Here's a whale of a place! Roadside America's site of the week is the Blue Whale, in Catoosa, Oklahoma, right along historic Route 66. Built in 1972, it's eighty feet long, created from pipe and concrete, and quite a charming beast, with a goofy grin, and one eye permanently open and the other closed. It's built at the edge of a pond and has a wide-open mouth that you can walk into, water slides as fins, and a diving platform as a tail. It was built by Hugh Davis and a welder named Harold Thomas, as a gift for Hugh's wife Zelta, who were owners of a now-abandoned amusement park called Nature's Acres, which included an animal attraction ("Animal Reptile Kingdom," AKA A.R.K.) housed in a replica Noah's Ark.
According to Roadside America:
Hugh died in 1990, Zelta in 2001, and the former swimming hole became an overgrown, swampy mess. The Whale's blue skin faded and peeled. But it was not forgotten. By the early 2000s local officials had expressed an interest in preserving the whale, and volunteers who Liz [Huckleby, the current Blue Whale Park director] affectionately called "nerd highway people"—fans of the Mother Road—partnered with the city of Catoosa for property maintenance. "This hardcore group would come out here and spend days repainting and doing clean-up," said Liz. Hugh's solid construction (and Zelta's shotgun) had kept the whale standing long enough to be saved.
Catoosa finally purchased the 14-acre property in 2020, turning it into a city park and hiring Liz. Blue Whale Park now has picnic tables and a gift shop (where visitors can purchase turtle food for the pond's residents), and although swimming is no longer allowed, tourists don't seem to mind. "The whale makes people smile," said Liz. "Even if I come to work in a bad mood it won't last, because everyone who comes here is so happy. They'll say, 'We're seeing Route 66. This was our most important stop.'"
You can still go see the Blue Whale, which is open daily from 8 am to dark, and is located at 2680 N. Hwy 66, Catoosa OK, 74015. Travel OK explains:
Pack a picnic lunch and head to the Blue Whale for a fun-filled day of fishing. This quirky attraction also has seasonal restroom facilities. Explore the different angles of this jovial concrete mammal and you'll find a small ladder leading into a secret compartment in the whale's head. This area has been a family favorite for generations and continues to be a must-see for any traveler on Route 66.
It's definitely on my list now! And if you want to read a great, in-depth article all about the history of the Blue Whale, check out this piece by Melanee Morin in Route Magazine, which provides a deep dive into the lives of Hugh and Zelta Davis, courtesy of an interview with their son Blaine Davis, and excerpts from the writings of Dee Dee Davis, their daughter.