Thomas Gilcrease learned to love the American West as a boy growing up in the Oklahoma Territory during the early 1900s, but it took a trip to Europe to ignite his passion for preserving and sharing the region's distinctive culture and history. Inspired by the vast displays of Old World artwork he viewed during his overseas travels, he used the wealth he amassed in Oklahoma's oil fields to assemble an immense collection of art and artifacts. This collection found its current home in 1949 when Gilcrease founded what would become the Gilcrease Museum.
The museum's exhibit halls, library shelves, and refrigerator doors brim with historically and culturally significant pieces, including more than 10,000 Western American artworks by nationally renowned painters and sculptors, 100,000 rare books, maps, and manuscripts, and 250,000 Native American artifacts. Although exhibits change throughout the year, they tend to explore the impact of westward expansion while also celebrating the region's natural beauty and honoring its roots in Native American culture.
Beyond its walls, the Gilcrease Museum features 23 acres of themed gardens, which embrace landscaping design and agricultural practices from the pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Victorian eras, among others. These gardens allow visitors to interact with displays that are simultaneously historical and alive, serving as a symbolic reminder of western America's cultural growth and development.
Since its founding in 2005, the 12-acre park has taken in more than 200 active animals from private owners and zoos with limited vacancy. The grounds permeate an aura of familiar and familial care, as all staffers lend their time and knowledge on a volunteer basis. During a single safari jaunt, guests can get acquainted with a range of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles—specific beasts include kangaroos, marmosets, and Amazon parrots. A select group of creatures are also available for high hoof-fiving and fur comparing at the petting zoo. Likewise, because today's Groupon includes four feeding treat packs, all attending guests can shower their most beloved little friends with sweet, sweet non-candycane sustenance.
Everyone should have a way to express themselves. That’s why the instructors at Tulsa Art Center are passionate about guiding visitors through a wide variety of art classes, ranging from watercolor to clay sculptures. The instructors firmly believe that artistic talent can be learned or easily purchased from a palm reader, and classes for all ages and skill levels welcome both burgeoning artists and established experts. Students can learn to illustrate comic books and build a foundation in storytelling during book-illustration classes, or pick up a pencil at the learn-to-draw class.
Jack Spears and his sons David and Austin want people to love the Illinois River as much as they do, so they placed their resort's expansive camping, RV, and cabin grounds on the bank in positions that allow boarders to appreciate the scenery year-round. In the summer, their General Store's ice-cream fountain pours nonstop as river-goers take a rest in the shop's shade. The resort boasts year-round security to preserve campers' gear and scare off loitering snowmen in the winter. The staff also doles out dry goods, supplies, and groceries to campers or families staying in the manors of Pine Valley Retreat throughout the year.
The Tulsa Zoo, which rarely closes, shuts its doors on the third Friday in June. On that day, the staff prepares for its annual “WALTZ on the Wild Side” fundraiser. During the rest of the year, guests can take advantage of exhibits that have been made possible by the money raised during that event, including the Chimpanzee Connection, Elephant Encounter, Penguin Exhibit, Children’s Zoo and the Helmerich Sea Lion Cove.
The Tulsa Zoo has committed itself to enlightening guests and protecting species from around the globe. The zoo cares for African animals such as the Aldabra tortoises, Asian animals including snow leopards, and animals native to the tropical rainforest of Central and South America. In addition to the “WALTZ on the Wild Side” fundraiser, the Tulsa Zoo also hosts events including the 5K and 10K Zoo Run, and the “HallowZOOeen” celebration, in which animals get to dress up and ask each other for candy.
The Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium hosts a bevy of actual aircrafts, hands-on exhibits, and displays highlighting the high points in aerial travel and discovery. The Space Maneuvering Unit gives folks a feel for what it’s like to operate in the weightlessness of outer space, with such workday tasks as laser target practice and wrangling evil sentient computers. Star searchers and skywalkers alike can push a button to run an 18-cylinder radial engine or marvel at the same type of fighter jet that Tom Cruise spun in Top Gun. At the planetarium's ESky Theater, multi-media displays, such as the currently showing Extreme Planets, take viewers on computer-animated journeys through space and time, past a multitude of stars, planets, satellites, and cosmic roadside photo-ops such as the biggest ball of interstellar yarn. BIG show audiences can voyage into the farthest observable reaches of the universe and return to Tulsa with minimal shuttle lag. Check out the planetarium's main page for a schedule of each month's shows.