My wife and I are always on the hunt for interesting places to visit, and a couple of years ago at the Long Beach International Motorcycle Show we spotted the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department booth. There to promote Oklahoma as a place to explore, it worked for us. I had another motivation: A lifelong friend is a retired federal agent in Tulsa (with bona fides that include Waco, the Los Angeles riots, the Oklahoma City bombing investigation and more). Tulsa would be a good base for exploring, with Oklahoma City to the west and the lake country to the east.
Tulsa is a city with a storied history. Originally settled in the early 1800s by the Lochapoka Creek Native Americans and later by the Cherokees driven out of Georgia, the discovery of oil in 1901 drove migration to the area (it’s still known as the oil capital of the world). Route 66, perhaps the most famous road in America, was sort of born in Tulsa when Tulsan business tycoon Cyrus Avery worked to create the road linking Chicago and Los Angeles. Route 66 passes through Tulsa and is preserved as it existed in earlier years. Tulsa took a heavy hit in a 1980s oil price drop, but the city recruited other industries and now has a diverse economy supported by tourism, manufacturing, aerospace, finance, telecommunications, media and more. The second largest city in Oklahoma, Tulsa is in the state’s northeastern quadrant and it is one of the larger cities in the United States from a land area perspective. Most recently, a 2020 Supreme Court decision found that half of Oklahoma and much of Tulsa is within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation territory.
As promised by the Tourism Department, Tulsa is a great place to stage an Oklahoma exploration. The city has interesting attractions and the dining is superb (known for its barbecue, if there’s a bad restaurant in Tulsa, we couldn’t find it). The Thomas Gilcrease Museum is a must-see destination, in my opinion. Gilcrease was a Native American who discovered oil on his property, pursued interests in archeology and art, and built the museum that bears his name. The Gilcrease collection of Native American masks is particularly impressive.
Oklahoma City is an hour to the west; two noteworthy destinations there are the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The Cowboy Museum houses impressive collections of western art, sculpture, and firearms. The dioramas are amazing, and the firearms collection includes pieces that range from frontier black powder weapons to John Wayne’s Weatherby. Simultaneously beautiful, peaceful, haunting, and disturbing, the Oklahoma City National Memorial honors those lost and injured in the Oklahoma City bombing. The exhibit that captures the event on audio is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Our Tulsa friend mentioned earlier played a key role in the investigation and as he accompanied us through the exhibits, I noticed his presence in many of the photographs.
Northeastern Oklahoma’s lake country lies east of Tulsa, and that’s where the great motorcycling is. Head east from Tulsa on US Route 412, turn north on Oklahoma State Highway 82, and the fun begins. We rode the eastern shore of Lake Hudson (formed by a dam on the Neosho River), passing through towns with names like Locust Grove, Pump Back, and Hoot Owl. The riding is world class. We found ourselves In Spavinaw (population 437) along the Spavinaw Dam, and in that little town we enjoyed the best barbecue I’ve ever had. Then it was on to Langley (where the road continued across the enormous Disney Dam) and the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. The hundreds of motorcycles we shared the road with suggested there might be a motorcycle event, but others told us it’s just the riding, and it’s there on any sunny day. We continued east, north, south, east again. Northeastern Oklahoma’s twisties were magnificent. It was a perfect day, perfect weather, and perfect motorcycle roads.
— Joe Berk
What: Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the surrounding areas.
How to Get There: Tulsa is in northeastern Oklahoma (the “Green Country”) where Interstate 44 and the Arkansas River intersect.
Best Kept Secret: Bradford’s in Spavinaw (the best barbecue ever, in my opinion). Spavinaw is where Mickey Mantle was born.
Don’t Miss: The Oklahoma City National Memorial, the Tulsa and Oklahoma City museums, the dining, and the riding east of Tulsa.
Avoid: Not checking the weather (the winter months can be very cold).
More Info: Travel Oklahoma
More Photos: Exhaust Notes Blog