On the way into Catoosa and Tulsa, Route 66 crosses over the Verdigris River, which is also part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. If you’re headed westbound on Route 66, you’ll first cross the wide, man-made section of the river that’s used for navigation. Then moments later…
… you come upon a rusty steel treasure along the old road, the somewhat famous and almost twin steel bridges, that cross the natural channel of the Verdigris, which is now called Bird Creek. The first of these steel “twins” was built in 1936, the second was added in 1957 to handle the increase in traffic. The newer of the bridges (which ironically, appeared more rusty at the time of my visit in 2008) is a few feet wider. So, maybe they’re just brothers, not twins.
By the way, my picture was taken after I crossed the bridge, meaning I was looking eastbound. Traffic moves quickly through this straight stretch of 4-lane, so use caution if you stop to admire the old structures.
The Catoosa Blue Whale
Exactly one mile beyond the twin bridges, you’ll find another famous icon of the old road: the Catoosa Whale. The giant concrete structure stands in the middle of a small lake.
The Catoosa Whale used to be part of a commercial swimming hole. Nowadays, you can walk right through the gates without paying…
… and right up to the smiling mouth of the Catoosa Blue Whale.
As I walked up to, and inside the whale, I quickly discovered one of the whale’s neatest secrets:
There’s a hidden area inside the whale’s head! Climb up a ladder, and you can crawl around inside this “attic” space, peering out the tiny windows that surround the whale’s head. Instantly, I was at least 20 years younger.
And I didn’t just feel like a kid again, I felt like I was back in the 1970’s. The Catoosa Blue Whale is something that would never be built today. I’m not saying it’s unsafe, I’m saying it’s 1970’s safe. Kids in the 70’s survived unharmed, even without bicycle helmets and knee pads, and even though they rode in the front seat of a car with no airbags. Likewise, some uncovered steel rebar, rickety wood floors, and ladders without railings wouldn’t have killed them, either. Yes, the whale is plenty safe, thank you very much.
After playing around in the head of the whale for a few minutes, some other people arrived at the park, and I decided I’d better start acting like an adult again.
Once you climb down from the head, you can walk out to the whale’s tail, and climb up onto what once served as a diving platform (swimming is no longer allowed at this swimming hole).
The view from the tail is great, but it is a little dizzying standing here, on a small platform, surrounded by water, with no railings. Darn it! I’m back in the 21st century again, worrying about things that could go wrong.
Back on solid ground, there’s a rest area for anyone who’s been enjoying too many beverages in the car (unless you’re visiting in winter, when the rest rooms are locked). No, the rest rooms don’t provide an answer to whether the whale is a girl or a guy…
… since both genders have their own likeness of the whale.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.