A Visit to Oklahoma City

Shawnee, OK

We left Wichita, KS on Saturday and headed south for a visit to Oklahoma City, OK.  After driving south on I-35 into the city, we turned east on I-40 and continued to Shawnee (birthplace of Brad Pitt), about 30 miles away.  The Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center has a large number of RV spots, many with full hook-ups, at a reasonable price.  We found the main section to be empty, so we selected a site at the far end.  For two of our three nights we were almost alone, with only a travel trailer in a distant site for a neighbor.

All alone!

A pet peeve that many full-timers have with RV parks is that, even with numerous empty sites, the park will assign someone to the site right next to you.  The Heart of Oklahoma Expo doesn’t assign sites, you just pick one and go to the office to pay.  So we thought it was interesting when, for the last night of our stay, someone chose to park right next to us.  Are you serious!  There are about a hundred nice sites in this section of the park and you set up right next to us!  And to top it all off, they were up, slamming their door, and driving away at 6:30 the next morning!

Why ? ? ?

OK, Rant over . . .

We were only in the area for a couple of days but we did manage to check out a few interesting sites.  First, we drove to Norman, a few miles south of Oklahoma City, to visit the campus of the University of Oklahoma.  We were very impressed with this campus with its large open spaces, well maintained grounds, and beautiful buildings.

Bizzell Memorial Library

The Seed Sower Statue

The university seal features the Seed Sower, an emblem of the first university president, David Ross Boyd.  It is said that Boyd walked across the Oklahoma prairies sowing the seeds of education, as well as literally planting many trees throughout the region.  The Seed Sower statue is at the entrance to the South Oval in the center of the campus.

The football stadium stands almost in the center of the campus.  Despite its large size, it fits nicely into the campus without overwhelming its surroundings.

We then drove north for a visit to the town of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City to visit the area destroyed by a tornado in 2013.  Two elementary schools in the area were directly in the tornado’s path.  Briarwood and Plaza Towers sustained enough damage to be considered a total loss. Miraculously no one was killed at Briarwood Elementary but seven third graders inside Plaza Towers’ 2nd-3rd grade annex lost their lives when the structure’s walls collapsed.

Both schools have been completely rebuilt and the entrance of Plaza Towers has a very moving memorial to the seven students killed.  Next to the entrance are seven benches.  The name of each student is engraved on the end of a bench and the stone front section of the bench depicts that student’s interests.

Seven silhouettes of children (three boys and four girls) are engraved onto plaques on the wall of the school entrance as if they were running, walking or skipping.  Each silhouette includes a personal effect that represent items special to the child’s life.

The memorial is very impressive.  While honoring the lost children, it is subtle enough that students entering the building are not constantly overwhelmed by the tragedy.

The next day we drove into Oklahoma City for a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  Thisl Memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.  The memorial is located on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the bombing.

The most moving section of the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs.  One hundred sixty-eight empty chairs hand-crafted from glass, bronze, and stone represent those who lost their lives, with a name etched in the glass base of each.  They sit on the site where the Murrah Building once stood.  The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims’ families. The chairs are arranged in nine rows to symbolize the nine floors of the federal building; each person’s chair is on the row (or the floor) on which the person worked or was located when the bomb went off.  The chairs are also grouped according to the blast pattern, with the most chairs nearest the most heavily damaged portion of the building. The westernmost column of five chairs represents the five people who died but were not in the Murrah Building (two in the Water Resources Board building, one in the Athenian Building, one outside near the building, and one rescuer).  The 19 smaller chairs represent the children killed in the bombing.  Three unborn children died along with their mothers, and they are listed on their mothers’ chairs beneath their mothers’ names.


The Field of Empty Chairs

The Reflecting Pool, a thin layer of water flowing over polished black granite, runs east to west down the center of the Memorial  on what was once Fifth Street.  The tree on the far left in the photo below is near the spot where the truck containing the explosives was parked.

The Reflecting Pool and the Western Gate

At the ends of the Reflecting Pool are The Gates of Time, twin bronze gates that frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 – and mark the formal entrances to the Outdoor Memorial. On the eastern gate the numbers 9:01 are etched, representing the last moments of peace, while its opposite on the western gate, 9:03, represents the first moments of recovery.

The Eastern Gate

The Survivor Tree is an American elm on the north side of the Memorial, this was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building.  Commuters arrived early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches.  Photos of Oklahoma City taken in the 1920s show the tree to be about 100 years old.   Heavily damaged by the bomb, the tree survived after nearly being chopped down during the initial investigation, when workers wanted to recover evidence hanging in its branches and embedded in its bark.  The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left.  Most thought the tree could not survive.  Almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony by the tree noticed it was beginning to bloom again.  The Survivor Tree now thrives, and the Outdoor Memorial design includes a mandate to feature and protect the tree.  For example, one of the roots that would have been cut by the wall surrounding the tree was placed inside a large pipe, so it could reach the soil beyond the wall without being damaged.  The decking around the tree was raised several feet to make an underground crawlspace; workers enter through a secure hatchway and monitor the health of the tree and maintain its very deep roots.

