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While it may lack the rugged canyons and pastel skies of New Mexico or Arizona, Oklahoma has a certain stark, severe beauty, which is unsurprisingly accompanied by a distinct frontier identity - very much a legacy of the Old West. Indeed, when one thinks of Oklahoma, one might conjure images of cowboys and Native American culture.
The state has the largest Native American population in the United States today, as well as a strong African-American heritage. Both of these cultural presences allow visitors to immerse themselves in the state's rich history and partake in fascinating cultural experiences.
Powwows, craft festivals, and traditional storytelling all signify the great cultural history of Oklahoma, and many events pay homage to the cowboys of yore, with around a 100 rodeos taking place in Oklahoma each year.
It's easy to mistake Oklahoma for having a monotonous topography. In truth, it's a massive state, and the flat, fertile land of the central region only constitutes one part of its diverse terrain. In the east, the prairies give way to rugged mountains, dense forests and hundreds of postcard-pretty lakes. This region is a favourite with climbing and rappelling enthusiasts, hikers and equestrians today, but also has some historical significance as, during the Wild West era, Robbers Cave State Park served as a hideout for such notorious fugitives as Jesse James and Belle Starr. The Broken Bow area is also popular with lovers of the outdoors, with fly-fishing and boating opportunities making it a favoured holiday spot.
In the north, the grasslands make way for one of Oklahoma's most intriguing natural wonders: the Great Salt Plains, a literal 8,690-acre sea of salt. In the west lie the Beaver Dunes, where adventurous visitors can rev up dune buggies or ARVs and race down sandy slopes.
Anyone in search of travel kitsch will find landmarks in roadside architecture, including the Blue Whale and Totem Pole Park. There are also well-preserved architectural gems, remnants of the Oklahoma oil boom of the 1920s and 1930s. The Oklahoma City National Memorial, which honours all the victims, rescuers and survivors of the horrific 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, is also a popular stop among visitors.
Oklahoma as a whole is conservative and inspires nostalgia for a simpler time. It sees thousands of visitors each year, particularly those who want to get a sense of a bygone era, learn about ancient American cultures, or just get some fresh air on the vast plains and natural splendour of the beautiful southern state.
The Myriad Botanical Gardens are a 15-acre floral paradise right in the centre of downtown Oklahoma City. In addition to flourishing plant life, rolling hills, walkways, sculptures, and a sunken lake, the gardens feature the seven-storey-high, circular Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory. The conservatory is an architectural wonder, home to exotic flora as well as lizards, parrots, butterflies, and fish. Visitors take paths that lead under the conservatory's 35-foot (11m) waterfall and enjoy picnics on the grassy lawns.
On the morning of 19 April 1995, Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Where the building once stood stands the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, honouring the victims, survivors, and rescue workers of the Oklahoma City Bombing. The outdoor memorial features symbolic elements including a reflecting pool and a field of empty chairs. It is designed as a haven for those seeking comfort and serenity. The museum chronicles the terrorist attack and aims to teach others about the impact and senselessness of violence.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is the country's premier institution of Western history, art and culture, where the mission is to preserve and interpret the heritage of the American West. Exhibits include works by the finest contemporary Western artists, as well as by Western masters like Charles Russell. The 200,000 square foot (60,960 square meter) complex houses multiple galleries, including cowboy, firearms, and Native American galleries, the Prosperity Junction cattle town replica, the interactive Children's Cowboy Corral, and the Western prairie-themed Persimmon Hill Restaurant.
Recognised as one of the top zoos in the United States, the Oklahoma City Zoological Park is both a living museum and a botanical garden. Exhibits showcase marine life from around the globe, forest habitats of big cats and bears, and gorilla, orangutan, and chimpanzee enclosures. There are also displays that illustrate island life, showing off animals that live on islands from the Caribbean to Madagascar. Guests can enjoy a food court, a tram, a rock climbing wall, and paddleboats. The zoo dedicates itself to conservation and providing education to the community.
Visitors to the world's largest stocker/feeder cattle market can watch real Oklahoma cowboys work the livestock or attend a live cattle auction. Stockyards City's Cowtown is home to more than 70 businesses specialising in Western wear, farm and ranch needs, dining, and entertainment. Guided tour buses can be arranged.
Because Oklahoma's geography is so diverse, temperatures and rainfall vary from one part of the state to another and weather conditions change quickly. Generally, the state has a mild and humid climate, except for the northwest panhandle which is semi-arid.
Winters are quite chilly, but cold snaps usually only last for very short periods of time. On the other hand, summers can be sweltering. Springs are warm, though thunderstorms are frequent. Autumn is often the most enjoyable season, with blue skies and mild, sunny days.
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