It didn't matter that it was still only July 3 when the Cherokee Nation hosted its annual holiday fireworks display for the Fourth of July, as guests flocked to the Cherokee County Fairgrounds in throngs.
U.S. Highway 62 was lined with vehicles, as was the Sequoyah High School parking lot, Sequoyah Softball Fields, the old Cherokee Nation Casino, New Life Worship Center, and anywhere other space into which revelers could squeeze their cars or trucks. It was a day for celebrating the U.S.' declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.
For some folks, it was a chance to watch a light show that can only be seen once a year; for others, it was an opportunity to impart history lessons to youth.
As guests waited for the sky to turn dark, they stretched out in their lawn chairs, perched on top of their vehicles, sprawled out on blankets, and swung their feet while sitting on tailgates. It was a tradition for many of spectators like Jay Taylor. wjp said he and his family try to attend the fireworks show every year.
"We usually never miss this. It's kind of become a family tradition. I enjoy it, because it's cheap," said Taylor, laughing. "No, but I actually enjoy watching the fireworks, too. I always have since I was a kid."
The show attracted people from all over, as the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller bring in thousands of tourists around the Fourth of July.
Anne Wilson and her family drove into Tahlequah on Wednesday to set up a campsite on the river, and they brought their 6-month-old son to see the bright lights for his first time.
"It's kind of funny how he watched them so intensely," said Wilson. "I wasn't sure if he would pay any attention or stay awake in time, but he stayed up and watched with us. He probably has no idea what's going on, but we had a fun time."
Wilson said the first time their 3-year-old daughter attended the fireworks display, she didn't actually watch them at all, but slept throughout the whole show. Because her children are still young, Wilson said she's got time to come up with a "history lesson" about the Fourth of July.
"Once they get older, we'll probably try to make the holiday more meaningful to them with some lessons about the day and all of that," said Wilson. "We try to pass some messages along to our 3-year-old, like how we're Americans and how she's an American."
While many of the people who watched the show tried to pack up and leave immediately to avoid traffic, some stayed behind and waited for the congestion to clear.
Pat Rivers sat with his two boys and watched the smoke fade into the sky. He said he wanted to teach them there is nothing wrong with supporting and celebrating one's country.
"You know, I tried to tell them that although this is a crazy world and not everything in our country is perfect, we're all Americans, and that's something they can be proud of," said Rivers. "We have way more privileges and opportunities than most people, and it's because we live here. So I wanted them to know that we wouldn't have all things we do have if it weren't for this country."