February 10, 2015

It's All About the Water

Chickasaw National Recreation Area was one of the parks I wanted to visit during our trip to Oklahoma.  Tim had worked in this park this past summer, and I wanted to see what it was all about.  The drive from Oklahoma City to Chickasaw on December 12 was an easy one, although it turned out to be another gloomy day.

The Cottage Where Tim Lived During His Time
 at Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Water is the primary resource at Chickasaw, just as it is at Hot Springs National Park, which we visited earlier on our two-week adventure.  Although both parks were originally set aside to preserve mineral springs for the enjoyment of all people, the parks are very different.  The signature feature at Hot Springs is the historic Bathhouse Row, which creates an urban spa experience.  At Chickasaw, the water features are scattered about a more natural area.  The springs are also more visible at Chickasaw, even though drought and a low water table have caused many of them to disappear.

Chickasaw has an interesting history.  People have lived here for thousands of years, and the mineral water was always thought to possess healing properties.  The land that is now a part of the park came under the control of the Chickasaw Nation in 1855, after the federal government relocated several Eastern tribes to Oklahoma.  Over the years, the Chickasaw Nation sold or leased part of its land around the springs to private parties, which began to exploit the springs.  Fearing that the springs would be lost forever, the Chickasaws convinced the federal government to purchase the land in 1902 and set aside the mineral springs as a reservation.  The reservation was soon expanded and became Platt National Park in 1906.  Platt was among the first ten national parks established, and one of the smallest.

Each Spring Has a Different Mineral Content

Platt’s heyday came in the 1930s when the National Park Service designed a new, cohesive landscape plan for the park.  The Civilian Conservation Corps implemented the plan and constructed roads, trails and waterfalls throughout the park.  More than 500,000 trees and shrubs were also planted.  I was drawn to the wonderful structures that were constructed by the CCC.  Most of the pavilions that cover the springs, as well as other structures throughout the park, were built of native stone and designed in a rustic style.  It’s still amazing to me how many parks throughout the country owe so much to this amazing program and the young men who did such beautiful work.

Bromide Pavilion

Interesting Elements of the Landscape Plan

Flower Park

On the Way to Vendome Well

Vendome Well

One of my favorite structures, however, was not constructed by the CCC.  The park’s signature landmark, the Lincoln Bridge, was built in 1909 and features a lovely stone arch over Travertine Creek. 

Lincoln Bridge

In 1976, Platt National Park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area to create the new Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  The former Platt National Park is now known as the Platt Historic District.

Our plan was to spend a night or two at one of the park campgrounds.  Most of the campgrounds are located along the Lake of the Arbuckles, which is the main recreational draw of the park, so we headed to the south end of the park and snagged one of the best sites at Buckhorn Campground.  The sites were huge and very well designed, and there was lots of privacy.  We even had a great view of the lake (when it wasn’t fogged in).  Unlike most national park campgrounds, this one had water and electric hookups.  It is without a doubt one of the nicest National Park campgrounds that we’ve stayed in.

Our Campsite Overlooking Lake of the Arbuckles

As you can tell, I really loved the campground.  This campground and the Corps of Engineers campground where we stayed near Fort Smith, Arkansas, again reminded me why my favorite campgrounds are usually the more natural ones, especially ones with a water view.  It would have been heavenly to spend a few days here, but we reluctantly decided to stay for just one night because major thunderstorms were in the forecast.  We saw no need to drive in weather like that if we could avoid it.  That’s the beauty of our type of flexibility.

When we left Chickasaw, we pointed the RV back to Texas.  It was about 500 miles to Buckhorn Lake Resort, where we would be staying for one month, so we knew we wanted to break the drive into two days.  Although we intended to spend just one night on the road, we extended our stay so we wouldn’t have to drive in the rain. 

We took back roads to avoid having to drive I-35, one of our least-favorite interstates.  It was a pleasant drive, but the highlight was our stop in Llano, Texas, for lunch at Cooper’s, one of the top-rated barbecue restaurants in Texas.  And what an experience it was!

Let me tell you how it works at Cooper’s.  First, you stand in line outside (luckily, there was no line when we got there after the lunchtime rush).  Next, you walk by the enormous outdoor grill, examine the different meat offerings and make your selection.  The pit man then slaps the meat on a tray, which you carry inside for weighing.  The price is determined by the pound.  Although assorted sides and deserts are an additional cost, beans and bread are on the table.  Once you seat yourself at one of the many picnic tables, you unwrap your barbecue and dig in.  Cooper’s is known for its big chop, and that’s what Tim selected.  I’ve never seen a pork chop that enormous – 1.71 pounds – or that tender.  The chop was wonderful, as was my brisket, and Cooper’s was a great way to end our two-week adventure.

So Many Choices

Here's Our Selection

Tim's Gigantic Chop

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