Anyone else remember going back to school every year and either saying this aloud the first day of school, or having to write an essay about it? I can’t wait for our summers coming up and making fun memories for our kids to write/talk about when they get back to school, and we decided to start this summer by going last week on Olivia’s first summer vacation trip!
I feel like before I start my rave review, I need to preface with our standards/ interests/ parameters for a good trip and having fun. We love being outdoors. We love not really doing a whole lot (aka, we don’t need or want a lot of stuff to do/see/go to and we especially do not enjoy crowds/lines/tons of people). And we LOVE good food.
So, the week before last, Steven got approved for a week of vacation for the second week in August (the 6-12). Our vacation schedules are a little weird because we aren’t really able to just throw out dates whenever we want– he is only allowed vacation during certain rotations at the hospital, and he has to request those dates by at least one month in advance and it has to be approved through a few different tiers of people before it’s a go. So, it’s sometimes a little unpredictable when/if he will get vacation time. Which is how we planned a trip to Pawhuska, OK about two days before we actually left.
We originally planned to have a staycation during this time. But, the attending that Steven was working with during the week his vacation got approved thought that was not the best idea. He encouraged us to jump on a plane to San Francisco instead of staying home. That’s not really something either of us was interested in, but it did get the ball rolling in us finding a trip that we were actually interested in. I’ve been wanting to visit the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska since it opened– I’ve been a huge fan of hers for about 10 years! So, I was both shocked and ecstatic when pretty much the first trip Steven suggested was for us to visit Pawhuska. Girls… my best advice is to find a man that is invested in making your dreams come true. 😉 So, here’s a little recap of our trip!
Steven worked in the morning, but was finished rounding pretty early, so we packed up quickly and hit the road by late morning. We stopped in Dallas for a late lunch with Steven’s brother and his wife, and then kept on going. We weren’t going to be able to check in to our cabin in Pawhuska until 3 PM on Monday, but we wanted to get at least about halfway there because it was about a 7 hour drive total from our house.
We ended up stopping for the night in Norman, OK because I was interested in driving around the OU campus just to check it out. Tech has such a beautiful campus that I’m always interested to see how others compare, so we thought that would be a good place to stop and spend a little time. We had Ruger with us because he is the most calm of the labs and is certified to go places where they don’t necessarily allow pets. We got a room at the Best Western Plus near their medical center and it was so nice! No carpet, so everything seemed so clean and new!
We did a little research on local restaurants and ended up at a place called Diamond Dawgs on their “campus corner”. We each got a hot dog (mine was plain, his had chili and cheese), and then fries, mozzarella sticks, and fried pickles. Y’all. SO GOOD! (This was just the start of our amazing food journey– I’m gonna talk a lot about food, y’all).
After dinner we ran through Target for a few things we forgot (aka Tums because getting older means heartburn more often than not…), and ended up getting Olivia a set of OU onesies. It pained me a little, but y’all… Norman is so nice! It was just the cleanest, nicest little town! I love Lubbock, but Norman wasn’t too shabby!
We got up the next morning by 7-8 ish and got ready, then hit Chick Fil A for breakfast.
Then, we drove around campus looking for a good “campus-y” place to take Olivia’s picture in one of her OU jersey onesies. We found what looked like their “quad” area (very similar to the Engineering key for my Tech people) where they have a big statue of a Sooner, so we parked and strolled around and took pictures.
The campus is really pretty! For some reason, they have the red British phone booths all over, which was kinda neat!
After we finished here, we headed up I35 through Oklahoma City. We drove past the Oklahoma City Memorial, but decided not to stop because it was very crowded and there didn’t seem to be a place to park (see above where I mentioned we do not care for crowds 😉 ). Neither of us were really hungry yet, so we decided to keep moving and see what we could find later on. When looking at the map, it seemed like Stillwater was just barely out of the way, and we had plenty of time to burn, so we went from OKC over to Stillwater.
We drove a little bit through OSU campus, but got distracted by stopping at a fan shop for the CUTEST little OSU tank top for Liv (she needs a Tech version of this!!), and then lunch at Eskimo Joe’s. Side note: they had a t-shirt featuring a drawing of Mike Gundy and his as-of-late mullet with the tagline “Taking Care of Business”. Oh my word, I about died laughing, and considered getting it, but decided I would be too embarrassed to actually wear it anywhere.
Eskimo Joe’s has the BEST cheese fries we’ve ever had. I mean, hands down best. The burgers were good, too!
This is also where I apparently lost my mind and completely knocked over my full water glass. I was wearing a Tech t-shirt. I’m sure everyone thought I was a genius. 😉
After lunch, we left Stillwater and headed up to our cabin to check in! We pulled in to Taylor Ranch at 3:00 on the dot! The cabin there is so sweet and just perfect! It actually sleeps 9, but it was great for just the 3 of us, too! There is a living room, little kitchen, extra bed area, and bedroom with the bathroom. Outside, they have a beautiful deck and huge pond (we call these stock tanks in Texas… I’m not sure if that’s a universal term?). Steven and Ruger used the tank for some water retrieves while Olivia and I enjoyed sitting on the deck.
