Roadside attractions in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri?
January 8, 2019 5:53 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are planning a road trip in the spring, roughly between Kansas City, Wichita, Tulsa, maybe Oklahoma City, and Fayetteville. We are roadside attraction and folk art enthusiasts. What shouldn't we miss?

Past favorite stops have included the House on the Rock (of course), Watts Towers, and The Forevertron. We are slightly less interested in the more commercialized stops such as Rock City and The Thing but happy to consider them. "World's largest" things are also welcome. We're happy to drive hours out of our way for a good attraction.

Definitely already planning to go to the Blue Whale of Catoosa! And, of course, to the major sights like Crystal Bridges. We've done some searching of Atlas Obscura and Roadside America, but haven't come up with as many things as I would have thought would be in the area.

If you know of anything else we should definitely check out in the area, tell me that too!
posted by EmilyFlew to Travel & Transportation around United States (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
So, I haven’t been there in over 25 years, but if you’re sightseeing in central Oklahoma, you should go visit Guthrie. It was the territorial and first state capital, and they leaned in to the historical brick downtown kind of thing. Some of the bricks downtown are concrete that’s hand-printed to look like bricks. You can go see the territorial capitol building, and a huge Masonic temple.

If you take highway 33 from Tulsa (instead of I-44) you’ll drive by Cushing, which is where all the oil gets delivered. Don’t think you can see anything though.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:25 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

This was in the NYT a few years ago, and it stuck with me. A guy built a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge in his backyard in Kansas. It's not far off I-35 near Wichita on the way to OKC.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:40 AM on January 8, 2019

Turner Falls, just off I35 a few miles south of Davis.
posted by ubiquity at 6:43 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Precious Moments Chapel. Haven't been there since I was a kid, and it was creepy and magnificent all at the same time (when I was 8; it's probably just creepy now).

If you want to scare yourselves, the Spook Light (look for the wikipedia page).
posted by namemeansgazelle at 6:49 AM on January 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

The Woody Guthrie Center is in Tulsa!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:10 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fantasic Caverns near Springfield, MO offers a drive through tour.
posted by sacrifix at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not exactly folk art or a roadside attraction, but you should check out The Gathering Place in Tulsa. It's a sprawling park with all kinds of crazy sculptural play structures, and they have neat exhibits in the Boathouse (right now, Cabinet of Wonder by Mark Dion, a riff on 18th century cabinets of curiosities). Also, Buck Atom's Cosmic Curios on Route 66/11th Street in Tulsa is fun. They had a giant robot the last time we were there.
posted by hilaritas at 8:36 AM on January 8, 2019

The Precious Moments Chapel! AKA "Six Flags over Jesus".
posted by notsnot at 8:49 AM on January 8, 2019

Check Route 66 Still Kicks for some ideas along that part
posted by TravellingCari at 11:32 AM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say that if you're talking about Rock City Kansas, I actually stopped there last year and didn't find it comercialized at all - there's a tiny gift shop and outhouse bathrooms and a few signs. If you like rocks, I really enjoyed just taking some time and seeing how massive and random the rocks were, and being able to climb around on them. Reminded me a bit of Elephant Rocks.
posted by goreycat at 12:19 PM on January 8, 2019

I used to live in Wichita and went to college in Oklahoma City, so I know that stretch well. I don't think there's much in the way of attractions, really, save two:

Marland Mansion always caught my eye because it reminded me of Marilyn Manson. One year we ended up there and took the tour and it was fun. It isn't a roadside attraction, really, but it is a neat estate to visit.

The other one, North Pole City, is in SW Oklahoma City. It is a huge Christmas store, with hours that vary by season.
posted by tacodave at 3:38 PM on January 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Although Lucas is a bit past Wichita, if you haven't been to the Garden of Eden and the Grassroots Arts Center, I highly recommend them. Also, when it's in town, the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:50 PM on January 8, 2019

Ooh, it looks like the World's Largest, etc., got a storefront in downtown Lucas in 2017.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:55 PM on January 8, 2019

Oh jeez, northwest Arkansas is littered with curio shops and odd roadside things. Mountainburg, for example, has a tiny park next to the fire station full of concrete dinosaurs from the 60s. Old US 71 between there and Fayetteville is a pleasant, though windy drive through the hills with lots of weird stuff to see. Old roadside hotels, the sadly now defunct gift shop and fire tower at Gaylor, and more. If they haven't finished deconstructing the SEFOR containment sphere yet, it might be worth finding your way to Strickler to see the incongruity of the rusting hulk of an abandoned nuclear reactor seeming to appear out of nowhere just above the trees.

There's also a ton of roadside kitch around Eureka Springs, though only Christ of the Ozarks is coming to mind immediately.

Also in the area you can drive on Arkansas' only remaining unpaved state highway and drive on an Arkansas highway despite being within the state of Oklahoma no matter which direction you are traveling.

There's also a bunch of neat shops selling quartz and other geegaws all over the place west of Hot Springs if you end up down that way.

In Charleston in the river valley east of Fort Smith there is a statue of an intact bull that has long had its scrotum painted in a contrasting color. It's funny because even in town nobody knows who is responsible for it, as the owner has long disclaimed responsibility.

Also, if old AT&T microwave relay towers interest you at all, there's one just southeast of Fayetteville that's not too far out of the back way between v Little Rock and Fayetteville.
posted by wierdo at 11:52 PM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can't recommend the Kansas Underground Salt Museum enough. Hutchinson also offers the Cosmosphere in case you want to go from hundreds of feet underground to spaaaaaace.
posted by asperity at 10:28 AM on January 9, 2019

Thanks so much all! All answers were best answers but I marked the ones I'm particularly excited to see.
posted by EmilyFlew at 11:28 AM on January 9, 2019

Oh, and if you're in the Tulsa area around dinner time any night but Sunday and you appreciate a steak dinner, Freddie's in Sapulpa is far and away the best of the Tulsa area's Lebanese steakhouses. I usually don't eat big meals, but somehow leading with tabouli, hummus, and cabbage rolls makes it all fit.
posted by wierdo at 5:15 PM on January 9, 2019

I know you've got a lot of good answers already and have in fact marked the question as answered, but I realized I had forgotten to add in my 2 cents :)

If you are church or architecture fans than this website will be of use - I've visited most of the westerly ones and would say they are "worth it"...

All 3 of these would be a little out of your way. The "largest Czech egg" in Wilson, KS is pretty cool and there is also good pie at the local diner. Nearish to that, in Cawker City, KS is the "largest ball of twine" ... yup. The weirdo stuff in Lucas, KS is pretty cool, too.

If you do head to north central Kansas on a detour from KC-Wichita-Tulsa route, then there are loads of weird and historical things to see as well. Rock City in Minneapolis is worth a trip (it's just a big boulder field tho), but way farther out west are Castle Rocks and Monument Rocks in Gove County. North of Rock City, just west of Delphos, is a neat Zebulon Pike monument/lookout area (gravel road). Coronado Heights is a WPA built castle on a hill near the cute as heck little Swedish town of Lindsborg.
posted by J0 at 12:57 PM on January 11, 2019

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