[title subtitle=”words: Marla Cantrell
Images: courtesy Adventure Road and Marla Cantrell”][/title]
The morning my friend, Elaine, and I left Fort Smith, Arkansas, for a three-day trip to Sulphur, Oklahoma, the sun was golden, casting light across the newly mown lawns in the city. We drove for nearly three-and-a-half hours, stopping only for lunch at the Golden Pony Casino in Clearview, Oklahoma, where, inside at the diner, three tacos and a drink cost only three dollars. Back on the road, we marveled at this land of wide open spaces. Up ahead, windmills, as tall as giants, spun on the horizon.
Not far from I-35, at the intersection of U.S. 177 and State Highway 7, was the town of Sulphur, population just barely exceeding 5,000. We were approximately midway between Oklahoma City and Dallas, in the Arbuckle Mountains.
This town is called the “City of Springs,” because of its many mineral and freshwater springs. In the late 1800s, stories about the springs’ healing power brought crowds of white settlers to this part of the Chickasaw Nation. Not long after, the first general store and a post office opened. Today it is an eclectic town, with garden shops, antiques, mom and pop eateries, and even a winery. But the crowning glory is the four-story Artesian Hotel, with its domed towers and arched windows.
Most of the destinations we visited were a part of Adventure Road, a tourism campaign much like Route 66 but along I-35. With so many destinations on Adventure Road, it was hard to pick so few to visit, but what we see and did during our short trip was fantastic!
Here’s a peek inside how we spent our three days. To plan your next getaway, visit adventureroad.com.
The Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa
1001 West First Street
The Artesian Hotel, owned by the Chickasaw Nation, was designed to resemble the original Artesian that was built in 1906, and burned to the ground in January 1962. It has Old World charm and up-to-the-minute luxury. There are eighty-one suites, a massive hot tub with its own fountain, an indoor-outdoor pool, an award-winning full-service spa, boutique shops, a fitness center, fine and casual dining, a bar, a ballroom, and a casino with a separate entrance, so that none of the smoke or noise enters the hotel.
In the hotel’s lobby, fresh flowers seemed to be everywhere: at the check-in counters, and on a table holding fruit-infused water and a coffee bar, atop a polished piano. And our rooms were gorgeous, with natural stone showers, deep soaking tubs, plush beds with crisp white linens, and window seats where you could lounge while keeping an eye on the town below. Each day, the cleaning staff left two bottles of the hotel’s signature water and two pieces of Bedré mint chocolate. (More on Bedré a bit later.)
It is easy to imagine the original Artesian, which got its name when the builders struck a large well during construction. When it was first built, it was dubbed “The Citadel of Frontier Gentility,” and drew guests like Carrie Nation, President William Howard Taft, and later, John Wayne, who could, at times, be found dancing in the ballroom.
This new version tips its hat to the Artesian of years gone by, making sure its long history and grand reputation are preserved. The service is impeccable, the staff friendly and accommodating, and the atmosphere elegant but not fussy.
Sole’renity Spa at the Artesian Hotel
Hours: 10am-7pm, Closed Tuesdays
We arrived at Sole’renity shortly after we’d settled in our rooms. As soon as we stepped off the elevator, we started to relax. It is a beautiful space, with soft lighting and even softer music. For one hour, in separate rooms, we each had a massage. Our therapists addressed any issues we were having. Apparently, writing for a living isn’t great for your neck, and mine was particularly tight. But for the rest of the evening, and for the following couple of weeks, I felt new again.
There’s also a unisex whirlpool, dry sauna, and eucalyptus steam sauna, facials, manicures and pedicures, and several massages to choose from, including couples and pre-natal. If I could do it over, I’d stay a bit longer and take advantage of the sauna and whirlpool.
Springs at the Artesian
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 7am-10pm.
Friday & Saturday, 7am-11pm.
Breakfast served daily from 7-10:30am.
Springs at the Artesian is a beautiful restaurant with lots of dark wood and shimmering lights. The food was delicious. We had Shrimp and Asparagus Capellini, and Chicken Fried Chicken. Each entree was $15, and the portions were large. Since we were on a girls’ trip, we splurged and got the Turtle Cheesecake. The food was so good we booked a reservation for the next night.
And yes, after dinner we checked out the casino. One of us won, and one of us didn’t, (OK, I didn’t) but we both had a great time.
Poor Girls Café
905 West Broadway, Sulphur
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 5am-9pm. Sunday, 5am-8pm.
A short drive from the Artesian is Poor Girls Café. The food here is big: pancakes that cover a dinner plate, biscuits and gravy, and their popular Loaded Biscuits with bacon, cheese, hash browns, eggs and gravy. At lunch, their Chicken Fries are popular, as are their burgers.
Chickasaw Visitor Center/Chickasaw National Recreation Area
901 West First Street, Sulphur
The Chickasaw Visitor Center is on the south side of the Artesian Hotel. There are bikes for rent, and the center also houses the National Park Service. We asked about the mineral spring water that’s abundant in this town, and while there’s no official word on its health benefits, we were told that locals love it. One woman who is nearly a century old drinks it every day. If you don’t like the sulfur smell, let it sit for a day and the odor disappears.
