From the stately stone edifice of Tucker Tower at Lake Murray State Park in Ardmore to the golden sand dunes at Little Sahara State Park near Waynoka, some of Oklahoma’s most beautiful attractions can be seen with just a few deft moves of a mouse.


“Black Mesa State Park up in the panhandle has a really beautiful 360 virtual tour,” said Keli Clark, programs officer for Oklahoma State Parks. “It gives you a tour of the park itself, it gives you a tour of the area, but the 360 view I like the best is probably the night sky. It shows the millions of stars that you can see when you’re out there at that beautiful park.


“You can see what the park is all about … and it shows you how diverse the landscape in Oklahoma is just by going to all those virtual tours.”


As the coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to stay home and many places to temporarily close, virtual tours can provide an alternative way of exploring some of Oklahoma’s most scenic and sought-after attractions.


Museum exploration


Tapping into 3-D virtual tours allows fans of flight to glide down the hallways of the 99s Museum of Women Pilots and history buffs to zip through the galleries at the Oklahoma History Center.


The Google Cultural Institute since 2015 has offered online showcases of the vast collections of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and Oklahoma City Museum of Art.


At the Henry Overholser Mansion, Lisa Escalon, the mansion’s manager, has been offering guided video looks at various spaces in the Heritage Hills landmark via Facebook Live since the historic house was forced to suspend in-person tours and other activities due to the pandemic.


In Oklahoma City’s Bricktown, the American Banjo Museum launched the “Virtual at Noon” social media series after it temporarily closed due to the outbreak. The daily lunchtime Facebook broadcasts include live-stream concerts, banjo workshops and archival performances, along with live video tours of the museum’s exhibits featuring Executive Director Johnny Baier.


“Our museum is usually self-guided. … but he has so much information and he has so much knowledge about so many things. He will do these live videos and he’s just going into really neat detail and storytelling,” said Lucas Ross, the museum’s community outreach and promotions coordinator. “The tours are live … but the internet’s always up. And everybody is looking for stuff at all different times of day now.”


The online tours occasionally offer a view that people wouldn’t otherwise get, as when Baier gave the social media audience a sneak peek of the upcoming exhibit “Women of the Banjo.”


“That’s something that nobody gets to go see. Even members don’t get to go down to the archives because everything is so protected down there,” Ross said. “But we took a video camera down there and Johnny walked through some of the archives. … And we’re going to be doing more. I’m excited about that part. There’s a lot of neat things on display that the public doesn’t get to see.”


Great outdoors


Despite the coronavirus restrictions, adventurous types can trek from majestic pinewood forests to gushing waterfalls with the 360-degree tours of Oklahoma’s state parks, provided on the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s website TravelOK.com.


“It’s just a really cool visual adventure,” Clark said. “TravelOK.com is a great website to find not just the state parks but all information about attractions and places to go and things to see across Oklahoma — plus you can also found out what’s open and what’s available and what’s closed.”


Oklahoma State Park lodges, nature centers, group camp areas, dining halls and community buildings are closed, and cave tours at Alabaster Caverns have been suspended due to the pandemic.


“The parks are open for day use recreation. You can go hike the trails. … Some of the golf courses are still open. You can go to the picnic areas. It’s mainly just for day use and getting out. The playground equipment has been shut down at all of the parks because we don’t people climbing all over it and spreading their cooties on the equipment,” Clark said. “There is probably going to be a facility open somewhere in the park … but for the most part, they’ve tried to shut down as many public restrooms as they can to prevent spreading the virus.”


She said the state park cabins are open, but visitors have to bring in all their cooking and eating utensils. The cabins may not be available to reserve every day because of the need for extra cleaning and sanitizing.


“There are a lot of people out there right now who want to be outdoors … because I think everybody’s just tired of staying in the house, which I can totally understand. But you also have to be safe,” Clark said.


“This is a great way to explore your parks without actually getting out to the parks. And once you’ve looked at it virtually … then you kind of have a landscape that you can be familiar with when you do actually get out to the parks. I love all of our state parks. They’re all so different. … They’re a great escape, great place to get out to, and I strongly encourage people to get out there. If they don’t feel comfortable doing it now, that’s totally fine. Take your virtual tour … and when this is all past us and we can get out again, just get out and see what Oklahoma State Parks have to offer.”