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Looking for my reviews on lodging and dining in and around Oklahoma?  We moved them.  Visit our reviews page to see what great Oklahoma flavors we are savoring these days.

Elephant Rock Nature Park

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a secluded hideaway, minutes from restaurants and with access to northeast Oklahoma’s most popular scenic river? How would you like to see deer wander by and watch the face of your loved one when they touch a fawn for the first time? Elephant Rock Nature Park is truly a magical place where families can discover nature in a safe, humane and friendly atmosphere. I was recently a guest of Rod and Susan Foster at their beautiful nature retreat and was pleasantly surprised at the wealth of fun and interesting things I experienced during my stay.


Rod met us upon arrival and suggested a 14 mile paddle down the Illinois River, Tom and I love the Illinois during the off season so we were quick to agree. The river provided a nice current which made for an easy paddle. We had a wonderful time taking pictures of the wildlife; we even got the rare treat of spotting an Osprey. The large bird was perched high above us in a tree overlooking the river and was not eager to pose, but we managed to snap a couple of shots before we paddled away. Although we saw many species of birds throughout the paddle, it was the Osprey that stole the show.

Many outfitters close during the off season, but Elephant Rock is open year around which is great news for those that enjoy viewing wildlife and experiencing nature. During the summer many loud people float the Illinois and scare much of the wildlife, but the rest of the year it is a beautiful haven for many impressive creatures like Osprey and Bald Eagles. Diverse natural beauty, good cell phone reception, and ease of access make the Illinois a great fall destination.

The well-researched & fascinating story of Norton, an American wine grape hybrid & the greatest wine you’ve never heard of.


After our trip down the river Susan and Rod picked us up and we headed back up the hill to the nature park. I assumed that “Nature Park” was just a fancy way of saying “on a rough road”, but I was wrong! When we arrived we noticed the beautiful yellow and blue canoes and walked up for a closer look, it was then we met June and July the young deer that Susan is looking after. She uses her experience in the Veterinary field to help wounded and rescued deer among other things.


 June and July are not related and have very opposite personalities. July was cautious, but friendly with an obvious fondness for a soft petting between her ears. June on the other hand was full of energy, romping, snorting, running about, stopping briefly to nose the cat (Tater Salad) and then dashing off again in her own little version of tag.  There were not any pens to contain the wildlife, they roam free and were our companions by choice, which for me, was a very special treat.


After Tom was finished petting the deer, we headed back to our yurt for dinner. A yurt is a Mongolian creation; I would describe it as a heavy-duty deluxe tent with raised wood floors, very capable of being nicer than a regular cabin. I have lodged in a primitive yurt, but never anything as nice as the ones at Elephant Rock. Our yurt was fully plumbed and equipped with the following luxuries: bathroom (with shower), kitchen sink, stove, refrigerator, pots, pans, dishes, linens, fan, air conditioning, heat, 2 double beds, queen futon, bunches of fluffy pillows, towels and blankets, all the things you need to be comfortable. They encourage quality time with friends and family so you will find an assortment of board games, but no TV or telephone. 

The Complete Yurt Handbook


We chose to cook dinner on the large charcoal grill outside, it was a nice area with lots of room for the family to gather and talk in comfort. After dinner Rod and Susan stopped by for a visit, we had a wonderful time discussing the new plans they have for expanding the Elephant Rock Nature Park to include an amphitheatre. After completion, they expect to provide a stage for the areas many talented artist and host events of their own.


Morning crept in our yurt from the huge skylight in the center of the room; it was an obvious invitation for a morning hike. I stayed behind and brewed some freshly ground hand roasted coffee while Tom and the camera went hiking. There were many deer in the area, not as tame as the ones we saw the day before but equally as beautiful. The trails were nicely cleared and well marked; they varied in difficulty however benches were scattered here and there in case you needed to take a rest along the way.


