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

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