Oklahoma – What To Do!

Sam and I visited my family in Oklahoma last week and we were surprised to see just how many beautiful places there were here. We stayed in Norman, which is real close to Oklahoma City and home to OU. Every time I mentioned Oklahoma to anyone, the common response is “What’s in Oklahoma?” – and I thought the exact same thing.

So to enlighten those of us expecting nothing but cornfields and tornadoes, here’s a list of 5 things I didn’t expect to see near Norman, Oklahoma.

5. OU Campus and downtown Norman

The Oklahoma University campus is right across from downtown Norman and walking around both paces you can marvel at charming and impressive architecture. To be fair, it’s all rather compact and you can walk all of downtown and the campus in about twenty minutes but on a cool, sunny day it’s perfect for peeking in a bunch of little shops or grabbing lunch.

4. Lakes

DSC07531The amount of water in Norman surprised me. We swam a LOT during the trip and there aren’t too many places strictly regulated which means you can grab a paddleboard or kayak and just go exploring.

3. Chickasaw

Chickasaw National Recreational Area is a large area of springs, streams, and lakes. We only saw a small part of it, called Little Niagra Falls, but if we’d had more time I could spend several days here. There’s a little waterfall to jump off here and if you follow a trail up you’ll come to a little spring said to have healing properties.

2. Bricktown

Bricktown is a little strip of brick shops lined up along a river, which makes for an incredibly romantic atmosphere. We went to a dueling piano bar here, which was fun although a bit pricey, and then walked along the river as boat tours cheered us on for our making out in public

1. Turner Falls

DSC07527My favorite spot near Norman has to be Turner Falls. The beautiful area transports you somewhere exotic and although it’s become a bit commercialized, it’s worth the money for the visit. You can find old ruins of a “castle” built in the 1930s and caves and trails and lots of swimming opportunities in clear water. If you bring children under 12, make sure you have life vests for them – they kicked us out because we didn’t know about the rule, which soured our experience a bit, but if you’re prepared you can easily spend your entire day here.

-Zach

Calico Tanks Trail – What A Beaut!

When you think Vegas your first thought might not be stunning mountains and diverse wildlife – well, some sort of wildlife, maybe – but just a few minutes out of the city you’ll find just that in Red Rock Canyon.

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I’ve been in Vegas for over a decade (on a side note, get me out) and have had lots of time to explore the hikes and sights of Red Rock. I just revisited one of my favorites and it reminded me why it’s always my go-to when introducing visitors to the canyon: Calico Tanks Trail.

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I like hikes with a big pay-off, and Calico Tanks delivers with amazing views of the Las Vegas Strip and a little swamp-like “tank” full of frogs and birds and dragonflies and bees and wasps and – well, the list gets less pleasant as it goes on but from a distance it’s a remarkable sight in the otherwise dry desert.

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The hike itself is classified as Moderate but honestly it’s very accessible thanks to the stone stairways that have been constructed throughout the trail. It’s about 2.5 miles there and back but it feels shorter because the scenery changes frequently.

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Go early in the morning and you’ll catch a lot of animals hopping about. I became a wildlife photographer with zero talent because literally anywhere I pointed the lens something was either flying or scuffling into my view.

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Here’s a picture of a mountain pigeon.
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Couldn’t get a clear picture of the smallest frog alive, but I sure got a ton of blurry ones!
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Dragonflies look uglier the closer you get.
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This one is my favorite. The bright blue contrasted so well against the red rocks. National Geographic you getting this?

At the very end of the hike you can see the Strip in the distance. It was a bit smoggy the morning I came here but I can imagine on clearer days you’d get the type of views you use for your laptop screensaver.

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All in all, Calico Tanks is an enjoyable and diverse hike. It’s a little different from any other Red Rock hike and that makes it perfect for newbies and veterans alike who want to see all the beautiful secrets the desert has to offer.

That last line was cheesy but really it’s a good hike.

-Zach

Chasing Waterfalls in Death Valley

If you thought all there was to Death Valley was sand and sand, think again.

Darwin Falls is modest – it’s not a thundering waterfall from Oregon or a tropical one from Hawaii, but it is a special one because it sits in the middle of Death Valley’s dry desert landscape. Because I’m obsessed with waterfalls (and there really aren’t that many in the desert) I spent the day on a 2-lane highway looking for it.

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If you’ve never been to Death Valley, there are plenty of stops you can make here. Lots of beautiful and historic sights along the way; from vast salt flats in the Badwater Basin to stunning views of bronze colored hills at Zabriskie Point. The drive through Death Valley feels like a journey through the desert’s greatest hits.

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Alternatively, if you’re like me and have been knees deep in desert for the past 10 years, well, then there’s more of that here.

How to get there

The exit for the Darwin Falls trail is unmarked, so finding this gem is a bit of a challenge. If you’re coming out of Vegas, follow the CA-90 west until you hit the Panama Springs Resort. Once you pass the resort (“resort” is a kind term) the road is going to curve to the right, and afterwards an unmarked gravel road is going to present itself on the left side.

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You can drive this gravel road (my bike wasn’t happy about it but the street tires pulled through just fine) for about 2.5 miles until you get to the trailhead. From here, it’s a very short and enjoyable walk to the falls as things start to get greener and water begins streaming along the trail.

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There was nobody there when I came, so bring some food and bring a book and enjoy the tranquility. Darwin Falls is a spectacular sight in contrast to its surroundings and I highly recommend it to anybody visiting Death Valley. If you can find the exit, the trail only takes about 15 minutes so it’s perfect sightseeing material!

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Pit stop

If you’re hungry on your way to Death Valley, there’s a charming little hotel/café/opera house (you read that right!) at the 190 and the 127 freeway junction called the Amargosa Opera House.

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I came too early for the opera house to be open but the food was fancy (and pricey) and the coffee was good, and ultimately as long as there is good coffee I’m happy.

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-Zach