steps – the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs. Other options include a wheelchair-accessible tour, historic lantern tour and wild caving tour.

 

Sometimes scenery just isn’t enough. That was the thought of South Dakota historian Doane Robinson that led him to contact sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who was working on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Robinson envisioned the Needles, granite spires in the area, being carved into the likenesses of Western heroes. Borglum had his own idea – a panorama of presidents carved into a mountainside. The work took 14 years, 400 workers, almost $1 million and a lot of dynamite before its completion in 1941. It was finally, officially, dedicated as Mount Rushmore National Memorial on July 4, 1991, at the 50th anniversary celebration.


Scenic drives abound in this area and include the Needles Highway with its granite steeples and girdle-tight tunnels, and Iron Mountain Road, a favorite with motorcyclists for its pigtail bridges. Custer State Park deserves at least a day’s exploration. More than a thousand bison roam through the park’s 71,000 acres, along with pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, elk and burros.

Also in the area is the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski worked on Mount Rushmore and was invited by Chief Standing Bear to create a memorial to Native Americans. Work began in 1948. Ziolkowski died in 1982, but family members continue to work on his creation.

 

The northern portion of the Black Hills highlights the region’s mining history. The gold rush started in Deadwood, which grew from a rough mining camp into a rowdy town with legends such as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane figuring in the city’s history. Today, gamblers come to the casinos to hit it rich. Tourists looking for other treasures will find interesting museums, a trip-back-in-time townscape and Kevin Costner’s Tatanka – a museum and outdoor exhibitions dedicated to the Lakota and the bison.

Nearby, Lead sits atop what was one of the richest gold veins ever discovered. Learn more at the Black Hills Mining Museum and stop at the Homestake Visitor Center for a tour. The Homestake Mine grew from an 1876 mining claim into a huge operation until 2002.

A drive on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a great way to head north to I-90 and a quick detour to a site too close to skip. Across the state line in Wyoming is Devils Tower National Monument. I’m probably dating myself, but I’ve wanted to see this geologic wonder ever since I watched Richard Dreyfuss mold a mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was not disappointed.

 

Heading back east on I-90, we had a couple more South Dakota treats in store. First was Wall – the tiny town with the really big drug store. Growing from free ice water and nickel coffee to draw tourists off the highway in 1931 to a roadside must-see, Wall Drug combines non-stop shopping with interesting – sometimes odd – displays and attractions, everything from donuts to dinosaurs.

Not far south of Wall is an entrance to Badlands National Park. Pioneers must have gotten an awful shock as they came across the prairie only to find it falling away into a landscape of barren hills and hoodoos. The drive through the park revealed mile after mile of desert-like scenery, punctuated by a few bighorn sheep. As the sun went down, the colors deepened into rich reds, yellows, even lavender.

We spent the night in one of the few cabins in the park – Cedar Pass Lodge – and I awoke in time to watch the sunrise. I drove alone, stopping at overlooks, breathing fresh morning air, hearing nothing but the wind. The changing light made magic on the scene.

What an amazing finish to a trip filled with wonders. And like a great Chinese meal, I’m already ready for more.

 

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February 2018

The Kenneth H. Cooper Aerobics Center presents its 9th annual Whole Person Indoor Triathlon. This Super Sprint Triathlon is perfect for first time Triathletes while still being challenging for...

Cost: $25, $35, $45

Where:
Kenneth H. Cooper Aerobics Center
7777 S Lewis Ave.
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Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
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Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
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Join us for the Sunday matinee of the world premiere run of The Vaudevillian, a new opera by Thomas Pasatieri! The backstage backstory dramatizes the rise and fall of American...

Cost: $14/20/28

Where:
Oklahoma City University's Kirkpatrick Auditorium
2501 N Blackwelder Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73106
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Sponsor: Oklahoma City University's Wanda L. Bass School of Music
Telephone: 405.208.5227
Contact Name: Abigail Litjens
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OU University Theatre and Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre present Nice Work If You Can Get It. Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin; Book by Joe DiPietro Lyn Cramer, Director;...

Cost: $10-40

Where:
Elsie C. Brackett Theatre
563 Elm Ave.
Norman, OK  73019
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Sponsor: OU University Theatre
Telephone: 405.325.4101
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The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s newest art exhibit, “Prairie Moderns: The Artwork of Don Holladay,” will open in the Nesbitt Gallery with a reception that is free...

Cost: Free

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Nesbitt Gallery
1727 West Alabama
Chickasha, OK  73018
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Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
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Cost: Free

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NOIR Bistro & Bar
701 W Sheridan Ave
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Sponsor: NOIR Bistro & Bar
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Commemorating the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and diverse collection of art created by or about...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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In 1968, the Oklahoma Art Center, OKCMOA’s predecessor, purchased the 150-piece permanent collection of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the first art museum in the nation’s...

Cost: Free with admission

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Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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Dr. Nathan Brown, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate (2013-14), has been keeping journals since he was 12 years old, and they're the basis for this new exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center...

Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s newest art exhibit, “Prairie Moderns: The Artwork of Don Holladay,” will open in the Nesbitt Gallery with a reception that is free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nesbitt Gallery
1727 West Alabama
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Parish Lenten Mission with Fr. Joe Creedon Monday, February 19:  Examine your vision, and what you are willing to do to develop that vision into...

