A Short Break From The Road In Oklahoma City


Seeing the recovery underway in Joplin, Missouri was an end point to a chapter of my trip. I’d done the Great Lakes, the East Coast, the South and, now, the Midwest. As I drove out of Missouri, the great expanse of the West loomed, a monstrous stretch of America to cover in the less than two weeks that remained in my trip.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. After eight weeks in the car, on the road, sleeping on floors, in tents, in anonymous hotel rooms and cozy bed and breakfasts, I could feel the end of the trip creeping closer, my end goal of Los Angeles in sight, if more than 2,000 miles away by the sinuous route I’d plotted. But first, I’d spend the night in Oklahoma City.

Traveling the American Road – Oklahoma City Baseball


After passing through Tulsa, with a quick stop for lunch at the Dilly Deli and coffee at DoubleShot, it was on to Oklahoma City. Like Atlanta, it’s a place much changed since the ’90s, when Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a truck bomb at the Murrah Federal Building. A beautiful and contemplative memorial to the dead now marks the site, its reflecting pool shimmering in the scorching August heat.

In the sixteen years since the attack, the downtown neighborhood of Bricktown has developed into the city’s preeminent nightlife and entertainment district. Anchoring it, at least for someone fascinated by baseball as a cultural touchstone, is RedHawks Field at Bricktown, the home of the Houston Astro’s AAA affiliate club. I was determined to see a game despite the triple-digit heat and bought a $15 ticket that would park me right behind the home team’s on-deck circle. I was in the second row.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it would turn out to be the last ballgame of the trip. There was too much road to cover, too much to see in Texas and New Mexico and the vast spaces of the American Southwest. It was a bittersweet game, this last minor league battle, a sign that my trip would soon be over, even if I had thousands of miles yet to go.

The 5 ugliest states in the country

ugliest statesThey say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. San Francisco Examiner writer and occasional Gadling contributor Bob Ecker doesn’t behold much, at least for a few unlucky states. Ecker previously named the prettiest US states including coastal California, exotic Hawaii, diverse New York, historic Virginia, and verdant Washington. He’s now determined the unfortunate ugliest states, measured by landscape, not people:

  • Connecticut: the Constitution State is called a “suburban hell”
  • Delaware: small and boring
  • Kansas: land-locked and a “throwback,” in a bad way
  • Nevada: outside of Las Vegas, it’s a “desolate and forbidding wasteland” (what about Lake Tahoe, Bob?)
  • Oklahoma: another flat, hot, and boring state (don’t tell Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid, an OK native)

Obviously the article is tongue in cheek — there are beautiful corners in every great state in this country — but Ecker’s skewering provides a good starting point for thinking about vacation destinations. Do these places deserve to be called ugly? What do you think the ugliest states are?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Visiting the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

Each Spring, avid rattlesnake hunters and handlers gather in Mangum, Oklahoma for the annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. The event began in 1966 when the Shortgrass Rattlesnake Association organized the first weekend-long derby to hunt, measure and cook the reptiles. Each year, a crowd of approximately 30,000 hunters and spectators gathers to take part.

The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, held near the end of April, includes a wide range of snake-related activities, music, contests and food. Visitors come to watch snake handlers, eat at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” or enter the snake pit and try to find the longest “rattler” and win the derby. There’s also carnival rides, one of the largest flea markets in the state, live music by regional musicians and a royalty contest.

Want to know more about this crazy snake shindig in Southern Oklahoma? Keep reading below.

The highlight of each year’s Derby is the Longest Snake Contest. Rattlesnake hunters explore the southwestern Oklahoma hills and countryside seeking the longest and heaviest snakes to win cash awards and trophies. Hunters must register for the guided hunts and attend a safety course. Measuring and weighing of the live snakes often requires four men to hold the dangerous reptiles during the process. Snakes at this Oklahoma event routinely measure in excess of six feet long.

