Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The Crystal Dig Area at Great Salt Plains near Cherokee Oklahoma has been closed to the public since April of 2007, when vials from Chemical Agent Identification Sets were found in the area by a boy scout. The vials were used to train troops during World War II to recognize chemical agents. The vials contained diluted mustard, lewisite, chloropicrin, and undiluted phosgene. The final report from the Corps of Engineers recommends the use of educational materials to warn the public of potential hazards. The report states: “it is unlikely that munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) or Chemical Agent Identification Sets (CAIS) remain at the project site. It can not be stated with certainty, however, that no MEC or CAIS remain.”

Reopening day was April 25, 2009 and many happy crystal diggers were on hand. The Crystal Dig Area has been a popular destination for school groups, scouts, tourists, birders, and rock hounds for many years. An estimated 30,000 visitors are at the area annually to dig for the selenite crystal with its unique hour glass inclusion. This is the only known site where these crystals are found. The selenite crystal is designated as the Oklahoma State Crystal. A video is posted on YouTube that gives first time diggers the lowdown on what to take and what to expect.

The re-opening coincided with the annual Birding and Heritage Festival held in Alfalfa County. The Selenite Crystal Dig Area is located on the salt flats of Salt Plains NWR. The salt flats provide important habitat for nesting and migrating shorebirds including interior least terns and snowy plovers. Recent surveys indicate that Salt Plains NWR is the most important area in the United States for snowy plovers.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Watchable Wildlife Weekend

Just received a notice of this event coming up! The Alabaster Caverns State Park near Freedom Oklahoma is an awesome place to visit just to tour the caverns. With all the added events centered around watchable wildlife this could be THE PLACE to take the kiddos this weekend!

Alabaster Caverns State Park WatchableWildlife Weekend
April 30th, May 1st and 2nd, 2009
(6 miles south of Freedom, OK on Hwy 50)

Here is a partial listing of the activities planned for the weekend. Most activities repeat daily, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with some one time only events thrown in each day.

“Skulls and Skins” presented by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife
Conservation Wildlife Technician Russell Perry and Major County Game
Warden Frank Huebert. Can you identify these native animals by their skulls and skins?

“Native Animals andWildlife Rehabilitation”
“Geology and Cavern Formation” presented by Alabaster Caverns State
Park Naturalist Tandy Keenan. Do you know what's "in your backyard?"

“Did you have any idea you could make that from a Bison?”
presented by National Park Service Ranger Dick Zahm. Display will highlight some of the
uses of the American Bison from Native American traditions as well as more recent.

Making Tracks” presented by Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge's
Outdoor Recreation Planner Becky Wolff from the Salt Plains National Wildlife
Refuge. Make some tracks and take one home with you.

for early morning risers this will repeat Friday and Saturday at different locations and times

Saturday May 1

7:00am-9:00am Early Morning Birding Tour at Boiling Springs
State Park (Hwy 34C and 50B) presented by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife
Conservation Biologist Melynda Hickman. This tour is free and participants will
be driven through the park via flatbed trailer with seating for optimal
viewing. However, pre-registration is required and limited to 25 people.
Please call Tandy Keenan at (580) 621-3381 to register.

Saturday May 2nd
6:30am-8:30am Morning Birding Tour at Alabaster Caverns State
Park presented by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Biologist Melynda
Hickman. This activity is free and is a walking tour. Participants will meet at the Clubhouse
Picnic Shelter (just west of the park office) and be ready to depart at 6:30a.m. Please wear
dark or earth-tone colors and don’t forget your binoculars!

I have posted a complete weekend events listing at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Freedom Rock in Iowa

Late last fall we headed to Iowa for a wedding and stopped at my brother in law’s for a night on the way up. If there is anything more rural than northwest Oklahoma it is anywhere rural in Iowa. We decided to take the scenic route north from Crescent and wound up on Highway 25. We were traveling in the classic 58 Ford we own, a pleasure in itself. Mid morning with the windows down and this bright rock by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere (really) caught my eye. I knew I had seen it before, that is pictures of it, passed around in email probably a couple years ago. But here was the real thing!

A twelve foot high rock that is said to weigh 56 ton is sitting right beside the highway with the most beautiful art work depicting patriotic images. We quickly turned around at a safe spot in the road and went back for a closer look. A kiosk is located near the rock with information on the artist and the history of this tribute to freedom, aptly named the Freedom Rock. Ray “Bubba” Sorenson has been changing the faces of the rock every year since 1999.

