The Lights Were Low, The Music Was Soft And The Air Carried A Faint Floral Fragrance. Was I getting ready for a romantic moment? No, I was stretched out on a heated table getting one of the best massages I’ve had in a long time. And that was just the first part of my deliciously indulgent afternoon.
Sipping chilled cucumber water, I next tried out the dry sauna with its sharp cedar smell. Then I sampled the steam room – but not just any steam room. This one was covered with tiny tiles glistening in the heated fog. Above the mist, the metallic ceiling was pierced with minute holes through which lights twinkled like a starry sky.
I finished by luxuriating in a warm whirlpool tub. I was totally relaxed and could have curled up right there and napped after all that pampering. But I had more things to do and see.
A Vision of the Past – and Future
My afternoon was spent in the Sole’renity Spa in the beautiful new Artesian Hotel in Sulphur, Oklahoma. Spa-ing 21st century-style is well in keeping with the tradition of “taking the waters,” popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
As Oklahoma was opened to settlement, the local mineral and fresh water springs attracted people to the area and the small settlement soon became a resort destination. In 1906 an elegant five-story hotel named the Artesian was built just north of the springs. Complete with a massive marble mosaic-floored lobby, it ushered in an opulence not previously seen in the area. For the next half-dozen decades, it hosted celebrities like John Wayne and Roy Rogers, the hatchet-wielding prohibitionist Carrie Nation and former president William Howard Taft.
A devastating fire destroyed the hotel in 1962. It was replaced by a motel, which was demolished to make way for today’s reincarnation, once more called the Artesian.
Everything Old Is New Again
The exterior of the Artesian closely resembles the historic building with bay windows and metal-topped domes on the corners of the structure. Entrance to the elegant lobby is through a tall rotunda with a custom-made chandelier of hanging, lighted circles. Interior designer Malia Tate with RBA Architects of Oklahoma City translated a traditional Chickasaw hieroglyph – the sun sign – into the unusual fixture. The central lobby is paved with galaxy black granite and porcelain tile, which mimics Spanish crema marfil marble. Pedestals with columns, direct replications of the originals, line the area and lead to the registration desk. On either side, comfortable seating spaces and tables topped with fresh flowers create welcome spots for relaxing or chatting.
Dark woods and multiple varieties of stone are used throughout the facility. Colors range from deep, rich walnut to ecru and eggshell with a blue theme running through the more subdued hues.
In keeping with the town’s bathhouse tradition, a roomy hot pool invites bathers while those looking for more exercise can take advantage of the indoor/outdoor pool. For hard-core fitness folks, yes, there is a well-equipped exercise room.
On the upper floors, velvet curtains signal guest room corridors. The rooms are ultra-comfortable and well appointed. My suite was roomy enough to roller skate in, with windows (and window seats) overlooking the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
The hotel includes a fine dining restaurant, a casual café and the Fountains lounge with live music on the weekends. For gamers, an adjacent casino provides lots of machines plus tables for Three-Card and Texas Hold ’Em poker.
And in Your Spare Time
Ahhh, the spa! For young guests, check out Little Soles for manis, pedis and parties.
Shoppers, too, will be pleased with the hotel shops that offer unusual and high-quality items. Okie Twister is chock full of interesting made-in-Oklahoma merchandise including some tasty treats like jalapeno peanut brittle and AAA Root Beer. Forget tighty whities – get your Thunder undies here. Pinkitzel hits the sweet spot with cupcakes, candy and interesting gifts.
The Woodland Emporium has lots of nature-themed goodies among its inventory, ranging from small decorative pieces to furniture. Luxe is a high-end boutique carrying creations from Michael Kors and Dooney & Burke and the latest in jeans and jewelry.
Across the street from the hotel is the ARTesian Gallery – a combination art gallery and artists’ supply store. Visitors are apt to see noted Chickasaw artists working when they visit.
Just south of the hotel, the Chickasaw Visitor Center also has a gift shop with beautiful Native-made pieces. You’ll also find plenty of information about local attractions and events. Coolest of all is the bike share rack – easy bike rental to enjoy riding through the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
This region falls within the tribal boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation – the entity most responsible for the amazing revitalization of tourism in the area.
For centuries before the arrival of the Chickasaws, other Native Americans had come to the springs, believing they had healing properties. The Chickasaws, too, respected the springs and the beauty of the surrounding land. Wanting to protect this special place from encroachment, they sold a parcel to the United States government. Originally called Sulphur Springs Reservation, the name was changed in 1906 to Platt National Park – the smallest park in the National Park System. In 1976, the park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area and designated Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Through the Artesian, the new visitor center, the Chickasaw Cultural Center, several casinos and its ownership of Bedre Chocolates, the Chickasaw Nation has made tremendous contributions to the economy and the appeal of the area. Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce Bill Lance described the thinking behind the Nation’s investments: “We want to create amenities that benefit our people in different ways … amenities to complement the natural beauty of the area.” The vision is contagious. He says, “What’s really exciting is the investment that local entrepreneurs are making in the community.” And the beauty of it is – everybody benefits.