Oklahoma boasts more than 11,600 miles of shoreline and more than 78,500 miles of rivers and streams. Oklahoma has more man-made lakes than any other state and more miles of shoreline than the east and gulf coasts combined. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma is one of only four states to have 10 or more “eco-regions,” or areas that have a distinct terrain.
Alabaster Caverns in northwest Oklahoma is the world’s largest publicly held gypsum cave that is open to the public. It has been dubbed “nature’s underground wonderland” for its scenic treasures. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is the nation’s first and oldest national wildlife park, which has one of the largest buffalo herds in America. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska is the only protected ecosystem of its kind in the world.
Oklahoma, which derives its name from the Choctaw term for “red people,” is home to 39 American Indian tribal headquarters – more than any other state. More languages are spoken within the borders of Oklahoma than in all of Europe, a testament to the size and influence of American Indian tribes represented in the state. Oklahoma also has a unique place in the annals of African-American history. In the wake of the Civil War, many African-American men and women fled the Old South for the new promise of Oklahoma, establishing more than 50 all-black towns and settlements across the state.
The late Wilma Mankiller, former principal tribal chief of the Cherokee Nation, held the distinction of being the first woman to be named chief of an American Indian tribe. In the late 1940s, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher fought the courts and discrimination of the era to become the first African-American admitted to the University of Oklahoma School of Law. Her triumph, aided by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, foretold the civil rights advances of the following two decades.
Oklahoma has more than 300 museums covering a wide variety of subjects, from the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa to Oklahoma City’s National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa houses the world’s largest collection of art related to the American West. The facility also has a certified copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s permanent collection includes an eye-popping exhibit of glass art by the renowned Dale Chihuly – the largest-ever collection of its kind. Oklahoma City University, hailed for one of the best music and performing arts programs in the nation, is in the midst of establishing the $30 million Bass Music Center. The New York Times has hailed the Tulsa Ballet as one of the finest regional companies in the country.