The Survivor Tree

More than 5,000 hand-painted tiles from all over the United States and Canada were made by children and sent to Oklahoma City after the bombing in 1995.  Most are stored in the Memorial’s Archives, but a sampling of tiles is on the wall in the Children’s Area.

Tiles in the Children’s Area

The only remaining part of the original federal building

Later we made a visit to the Bricktown neighborhood for lunch.  Bricktown was once a decaying warehouse area but it has been renovated and now is home to a number of restaurants, bars, and parks.  Top attractions include the mile long Bricktown Canal and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home to the Oklahoma City Dodgers, triple A affiliate of the L.A. Dodgers.

Bricktown Canal

A statue of Oklahoma-born Mickey Mantle in front of the stadium

We are now continuing east on I-40 headed for Russellville, AR for a short stay in a Corps of Engineers Park outside of the town.

More on that later . . .

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36 Responses to A Visit to Oklahoma City

  1. pmbweaver says:

    Gorgeous header photo.

    We loved our visit to OKC. What an absolutely wonderful memorial. It had Paul and I both speechless. At night, it brought tears to my eyes.

    University of Oklahoma is a beautiful campus. The silhouettes in Moore are a wonderful way to remember the victims of the tornado.

    We had a great time in Bricktown too. Looks like you two were very busy for a few days. OKC is a great place to visit. I wish you would have visited the church across from the OKC memorial. It was hit hard from the bomb. Very interesting to lesson the custodian explain what happened.

    Glad you weather was great. That area can be pretty tricky when it comes to good weather.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Marsha:) The city certainly did do a wonderful job with the memorial. One of the NP volunteers explained the entire design to us and then talked about the number of buildings that were actually involved. So much thought went into the design. We did go by the church but we didn’t go inside. No bad weather but way too much heat and humidity!

  2. Brad Pitt’s home town…cool! 😉

    I can’t believe it was not even the RV parks fault…it was the RVer who chose to park right next to you…unfreakingbelievable!!!!! What on earth were they thinking?????

    This was a beautiful but somber stop, your descriptions of the memorials are wonderful. Thank you.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Lisa:) Oklahoma sure has had its share of disasters. We were quite surprised to discover Brad Pitt was born in this town, too. Yes, we were quite shocked when I heard a door shut and looked out to see another RV RIGHT next to us with an empty park! They didn’t even skip a site! Unbelievable!

  3. Mary says:

    What an interesting place. Those memorials are so moving, both of them. And why….why…..do people want to park right next to you when there is so much space?? We have that happen when we are boondocking. This past winter in Az, we left and drove 200 miles to find peace and no people.

    • placestheygo says:

      We were so impressed with the wonderful tribute with each memorial. I really wanted to try to find out why the people parked right next to us with an empty park but they left at dawn, which was all the more reason to not be near someone! Very strange people, for sure!

  4. Dorothy says:

    Ships passing in the night… I am in Oklahoma City tonight, on the way to Topeka. There is a lovely little campground where I stay when here, Council Road RV park. It is probably way too crowded for your taste. Nice folks though, I have been here 4-5 times.

    • placestheygo says:

      How funny! Thanks for the campground tip. We had heard about the fairground because the Fleetwood Discovery group ( we own a Discovery) had their rally there last fall. We didn’t attend but remembered where they stayed. We didn’t look at any other parks in the area.

  5. Janna says:

    Wow–thank you so much guys–what a tour and explanation. That has to be a moving experience to see all those chairs. Wave to my family when you go through Arkansas! :))

    • placestheygo says:

      Glad you enjoyed our visit to the memorials. Oklahoma sure has had some tough times. I’ve been waving to everyone here in Arkansas in case they are your family:)

  6. Just found your blog. Funny, we just left the COE Park you are headed to (Very Nice, you’ll like it) and are in OKC now!

    • placestheygo says:

      Sure is a small world. We have been in Old Post Rd COE since Tuesday and are leaving today heading to Little Rock. Enjoy OKC! I hope the weather breaks for you but the wind helps some.

  7. Alicia says:

    Hi there! I’ve been following your posts for a few months – love your blog! I am hoping to get some advice from you. I have my own blog, and have an email subscribe set up, but don’t like the setup. What did you use to set up your “follow us by email” box at the top right? Yours seems so simple, and I get the emails right away with the full blog post. – Alicia 🙂 instagram@girlonatrail, http://www.girlonatrail.com

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Alicia, for joining us:) Wish I could give you an easy answer but the “follow us by email” was a feature that Word Press offered when setting up a blog. It sure does make it easy for people to follow us. Hope you can find a way to add something similar to yours:)

  8. Sarah says:

    The Oklahoma City National Memorial was even more moving that I expected it to be. We were there around the holidays last year, and wreaths had been placed on each of the chairs. I was not familiar with the Plaza Towers Memorial. That one also seems to be very well done. Oklahoma has certainly seen its share of sadness.