After a little relaxation, we drove ten minutes into Pawhuska for dinner. We decided to try P-Town Pizza first, but just a note- when we pulled up to the Merc (they are across the street from each other and this side had an open parking spot), at around 6 pm, they had no line in the Merc and plenty of open tables. It was the same at P-Town, so we stuck with our original plan!
This is wood fired pizza, just like we have here at home at our beloved Fire Street, but possibly just a hair better (which is saying a LOT because Fire Street is delicious!!). We had the Not Knots, a pepperoni pizza (featuring 3 different types of pepperonis), and then split the Triple Chocolate dessert (all the desserts are mason jar layered desserts). Everything was so delicious!!
After dinner, we headed out just one of the streets of Pawhuska and ended up driving through the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, which featured a huge herd of roaming buffalo! Of course, we stopped several times for photo ops. They were a little far away at times, but so neat! Fun fact that we learned from a sign on the drive: apparently bison can jump 6 feet both horizontally and vertically 😐 They also had some super tame deer roaming around close to the visitor’s center.
We headed back in to our cabin after this and went to bed so we could get up early and have breakfast at the Merc!
We were up and moving and headed into town for breakfast by about 8-8:30. We walked right in and got a table with no wait at the Merc! I had the Belgian waffle with strawberries and nutella, and bacon, scrambled eggs, and sausage. Steven had the pancakes with scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage. Again, everything was delicious!! They give you an assortment of syrups (regular maple, cinnamon vanilla, orange something, and salted caramel), so Olivia got to try a little salted caramel. She was a fan!!
After breakfast, I did a little shopping in the Merc shop, and we got our ticket for the Lodge tour. I got a t-shirt for me, a onesie for Olivia, and a turquoise mug before deciding to shop a little more later. We walked the streets of Pawhuska and checked out a few of the other local shops (most of them weren’t open yet), and took a few pictures before heading out to the Lodge on Drummond Ranch!
It takes about 10-15 minutes to get out there from downtown Pawhuska (we missed our turn the first time). We headed straight in when we got there because it wasn’t crowded at all! They had us sign in, and then we had free roam of the whole house. I walked around taking pictures while Steven hung out with Olivia and her stroller because we didn’t want to mess up any of the floors or rugs with her all terrain tires. At the end, we got pictures in the kitchen (right where she stands to film!), and then on the deck overlooking the ranch. It was so pretty! And they had the cutest little cow dogs working as greeters!
After our tour, we hit a local BBQ place for some lunch, and then decided to hit some of the local lakes with Ruger. We played at Lake Bluestem, and then drove through Lake Pawhuska (which were literally like 3 miles from each other and about 5 miles from downtown Pawhuska).
We decided after this to head about 30 minutes east to another wildlife preserve called Woolaroc. This is the former estate of oil giant Frank Phillips (Phillips 66/ Conoco Phillips), and he apparently accumulated a herd of exotic animals that now still live in the estate and are preserved. The name “Woolaroc” is a portmanteau of Wood-Lake-Rock, and it is beautiful there! We drove through in a little bit of a hurry because we got there about an hour and a half before closing, and because it was raining a little. Here are a few of the animals…
At the halfway point, up on the hill, they had a cultural center, a museum, a petting zoo, a playground, and a snack corner. We walked by the snack stand after hitting the restrooms in the cultural center, and then ended up in the museum (Steven had no interest in the petting zoo, haha! But to be fair, we could smell the petting zoo from about a quarter mile away…). The museum was really nice! It has a collection of iron busts by a famous artist that they call the “Pioneer Woman” collection (fitting, since that’s why we were there! But these were of actual pioneer women, not Ree Drummond, haha!). We had made it through most of the museum when Olivia started straight up screaming from hunger (even though she wasn’t due to eat for about another hour… the kid likes to act like she’s starved), so we headed outside since they were about to close anyway.
We headed from Woolaroc back to Pawhuska for… dinner at the Merc! (Yes, we ate some type of Pioneer Woman food for basically every meal!) The lunch/ dinner menu is mostly all sandwiches, and then a few heartier entrees. I had the French dip sandwich and Steven had the fried chicken sandwich, which he deemed the absolute best Chick Fil A sandwich you’ll ever have– basically homemade fried chicken with homemade pickles, and some other goodness! (and he’s so sweet– he shared several of his pickles with me because he knows how much I love pickles, especially those homemade ones!). All the fries and chips are homemade, too. The menu lists the queso as the “best queso ever”, so Steven was a little skeptical, but we agreed, it was the best queso we’d ever had! We also had the chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. It seemed like it was freshly baked it that little cast iron skillet because it was warm and gooey— delicious!
