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All Aboard! . . the Arkansas Missouri Excursion Train

“A train isn’t a vehicle. A train is part of the country.
It’s a place.”
Paul Theroux, American Author

To travel the Arkansas Missouri Excursion Train is to trundle up the Boston Mountain range, over high trestles and through a quarter-mile tunnel in northwest Arkansas.

Old Frisco Depot train station in Van Buren, Arkansas
Arkansas Missouri Depot in Van Buren, Arkansas

At 11:00 a.m., the Arkansas Missouri Excursion Train left the old Frisco Depot in Van Buren for a 70-mile, three hour excursion to Winslow, Arkansas and back.

Van Buren to Winslow

Arkansas Missouri Train Station in Van Buren
813 Main Street, Van Buren, Arkansas 72956

This was my first train ride. I chose the refurbished car #108, the Silver Feather premium package. Adding “premium” to the package meant that it included a lunch of a ham and cheese sandwich, chips, a cookie and a soft drink.

The advantage of traveling in this car was the glass dome on the second level of the car. The car had table and chair seating both upstairs in the dome and downstairs in the vestibule. Passengers swapped seats from the vestibule to the dome halfway through the trip.

Due to the large size of the group, and because most wanted to sit in the dome, I slipped into a window seat in the vestibule for the first half of the trip. The train jerked to life. We began our trip with the train swaying back and forth in time with the clicking noises on the tracks. We moved along the rails at a leisurely pace.

David, our conductor, pointed out the flowering mimosa trees and the Brown-eyed Susan flowers as we passed through them. He talked about the history of the railroad line and told a few jokes to keep us entertained.

We crossed a trestle so high above the trees we could only see the top of the canopy. Crossing lower trestles we saw crystal clear water splashing over rocks in the streams of the Arkansas River Basin below. But I didn’t see one black bear, coyote, fox, or deer, although the conductor assured all passengers that those animals lived in these mountains.

However, along the tracks we passed three wooden crosses marking what we were told was a mass grave. During construction of the railroad some of the train workers contracted small pox and died. They were buried in a mass grave beside the tracks. Two of the crosses marking the burial site were white in remembrance of the workers. And the center cross was brown marking the grave of the railroad owner buried beside the workers.

When we arrived at Winslow, the halfway point of our excursion, we waited for the train engine to disconnect and switch around to what at first was the back of our train – now the front. And passengers switched seats.

Tunnel

Arkansas-Missouri Train Tunnel
Arkansas and Missouri Train Barreling Through the Tunnel

Once again the train took off down the tracks. Now seated in the dome I could see over the top of the train and the tunnel coming up. The trip back to Van Buren moved along a little faster than the trip up through the mountains to Winslow. It was all downhill from there.

Choose Your Trip

The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad offers three excursions:

  • 8:00 a.m. – Springdale to Van Buren. This is an 8-hour round trip ride that includes a 3-hour layover in Van Buren for lunch and shopping.
  • 11:00 a.m. – Van Buren to Winslow. A 3-hour roundtrip excursion
  • 1:00 p.m. – Springdale to Winslow

*The Springdale to Van Buren excursion is the longest trip.

Springdale to Van Buren

Arkansas Missouri Train Depot in Springdale, Arkansas
306 E Emma Ave., Springdale, Arkansas 72764

The train leaves the Springdale Depot at 8:00 a.m., for an 8 hour trip, with a three hour layover in Van Buren for lunch and shopping.

Van Buren is a small historic town (approx. 23,000 pop). You will want to take the free trolley tour through the historic downtown. You can hop on the trolley right in front of the train depot. There are a number of historic sites to see.

Personally, I favored the antique shops, the ice-cream parlor, and the popcorn store with oh so many flavors of popcorn!

Regular Excursions are scheduled only on Saturdays from January – March
April – November: Wed., Fri., Sat., and Sun.

Prices range from $95 each person to $40 each. Price is determined by the trip chosen, and which refurbished antique railroad car you choose for your trip. You can schedule your trip online at Arkansas Missouri Excursion Schedule.

Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum

Historic Gaffney building houses the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum

Gaffney Building (1890)

You don’t have to travel far in almost any small town in America to find a local museum filled with treasures connected to the town’s history. And the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum in historic downtown Guthrie, Oklahoma is one of those treasure troves. This museum reaches back in time to document the medical profession from Indian Territorial days and early Oklahoma statehood.

Believed to be opened on the original site of the first drugstore to open in Guthrie, the museum is housed in the historic Gaffney building built in 1890.

