Old Route 66 crosses the interstate (a.k.a. the Will Rogers Turnpike) again at Vinita, where the region’s Native American heritage is brought into focus at the Eastern Trails Museum (215 W. Illinois St., 918/323-1338, 11am-4pm Mon.-Fri., 11am-3pm Sat., free), next to the public library. The exhibits center on the Cherokee Trail of Tears, which brought the Cherokee people here after a forced march from North Carolina in the 1830s, but the museum also covers the general history of the surrounding area.
Vinita is home to the Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo, held here nearly every August since 1935, the year he died. Rogers attended secondary school in Vinita after growing up near Claremore. Vinita also hosts the annual World’s Largest Calf Fry Festival and Cook-Off in late June. (Calf fries are prairie oysters, otherwise known as beef testicles. Just so you know.) Contact the chamber of commerce (918/256-7133) for details on any of these.
Vinita also has a great old Route 66 restaurant: Clanton’s Café (319 E. Illinois Ave., 918/256-9053), right at the center of town, which has been famous for its chicken-fried beefsteak, served here with mashed potatoes and slathered in peppery white gravy, since 1927. Clanton’s also has good burgers and, in case you miss the festival, calf fries (see above for a disclaimer).
Between Vinita and Claremore, old Route 66 survives in regular use as the “free road” alternative to the I-44 Turnpike, alternating between two-lane and divided four-lane highway.
The most interesting wide spot along this stretch of hallowed road is Foyil, where in the 1940s and 1950s retired fiddle-maker and folk artist Ed Galloway sculpted an outdoor garden of giant totem poles—the tallest is over 90 ft (27 m)—and other Native American-inspired objects out of concrete. After fading and weathering for many years, the poles, 4 mi (6.4 km) east of town via Hwy-28A, have been restored and maintained as Totem Pole Park (918/342-9149, daily, free). It’s now a fascinating place to stop for a picnic or to simply admire the effort that went into these “Watts Towers of the Plains.”
Foyil was also the hometown of Andy Payne, the Cherokee youth who, in 1928, won the “Bunion Derby,” a coast-to-coast foot race that followed Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago, then headed east to New York City—equivalent to running a marathon and a half every day for the 84 days it took him to finish.