Road Trip: Oklahoma City Cowboy Country Loop

Still home to the nation’s largest stockyard, Oklahoma City is definitely cowboy country.

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Horseback riding is a fun way for the whole family to enjoy Oklahoma's western heritage at The Riding Stables at Lake Stanley Draper in Oklahoma City.
Photo Credit: Ted Streuli

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This was to be a family road trip, at least until we passed the 2-year-old’s bedtime. So we loaded up the modern-day wagon, our 2003 Passat, strapped Raymond into the car seat and told the 190 horses under the hood it was time to giddyup.

Biscuit Debris
First stop, breakfast. The Classen Grill is a favorite hole-in-the-wall for the Streuli gang, especially for breakfast. Betsey and I each indulged in the Biscuit Debris: three biscuits with ham, sausage and gravy, covered in melted cheese and served with potatoes. The Classen Grill squeezes real orange juice every day, so we ordered a carafe because it’s a must-have menu item, and Raymond had some fun with a Mickey Mouse pancake. All of it, as always, was good.

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
Happily suffering from a minor carbohydrate coma, we reloaded the wagon for a morning at the cowboy Taj Mahal, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The art collection is wonderful, but with Raymond in tow we spent most of our time at Prosperity Junction - the full-scale model western town - and the Children’s Cowboy Corral. Raymond preached a sermon in the Prosperity Junction church that mostly consisted of him saying, “Church!” from the pulpit, but he cooked us up a fine pretend meal of cake and coffee in the Cowboy Corral while wearing the community chaps, bandana, boots and vest.

The Clydesdale Express
Awake again, Raymond was pretty excited about a drive to Yukon to see some big horses. If you’ve never been up close and personal with a draft horse, the word “big” might strike you as an understatement. The Express Clydesdales Ranch team competes nationally in draft horse driving competitions, and the ranch breeds and sells the uniquely black Clydesdales. Ranch visitors can see the gentle, 2,000-pound horses along with some miniature horses and a zebra. There’s a room in the barn for birthday parties and a fun gift shop.        

Riding the Trail
Since we’d seen a horse now, it was time for Raymond to saddle up and ride one. Our next stop took us east near Lake Stanley Draper, where the folks at The Riding Stables have access to 9,000 acres of trails. A string of 20 horses takes riders age 5 and older on two-hour guided rides. Younger children are permitted if they ride double with an adult. Riding and horsemanship lessons also are available, but we settled for letting Raymond have a look around the tack room and a short ride on Big Boy with 16-year-old cowgirl Kasey Brawner.

Hats, Chaps and Spurs
We headed up to Historic Stockyards City for some pre-dinner shopping. We were met in the parking lot by the Cattlemen’s shuttle, a horse-drawn buckboard that hauls customers from their cars to the restaurant’s front door, Wednesday through Sunday. We also browsed Langston’s Western Wear, the megamarket of western wear. Raymond and I tried on a lot of hats. Mom did not let us buy any, but we could have looked really cool.

Best Steak in the West
With our pager lighting up like a Fourth of July rodeo, we headed back to Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, another favorite dining spot. There are fancier steakhouses, but there aren’t any better. I usually order the rib eye, but it was Saturday night and they had prime rib on the menu, so I went with the Cowboy Cut, medium rare, with a loaded baked potato and blue cheese on my salad. Betsey had her usual filet mignon, and Raymond sampled the chicken strips. The prime rib was up to Cattlemen’s steak standards; I took a bite, rolled my eyes, looked at Betsey and said, “Oh, man, how do they do that?” Raymond had the same reaction to the chocolate sundae he had for dessert.

That’s Entertainment
We walked across a block to the Oklahoma Rodeo Opry for the 7:30 p.m. show. The nonprofit Opry is in a terrific little theater with good views of the stage and comfortable seating. Every show is different, with Opry members performing numbers and up-and-coming visiting vocalists doing the rest. The house band is really good, the kind that makes you wonder why they aren’t in Nashville. Seventeen-year-old Jake Simpson plays the fiddle like you wouldn’t believe; he’s been at it since he was 5 and performs throughout Oklahoma, Kansas and neighboring states. The night we were there, he also played the mandolin and acoustic guitar and sang. He alone is worth the price of admission. The performance runs until 10 p.m., but Raymond only made it until a little past 8. It was bedtime.

Boot Scootin’ and Bull Ridin’
I stayed through the show, then drove out to Club Rodeo, where there’s all kinds of boot scootin’ interrupted three times every Friday and Saturday night by live bull riding. If you’re trying to picture Club Rodeo, think cowboy disco where the two-step replaces the Macarena, the tight pants are all denim and no one wears their Resistol turned to the side. Riding a mere mechanical bull is child’s play compared to the real cowboys who climb aboard a ton of highly annoyed beef and try to hang on for eight seconds. The dancing stops at 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30 and four screens descend from the ceiling over the dance floor in case you can’t squeeze close enough to the bull ring. Mostly, I hoped the fence was going to hold. It did, I took down a longneck or two and called it a night.

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