The Gaffney building stands among the Victorian Commercial Architecture that placed Guthrie on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, as the largest contiguous historic district in the nation. Guthrie made the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1992.

Storefront Window Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum
Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum

Apothecary jars, mortars and pestles line the front windows of the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum in historic downtown Guthrie, Oklahoma.

A collection of Cures, Curios, and Curiosities all related to medical and pharmaceutical items used in Territorial Oklahoma and early Oklahoma statehood are housed in the Oklahoma Drugstore Museum in historic downtown Guthrie, Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum opened its doors in 1992, in the historic downtown district of Guthrie. Guthrie became the first capital of Oklahoma after the Land Run of 1889.

A large glass show globe filled with glistening gold colored water hangs in the window identifying the store as an early 20th century pharmacy. Colored water-filled show globes were common in early pharmacies, I’m told.

Inside the Museum

Remedies and cosmetics, powders and potions line the apothecary cabinet shelves in the Oklahoma Frontier Pharmacy Museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Apothecary cabinets line all walls of the Oklahoma Drugstore Museum

Pills, potions, poultices and a plethora of 19th century and early 20th century pharmacopoeia line the walls of the museum from floor to ceiling.

Apothecary cabinets filled with tinctures and tins, poultices and potions meant to soothe, ease pain and offer comfort line both walls. Among the medicines you will find memorabilia, advertisements, cosmetics and hair care products and so much more displayed at the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum.

Authentic 19th Century Soda Fountain

19th Century Soda Fountain

Once a gathering place for young and old, this authentic 19th century soda fountain represents a sense of community for early settlers. Although no longer in operation, the fountain still has syrup dispensers and ice chests behind the counter. At first glance, all the counter needs is a soda jerk.

Collections

The museum houses collections of medical bags, cigar boxes, tobacco tins, soda bottles, cameras and more. There’s even a Leeches jar that still has the awful smell of the leeches inside.

History

Pharmacist Ralph Enix and his colleagues got together in 1970, to begin collecting and preserving medical and pharmaceutical objects dating from the Oklahoma Indian Territorial days and early statehood of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum is a dream come true for the group.

Today, the museum is owned and operated by the nonprofit Oklahoma Pharmacy Heritage Foundation. Admission is free. But donations are always welcome.

If you’re in the area be sure to visit the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum. Allow 30-minutes to an hour to see the antiques and artifacts displayed. And you may want to take time to walk the historic bricked streets of Guthrie to admire the Commercial Victorian Architecture.

Hours of Operation: The museum is open from 10:am to 5:pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and closes on major holidays.

Address: Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum, 214 W. Oklahoma, Guthrie, Oklahoma 73844 PH: 405-282-1895

Location: Guthrie is located in Logan County on U.S. Highway 77, about thirty-three miles north of Oklahoma City. Coordinates: 35°51′23″N97°26′9″W

*Also visit the beautiful Apothecary Garden next door to the museum.

The Apothecary Garden

apothecary garden front gate

On the corner of Second Street and Oklahoma Avenue in historic downtown Guthrie, Oklahoma a special garden grows–an Apothecary Garden.

There’s a quiet space at the corner of Oklahoma Avenue and Second Street in the busy downtown district of historic Guthrie, Oklahoma. A gated entrance opens to raised brick flower beds planted with grasses, herbs, shrubs and trees that awaken in the spring. This is The Apothecary Garden. This garden illustrates the history of early frontier medicine in the Oklahoma territory and early Oklahoma statehood.

Poke Root in the Apothecary Garden was used to treat a variety of ailments in frontier medicine.

Poke Root

Striking pink stems loaded with berries, poke root was said to have a wide range of uses. In small prepared doses this shrub was commonly used for respiratory infections in frontier medicine. *All parts of this shrub are toxic.

Colors, Textures and Fragrances Fill the Garden

apothecary garden brick walkway
Brick paths meander through the garden

The Apothecary Garden gates opened to the public in 2006. Today the garden focuses on education and the planting and growing of medicinal plants, as well as the ongoing research of the healing benefits of plants and herbs.

Plump purple beauty berries cling to branches of the shrub in The Apothecary Garden.

Beautyberry

Clusters of beauty berries cling
to the branches of this shrub. A tea made from the berries was used to treat colic; a tea made from the leaves treated dropsy; and a tea made from the roots was used to treat dysentery.

