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When people think about places to see bison, or buffalo as I called them growing up, they often think about Yellowstone or maybe South Dakota. If you live in the Midwest, you probably know that bison can be found in various locations that don’t require a huge road trip to access them. Don’t get me wrong; you should definitely see Yellowstone or the Black Hills. But sometimes it’s cool to take a day trip to experience these animals. Woolaroc near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is one such place.
Why is this place called Woolaroc? In 1925, Phillips Petroleum founder Frank Phillips established a ranch in the Osage Hills of Oklahoma. He named the place Woolaroc for the area’s best features–woods, lakes, and rocks. Woolaroc.
Located just outside of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the ranch served as a country home for the Phillips family during Frank’s lifetime. They often hosted parties with diverse attendees. In fact, you can still attend the fundraising event Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion in September every year. After years of collecting art, animal trophies, and firearms, Phillips donated his collection to the Frank Phillips Foundation. It was Phliips’s dream that others could learn and experience respect for western and American Indian art while providing a wildlife preserve for bison, deer, and other animals. The Phillips Foundation operates Woolaroc today; Frank and Jane Phillips are buried in a mausoleum on site.
The Mountain Man Camp
One of the first areas you’ll encounter as you enter the property it the turn-off for the mountain man camp. This is a fun little stop where living history interpreters will show you what life would be like for a fur trapper and hunter before the United States was settled.
During our visit, the mountain men were also melting silver to make bullets. They were also happy to demonstrate firing a musket.
After the shot is loaded…Fire!
You may find some horses and bison near this area, as well. If you don’t see the bison, don’t worry. You’ll probably see many as you travel up the trail.
The Wildlife Preserve
If you’re looking to see bison, you’ve come to the right place.
And just like anywhere else, if you encounter wildlife, stay in the safety of your car. Honestly, some of them will probably walk right along the road.
It’s always fun to spot the babies!
We also saw some deer as we drove on the trail.
We loved the fun touches along the way.
You’ll also learn more about Woolaroc as you experience the wildlife preserve.
As you get closer to the museum area, you can also see a section that is home to bighorn sheep.
Playground, Concessions, and Picnic Area
As you approach the museum parking lot, you’ll see an area where kids can run around.
While you’re here, you may want to sample some bison barbecue. We’d just had lunch, otherwise, we might have tried some. They also had lemonade and ice cream bars. Yum!
There are picnic tables and a shelter house if you want to bring your lunch or sample the concessions.
Nearby, you can see some miniature horses and other animals at the animal barn and animal pens.
The Grounds of the Museum
Experiencing Woolaroc’s art definitely begins outside of the museum gallery building. If you want a birdseye view of the property, you can check out the observation deck. We didn’t on this visit because…well, it was July. We were ready for a cooler environment!
Don’t miss the stained glass mural on the conference building.
This statue is near the mural.
And here is a shot of the museum building from near this vantage point.
Outside of the museum building, you’ll find several statues representing Oklahomans of various backgrounds.
Here is another.
The art and flowers around the museum grounds inspire quiet contemplation.
The Woolaroc Museum
After walking around the grounds, we were ready to cool off and explore the museum gallery. What began as an airplane hangar has now become an educational museum.
When you first open those large doors and step inside, you’ll find yourself in the rotunda with a statue of Frank Phillips. He shares the space with an American Indian and a cowboy.
The Dawn of History
The next rooms of the museum take you on a journey of Oklahoma’s history beginning with the end of the last ice age. This room features artifacts from the period and some “stuffed” animals.
The Land of Forgotten Cities
This room is dedicated to the Pueblo, Apache, and Navajo tribes.
As you can see, you can stand in the center of this room and look ahead into the following rooms.
Here is a closer look at the Indian Territory room from the inside.
This room focuses on European culture’s influence on the Plains Indians.
Here are some Kachina dolls from the Pueblo Indians.
The artwork in this room is stunning.
The Trail of the Cowboy
This room is dedicated to cowboys and their lives herding cattle on the trail. Cowboys from Texas drove longhorn cattle through Indian Territory on their way to Kansas.
A Cavalcade of History
In this room, you’ll see how the lives of the settlers in Oklahoma intertwined with the American Indians.
The Grandeur of the West
There’s some fabulous art in this room, but my companions were in love with touching the animal furs. Go figure.
The Woolaroc Airplane
You can access this room from the ground floor and from an observation deck on the upper floor. The Woolaroc plane won the Pacific Air Race in 1927. You could say that housing this plane started the museum here since the building has expanded from the hangar.
The Oil Patch
You couldn’t talk about the history of Oklahoma without discussing oil and its effect on the economy and the lives of the people who lived here. Here is a replica of a house for lease to oil workers and their families.
Colt Firearms Collection
In this room, you’ll get to see the Phillips Colt Firearms Collection and some “stuffed” animals, including this bear.
This room is also home to some trophies and artifacts from around the world, including a shrunken head collection. I have a picture, and I debated adding it here, but in the end, I decided maybe it’s roo morbid for a family travel blog. If you disagree, you can tell me in the comments. Yes, I’m hoping someone out there says, “show us the shrunken heads!”
Frank Phillips and Woolaroc
In this room, you’ll learn the story of Frank Phillips himself.
You can even knock on his office door.
Memory Lane Station
This room holds a model train, toys, and a mineral collection. Train lovers will enjoy this!
The Lodge at Woolaroc
After you’ve finished taking in the sights at the museum, you can visit the ranch house where the Phillips family stayed, entertained overnight guests, and hosted their parties. Now, it’s also a showcase of artifacts and animal trophies from around the world.
The porch of the Lodge overlooks a garden and Clyde Lake. The Lodge is built on a cliff so that you can enjoy the panoramic view of Woolaroc.
It’s interesting to note that you can rent the Lodge, the picnic area near the lake below, or the Event Center that has been built near the lodge. Apparently, weddings and wedding receptions are often hosted here.
When you go inside the Lodge, you’ll be able to tour the first floor.
Here’s a closer look at the piano.
Also on the first floor, you can see the dining room. This would be a fun place for an event!
After you explore the Lodge, you’ll drive out of the property through the wildlife preserve again. You’ll also pass the mausoleum where Frank and Jane are buried. There are some hiking trails on the property, but we didn’t take the time to explore those. Since this was a day trip for us, we headed for home.
Woolaroc is a great place to bring your family to explore. You’ll get to see wildlife and learn a little about American Indian and Oklahoma history along the way. It was also a nostalgic trip for me; I’d visited as a child. For grades K through 5, I lived in Oklahoma, so my elementary school years focused on the history that’s shared at Woolaroc. I can’t imagine that anyone would not have a great time exploring this place!
“Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve.” Woolaroc.org, Frank Phillips Foundation, 2004, www.woolaroc.org/.