The Chickasaw National Recreation Area is a piece of American art just waiting to be explored. With cool, green spring-fed creeks, an abundance of boulders and miles of shady trails everyone can find a place that speaks to them.
My place was the little bridge on the trail to Antelope Springs. Walking along the trail, you first see the waterfall dropping over some rocks. It’s not a big waterfall at all, maybe only 4 feet high, but to me, it’s beautiful. I have a pretty healthy fascination with water flowing over rocks so the entire park was heaven for me. But this little spot had a place to sit and enjoy the scene which made it just that much better.
Robert was busy taking photos so I rounded the bend to get to the little bridge spanning the creek. The bridge was only wooden planks, no railing, no sides, so it was perfect for sitting and trailing my feet in the creek. The water was cool and refreshing. It was a little chilly but not cold enough to take your breath away. After hiking for awhile it was bliss for my feet.
Feet dangling over the bridge with Travertine Creek sliding over them, I could close my eyes and listen to the rush and tumble of the water over the rocks. The birds were singing, a few insects buzzed nearby and no other people were around for a few minutes. I could feel the water cooling not only my feet, but all of me as I sat there. Robert was snapping away on the camera, capturing butterflies and bright teal dragonflies but I was focused on the water.
All over the park there are little vignettes of water bubbling over rocks, small waterfalls and idyllic bends in the creeks. Some of the spots have been there for thousands of years while others, though natural looking, were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Chickasaw NRA has a lot of history – very interesting history.
The area of the park was originally called Sulphur Springs Reservation and in 1902 the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes sold the land to the federal government in order to keep the local fresh and mineral springs protected. The area was then named Platt National Park.
In the earliest years people came to collect water from the mineral springs, which were thought to have healing properties. Today you can still buy little ceramic jugs in the gift shop that are reminiscent of those used in the early 1900s. Swimming was popular then as it is now, though early visitors were there for the supposed health benefits of the spring water.
In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a camp in Sulphur and worked extensively in the park. They built picnic shelters and restrooms and bridges and they planted 800,000 plants. They also built up small dams in the streams to create natural swimming holes. CCC workers were schooled in the art of natural building. A history of the CCC’s involvement in the park on the park web page quotes CCC worker Truman Cobb, “ (we) took care of those slopes. They put us to doin’ somethin’ that would last, and make something beautiful. You go today, where they’re building highways and it’s just an old barren cut there and nothin’ pretty about it. But we sloped those things, leaving the boulders, leaving the outcroppings that would be picturesque…. We might work half a day around one boulder… kinda like an artist.”
There is nothing “kinda” about it – the CCC workers were artists and the majority of the small dams or picturesque stepping stones across creeks look absolutely natural. Even the stone pool that encloses and directs Buffalo Springs fits beautifully into the surroundings. Things were thoughtfully built and artistically placed throughout the park.
Chickasaw NRA is a superb place for swimming and hiking but make sure you take some time to meander and notice the little details that transform the park into so much more. Sit on a bridge or a boulder and let the creek cool your tired feet. While you close your eyes and enjoy it remember the work and effort that was taken to make everything just so in this piece of great American art.
Posted by: Chris