I was 15 years old and walking down the hallway to my history class. The principal came on over the speaker and announced an explosion in Oklahoma City. I remember being so confused. I think everyone was at first. The normally loud halls were now quiet as we all headed to classrooms hoping for answers from our teachers. The teachers were just as confused. When President Clinton was told of the explosion, the initial news was that it was related to a gas leak. No one guessed a fellow American would purposely drive a bomb-filled truck to the front of a government building.

I remember watching the news. The entire side of a building was missing and 168 lives lost. A daycare full of children – gone. First responders flooded the streets and surrounding areas. Recovery work was called off several times as spring thunderstorms rolled through. Nothing made sense. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City was the worst terrorist attack to take place on US soil prior to September 11, 2001.

It has been many years since I last visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. As we planned with Adventure Road where we would like to visit while in OKC, the OKCNMM as on the top of my list. My kids span from 5 yrs to 12 yrs. I knew we would need to be mindful of how we talked about certain parts the story of April 19, 1995, but I also knew it was an important part of history I wanted to teach and discuss with the kids.

The Museum is interactive and covers the day of the bombing (4-19-95) and the weeks/days/months and years that followed. It is a story of how chaos transformed into hope and unity.

okcnmm-01The museum tour begins with the morning of April 19 and walks chronologically through the events of the day. Early on there is one room where you sit and hear that actual explosion (it was in the background of an official Oklahoma Water Resources Board). The boys went in the room with the recording, but I skipped past that part with the girls.okcnmm-02Below is an enlarged photo taken from across the street. You can see the truck that was used parked across the street. Throughout the museum there are dozens of pieces of evidence used to find answers. I appreciated the way the kids learned not only about the specific event, but discovered in detail how answers were found.okcnmm-03okcnmm-04okcnmm-06

In recent years the museum integrated interactive elements. Instead of only reading signs and boards, my kids jumped on screens and interacted with the stories. The boys, especially the older 2, were hard to pull away from these elements.okcnmm-05okcnmm-08okcnmm-09After touring the museum, we walked outside to the memorial. Several key elements create the outdoor memorial. The Reflecting Pool (where the street once was), the Field of Empty Chairs (where the building stood, symbolizing each life lost), The Survivor Tree, The Survivor Wall (the only remaining wall of the original building, inscribed with survivors’ names), The Rescuers’ Orchard, and a Children’s Area. At the east and west sides of the Reflecting Pool tower two gates. The 9:01 gate and the 9:03 gate. As you enter the memorial, you walk through the 9:01 gate (one minute before the explosion that took place at 9:02). You experience the museum and memorial and then leave through the 9:03 gate – the place where hope and healing begin.okcnmm-11okcnmm-12“The forces of hate and violence must not be allowed to gain their victory, not just in our society, but in our hearts. Nor must we respond to hate with more hate. This is a time for coming together, and we have seen that and been inspired by it.” Rev. Billy Graham, days after the attack.okcnmm-13okcnmm-14

A few number facts

  • 168 people killed
  • 19 children killed
  • 850 people injured
  • 30 children orphaned
  • 219 children lost at least one parent
  • 300 buildings destroyed or damaged
  • 462 people left homeless
  • 12,384 volunteers and rescue workers assisted in rescue, recovery and support

*Source: Governor Frank Keating’s office, 1995

The Survivor Tree (pictured on right) survived the blast. Evidence was pulled from its’ branches and trunk. It now stands as a symbol of strength and witness to the events of the day. Near the tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”

okcnmm-15Outside the museum is a children’s area with chalkboard tiles. Children are encouraged to draw/write/express after touring the museum and memorial.okcnmm-17okcnmm-18okcnmm-19As you prepare to leave the memorial, you are encouraged to respectfully dip your hand in the Reflecting Pool and press it to the 9:03 gate…leaving your handprint and a bit of you behind.okcnmm-20okcnmm-21okcnmm-22

9:03. 1 minute after the blast. The moment we were all changed. The place where healing begins after the horror.

