As a Native Texan I spend a lot of time exploring my home state, but I rarely venture north of the border to Oklahoma, The Sooner State.
So when a friend invited me to be her "plus one" for a wedding in Oklahoma City, I jumped at the opportunity.
The actual drive up Interstate-35 from Texas to Oklahoma is anything but picturesque even on its best day, and I was in no big rush to get to my final destination, so my plan for the 400-mile journey north from Austin was to make an interesting stop every hour and a half along the way.
I left Austin in the morning and was excited for my first stop of the day: The Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco.
Diet Dr. Pepper is my absolute favorite drink, and I have ALWAYS wanted to make a pilgrimage to the museum.
Admission is $10 for adults and students and children are $6 each, and all paying visitors receive a free Dr. Pepper at the end of the tour in the official Soda Fountain room.
As I walked through the museum, I learned about the unique history of my favorite soft drink.
According to the museum's website,
Keurig Dr. Pepper is the oldest major manufacturer of soft drink concentrates and syrups in the United States. Dr. Pepper is America’s unique flavor and was created, manufactured and sold beginning in 1885 in the Central Texas town of Waco.
As I progressed through the museum, which takes about 30-45 minutes to view in its entirety, I saw old-fashioned soda counters, advertisements for the product over the years and even a working production line.
Refreshed from my cold drink in the Soda Fountain and armed with a new perspective on Central Texas history, I headed back out into the Texas heat and drove another hour and a half up to Dallas.
I am from Dallas originally - as many of you know from reading this blog - and I can not be in the general vicinity of the 214 area code without sampling what I believe is the finest Tex-Mex food in the world at Mia’s Tex Mex on Lemmon Ave. in Dallas.
Usually I order the sunset chicken fajitas, which are doused in spicy queso, but I opted to be adventurous and try the #7 lunch special.
The #7 comes with three enchiladas: 1 Cheese Enchilada with Chili, 1 Chicken Enchilada with Sour Cream Sauce and 1 Soft Cheese Taco, all for just $9.95.
I also highly recommend their brisket quesadillas, which are to die for.
Totally full and in need of a nap, I headed north out of Dallas planning to cross the border into Oklahoma in another hour and a half.
Traffic was heavy around lunchtime especially on this curvy stretch of I-35 heading north out of Dallas towards Denton, and I felt myself starting to slip into a food coma from my massive meal while doing my best to avoid 18-wheeler trucks whipping around in the wind and into my narrow highway lane.
I decided to make an unscheduled - but necessary - stop at the BUC-EE’s in Denton, Texas, about an hour north of Dallas. My mission was to grab a coffee to provide a caffeine boost for the rest of the drive into Oklahoma.
BUC-EE's has become an absolute must for any road trip in Texas, with its massive amounts of merchandise, clean bathrooms and cheap gas.
The BUC-EE’s in Denton, Texas is so large that the location even has a separate massive, free-standing building for car washes.
Had I been hungry, I could have sampled BUC-EE's endless varieties of homemade fudge, kolaches and my all-time favorite, their Beaver Tots.
But I was on a mission: cross the border into Oklahoma and hit my next few destinations.
Turning my car northbound on I-35 again, I crossed the border into Oklahoma, where you immediately see the Winstar Global Casino on your right side.
Now in the Sooner State, I exited exit 3 of I-35 North, and parked in the massive surface lot near the Rome entrance of the casino.
I soon learned that every area inside the mile-long casino, which Winstar bills as the “world’s biggest”, is designated with a global location like Rome, London, Madrid, etc.
Inside there were slot machines of every type - Wheel of Fortune, Game of Thrones - as well as table games like roulette and blackjack.
The next and final stop before the hotel in Oklahoma City was the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, which is about 15 miles off exit 51 on I-35 in Oklahoma.
I must admit I was surprised by the topography in this part of Oklahoma; there were steppe-looking hills and wind turbines similar to those I have seen in West Texas.
As I arrived at the entrance to the national park in Sulphur, Oklahoma, I first visited the modern visitor center, where I was helped by the friendly staff who educated me on the park and encouraged me to help myself to the free coffee on offer.
I then drove into the national park and made my way past a swimming hole, Little Niagara, which was filled with people splashing around in the water on my way to visit the Travertine Nature Center.
Located at the Travertine Nature Center are restrooms and a museum featuring the wildlife of the area, including reptiles and a large stuffed bison.
As I headed out into the various hiking trails in the park, I noticed that the wide gravel trail and overhanging canopy of trees made the Chickasaw National Recreation Area look very to the Trail around Lady Bird Lake in my hometown of Austin, Texas.
There are multiple hiking trails inside the recreation area, ranging from shorter hikes all the way to 5 miles in length and above. The hikes are beginner level with not change in elevation for the most part.
I decided to do the Buffalo and Antelope Springs Trail, which you can see here.
Armadillos were scurrying around through the forest, and the creek flowed through openings in the trees.
At the end I arrived at Antelope Springs and Buffalo Springs, a pair of natural reservoirs which are a popular destination for wilderness enthusiasts.
The water from the springs is crisp and cold - an incredibly refreshing respite from the afternoon heat.
If you are interested in visiting the park, check out their website for updates on park conditions here.
As dusk approached, I drove through Norman, Oklahoma, the home of the University of Oklahoma Sooners and shortly thereafter arrived in Oklahoma City.
I hope you enjoyed the story of my epic, day-long journey up I-35 from Austin to Oklahoma City.
If you are interested in my other travel articles, including my story about 3 Texas Hill Country Getaways, you can check them out on the Social Musings by Austin website here.