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Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma

Western prairie meets eastern forest in the land of healing waters.

Little-Known Fact: Did you know springs are formed when water is forced through underground rock formations? Such springs are the focal point in Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

I sit under an umbrella of green and let the strong smell of sulphur penetrate my senses. As I meditate beside the healing waters of Buffalo Springs pool in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area (NRA), I remember that I’m not the first to discover the magic of this place.

As long ago as 7,000 years, ancient people came to the “peaceful valley of rippling waters.” The mineral springs distinguished it as a place of strong medicine for tribes like the Comanche and Caddo.

The Chickasaw also revered the area as holy. As word of the healing powers of the bromide and sulphur springs spread, it wasn’t long before the town of Sulphur Springs sprouted next to the springs. The Chickasaw were so aghast at the destruction to their holy place that they ceded the land to the United States for use as a national park. In 1976, Congress combined the national park with the surrounding lakes and prairie to create Chickasaw NRA.

Bromide Spring has since dried up, but Pavilion and Black Sulphur springs are still flowing strong near the park’s entrance at Vendome Well, a spot that makes me understand why another name for this area was “land of the smelly waters.” From Chickasaw’s entrance you can hike along the 16 miles of interlocking trail in the 10,000-acre recreation area. I chose the short hike along crystal-clear Travertine Creek to get to my meditative sanctuary near Buffalo Springs.

This Oklahoma park boasts more diversions than just sulphurous springs, however. Summer brings people wanting to cool off in the Lake of the Arbuckles or Travertine Creek. Canoeing and boating are allowed in both Veterans Lake and Lake of the Arbuckles but Veterans provides no-wake solitude for paddlers. Swimming is allowed in all the creeks, but not in the springs themselves, which are protected by limestone walls.

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