Ninety miles north of Dallas, just across the Red River bridge, you find yourself in the great state of Oklahoma. With a license plate proclaiming “Explore!” the Sooner State beckons you to do just that.
Close to 60,000 Native Americans living east of the Mississippi were uprooted in the mid 1800s. They were sent on what has become known as the Trail of Tears to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. Discover this significant part of American history in south-central Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Country, which is today filled with culture and natural beauty well worth the road trip from Texas.
Hop Over to Ardmore
Just south of the Arbuckle Mountains and directly off I-35, Ardmore first developed as a bustling railroad town in cotton and oil country. Checking out the downtown area’s historical buildings, you will find a unique one-stop-shop for music and regionally brewed beer.
The Cool Tom Record Store features a generous inventory of vintage LP’s beneath vibrant murals of rock legends. Walk past “Cool Tom” into Black Mesa Taproom II where you can sit back and enjoy your flight of tastings from Black Mesa Brewing Company (Norman, OK). Black Mesa beers run the gamut, including the Cave Dweller Red IPA, newest Sellout IPA with hints of blood orange, and Mountain Boomer Kolsch. Request your favorite tunes at the bar, or catch live performances from local artists on select evenings for an added treat. Friendly dogs (and cats) are welcomed.
One of Ardmore’s favored dining spots (doubling as a live music venue) is Two Frogs Grill where you can load up on generous plates of soul food with Louisiana vibes. Once residents of Cajun Country in Baton Rouge, owners Aubrey and Angelia Harris perfected their favorite recipes for the Two Frogs menu. This nearly 30-year establishment and Ardmore staple has hosted bands such as .38 Special, Peter Frampton and Travis Tritt. Grab a table by the walls of signed guitars; then order up some deep fried seafood, frog legs and baby back ribs. Whether you save room for the colossal Cotton Candy (big enough for your table to share) or simply watch for delivery, this dessert item makes a grand entrance.
Stay and Play in Sulphur
Drive 30 miles from Ardmore to Sulphur to the Artesian Hotel, which encompasses multiple restaurants, boutique shops, a spa and casino. The only Oklahoma spa to be named one of “America’s Top 100 Spas of 2020,” Sole’renity offers relaxing services for all ages. Spa patrons may access the modern style bath-house. And all Artesian guests may enjoy the main indoor-outdoor pool, partly heated for those cooler nights and mornings. The Artesian’s many water features give a nod to the natural springs found in surrounding lands.
For resort dining, try The Springs any time of day for an excellent hearty breakfast, burger for lunch, or a steak dinner with wine. Bedré Cafe is a casual French-style Bistro offering fresh pastries, gourmet coffee drinks, soups, sandwiches, and salads. The Fountain Club (located in the lobby) serves upscale pub fare with beer, wine, and a variety of cocktails, late into the evening.
Dive into Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ
Some of Chickasaw’s finest barbecue can be found at Smokin’ Joe’s Rib Ranch, just down the road in Davis. Situated inside an RV park, family-run Smokin’ Joe’s is not obvious from the main road. Just look for the red umbrellas and cute model pigs out front to confirm your arrival. Come as you are (white shirts discouraged) for tender pork ribs smoked to perfection, tasty pork tenderloin, pork sausage, and brisket, with plenty of sauce on the side.
The unicorn on this menu is the grilled bologna, a big hit for both adults and kids. Pass around family-style sides of fresh fried okra, green apple coleslaw, soulful blackeyed peas, and pickled (eggless) potato salad, chased with bottomless, freshly brewed iced tea. End with Ms. Rosa’s dreamy dessert, Strawberries on a Cloud, and you may just want a little red wagon to haul you back to your vehicle.
Connect with Nature
Directly across from the Artesian sits the Chickasaw Visitor Center, complete with all the maps you will need to hit the nearby trails. Artwork is displayed and sold by members of the Chickasaw Nation. Plan on spending the day at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and Cultural Center (see below). The Recreation Area (with over 30 miles of trails) is ideal to watch local bison and other wildlife in their protected habitats.
Catch the sunrise (or set) around Veterans Lake and Lake of the Arbuckles, look for the natural Buffalo Springs, and take a dip at the foot of the Little Niagara waterfall. Stop by the Travertine Nature Center to learn about the local topography and geology that makes this land so special. Between Sulphur and Ardmore, Turner Falls Park is another favorite landmark where you can take in a waterfall, enjoy a hike, take a swim, set up camp, and even do a little zip lining.
Find Peace in Chickasaw Culture
Inside the Chickasaw National Recreation Area lies the gorgeous grounds and facilities of the Chickasaw Cultural Center. One of the largest tribal centers in our country, this establishment covers 184 acres and offers visitors an immersive experience with an orientation theater, special exhibits, interactive stomp dance, and walk-through village for a taste of life in the earliest days of the Chickasaw Nation. Works of art throughout the campus sit among perfectly manicured gardens and creative water features. Open until 5 pm only Tuesday through Saturday, the museum and grounds require a little trip planning. Be sure to allot two to three hours. Visitors of all ages delight in this educational experience that tells the stories of a unique place and people you won’t soon forget.
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Cover photo courtesy Brian Maass
Brian and Dana Maass are married and live with their dog Chester in Round Rock, Texas. When not working their day jobs, they can be found traveling, writing, capturing scenic photos, exploring the Hill Country, and serving the community. Follow them on Instagram at @Dana_Maass_Adventures and @Brian_Maass_Adventures.