My tips:

  • Talk to your kids before the visit. Give them a bit of knowledge about the event and what to expect. I made sure my kids understood we were not going for ‘fun’, but to learn, understand and show respect.
  • If you have small kids, there are a few graphic photos (especially ones of the children who were killed) that you might want to avoid. I would just try to do a quick glance of each new room and then walk in a way to avoid anything you don’t want little ones to see.
  • Plan time to go slow, read, interact, discuss
  • Go through the museum before you tour the outside. Everything outside is much more meaningful after you have taken time to really learn and understand all the symbolism.
  • Some kids process more in the days and weeks after learning about something like this. We didn’t go into much detail with our youngest. I stayed close by my 7 year old and asked/answered a lot of questions as we walked. I know my kids will ask more questions in the days to come. I think that is common for most kids. I’d just encourage you to keep the communication open and be sensitive to how your kids work through stuff like this.
  • My 10 & 12 year old were at great ages for the museum. If you only have really little ones, I might wait until they are ready to understand and learn from museum and memorial. If you have tweens/teens the very last room promotes great discussion that helps them implement what they learn. Take advantage of spending time in the last room (with the interactive quizzes)

The outdoor memorial is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and charges no admission. The Museum is open Mon-Sat 9am-6pm with paid admission.

“We come here to remember those who where killed,

those who survived and those changed forever.

May all who leave here know the impact of violence.

May this memorial offer comfort,

strength, peace, hope and serenity.”

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  • Kate - Oh my goodness Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing this powerful reminder. It has touched my heart deeply.

  • Cathy - I love that you are not afraid to show these things to your kids and teach them about them, my oldest is 4 and as she is starting to ask hard questions I struggle to know how to answer them for her. I hope I am giving her enough answers to not frighten her, but to let her know there are scary things in the world and am teaching her how to deal with them. Any good resources on how to talk to little ones about hard things?

  • Brady - Goosebumps. I’ve gotten to see the outdoors memorials, but haven’t gotten to go in the museum. It’s on my list now. Thanks for sharing.

  • Windie D - about 10 years ago I went on a youth mission trip which was called “Where the Spirit Leads”. We didn’t have any real plans before the trip – just a few rules, such as the maximum amount of miles we would drive each day and that we would only stay one night in each place. The teens were encouraged to be the leaders (handing the money, making any reservations, deciding which direction to go).

    Coming from Colorado, we started south. After our first day – all the youth wanted to head west – towards California; the 3 adults wanted to go East. We voted to go west and after we started driving, the wind was so strong – it was really hard for us to keep the 15 passenger vans on the road. We pulled over to discuss and as soon as the youth agreed to go east, the wind stopped!

    I truly believe that the Spirit lead us east for a number of reasons and one of these was to experience this memorial and museum. It was unforgettable. And even though it was very tough to walk through, I am glad I was able to see it.

    Even if you are just passing through OKC – make time to stop and visit this memorial!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Ashley, this was beautifully written. I was born in OKC (only lived there for four months), but a part of my heart has always been in Oklahoma. I remember that day so very clearly. I think the children lost were what shook me the most. I pray that hearts are softened and violence becomes a thing of the past.

  • Melanie - Sadly, with all the things that happend in Paris and Munich, dealing with terror is an important topic for us in Germany, too. For us parents it is hard enough but I really have no glue how to explain this to my 8yo son without giving him the feeling that the world is a bad place. It is just too much.

  • Kari - I’ve wanted to leave a comment on this post all week, but every time I do it ends in tears. I was 12 when the bombing happened; I remember feeling our school shake. And I remember my friends losing their nephews and aunts and sisters. I remember everything about that day as if it were yesterday. I’ll eventually have to explain what happened to my kids and your post is where I’ll probably start. I don’t really know what I wanted to say but I wanted to say something. So, thank you for this.

  • Steph - Wow, I really appreciate you putting this post together. I’m Jewish and have visited a few Holocaust museums and I’m always impressed by how they handle taking people, often tourists, through such a devastating set of facts and figures and emotions. I have to say the outdoor portion of this memorial is the most thoughtful, engaging and well-crafted tribute I’ve ever experienced. Thank you for letting me have that experience in some small way. I will likely never be in Oklahoma, so I never would have taken the time to appreciate this memorial or reflect on the horror it honors. Thanks again.