After this, we headed about 20 miles east to Bartlesville, the next closest bigger town. We drove around a little, grabbed a few things at Walmart, and then headed back to the cabin for the night.
Wednesday was another up early for breakfast day! (But we were up a little later than the last few days). This was the big day that Steven got the Cattleman’s breakfast– a 12 oz rib eye with eggs, potatoes, and grilled tomatoes, plus a homemade biscuit. He declared it one of the best steaks he’s ever had. I had the Belgian waffle breakfast again, but this time with the salted caramel syrup instead of nutella. We were leaving about 10:30, and the line for lunch had already started outside! (Even though there were lots of empty tables for breakfast? We decided this must be a really popular day trip spot– people roll in for lunch and to shop a little then head home because lunch always had a line, but breakfast and dinner weren’t really busy for us.)
From breakfast, we headed east to a state park near Bartlesville.
Then, because we were so close (about an hour), we ended up in Independence, Kansas at the Elk City Reservoir State Park. We had decided on our way up that our new goal is to hit at least one new state every year (so far, we’ve been married two years, and we hit Hawaii the first year for our honeymoon, and now Oklahoma), so we knocked two out in one trip! The state park we found was really nice! Ruger retrieved a little off this little island kinda thing, and then we headed back to Oklahoma just in time for a big storm to roll through and cool everything off.
We had one last (early, since we had a late breakfast and skipped lunch) dinner at P-Town pizza again. This time we added mushrooms to our pepperoni and it was soooo good! And of course, we couldn’t leave without another triple chocolate dessert! Olivia tried a little of the whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and I think she enjoyed it!
A little later, we headed about 10 miles over to one last lake for Ruger and Steven to play and me to take a few more pictures. We ended the night watching a movie on TV and just hanging out!
Thursday was sad because we didn’t want to leave! We had such a great time that it was kind of a bummer to leave. We knew we wanted to do an early lunch at Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, so we skipped breakfast and hit the road about mid morning (I ran in the Merc store to grab a few more things before we left. I had a gift card from Christmas, so I was using up the rest– I ended up getting us some pretty new plates, a set of bird shaped nested measuring cups, and a Charlie the Ranch Dog book for Olivia). I took a few last pictures from the deck before we headed out.
After more delicious cheese fries, we headed home. The temperature gradually increased, which was depressing, topping out over 100 as we came through Ft. Worth (from the mid-70s in Oklahoma. Sigh.). We arrived at our house around 6:00 that night. And that was the end of our trip! (We still had a few days left of vacation, thankfully!).
Tips for Your Own Pioneer Woman Adventure:
- So, like I mentioned before, if you are looking for a place to go with lots of stuff to do and see, this probably isn’t the destination for you. We love to just hang out outside (Steven and Ruger love to just retrieve at any kind of body of water), so this was perfect for us because all the state and local parks were very accessible and there was a LOT of water around. Honestly, we probably could have done everything in one less day (minus our detour to Kansas), but we just didn’t know. We had the time, so I’d rather spend too long somewhere than wish we would have had longer.
- If you are wanting to park it in one place and have everything at your fingertips, this probably isn’t the destination for you. We love driving. We have for years. Heck, driving around is what we did on our first date (side fun fact: it was Christmas time, so we had dinner and then drove around talking and looking at Christmas lights. It has started a deep rooted tradition of us driving around any and everywhere for fun, sometimes with a purpose and sometimes not. But I digress. 🙂 ). It’s possible– you could stay at the Pioneer Woman Boarding House and have the Merc and P-Town and all the other downtown shops within walking distance, but I would say that really limits what you are able to see and do. The biggest town with any actual hotels is Bartlesville (about 20 miles away), (or Tulsa is about 50 miles away and has much more to offer), so you are looking at at least a little driving to get around to everything and have a place to stay. We LOVED our cabin, but were quite honestly super lucky it happened to be open. They just have the one cabin on the ranch, so if it’s booked, that isn’t an option and there aren’t really many other options that close to Pawhuska. (I booked this cabin through AirBnB, but it is also listed as an option on the Merc’s website when you click “Visit the Merc”.)
- Don’t be dummies like us and miss the bakery! When we were walking through the shop downstairs on the first day, we came to a big staircase. For some reason, we both assumed it was more shop space and just skipped it. When I ran back in on Thursday morning to finish my shopping, I realized that it is a separate bakery and coffee shop that we just completely missed. Now we’re convinced we have to go back so we can hit the bakery!
- The weather was great, but I think it will be even better in the fall! The cabin had two window air conditioner units (one in the big bedroom and one in the living room), and it was fine, but I think it would be even better once it’s a little cooler. We didn’t have anyone sleeping in the rooms without air conditioning units, but I think if we did, they might have been a little warm.
I’m so glad that sweet attending sparked a fire for us to go somewhere instead of staying home because we had so much fun!! Hanging with these two anywhere is special, but doing something new was so exciting and just what we needed!
If you have any questions about anything Pawhuska related, feel free to drop them in the comments or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!