If you were to cut out a map of the contiguous states of USA on a piece of cardboard and balanced it on a pin, the point where it would balance would be located somewhere in Northern Kansas. (If you include Alaska and Hawaii, it is in South Dakota). However, in many ways Oklahoma - to the South - is the almost anonymous heart of America. It had Spanish and French colonists before passing to the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase, has one of the richest histories of native Indian tribes of any state, has a strong agricultural and industrial legacy, and has been an important transit route.
Oklahoma City is a large, bustling but generally unexceptional city, made infamous by the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 when Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 people in what was the worst incident of homeland terrorism in the USA before 9-11. The site of the bombing, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, has been converted to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
To the North of the city centre of Oklahoma City one of the famous roads in the world passes almost without fanfare and with many twists and turns. The city even gets a namecheck in the song, "Get Your Kicks on Route 66".
Oklahoma's one true claim to fame is that the best preserved and longest original stretches of Route 66 are in the state. The towns along the route are generally sleepy, and the route of the different alignments is not always clear, but here in Oklahoma you get the greatest sense of what is often known as "Main Street of America". Littered along the route are the ruins of old gas stations, diners and motels, but this is not unique to Route 66. The USA is a dynamic country and people have always chanced their hand at making a new business venture succeed, only for a change of circumstance or a lack of acumen to undermine their enterprise.
Even before it's designation as a national route there was a trail broadly following the same path. With the elevation in 1926, more sections got paved, bridges got built and businesses flourished. Old alignments got replaced and by the 1950s when the Interstate Highways heralded the demise of Route 66, the original route had been re-routed significantly. In 1984, the whole highway was officially decommissioned, but many businesses along the route have doggedly stayed in business or have used the association with Route 66 to attract a different clientele.
For me what makes Route 66 most interesting is that its fame has caused people to pause for thought before they unwittingly lose a part of their heritage. As a result, old gas stations, motels and diners have been retained, sometimes fulfilling a different function, but with the old buildings restored to their former glory. All along the route you will also see evidence of the ephemeral nature of that most American of artefacts, the automobile, with old cars discarded here and there whilst others have been lovingly resored.
One of my favourite sites on the route is the old Rock Creek Bridge outside Sapulpa on a section of the route that was officially decomissioned as far back as 1952, but which you can still drive along (although it goes nowhere now). The bridge's road surface is made of bricks, still largely intact as they were when the bridge was built in 1921 on the Ozark Trail, before being incorporated into Route 66 in 1926.
Next stop: Missouri.