  • AshleyAnn - Steph – thank you for taking the time and sharing that with me. It is such a delicate topic, but an important one. I appreciate you letting me know what the post meant to you.

  • AshleyAnn - Kari – Thank you. I don’t know a single person that lived in Oklahoma and was over the age of 10 in 1995 that doesn’t remember exactly where they were on that day. I know it is such a hard and personal memory. Thank you for coming back here and sharing your experience with all of us.

  • AshleyAnn - Thank you Kate. The children shook me so deeply too.

  • Kelli - Thank you for sharing Ashley. I grew up in the area, definitely remember that day well. In the days and weeks that followed my father was a rescue worker. And while his stoic self would never share the details of what he saw, I could see it on his face every late night when he came home. I have run in the memorial run the past few years and have visited the outdoor memorial. But haven’t been able to bring myself to go to the museum yet. Maybe when my kids are older, it’s definitely something I want to be able to talk to with them, but seeing the pictures it still feels raw 21 years later.

On the top of our family’s list of new favorite stops in Oklahoma City is Riversports Adventures. If you give us an opportunity to do something adventurous together – we are all in. As part of our trip with Adventure Road, we took an afternoon to get sweaty and active at RiverSport Adventures located near Bricktown in OKC. You can see the downtown skyline in the distance. While it is not the background to rafting we’ve done in Colorado, it is pretty cool to have something like this in our state.Riversport-01My four guys could not get out on the water fast enough. Throughout the day the rapids are ‘turned down’ and you can go tubing.Riversport-02

Riversport-03Riversport-04I took one for the team and sat on the bank with the girls while the guys did the rafting. The girls weren’t quite tall enough, so we waited and watched. It wasn’t nearly as fun on the sidelines, but seeing the guys have a blast together was pretty great. We kept dumping water on our heads while the boys were getting soaked. Oklahoma is hot this summer (and every summer)! On the other side of the rapids is the Oklahoma River where you can flatwater kayak and stand up paddle board.Riversport-05The rafting adventures take about an hour and a half. After we watched the boys a bit, I took the girls over to the Youth Zone. The disappointment of not being tall enough for the rapids was subdued a bit by the activities they were tall enough to do. The Youth Zone area is only for kids under 48″ and is $10 a day (3 and under are free). It is such an amazing deal if you have little ones. There is also a free park next to the Youth Zone.Riversport-06Riversport-07Riversport-08Riversport-11Riversport-10The day we went the girls had the whole Youth Zone to themselves. It was awesome!Riversport-13The Youth Zone also had a mini ropes course. The girls got to wear a real harness and lock in just like the big ropes course. Though they wanted up on the high adult course, they had a wonderful time on the youth version.Riversport-12Cutest little ropes course walker ever.Riversport-14Since Chris got to go rafting, I got to do the SandRidge Sky Trail while he stayed with those that did not want to climb. My 10 year old and I got on our harnesses, hooked in and started climbing. My son said it was like training for American Ninja Warrior. There were beams, bridges, ropes, ladders, etc. that you cross. The structure goes up 80ft with 6 different levels. If no one was waiting down below for us, we could have spent a great deal of time just climbing and challenging ourselves to try everything without holding on. So much fun. I want to go back.Riversport-18

Riversport-20For those that don’t want to climb all the way up (and those that do) there are a few high speed slides too.Riversport-21The highlight of the day for me was the zipline. The actual zipline across the river was fun, but the chance to do it with my son was the best part of the day. He has been waiting YEARS to do a high zipline, but he has never been tall enough. Friends have shot past him in recent years, while all he ever asks me for is a growth spurt. It is so hard to see your kid struggle with something and not have the ability to fix it. When we walked up to the zip line, I held my breath until we were sure he was tall enough. He was! Happy dance by mom!

Together we climbed the stairs to the top. As we reached the very top, he started to get nervous. It was a long way down and far bigger than anything he has ever done. His nervous excitement was contagious. He was in front of me, walked to the edge and jumped off. It was one of my favorite parenting moments. That steep climb up and soaring ride over the river was a long time coming. I’m so grateful I was by his side.

