Tucked away in the sleepy town of Lawton, Oklahoma, is a surprisingly impressive and highly interactive museum bursting with exhibits dedicated to the Great Plains of the United States.
My family and I found this showpiece completely by happy accident. While searching for the Comanche National Museum, our GPS told us to drive through an empty parking lot first. It was the parking lot of this museum.
We decided to stop and check it out.
We are so smart!
If you are headed to or through Lawton, Oklahoma…put this museum on your itinerary.
Welcome to the Museum of the Great Plains.
The Museum of the Great Plains officially opened in 1961 and a massive 25,000 square feet of space was added in 1997, including a foyer and gift shop. We were told the main museum was recently renovated when we visited in 2016. The museum was very clean, well organized and one of the most interesting museums my family has ever visited.
The Museum of the Great Plains is a top-notch, hands-on history museum, focusing on the diverse cultures and inhabitants of the Great Plains. It celebrates the enormous area located in the interior of North America between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, spanning the vast land separating Mexico and Canada.
Nods to the past, present and future, with a dash of Oklahoma history fill the immense, educational space. The museum website suggests at least an hour for the self-guided tour, but we were there all day (and could have stayed longer!)
An excellent tornado disaster-themed theater showcases a realistic tornado cellar, simulated storm and video clips from Terrible Tuesday, which was a catastrophic tornado outbreak in 1979 that destroyed Wichita Falls and the Red River Valley.
A large, life-size bison replica allows visitors to remove various organs from the guts and learn the different ways hunters used 100% of the animal. Did you know that 87 non-food uses for buffalo have been documented?
Many interactive exhibits encourage visitors to take a step back in time and experience the Great Plains in practical, every day settings. Several teepee dwellings, canvas shelters and covered wagons are completely accessible to visitors, creating tangible connections to the past.
An authentic mammoth dig site provides tools and an active environment for fossil discovery.
“Exploring the human history of the Great Plains” is the museum’s motto and is best represented by the fantastically realistic general store. Every item found inside could be moved, used, bought and sold during creative and imaginative play. It was historically accurate and surprisingly entertaining.
A captivating leather stamping exhibit teaches visitors how to wet and properly stamp leather disks, which can be taken home as souvenirs. The leather workshop is equipped for live demonstrations, but there was not one scheduled for the day we visited.
An enormous printing press artifact sits in the corner of an interactive newspaper print shop, where visitors are encouraged to choose printing blocks to create a visually pleasing newspaper front page by designing the layout and presentation of information.
My girls enjoyed the simulated calf roping exhibit, where they learned to handle the rope, practiced proper placement of the swinging arm and worked on perfecting the correct time for the release.
Encased in clear display stands, artifacts sprinkle the museum landscape between the multitudes of interactive exhibits. Informational postings explain and describe the objects in simple concepts and details.
The crowning jewel of this unexpectedly remarkable museum is the 1830’s trading post and fort we discovered outside.
Within the knobby log walls of this genuine trading post, we uncovered a fully-stocked supply building with several pioneer history buffs dressed in period clothing, reenacting the day-to-day events of the early 1800’s. The men and women were knowledgeable and passionate and taught my girls to make fire with forged tools. We spent at least 3 hours enjoying the outdoor grounds, reenactors and displays.
The Intermodal Transportation Center can be found outside near the trading post. A large train engine and multiple farm equipment machines are on display near a replica depot. Unfortunately, the center was closed by the time we finished touring the outdoor trading post. However, we were able to walk around and view a few of the items parked outside.
The entire Great Plains Museum provides an educational journey through the history and activities of the people living and working in the Great Plains. Every exhibit is authentic, interactive, educational and hands-on.
My daughters were 10 and 11 at the time of our visit and they greatly enjoyed this museum.
The Museum of the Great Plains is located at 601 NW Ferris Avenue, Lawton, OK, 73507. It is inside Elmer Thomas Park, beside McMahon Auditorium and The Comanche National Museum. Call directly at 580-581-3460 or visit their website at www.discovermgp.org.
Hours of operation:
Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Free: Visitors ages 2 and younger
$8: Visitors ages 3-12
$10: Visitors ages 13+
$9: Visitors with a military ID card
$9: Visitors ages 62+
Free: Museum members
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