Visit several points of interest in northwest Oklahoma with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department team.
The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department team headed to northwest Oklahoma on a cool morning in May. We drove by an expanse of still green wheat fields, which were waving in the wind, and yes, the wind really does come sweeping down the plains in Oklahoma. Northwest Oklahoma is known as Red Carpet Country, and we sure felt like they had rolled out the red carpet for us.
Our first stop was the Sod House Museum located near the Cimarron River in Aline. The sod house is more than an original structure carved out of the prairie. It’s the story of the American West. The museum curator educated us about the heartiness, resourcefulness, family values and work ethic of the Oklahoma pioneers. The skills needed by the first pioneers to carve out a life here rivaled those of any European Renaissance man or woman. On any given day they had to be an expert marksman, architect, meteorologist, craftsman, farmer, cook, doctor and more. The sod house is a structure from the land run days. The house is made from sod that was cut out of the prairie on the same site over a hundred years ago. We learned that the creepy crawly things that live in the dirt also liked to live in the sod house. In fact, having a bull snake as a family pet in the house was as common as the family dog is now. Bull snakes are docile creatures that helped keep the other creepy crawlies at bay. We also learned that it was common to hang a canvas from the ceiling of a room to keep rain water, sod, and the ceiling’s local residents, including the family’s slithering pet, from falling on the human inhabitants. The curator said that at night, by the light of an oil lamp, you could see the silhouettes of these things in the canvas. Thank goodness we live in the 21st century!
In the heart of Oklahoma’s Red Carpet Country, where the bison once roamed, you will find an oasis called the Indian Creek Village Winery & Village Inn. This boutique winery and luxury bed and breakfast is located in Ringwood, just south and east of the Original Sod House Museum in Aline. As you enter the grounds of the estate you will pass by picturesque vineyards covering several acres. You can’t help but notice that the grounds are perfectly landscaped with trees and stone pathways to funnel you to the bed and breakfast. We arrived at the estate in time for the cool morning breezes to turn into a warm and pleasant Mediterranean-like afternoon, perfect for wine tasting.
We met the proprietor, a lady named Jenny Lewis, who fell in love with the art of winemaking while her husband was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier near Wine Country in California. Jenny has created a memorable setting for a first wine tasting experience or for those who already appreciate the richness of a perfectly-paired meal. I think that Jenny has a rare talent when it comes to winemaking. I’m sure there are many awards in the future of these wines. The cabernet is dry, but you can still taste a hint of the sweet, clean air and water of the Great Plains. It is the perfect match for homegrown Oklahoma beef. The sweet wines are second to none. Try them all. The one I took home was named Roman Nose, but given enough time, I’m sure I’ll have them all.
The Village Inn offers a great couples’ getaway. The third floor is the crown jewel with its spacious, oversized king bed and spectacular views of the vineyard and heavily-wooded cross-timbers region. Slip into the large Jacuzzi tub located in your room and soak alone or with your special someone. In the summer, when the mercury is nearing the century mark, the inviting pool is just outside, waiting to cool you off.
The lunch we had was a real treat. The salad was garden fresh—they grow many of their own herbs and veggies on-site. The lasagna with steamed veggies and garlic bread was mouthwatering. And, of course, a wonderful wine accompanied the meal. Just when I thought that I couldn’t eat another bite, here came my favorite dessert—strawberry shortcake—made with fresh local strawberries and homemade shortcake. Even though I was full, I devoured the treat as well as the crabapple dessert wine that was paired with it.
After the great hospitality of The Village Inn, we traveled about 20 miles west to Gloss Mountain State Park. The red mesas of Gloss Mountain are covered in crystals so that they sparkle in the sunlight. Gloss Mountain State Park is an excellent spot to have a picnic and do some hiking. In fact, I could almost imagine I was an extra in one of John Ford’s famous Westerns like Fort Apache. This area is the real West—a place where you can see birds of prey hunting and foxes and coyotes trotting across the prairie. Atop the Gloss Mountains you can see the untamed Cimarron River, and the rustic landscape seems to stretch on forever with rugged red buttes standing like sentinels. Even though the climb to the top of the mesa in the state park is steep, it is scalable by almost everyone. Stairs and handrails help the ascent and benches are located strategically along the route.
After enjoying the serenity of the Gloss Mountains we ventured to the prairie town of Okeene. In the first week of May each year, the small town plays host to the Okeene Rattlesnake Roundup. Don’t let the name fool you. This is an exciting family event with many of the rides and food that you would find at the state fair along with all of the hospitality that only a farming community could offer. While the focus of this festival is on the annual rattlesnake hunt in the surrounding area, the street carnival, vendor booths and great food turn it into an affair everyone can enjoy.
Fortunately for the faint of heart, you won’t find serpents slithering around the streets of Okeene during the festival. But you can get up close and personal with rattlers. The Den of Death tent features nearly 100 rattlesnakes and other species in an enclosure that keeps visitors safe while offering an interesting once-in-a-lifetime experience. Highly-skilled wranglers stand in the enclosure armed with snake handling hooks and educate visitors about the vipers. I was amazed at their poise as venomous rattlesnakes slithered around their feet and occasionally struck at their pant legs. You can tell that they have a well-deserved respect for the creatures and love sharing their knowledge with the festival’s guests. Some of the Den of Death residents are nonpoisonous and the wranglers will allow willing guests to touch or hold them. The beauty of the blue racer snake sporting robin-egg blue eyes, which had to be seen to be believed, took us all aback. Your experience isn’t complete until you’ve tried deep-fried rattlesnake meat, so don’t miss the booth just down the street from the Den of Death.
On the ride home we were treated to a picturesque sunset. It is pretty common in this part of the state to see a sunset that is a painter’s dream—reds and yellows on the horizon above a mixture of purples and blues leading to a tall sky and the first stars of a peaceful prairie evening.
The Sod House Museum offers some dress up items and an old buck board wagon that will transform your family into pioneers for a great vacation photo.
When you drive through the Gloss Mountains area be sure and make time to park and walk to the top of a mesa for an unforgettably breathtaking view. From the parking lot, take the trail over the small bridge that leads to steps and hand rails up the side of the mesa. The final ten feet or so of the ascent is on rock instead of steps and is somewhat difficult, so think twice about carrying small children all the way.
Be sure and make a reservation for lunch or dinner when you visit The Village Inn. The meals are incredible!
While you are at The Village Inn, pick up some Shooting Star Farms brand three-pepper jelly. Pour this Made-in-Oklahoma treat over a block of cream cheese and you have an instant party favorite.
If you have a really strong stomach and an adventurous spirit, visit the butcher shop at the Okeene Rattlesnake Roundup. We learned a lot of shocking rattlesnake facts from the butchers. If you have children with you, choose the Den of Death tent instead of the butcher shop.