The American roadside is filled with attractions that were built in the name of love. For instance, there’s Coral Castle in Miami-Dade County, FL, built on the energy of unrequited love by the Latvian-American lothario Edward Leedskalnin; his 16-year-old fiancée apparently refused to marry him only one day before he was to leave for America. He worked out his angst by building the attraction. Then there’s John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer whose love of beer (and apparent fear of throwing anything away) led him to build the Beer Can House in Houston, TX. It’s completely covered in beer-can siding and other decorations from discarded oat soda cans that John had saved for nearly 20 years. And then there is Leonard Knight, who created Salvation Mountain in the California Desert, a stop dedicated to “God’s love.” All of these stops are grand acts of love, indeed, but they pale in comparison to the whale of a tale from the middle of the country …

A Real Big Fish Story

If it’s one thing that Hugh Davis knew about his wife, Zelta, it’s that she loved whales and had a nice collection of whale figurines. With this in mind, Hugh knew exactly what to give his wife as a surprise anniversary gift in 1971. And so it was that Hugh, a retired zookeeper at the nearby Tulsa zoo, went down to the little spring-fed swimming hole located on his property and built Zelta a big, blue, 80-foot-long concrete whale to show how much he adored her.

Hugh and Zelta Davis  
(Used with permission of Oklahoma Route 66 Association)

However, though it was originally built only for the Davises and their friends to use, both locals and folks just passing by on Route 66 were soon stopping at the Blue Whale for a picture. After seeing how popular the place was becoming, the Davises decided to open it to the public.

Naming it Nature’s Acres, along with the Fun and Swim Blue Whale, the family added the Animal Reptile Kingdom (the A.R.K.), a pee-wee sized version of Noah’s famous ship complete with cut-out animals which quickly became a popular choice for children’s parties.

Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Indian Chief Wolf Robe Hunt, who happened to be a full-blooded Acoma Indian (not to mention Hugh’s brother-in-law), opened up the Arrowood Trading Post directly across the highway from the blue whale. Later, Zelta decided she wanted alligators at Nature’s Acres, too, and though Hugh was hesitant at first, he eventually gave in and built Alligator Kingdom near the A.R.K.  (and far enough away from the Blue Whale so the swimmers wouldn’t end up as the alligators’ lunch, of course).

Image: Stuckey’s Corp / Stephanie Stuckey

So, with a big blue whale, a natural swimming hole, an Indian trading post, and alligators, Nature’s Acres had everything that the whole family was looking for in a roadside attraction along Route 66. 

Save the Whale

Nature’s Acres remained a successful roadside stop along the Mother Road until 1988. With Hugh starting to suffer from health problems, the Davises decided it was time to close their park. Hugh would die two years later, in 1990. Zelta would follow her husband in 2001, and the place began to fall into disrepair afterwards.   

Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Nevertheless, a decade after Zelta’s passing, the good folks of Catoosa got together with the good folks at Hampton Inn and launched a fundraising campaign to “save the whale.” They made enough to restore it and return it back to its original bright blue.

Today, the Blue Whale of Catoosa is open to the public once again and remains a must-see roadside attraction. Although you can’t go swimming there anymore, you can still play the part of a modern-day Jonah (or Pinocchio) and take a walk deep inside of the Blue Whale’s mouth. Here, you’ll see the slides that used to whisk swimmers out of the whale’s sides into the pond below. Climb the steel ladders inside that lead to a second floor, and peer out of the many portholes at the top of the whale’s head. Next, go all the way back to the whale’s tail and climb up another ladder to what used to be a large diving platform for a spectacular view of the surroundings.

Image courtesy Linda Hobbs, Manager, Blue Whale Gift Shop

Along with the Arrowood Trading Post that still sits across Route 66, there are remnants of the old A.R.K. on the grounds, as well. Though both have been abandoned for nearly 33 years, they’re still a reminder of a simpler time of summer road trips along the old Mother Road.

Hall of Fame

Not only has the Blue Whale become an iconic must-see for anyone taking a Route 66 road trip, but in 2018, the Davises were posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Route 66 Hall of Fame at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton. The Hall of Fame honors those that “have made outstanding contributions to the promotion, preservation, education, or business along the Mother Road.” The Davis’s son, Blaine, was also inducted that year for taking care of the property since it was reopened to the public in 2003. 

Image courtesy of Visit Claremore

Today, the Blue Whale and its surrounding property are owned by the City of Catoosa.  You can visit the attraction every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

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The next time you find yourself driving through the Sooner State in search of some really big fish, don’t let hunger “whale” on you. Be sure to make a stop at a Stuckey’s location. From classic candies like Stuckey’s Pecan Divinity to our world-famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll, Stuckey’s has all of the road trip treats you’ll need.

And don’t forget, if you’re looking for the perfect souvenirs for the folks back home, Stuckey’s still carries all of the kitschy souvenirs and Stuckey’s-branded merchandise you remember — like our popular, “Eat Here and Get Gas” tee and classic rubber alligators. Visit stuckeys.com.

Image: Stuckey’s Corp/ Stephanie Stuckey

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