My family and I are on a one-year trip across the United States as we reconnect as a family, experience the natural wonders in the world God created, and see Catholicism – in all its uniqueness and beauty – across the country. This is our journey.
Do you have somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, but weren’t sure why? For me, it’s been Oklahoma. I’ve always wanted to walk through the Great Plains, visit the small towns that stoically survived the dust bowls, and – admittedly – visit the home of the Pioneer Woman (I love her show!).
In order to get there, though, we had to cut from New Mexico across the top of Texas. Honestly, I’m so glad we did! There ended up being two really awesome stops along the way, each totally unique in their own way.
The first stop was in Amarillo, Texas, for a bit of true Americana. We grabbed a spray paint and headed to Cadillac Ranch, which is literally a bunch of really old Cadillacs buried at an angle in this gigantic open field right off the side of the freeway. Random, for sure, but an icon nonetheless.
It had just rained, so the grounds around the Cadillacs were quite muddy … thankfully, a kind soul before us had left a wooden board! My little guy and I crept carefully over, feeling a bit rebellious as we sprayed our names onto the old cars.
We spent a *very* stormy night in Amarillo … it was the first true storm the camper has been in, and I’m so thrilled to say it survived without a scratch! The winds were over 40 mph, and cold freezing rain kept us inside for most of the three-day stay. My husband even backed his truck right up against the side of the camper so it, and not our little house on wheels, was taking the brunt of the wind. He’s the best … so thankful to have him by my side.
Once the winds died down, we hitched up the trailer and headed east towards our second stop before entering Oklahoma: Cross Ministries. This non-profit started in 1995, and has evolved into a 19-story, 2-million-pound steel cross that greets visitors as they drive Interstate 40. The site has grown to include life-size statues of each station, a replica of the Shroud of Turin, and an absolutely gorgeous Divine Mercy fountain at the entrance. It was a very powerful experience to stand beside Christ, eye to eye, during his last day.
Once arriving in Oklahoma, we felt like proper cowboys and cowgirls as our first official stop was at the Stockyard Stampede in Oklahoma City! The morning started off with a cattle drive of Longhorns – the span of their horns measures up to 70”, and I admit it was a bit intimidating to see them walking past us! They were incredibly docile, though, and diligently followed the real cowboys on horseback.
After the Longhorns passed us, we headed into the stockyards. These aren’t just any stockyards; these were built in 1910 and are today the largest stocker and feeder cattle market in the world! There were thousands of pens spanning acres, and all throughout the day trucks brought cattle into the yard. We were able to get right up close and watch them unloading!
Then it was on to the Annual Stampede Festival! We learned to twirl a lasso, watch a gun fight reenactment at high noon, and even learn about modern milking techniques at a dairy cow seminar. For lunch, the pioneers cooked up traditional chicken fried steak, potato stew, cornbread, and peach cobbler – all in Dutch oven pans, the way the pioneers would have. The entire town stopped for a blessing, and lunch was served. Absolutely delish! We loved being here, as this was a true tribute to the town. As opposed to other “western days” that we’ve been to (in some very non-western towns), this festival truly paid a nod to the rich history of Oklahoma. Such a gift.
After spending time in the rural town, we headed to the city. Bricktown is in an up-and-coming area of Oklahoma, and has such a great history! It was one a thriving industrial town formed in 1898, which fell into disrepair. The warehouses sat, dilapidated, until the early 1990’s when a revitalization effort took place. Today, it’s totally *the* place to be – and they’ve worked to ensure that the history of the town remains. Original brick facades are kept, and just the interiors are changed. For example? We ate dinner inside an old Model T factory; the inside was redone *just enough* to add atmosphere while still keeping the original assembly plant feel. You could just feel the history here!
We also visited the Banjo Hall of Fame, another business that moved into Bricktown. We learned so much! I had no idea that the banjo was introduced to the States through the (horrific) slave trade; it was an African instrument that rose in popularity here in the US during the Civil War where, in some parts, blacks and whites fought side-by-side.
We couldn’t leave Oklahoma City without seeing the National Memorial & Museum at the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. The main site is flanked by two large entry gates; one reads 9:01, the moment before the bomb went off. The second gate reads 9:03, the moment recovery began. Between the gates sits the time span of the minute in between … the time when 168 people were killed and over 600 injured. Each of these individuals who lost their life are forever memorialized in the garden; an empty chair sits with their name, symbolizing the dining chair that belongs at the family’s kitchen table, but is no longer filled with their presence. We broke down at the sight of these chairs; the message was just so powerful and heart wrenching.
Just across from the memorial is St. Joseph’s Catholic church; at the time of the bombing, windows shattered from the force of the explosion. Today, Jesus stands at the corner of the lot, weeping over the lives lost. Behind him stands the memorial.
We headed up to Tulsa, and took in what was *the* greatest park in the US! The Gathering Place is a gorgeous riverfront park along 66 acres, designed through the cooperative effort of over 80 philanthropic and corporate entities. The park was within its first 100 days of being open, and we were thrilled to be able to take advantage of some of the extra activities it had as part of the opening celebration! There’s no way to describe this child (and adult!) playground – my husband and I had just as much fun climbing and sliding as our little man did. Most of the structures are built to fit not only the kids but mom and dad, too, making this an absolute destination for families!
Our last stop was up in Pawhuska where we, of course, visited The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. Ok, maybe not a real visit with her, but we dined at her restaurant P-Town, where we had delicious pizza and shopped her store! Nearby was an absolutely beautiful Catholic church with an amazing story: The windows were contracted by a few of the wealthy oil owners from Germany just before World War I. The window artisan, with the war in his back yard, buried the windows in his back yard. His foresight was rewarded; the war came through his home, but the windows were not discovered. After the war, they were shipped to their current home in the church.
One of the windows is so unique that the designers first sought approval from the Pope himself! While images in the windows are usually of saints and angels, this image shows the native Osaka tribe. The Pope welcomed and approved the idea, and parishioners from the Osaka tribe posed for the design, making it a true and realistic nod to their tribe and their faith.
As we left, we drove through the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. It was just beautiful – so simple and wide open, with skies that seemed to go for miles. We saw native bison roaming as we listened to “Little House on the Prairie” in the car, making the experience feel all the more rich. I am so thankful we had the chance to experience a taste of Oklahoma!
We’re so excited for this trip on the road as we explore the natural wonders that our beautiful country holds, and as we visit cathedrals, shrines, and see the beauty of our faith along the way! We invite you to join us for the adventure both here on CatholicMom.com and on our Instagram account, where we’re sharing regular updates of our trip. If you’re in an area we’re visiting, we would love to meet up!
Copyright 2019 Jen Frost