    • placestheygo says:

      I can’t imagine being at the Memorial around the holidays. The Volunteer said they had quite a crowd for Father’s Day. I only saw roses on one chair while we were there. Yes, Oklahoma sure doesn’t need any more tragedy.

  9. Sherry says:

    I have yet to see the National Memorial but it certainly looks and sounds very moving. I have a very hard time with those sorts of sites. Gettysburg nearly did me in. Such senseless loss. So much pain for so many families.

  10. Gay says:

    What a very moving and somber post…

  11. Jodee Gravel says:

    Another great city post! The campus library building is beautiful. The memorials are very moving, thank you for such great information on both the school and the federal building. They really put a lot of thought into the chairs and the time gates, and apparently with much less controversy than they had for the 9/11 memorial. That tree is likely to be there several 100 years from now 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Jodee! Both memorials really did a nice job honoring those lost. The thought and planning that went into the OKC National Memorial was amazing. Ever items had a significance as to its placement. I’m glad they had rangers and volunteers there to share all this information.

  12. Laurel says:

    Your photos and descriptions of the memorials is very touching. You’re right, Oklahoma City has had more than its share of tragedies. So, so sad. I don’t know if we’ll ever go there, so I appreciate your sharing it with us. (And yes, it seems very odd that those people parked right next to you when the entire park was open! I guess they liked you. :-))

  13. Our chance of passing thru OK city is gone. Thank you so much for that somber and great description of the memorial that we won’t see anytime soon. It seems however that the killings has not stopped. Glad you passed that way and showed us how OK is memorializing the tragedy.

  14. Nancy says:

    A somber visit… but I am so thankful to see your visit through your lens. The memorials are beautiful and you said it correctly… Oklahoma City has been through a lot.

  15. allisonmohr says:

    We were very impressed with Oklahoma City. We went there to see the memorial, but there was much more than that to see. It was a good couple of days. The art museum there has an enormous Chihuly installation. We were told that his mother in law is from OK city, and that helped in obtaining a piece of that size. It is odd that people would park next to you with all of that space available.

    • placestheygo says:

      OKC did have a lot to offer. We were only there for a few days and it was very hot so we didn’t as much as would have liked. I would have loved to see the Chihuly piece.

  16. LuAnn says:

    The OK City National Memorial was very moving for me. We took the kids and grandkids with us and were surprised to see them listening intently to the Ranger talk. Thanks for the tour of the schools, which we have not done. Safe travels!

    • placestheygo says:

      Glad the grandkids enjoyed the ranger’s talk on the Memorial. I found all the thought and planning that went into the design amazing. Being teachers we remembered the heart break when the schools were hit by the tornado. We were very impressed with the way the elementary school honored the memory of the children killed.

      • LuAnn says:

        Thanks for showing that side of Oklahoma City to us. We had no idea what the elementary school did to honor those students lost by the tornado’s destruction.

  17. The same thing happened to us! We live in a 5th wheel but travel in a tiny little teardrop trailer. My husband and I were camping in a wonderful city park in Hico, Texas. The park was EMPTY! We went to dinner and came back to discover a large 5th wheel chose to park right next to us. Why? Because they were curious about our trailer. That’s ok. I love showing it off!
    Enjoy Arkansas!

  18. Tina says:

    I’ve been one of your lurkers for a long time, but this post brought me out of “lurkdom!”

    Thank you for your comprehensive post about the memorial. We have driven through OKC countless times on our trips cross country, and I think of the memorial every time but have been reluctant to go through the emotional wringer of visiting in person.

    We worked inside the Pentagon three different times post-911 and I was able to go into the chapel while it was still being completed in the location where the plane entered the building. Just reading the names of those lost was very emotional. Plus in our work there we had the opportunity to talk to a wide variety of people who shared their personal experiences of being at work when it happened. Fascinating and sobering.

    There is also a very interesting and touching story of how the outside memorial was constructed there, memorializing those lost from both the plane and from the Pentagon. This area is open to the public. I’m sure you would also find it worth visiting if you haven’t done so yet.

    Then there’s the Little Bighorn, and the Holocaust Museum. sigh. I think it’s important to never forget, but my husband and I both have a tough time keeping it together at places like this. It’s like you have to put on your emotional armor to get through it!

    We have also stayed at the park in Shawnee. Weird human herding mentality about parking so close! Writing this from my iPhone so apologies for any typos.

    Thanks for sharing your tour.

  19. rommel says:

    I just turned off the office air-conditioner, but the empty chairs still gave the chills. Now that I think of it, most memorials design and construction seem to me are well-thought of.
    The Memorial Library looks wicked cool too. Looks like an intricate Lego puzzle from afar. 🙂

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