Apothecary Garden Path
Walk the shaded pathways of the Apothecary Garden

Take a moment to sit on one of the benches along the brick pathways. Listen to the rustling leaves, feel the slight breeze and watch the birds. Relax.

All paths lead past a water fountain and fish pond in the center of the garden to a covered pavilion and herb garden at the back end of the Apothecary Garden. The pavilion offers a covered space for community gatherings, and educational lectures about the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum and The Apothecary Garden.

Walk the red bricked streets of historic downtown Guthrie, Oklahoma. Admire the turn of the century Commercial Victorian Architecture, and visit the Oklahoma Frontier Drugstore Museum at 214 West Oklahoma Avenue. Then step into the quiet space next door to the museum called The Apothecary Garden for a rest surrounded by beauty, texture and the sweet fragrances of flowers.

In the Company of Sharks

Oklahoma Aquarium

The Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma houses the largest collection of bull sharks in the nation.

It’s 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon . . . feeding time for the sharks at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma. I arrived just in time. Visitors were already filling the seats in the gallery. Overhead the lights dim. From where I stand, I can see younger children sitting on the benches closest to the shark tank. While, in the tank bull sharks circle with apparent anticipation.

On the other side of the shark tank people line the tunnel, the best place to view the sharks. Bull sharks constantly swim overhead and along the sides of the tunnel.

The biology staff drops food from the top of the 500,000 gallon tank. Bull sharks dart around the tank to grab the food as it drifts to the bottom of the tank. Three nurse sharks feed off the bottom.

Shark Tank

Sharks in the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma
Shark Tank at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma

Scattered on the floor of the shark tank are hundreds of shark teeth. Sharks lose several teeth when they eat. A shark will lose 20,000 teeth over its lifetime.

Shark Tunnel in Oklahoma Aquarium
Shark Tunnel


Not to worry, I learned that sharks have another row of teeth behind the row of lost teeth!

Bull sharks can swim in both saltwater and freshwater. They’ve been known to swim up the Mississipi River as far as 1,500 miles.

Notoriously aggressive, many consider bull sharks to be the most dangerous of all the shark species because they have the strongest bite force of them all.

If you were given the opportunity to swim with these sharks, would you take it?

For the past two years the Oklahoma Aquarium has held a drawing in July to determine who will get to swim with the sharks. But there are a few rules:

  • Contestants must be certified scuba divers
  • Must be 18 years or older
  • Must be open-water certified
  • Must provide certification number on application
  • Must sign a “Liability Release Agreement”
  • Must be a U.S. Citizen

The winner of the drawing will be accompanied by three scuba-certified aquarium staff members on the dive to provide safety. For more information about the drawing contact the Oklahoma Aquarium.

As for me, I’ll watch from the gallery!

As impressive as the Shark Adventure may be, there are a total of nine exhibits and thousands of both freshwater and saltwater aquatic life in the Oklahoma Aquarium. The newest exhibit is the Polynesian Reef Exhibit.

Polynesian Reef Exhibit

The Polynesian Reef brings to mind images of tropical beaches, warm sand, and gentle breezes. Vivid colors and fish of all sizes and shapes swim here. This exhibit supports more than fifty species of tropical fish.

Polynesian Reef Exhibit at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma, filled with pink, purple green leaves and coral.
Polynesian Reef Exhibit

Another favorite exhibit is Sea Turtle Island. Children are especially drawn to the Loggerhead Turtle. He’s a friendly turtle. He swims up to the glass and follows children (and adults) as they walk back and forth in front of the tank. He surfaces to get air, makes a big splash then he’s back to performing for his audience. Parents and grandparents feverishly snap pictures, while the children laugh and giggle, and wave at the turtle. One excited three year old unofficially named the turtle “Dude” to everyone’s amusement.

High in the trees of the Extreme Amazon exhibit you will see male and female green iguanas lounging on branches.

And, a Spotted Eel repeatedly pops out of hiding to confront his reflection in the mirrored side of his tank.

The Oklahoma Aquarium stays open year round. There is much more to see and do than is recounted in this post. It’s a great destination for both adults and children. And there’s always something new to explore.

Tickets: Adults 17.95 / Seniors 13.95 / Military (with discount) 13.95 / Children (3-12) 13.95

Hours of Operation: Open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Open every day except Christmas Day. Open until 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. There is a cafe on site.

Senior, military and group discounts available. Children age two and under are admitted free.

*Coming soon to the aquarium will be The Secret World of the Octopus, a 360-degree view of a giant Pacific octopus.

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