DURANT, Okla. — Cross the Texas border into Oklahoma on U.S. 75, and you’ll immediately see Amish furniture stores and peanut shops where you can score homemade brittle.
Drive another 15 minutes, and you’re in the land of magnolias: Durant, the Magnolia Capital of Oklahoma, so recognized by the state’s legislature in 1999. Driving through town, you’ll see the stately evergreens, which will probably be in full bloom by the time you read this. An entire block of them sit on the Southeastern Oklahoma State University campus. There are even two houses that call themselves Magnolia House, one a private residence and the other the college president’s home.
That’s why Durant is home to the Magnolia Festival of Oklahoma, coming up May 29-June 1. It offers carnival rides, food, music and art booths, but perhaps the biggest event is the 2013 Red River Noodling Shootout, a event that pits the very best noodlers against one another in a noodle-off. Noodling, you probably know, is catching catfish with your bare hands. In Oklahoma, it’s an art form.
What this has to do with magnolias, I’m not sure. But Durant is nothing if not eclectic. In addition to the trees, it is home to the World’s Largest Peanut, a concrete one about 3 feet wide that sits outside City Hall in honor of the area’s peanut-growers. It’s in good proportion to Seguin’s World’s Largest Pecan. (I checked: there is no world’s largest cashew.)
The town is also home to the Three Valley Museum (401 W. Main St.; open only on weekday afternoons), whose exhibits include an 1860 piano that was shipped on the Red River and an exhibit on Durant-based J.C. Potter pork sausage.
The museum also has a good many artifacts from the area’s Choctaw history. Durant is the Choctaw Nation’s headquarters, and the Choctaw Casino Resort on U.S. 75 just west of town is an excellent place to lay your head, and your bets, for the night.
Find out more about the Magnolia Festival, noodling and all, at magnoliafestival.com.