Just across the street is the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, with many easy walking trails that lead to rushing water and gentle streams. Those who come to swim head for Little Niagara and Rock Creek. Anglers head for Veterans Lake while skiers and boaters gather at Lake of the Arbuckles. Five million gallons of fresh-water flow daily from Antelope Springs and Buffalo Springs. Also, there are three mineral springs: Black Sulphur, Hillside, and Pavilion.
Be sure to stop at the Travertine Nature Center, where you can sign up for nature walks, history talks, and see animals native to this area. If you decide you need more time here, bring a picnic, or plan to camp. There’s even an enclosed preserve where buffalo roam.
Chickasaw Cultural Center
867 Cooper Memorial Drive, Sulphur
See website for hours and pricing
We were greeted at the award-winning Chickasaw Cultural Center by Candice Blevins, who’s the special events manager. Flowers were blooming, fountains flowed, and the buildings, made of native wood and stone and copper, shown in the noonday sun.
We walked to the historically accurate replica of a Chickasaw village where re-enactors demonstrate what life was like then. “They’d build their village at a spot where the hills rolled a certain way, and they’d clear the trees around them so they could see forever,” Candice said. In that way, they were able to see enemies from miles away. (Be sure to visit the Sky Pavilion for a bird’s-eye view of the village.)
Not far away in the amphitheater, the stomp dance began. Four men and four women held hands and danced, moving in a circle. The song was sung by the men only, and the leader set the rhythm using a turtle-shell rattle. The women wore shakers, made from box-turtle shells. The dance has roots in the Green Corn Ceremony that celebrates harvest, redemption and forgiveness.
There is an art gallery on the campus, the hall of fame honor garden, a theatre, a genealogical research library, and the Aaimpa’ Café, where we had a buffalo burger, and Indian tacos with pishofa, a traditional Chickasaw corn soup, and grape dumplings, a classic dessert. The food was delicious!
Rusty Nail Winery
218 West Muskogee Avenue, Sulphur
Hours: Closed Sunday and Monday.
Tuesday through Saturday, Noon to 8pm.
The Rusty Nail Winery, Bistro and Gift Shop is within walking distance of the Artesian Hotel, and is owned by Debra Alexander and her daughters Leah and Melissa. They make their wines on site, and offer wine tastings. Owner Debra, a registered nurse, said she first started making wine at home and loved the process. When she found this downtown building, which was a hardware store when it opened in 1906, she knew it was perfect. Her favorite wine is Dorothy’s Ruby Red Chianti (cranberry). We liked it as well, but we were over the moon for the Southern Belle Sangria and the Peep Toe Chardonnay (peach).
Arbuckle Mountain Original Fried Pies
Just off I-35 at Exit 51, Davis
Hours: Every day from 7am-8pm
Arbuckle Mountain Original Fried Pies, just a short drive from Sulphur, was hard to miss. When we arrived, cars were lining up to find a parking space around the green-roofed building where the pies are made. Once inside, we waited in line, with some customers ordering by the dozens. We couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about. And then we tried them. Oh, my word! Delicious! And one pie could easily serve two people. The crust was flaky, tender, and still warm. We had the coconut cream and the pecan and took home an apricot, and a cherry pie. There are also sugar-free options.
Turner Falls Park
1-35 and Highway 77, Davis
Call for pricing
Not far from Arbuckle Original Fried Pies is Turner Falls Park, home of the state’s largest waterfall, at seventy-seven feet. It was magnificent to see and has been drawing visitors since 1868. At the base of the falls is a natural swimming pool. There are five caves, miles of hiking trails, camping, picnic areas, cabins, bath houses, an RV area, and a trading post where you can buy souvenirs or supplies. The 1,500-acre area around the falls has been compared to the Grand Canyon and the Black Hills because it offers a geological look at the past. In the summer, try to plan your trip mid-week to avoid crowds. Kids twelve and under must wear flotation devices, and no pets are allowed. Call ahead, since the park sometimes closes due to weather.
Bedré Fine Chocolate
37 North Colbert Road, Davis
Hours: Every day, 9am-6pm
You’ll want Bedré Fine Chocolate to be your final stop on your adventure so that you can take your treats home in your air-conditioned car. Glenda, who loves working at the gourmet chocolate shop and factory owned by the Chickasaw Nation, showed us around. You can watch while the chocolate is made—there is floor to ceiling glass dividing you and the production—and you’ll be offered samples. Bedré sells their products locally and at Neiman Marcus. Hard Rock Hotel puts Bedré’s chocolate guitars on each guest’s pillow. Glenda’s favorite treat is White Pecan Bark. We tried White Fudge Twists and Dark Chocolate Crisps, which tasted like Pringles covered in chocolate. They were glorious! They also sell chocolate soda, and Bedré milk and dark chocolate coffee. We left with several Meltaways (think truffles) in mint and raspberry, chocolate bars with caramel, and pecan clusters. If you can’t make it to Bedré, order online.