Riversport-15

Riversport-16

I do not take days like this with my family for granted. Today I am strong and healthy, but that strength and health is not a guarantee. I know plenty of parents that would give anything to have one pain-free day with their kids. Running, jumping, climbing – the ability and chance to do these things are not guaranteed to any of us. While I am able, I am going to be as active as I possibly can with my crew.

I wanted to share a few of my tips for those of you that visit RiverSport Adventures. I’m always learning as I go when it comes to traveling with kids. Hopefully, these will help some of you!

My Tips:

  • Wear secure shoes (no flip-flops). We had flip-flops and had to make a quick run to the store to get better shoes. Most people wore Chacos or similar shoes. I would not wear running shoes if you want to do any of the water activities too.
  • If you got on a hot day with kids under 48″ bring socks. My girls really loved the Cloud Bounce, but you can’t wear shoes and it was pretty hot. They would have jumped longer if they had socks.
  • If you want to do the zipline, reserve a time as soon as you get there. We almost missed out on this.
  • Reserve you whitewater rafting time before you arrive. You can reserve a spot online so you are sure to get one.
  • Wear active clothes and longer shorts or yoga capris. I had on khaki shorts…not so great with a harness.
  • There is not a ton of shade on the actual activities. Pack sunscreen.
  • Food. There is a concession stand and restaurant on site. The parking lot is between the rapids area and the other areas. If you have special diet concerns, you could leave a cooler in your car. We have a little one that needed food we can’t find in most places. It was not an issue getting to her food quickly.
  • Be sure to read the rest of the Important To Know tips on the website.
  • The website has tons more info, I’d take time to read it all.

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  • ashley jensen - I had no idea this was in OKC! I am so glad you have been sharing your Oklahoma travels. Even after growing up in BA I still haven’t experienced a lot of activities OK has to offer, only a small few. I definitely have a list going since you have been sharing over the past couple years! Thank you!

  • Debbie C - This looks awesome! The feeling, for you and him, of him taking that long-awaited zip line must’ve been amazing. My eyes got a little wet reading about that favorite parenting moment!

  • Jamie - I seriously LOVE all of your travel posts. Like, I think they may have become my favorite kind of all. Your beautiful photography of these places coupled with learning about all of these new places, is just exciting to me! We are on the verge of being able to do more activities as a family now that the kids are getting bigger and it’s been cool learning about these things both near and far. So thank you!

  • Carrie Campbell - Looks like fun! I like that you take advantage of what your state has to offer. And that you share it with others so they can go too. :)

  • Debi - This is so cool! We would have to travel from Colorado to do this, but my kiddos would love it! Any tips on where to stay if we were to come to do this?

  • Marsha - What a wonderful post, Ashley. I’m so thankful for parents like you and Chris who enrich the lives of your children, even when it’s sometimes hard. It’s kind of how we were in our homeschooling days. My memories of that day are more vivid than the photos my husband took the day, or two, before they imploded the rest of the building. He wanted to detour on our way home from our son’s 5th grade graduation near Enid. The images on TV were hard enough for me. I didn’t want actually seeing it burned into my mind, yet it was historic. I begrudgingly agreed. I focused on holding our toddler and six month old close and looked at everything but the building as best I could. Thankfully, my memories of the building itself are mostly from the photos. I do remember the fences completely covered with trinkets, letters and notes (many scrawled on napkins and torn bits of paper), and more from people who came from all over the world, the makeshift memorial next to the YMCA, and the people all around. We’ve been to the outdoor memorial many times, but we’ve never timed it right to tour the museum. Honestly, I have mixed emotions, at best, of touring it. I saw enough on our television, in being there that one day, and in knowing a church friend who was part of the rescue and changed by it. We later lived in the town where the perpetrator was jailed and got to know the officer who apprehended him and the community who didn’t want to be in the spotlight for this tragedy. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to visit the museum and put into another perspective all that happened. Until then, I always seem to wander up to the church with the statue of Jesus crying, and cry myself.

  • Laura Piersall - This is awesome! I’ve seen this River Sports stuff being built over the last few years, but I’ve never stopped to explore. Thanks for showing me what’s in my own city! Haha.