Cost: Free

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St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
900 S Boulevard
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Telephone: 405.340.0691
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Dr. Nathan Brown, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate (2013-14), has been keeping journals since he was 12 years old, and they're the basis for this new exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center...

Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s newest art exhibit, “Prairie Moderns: The Artwork of Don Holladay,” will open in the Nesbitt Gallery with a reception that is free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nesbitt Gallery
1727 West Alabama
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

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USAO's Meet the Candidates series, sponsored by the Nita R. Giles Public Policy Program, continues on March 6 with Republican and Oklahoma Lt. Governor, Todd Lamb. Lamb will give a short...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Ballroom
1727 West Alabama
Chickasha, OK  73018
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Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1216
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St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Parish Lenten Mission with Fr. Joe Creedon Monday, February 19:  Examine your vision, and what you are willing to do to develop that vision into...

Cost: Free

Where:
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
900 S Boulevard
Edmond, OK  73034
View map »


Telephone: 405.340.0691
Contact Name: Stephanie Graham
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More information

Commemorating the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and diverse collection of art created by or about...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
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415 Couch Dr.
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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Cost: Free with admission

Where:
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415 Couch Dr.
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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Dr. Nathan Brown, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate (2013-14), has been keeping journals since he was 12 years old, and they're the basis for this new exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center...

Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
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View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
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Cost: Free

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1146 N Broadway Drive
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
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Cost: $9

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Mabee Center
7777 S Lewis Ave
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Telephone: 918.495.7ORU
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Cost: Free

Where:
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900 S Boulevard
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Telephone: 405.340.0691
Contact Name: Stephanie Graham
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Cost: Free

Where:
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Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
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Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Commemorating the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and diverse collection of art created by or about...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
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415 Couch Dr.
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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Cost: Free

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Dr. Nathan Brown, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate (2013-14), has been keeping journals since he was 12 years old, and they're the basis for this new exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center...

Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
Website »

More information

Grace Grothaus and Rena Detrixhe are transforming the second floor of Oklahoma Contemporary’s Showroom with the multisensory installation Wake. This exhibit highlights the interplay of water,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Showroom
1146 N Broadway Drive
Ok, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s newest art exhibit, “Prairie Moderns: The Artwork of Don Holladay,” will open in the Nesbitt Gallery with a reception that is free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nesbitt Gallery
1727 West Alabama
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View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

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Cost: $39

Where:
OCCC Visual and Performing Arts Center
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OKC, OK  73159
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Telephone: 405.682.7579
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A world premiere theatre piece hits Oklahoma with an inter-dimensional art show: “The Cowboy Who Fell From The Sky” - an immersive, post-apocalyptic, pop-up folk concert....

Cost: $20

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OK Shakespeare In The Park On Paseo
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Contact Name: Michael Todd
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In 1968, the Oklahoma Art Center, OKCMOA’s predecessor, purchased the 150-piece permanent collection of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the first art museum in the nation’s...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Commemorating the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and diverse collection of art created by or about...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Dr. Nathan Brown, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate (2013-14), has been keeping journals since he was 12 years old, and they're the basis for this new exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center...

Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
Website »

More information

Grace Grothaus and Rena Detrixhe are transforming the second floor of Oklahoma Contemporary’s Showroom with the multisensory installation Wake. This exhibit highlights the interplay of water,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Showroom
1146 N Broadway Drive
Ok, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s newest art exhibit, “Prairie Moderns: The Artwork of Don Holladay,” will open in the Nesbitt Gallery with a reception that is free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nesbitt Gallery
1727 West Alabama
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

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Cost: $10

Where:
Mabee Center
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
View map »


Website »

More information

A world premiere theatre piece hits Oklahoma with an inter-dimensional art show: “The Cowboy Who Fell From The Sky” - an immersive, post-apocalyptic, pop-up folk concert....

Cost: $20

Where:
OK Shakespeare In The Park On Paseo
2920 Paseo
Oklahoma City, OK
View map »


Contact Name: Michael Todd
Website »

More information

Commemorating the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and diverse collection of art created by or about...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

In 1968, the Oklahoma Art Center, OKCMOA’s predecessor, purchased the 150-piece permanent collection of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the first art museum in the nation’s...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Dr. Nathan Brown, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate (2013-14), has been keeping journals since he was 12 years old, and they're the basis for this new exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center...

Cost: $6 adults (see website for all prices)

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni
Website »

More information

Grace Grothaus and Rena Detrixhe are transforming the second floor of Oklahoma Contemporary’s Showroom with the multisensory installation Wake. This exhibit highlights the interplay of water,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Showroom
1146 N Broadway Drive
Ok, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s newest art exhibit, “Prairie Moderns: The Artwork of Don Holladay,” will open in the Nesbitt Gallery with a reception that is free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nesbitt Gallery
1727 West Alabama
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.574.1301
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

A world premiere theatre piece hits Oklahoma with an inter-dimensional art show: “The Cowboy Who Fell From The Sky” - an immersive, post-apocalyptic, pop-up folk concert....

Cost: $20

Where:
OK Shakespeare In The Park On Paseo
2920 Paseo
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View map »


Contact Name: Michael Todd
Website »

More information

In 1968, the Oklahoma Art Center, OKCMOA’s predecessor, purchased the 150-piece permanent collection of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the first art museum in the nation’s...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Commemorating the 110th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood, “The Art of Oklahoma” celebrates the Museum’s outstanding and diverse collection of art created by or about...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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