Young women who attend high school in Greer County also compete for the coveted title of “Miss Derby Princess” winning not only gifts and cash awards, but also a college scholarship. The winner must be brave enough to pose for a photo with the winner of the “Longest Snake” contest

Meanwhile at the Snake Pit, two handlers stand inside a ring with over a hundred rattlesnakes slithering around their feet. While one handler entertains the crowd by actively working with the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, the other educates the crowds about the art of “charming” snakes and facts about the elusive and deadly creatures.

Another highlight of the weekend is the “Butcher Shop Show” where spectators not only watch a snake being prepared for the fryer, but also learn about the delicacy of serpentine meat. The show may be a bit too gory for children and those who flinch at the sight of blood, but it is as entertaining as it is educational. Even in death, a rattlesnake is still deadly and must be handled with extreme caution. After skinning the rattlesnake and removing the head, the butcher demonstrates how the deadly jaws have one final bite left by using a hat or scarf from an audience member.

While some spectators believe that snake tastes a lot like chicken, patrons at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” can cast their own vote as to the flavor of serpentine cuisine. Volunteers from the Mangum Mounties Association batter slices of rattlesnake from the butcher shop and fry the meat for anxiously awaiting customers.

Some have decried the butchering practices as inhumane towards the snakes. The Derby Association addresses these questions on its website, indicating that the snakes are “dispatched according to acceptable commercial practices” and that by holding the festival, they hope to “correct modern misconceptions about the rattlesnake.”

Whether you’re watching rattlesnakes get measured, learning about them at the snake pit, or eating one after its been deep fried, visitors to the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby are sure to come away with a unique understanding of these amazing creatures.

Travel to the Cherokee Nation: A new website helps you plan

In the 7,000 square miles of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, there are attractions scattered across it. From National Historic Landmark Fort Gibson that was built in 1824 as a staging area for military expeditions in the west, to Will Rogers birthplace, to the Tahequah Cultural District–the Cherokee Nation’s capitol after the Cherokee were forced to relocate to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, the variety is impressive.

As a way to help tourists find their way across the Cherokee Nation’s vastness, and plan a trip according to their interests, the website Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism was recently launched.

Along with the navigation tools that allow people to find out specifics about each cultural attraction, there is also a Calendar of Events page and another page to help folks hook up with specific tours: Cherokee Old Settler Tour; Will Rogers History Tour; Cherokee History Tour; and Cherokee Civil War Tour.

The list of things to do on each day of February is impressive. One event that caught my attention on this month’s calendar is the Fiddler’s Festival, February 26-28 at the Western Hills Guest Ranch & Sequoyah State Park.

One place to start a trip to the region might be the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Oklahoma. Here you can learn more about Cherokee history and life. The complex also has an ancient village designed to look like it did before the Europeans showed up.

Even if you don’t plan to set foot in Oklahoma, head to the website as a history and cultural arts lesson. You’ll come away learning aspects of American history you may not have known before. [Pittsburgh Post Gazette]

New state laws that affect travelers in 2009

There are slew of new state laws that have gone into effect with the change to 2009. Here are some of the ones that I’ve culled from this CBS News/AP article that could impact travelers depending upon which state you head to for a vacation this year.

In California, do not read-or-write text messages while you drive. It’s now illegal. Heavens! Can you imagine someone texting on a freeway in L.A.?

If you are in Illinois and are having a heart attack at an outdoor fitness facility, look for a defibrillator. All such facilities are now required to have one.

Don’t even think about urinating or defecating in public in New Hampshire. If you decide to let go, it could cost you a $1,000 fine. Did people in New Hampshire have a problem holding it until they found a toilet? That was my initial thinking. Turns out, the law is to prevent people who pee in public from being labeled as sex offenders.

For smokers in Oklahoma, only fire-safe cigarettes are being sold. If you’re a smoker in Oregon, don’t light up in a bar. Smoking is now banned in bars. Trans-fat is also banned in Oregon. From the finest restaurants to fast food, not a speck of trans fat is to be used.

Top 10 stupidest laws you could encounter abroad