Are you planning a trip by car that will take you across Oklahoma on I-40?
I-40 is a major west-east highway, beginning in Barstow, California and ending in Wilmington, North Carolina. It is 331 miles across Oklahoma.
The trip from Oklahoma City to Arkansas differs greatly from the western half of Oklahoma I-40. You will notice more rolling hills, more Native Americans, everything is greener with lots and lots of trees and water. You will realize after traveling this stretch that there really ARE two Oklahomas.
Casinos - If you like to stop at casinos, you may never get out of Oklahoma. You will see numerous signs for casinos, more as you go further east from the west, and you can check them all out. There are some particularly well-known ones on I-40 and I will note them in this post.
After you leave Oklahoma City, you will pass through Midwest City, home of Tinker Air Force Base. Midwest City (along with nearby Moore) suffered terrible blows in the Oklahoma tornadoes of 1999 and 2003, but both cities have bounced back.
At the Choctaw exit, there is a delightful German restaurant a few miles off the interstate. Old Germany, on SE 29th Street. Stop at Love’s at the Choctaw exit and ask for directions if you need to.
Shawnee is a large city that comes about 20 minutes or so after Choctaw. Shawnee has plenty of eating places and Casino Alert!!! Shortly before entering Shawnee, you will see on the north side a huge, and I do mean huge, casino, complete with flashing signs and large hotel. This is Fire Lake Grand Casino in all its glory. Believe it or not, it’s not the biggest casino in the state, but it is one of the nicest ones. If you are so inclined, check it out. Try out their free self-serve ice cream and soft drinks while you’re there. You can enjoy Coke Floats all day long!
Back on the road, you will notice signs that let you know that you are in Indian Territory. Much of the land from here to the Arkansas border is Tribal land where the Native Americans settled in the 1800’s, and signs will let you know that you are entering , for example, the Seminole Nation. Of course, this won’t change anything for you, but it is kind of interesting to see the various tribal nations that you pass through. You will notice that the Tribal population picks up significantly as you go east from OKC.
You will now pass through Okemah, the hometown of Woody Guthrie. His childhood home and a museum are there, but I have never visited. Also in Okemah, a few miles south, is a nice and quirky winery, Grape Ranch. Exit where you see the signs that feature their logo - a cow skull made of grapes. They have excellent wine and sometimes there is live music.
Back on I-40, you will go past Henryetta, hometown of Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman. He starred on their football team, the Henryetta Hens. Really.
If you are hungry, there is a terrific eating place on the south side of I-240, first Henryetta exit, called The Hungry Traveler. Country food and great pies.
You’ll cross over a part of Lake Eufaula, which is one whopper of a lake. Notice the street sign on the east side of the lake for Lotawatah Road. It’s an old Indian name, sure it is, of course it is…
Passing by Checotah, you may recall that this is the hometown of American Idol Carrie Underwood. Take the exit and you will go right by the Sonic Drive-In which was her high school hang-out. If you stop, be sure and order the onion rings. Walk into some of the little businesses near downtown and hear true-to-life Carrie stories from the people that know her best.
You will cross a very large bridge over the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls. On May 26, 2002 this bridge was struck by a barge, which caused a catastrophic collapse. Vehicles and one horse trailer plunged helplessly into the dark water below, resulting in the death of 14 people and several horses.
Sallisaw is one of your last towns in Oklahoma before hitting Fort Smith, Arkansas. Casino Alert!! The Cherokee Casino is located in Sallisaw. Not huge, but not terribly small, either. One of your final casino opportunities….
The rest area on the south before you pass into Arkansas is a really nice one. You will know it by the large Native American symbols in front.
I-40 from OKC to the Arkansas border is an interesting drive with numerous reasons to stop and explore. It may not wind in and around historic Route 66 like the stretch from OKC to the Texas border does, but this corridor has a unique personality and flavor that makes it one of my favorite highway drives.