  • AshleyAnn - Marsha – Thank you for sharing your experience with us. My hope is when others read the post on the Oklahoma City National Memorial that they will also read the comments and the experiences of others. I appreciate you taking the time to leave your story. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to visit the site and the museum after such a personal experience. Many tears shed here too.

We’ve been spending the last few days in Oklahoma City as a family. Chris travels to OKC weekly for work, but we never tag along. This time around we’ve make the short drive as a family as I worked with Adventure Road to highlight a few great Oklahoma destinations.

If you are born and raised in Oklahoma, you know there is a healthy argument over which is better – Tulsa or OKC. I’m going to stay away from that debate πŸ˜‰

One of the first places I wanted to take the kids was Myriad Botanical Gardens. Chris and I visited the outside area often while we were in college. As we began the tour inside the Crystal Bridge, I asked Chris if he remembered the last time we were on that bridge together. He didn’t. Boys.

I remember. We were attending the wedding reception of two of our friends. A whole group of us from college went together. Chris and I had just broken up – it was not fun to be at a wedding not as his date. Bleh. Two weeks later we got back together and the rest is history. This visit was much better.

MyriadGardens-01MyriadGardens-02We arrived early, but the temperatures were already rising so we started by touring the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory. It is very humid inside, so waiting until later in the day would mean it would be extremely hot. The kids had no idea what to expect. Their reactions to being in “a glass tube” full of tropical plants was priceless.MyriadGardens-03MyriadGardens-04The walkway that runs from end to end up high is my favorite part of the Crystal Bridge. The white, glass, and green make me a bit giddy inside. It is an incredibly beautiful sight.MyriadGardens-05MyriadGardens-06Imagine a wedding reception in here! It was beautiful. It was a December wedding and there were twinkly lights everywhere. Stunning.MyriadGardens-07I like him.MyriadGardens-08MyriadGardens-09The kids thought this view looked like something out of Star Wars.MyriadGardens-11You can tell how huge the Crystal Bridge is in comparison to the people underneath it.MyriadGardens-12The girls participated in a Weekly Walk-up and got to make weather vanes. Each day there is a different activity from 10am-12pm. If you plan a visit, be sure to stop by that area. You can find a schedule of Weekly Walk-ups here.MyriadGardens-13MyriadGardens-15New to Chris and I was the addition of water features. After touring the Crystal Bridge, the kids were hot and ready to cool off in the water. I was a little jealous I wasn’t a kid!MyriadGardens-16MyriadGardens-18MyriadGardens-19

If you are traveling through Oklahoma, this is a great destination for a quick or long stop. As a parent, I recommend it if you are looking for a place for kids to burn a little energy. I would pack or pick up a picnic meal and take advantage of the beautiful location right inside the heart of downtown OKC.

There are also year round activities (movie nights, 5Ks, bike rides. paddle boarding, etc.). You can find details regarding what is offered on the website. My crew hopes to go back for a movie night and a concert on the lawn.

The Botanical Gardens outdoor grounds are free to enter, including the water features and daily activities for kids. The Crystal Bridge has a paid admission.

myriad-gardens-logo-3Outdoor Grounds: 6am-11pm daily

Water features: 10am-8pm daily

Crystal Bridge is open M-Sat: 9am-5pm, Sunday: 11am-5pm.

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  • Susan - Good post! And the shirt Chris is wearing is perfect! That made me smile.

  • anne eicher - I was just looking at your Explore OK posts yesterday! :) We are from Florida and visiting my sister in Oklahoma. We were trying to figure out what to do in OKC… we finally decided on the science museum.

  • AshleyAnn - Anne – I’ll be posting about the Science Museum! We could have stayed ALL day there. All of my kids loved it. You will have such a great time!!

  • Crystal Martinez - Thank you for sharing. I live in OKC, and have yet to take my child to the splash pad area. I’m glad I saw these (directed to this blog via Myriad Gardens FB page) . I’m very excited to make sure I pay a visit asap … Thanks

  • Rikki - Wow, this place looks awesome! I lived near OKC many many years ago, I can’t believe I never knew about this place.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh my goodness – what a very cool place!

  • Kaylan - I love Chris’s shirt! Any chance you have a link to where you got it? My husband needs one! πŸ˜‰