After drinking our coffee on the front deck, we decided to gather our things and go. We said our goodbyes and headed down the road to indulge in a breakfast buffet at a restaurant we spotted a few minutes away. It was the ending to a wonderful weekend; I enjoyed the quiet nature retreat and I look forward to paddling the Illinois and visiting Elephant Rock Nature Park again very soon.  - Dianne M. Jones


To make reservations call 918-456-4215 or visit their website for more information








The Osprey parched high above the Illinois River in Oklahoma


A nice quiet yurt with many of the comforts of home


The hiking trails at Elephant Rock are well marked and nicely cleared

The yurt has a beautiful skylight



Oklahoma's Heartland Flyer - Take the train from OKC to Ft. Worth

In 2004, I took the Heartland Flyer to Fort Worth to pour Nuyaka Creek wine for the passengers. Riding the Heartland Flyer is always a unique experience. It offers a soothing nature ride with many comforts not available in an airplane, car or bus. I enjoy sitting back and watching for Bald Eagles soaring along the Washita River, as we wind around the treetops. It is a tranquil ride through the beautiful Oklahoma countryside. There are many landmarks along the way such as The Texas Speedway and the historic Stockyards on the way to Ft. Worth Station.

Welcome to Fort Worth, Texas!

One of the first things I do when arriving at Ft. Station is check out the huge market next door. It is the Rail Market and it's packed with vendors offering all kinds of unusual food, drinks, crafts, fresh produce, meats and more. Take advantage of the free samples and discover your new favorite desert or enjoy a healthy snack at one of the many shops along the way.

If you came to Texas looking for a good steak…8.0 in Sundance Square (not a typo, the name of the place is actually a number) is where you will find it! Order the filet medallions and you'll experience the perfect steak. Although the place is young and hip, people of all ages can enjoy the unusual murals that cover the walls. 

8.0 is work of art from the entrance to the bathroom floors, but if you prefer to eat outside, a large patio area is available. If you get a chance to stop in, be sure to tell Jason that Dianne sent you! Jason is the guy that runs the place and one of the friendliest people I met on Sundance Square.

Sundance Square is home to many restaurants, clubs and shops. It is a wonderful and welcoming place to walk and window shop. Shops are welcoming and vary in selection. I browsed a fun little gift shop called Earth Bones and could not leave without buying at least one keepsake for the trip. I shop, therefore I am.

You will feel at ease strolling along Sundance Square. If you tire of walking, simply visit one of the many cafes or bars and get a table. Wine bars can be found as well as many sports bars & restaurants. Although I did not stay overnight, I can imagine this is a jumping place to be on a warm Spring night. During the day, I love checking out the local architecture.

Built entirely with private funds, the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall is a breath-taking site. With an 80-foot dome and two 48-foot tall, trumpet-playing angels, this is a building not to be missed. You will be amazed while looking up at the golden trumpets hovering over Commerce Street. It is no wonder that this $65 million dollar world-class facility is the proud home of The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, The Cliburn Concerts, The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth Opera, and Texas Ballet Theater. 

Back Home to Oklahoma!

There is always a lot to see and do in Fort Worth, but eventually we had to get back to the train, head back toward Oklahoma and start pouring wine.  I was hope to get to do some Texas Kayaking, but there just wasn't time.

I had the honor to pour wine with JL Gilbert from Sparks Vineyards and Winery. He poured two reds that got a wonderful reception. Sparks Cabernet Franc and their award-winning Deep Fork Red began the wine tasting, shortly after leaving Gainesville, TX. Later, Nuyaka Creek Winery concluded the tasting with their famous Peach Mist and Oklahoma Merlot. 

After the tasting, passengers were able to purchase the featured wines. This gave JL and I both the opportunity to meet and talk to many wine lovers that night. To me the best part of any wine event is meeting the people, and this one was no different. The passengers were all very nice; they were all very kind as I wobbled past their chairs.

The Staff and volunteers at Amtrak are wonderful! Just like on my last trip, Ron Herendeen helped me from the beginning; it was nice to see a familiar face. There are many other staff and volunteers that work hard to make these events work and it's amazing how well they do it. I would have been lost if it were not for Ron and JL Gilbert from Sparks...thanks guys!

Wine events obviously help promote wines, but they also enable us grow together as an industry. I learn something helpful every time I work along side another winery. We all learn from each other and build on that, increasing the quality of all Oklahoma wine events. 

We trade ideas, industry news, wine glasses and corkscrews; ultimately, these events benefit us all.


17565 South 210 Road | Okmulgee, OK 74447 | 918-756-1766