Fall is the perfect time to explore America’s treasures: those entities under the U.S. National Park Service. Among these special places are 61 national parks, 84 national monuments, national historic sites and over a dozen other named designations. Everyone knows the big ones – Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite – but there are lots more; 419 in all. Some you may never have heard of. Some are small. And a number of these are within a day’s drive of Oklahoma. Here are three of my favorites.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
It began with a bone found by a couple of men in a ravine near the Bosque River close to Waco, Texas. Experts at Baylor’s Strecker Museum identified it as part of a Columbian mammoth femur. Excavations have revealed 25 mammoths, three camels and a saber-toothed cat. This site is unique as the only discovered nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths.
The skeletal remains are protected by a roomy, air-conditioned dig shelter where guests can see a number of bones in the partially excavated site. Guided tours last about 45 minutes; there’s also a picnic area on the site and nature trails. The admission charge is minimal – sorry, your Park Pass won’t work here.
In the Area:
Dr Pepper Museum: fun tour with a must-do stop at the end for a sundae made with Dr Pepper syrup.
Mayborn Museum Complex: A three-fer, this complex includes a children’s museum, science and natural history museum and a historic village.
Armstrong Browning Library: a must for any fan of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Both the Mayborn and the Browning are on the Baylor campus.
Homestead Craft Village: shop for everything from fiber to forged iron in the shops in this agrarian-based, craft-based Christian community.
Cameron Park Zoo
Cameron Park Trail System: more than 20 miles of trails from bluff tops to bamboo-lined strolls
Bosque Bluffs and Brazos Bridges Paddling Trails: great for canoeing or kayaking, trails range from 2.2 to 4.8 miles depending on routes
Ninfa’s: good Tex-Mex food in a fun environment
Café Homestead: local and organic food, homemade and fresh. Breakfast, lunch, brunch.
Hot Springs National Park
The Arkansas park is a unique combination of town and country; based around historic Bathhouse Row but including much of the forested mountains that surround the city. The springs’ heyday was from the late 19th into the first half of the 20th century, when Bathhouse Row was occupied by elegant establishments catering to fashionable clients. Today, the Fordyce Bathhouse is home to the park’s Visitor Center and open for touring. The historic town offers tourist attractions, shopping, dining, strolling and even a modern spa and baths in the 1922 Quapaw Bathhouse. For a real time-trip, have a traditional 1920s-style spa experience at the historic Arlington Hotel.
In the Area:
Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
Hot Springs Mountain Tower for a spectacular view – up to 140 miles on a clear day
Garvan Woodland Gardens: Arkansas’ premier botanic garden with an architecturally outstanding E. Fay Jones/Maurice Jennings chapel
Hike 26 miles of trails in the national park
Porterhouse: a classic New York steak house
Bella Luna: lots of Italian favorites
Bleu Monkey: varied menu with wonderful vegetarian entrees
McClard’s: family-owned barbecue, a local favorite since 1928
Lookout Point Lakeside Inn: luxury inn with many amenities on Lake Hamilton
Arlington Hotel: Swanky hotel in the heart of the Historic District
Petroglyph National Monument
On the northwest side of Albuquerque, New Mexico, this site encompasses five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeaological sites and an estimated 25,000 images early native people and Spanish explorers left carved on the rocks.
Petroglyph is saturated with Native American spirituality. The area offers more than just primitive rock drawings; it’s a window into an ancient culture. The landscape is held in reverence by contemporary Native Americans. Visitors should be sensitive to those beliefs. Trails offer a variety of fascinating views … for those with appropriate footwear.
In the Area:
Albuquerque Old Town
Rainbow Ryders hot air balloon rides
Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum
More museums: from art and natural history (great dinosaurs at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science) to nuclear energy, turquoise and rattlesnakes
Of ethnic interest: National Hispanic Cultural Center, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Church Street Café: Mexican food (naturally) in one of the oldest buildings in Albuquerque’s Old Town
Golden Crown Panaderia: inexpensive, quick bites, great for lunch. Vegetarian-friendly.
Level 5 in Hotel Chaco: upscale, locally sourced items, fantastic deck with a great view of the mountains
El Pinto: Grew from a small family business to one of the state’s largest Mexican restaurants and producer of great salsas and sauces
Hotel Albuquerque: Spanish Colonial emphasis. I love the huevos rancheros at breakfast, and they have a special room for tapas and flamenco
Nativo Lodge: Tribute to Native American culture with Artist Rooms a special treat
Los Poblanos Historic Inn: Historic hacienda and farm renovated in the ’30s by John Gaw Meem
In Case You Were Wondering:
Oklahoma’s two National Park Service properties include the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. The Oklahoma City National Memorial, while not an NPS property, is affiliated with the Park Service. Surrounding states have more than the few I’ve listed.
Whether it’s a scenic wonder, a place of archeaological significance or an area of historic importance, these sites belong to us – the American people. Have you checked out your property lately?