What a surprise to actually see this neat spot in the middle of Iowa corn fields. A quick search when I got home produced the web site that gives the whole story. I will never snooze on a cross country trip again, hard telling what I might miss!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Under the Kansas Prairie

650 feet under the earth surface around Hutchinson Kansas lies an amazing vista of salt. Yes, I said salt. the Kansas Underground Salt Museum is located underground in 100,000 square feet of space unlike anything I had ever seen before. A quick and dark elevator ride takes you to the mine floor. The temperature stays a comfortable 68 degrees in this mine. Trams with tour guides take you through some of the mine chambers where you are literally surrounded by salt. You will experience total darkness when the lights go off, but you can trust the guides to take good care of you. Lonnie and Larry, our tour guides are retired salt mine workers and really know their way around. This is the only museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Hard hats and small respirators are required for all visitors during the tour.

The museum itself hosts everything from Dorothy II of the movie "Twister" fame to original Superman and Batman costumes. I was surprised to find Dorothy there as previous to this trip I thought the Wakita OK museum was the only place to see her. The mines are also used for storage and Kansas public records such as birth, marriage and death certificates are kept there.

Of course everyone wants to take some salt home and there is always a small pile available and they even provide the bags!

Plan to spend a couple hours on the tour; after you take the tram ride you can wander around and see old mining equipment on display and view the history of a salt mine that was formed about 250 MILLION years ago. The gift shop has among other things, a selection of t-shirts and salt lamps.

The general admission rates are $8.50 for children and $13.50 for over 13 to adult, making this an affordable family trip.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Beaver OK Cow Chip Throwing Capital

This is the famous Big Beaver and that is a cow chip he is holding, not a cookie or a donut. Beaver holds this week-long event every year the third weekend in April. They have cook-outs in the parks, vendors everywhere and of course no northwest Oklahoma event would be complete without the parade down the main street.

Beaver proudly promotes the Cow Chip Throwing contest and they have had contestants from Euopean countries as well as all over the U.S. This is big business for them and the pendant street signs say it all. In addition to the annual event, this small Oklahoma panhandle community is located just across the river from one of Oklahoma's State Parks. The Beaver Dunes State Park has about 450 acres of sand available for ATV and off road riding. They offer camping with electrical and water and if you are a fishing enthusiast, try out the pond. Photographers delight in the changing seasons in this area and the wildlife viewing possibilities. learn more at

Kansas Cosmosphere

We were scheduled to visit the Cosmosphere space museum first. When I first walked in I was simply amazed. Then I thought, why do they need help promoting this? Everyone should already know; but I didn’t, so that theory was quickly shot down. We spent most of an afternoon there and then went back the next morning for more. Honestly, I could have spent several days there and not grown tired of what I was seeing, and I am NOT a space nut at all. In fact if you had asked me before I actually saw this place, I would not have said it was on my top 20 list of places to see.

Cosmosphere CEO Chris Orwoll gave the guided tour himself, so we knew it was important to him. We were treated just like VIP’s while we toured the facility. This is an amazing place, and they have Future Astronaut Training Programs that include trips to both Johnson and Kennedy space centers for the youth in the programs. Follow Chris @cosmosphereCEO on Twitter. Check out their web site and if you are in the area, stop for a day to tour or an hour for Coffee at the Cosmos where you can get upclose to space artifacts.

Hutchinson Kansas started my blog

All of this started when I was invited by Becky McCray to go along on a FAM tour to Hutchinson Kansas. What is a FAM tour, you ask? Familiarization is the FAM, tour you should get! Designed to bring in people who can influence their (not your) tourism target market, the tour provided free lodging and meals and entry to the attractions they wanted to promote. Never one to pass up a trip (free or otherwise, but especially free) to somewhere new, I took some annual leave days from the OSBDC and packed a bag.
Bloggers were invited and came from Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas and of course Kansas. Not just “travel bloggers” but a mix of interested people who just love to write and share what they know and see and learn with others. This is the think outside the box theory times 8 or 10. This is the “decide who will tell my story” and this is “finding those experts who want to tell others”. The group was diverse not only in where they came from, but a mix of male and female, young and old with a common twitter connection.
So in the coming days I will be posting about Hutchinson, what I saw, did and most importantly what I learned about tourism promotion from @codyks on twitter.