In southwest Oklahoma, at the base of Mount Scott and a million miles of bright sky, sits a 100-year-old community literally cobbled together, one smoothly polished rock at a time.
Medicine Park began as a resort town built on 900 acres owned by Oklahoma State Senator Elmer Thomas who saw a need for entertainment at the river water’s edge near the Wichita Mountains. It started small and over the years, with its trials and tribulations, Medicine Park has stayed small and remained relevant.
The architecture in Medicine Park is hard to explain. Lots of old cobblestones are visible, in varying degrees of erosion and repair, but the next layer of construction, the third, and however many more, are wood, paint and plaster and steel. No two structures are alike and it makes for fascinating surroundings.
Tons of bright color, lots of homemade signs and friendliness abounds. I would bet money there isn’t a single stretch of straight flat earth anywhere in town. Wear your walking shoes for all the inclines and uneven cobblestone stairs.
While my family walked between the buildings, wondering where to start with our sightseeing, we came across the Old Plantation Restaurant, and because of the outdoor heat, the pull of cool air invited us in to escape the narrow main street, teeming with folks in all states of swim attire, for a few minutes.
I met Denise Meubert, a German transplant who had become an American citizen only one week ago, who, with wide eyes and animated exuberance, told me about the town. She summed up the slate of activities, a veritable menu of fun that Medicine Park offers a family, from swimming or hiking to the local aquarium and the slightly-less local Lake Lawtonka for rental kayaks, long piers perfect for throwing in a fishing line and biking trails in abundance. Plus, Medicine Park offers a nearly constant stream of live music soundtracking outdoor patio seating and incredibly inexpensive tacos and burgers, a favorite for my family.
Bath Lake is the seasonal swimming hole. Day passes are only $2 per person to swim in a lagoon cordoned off by natural rocks and mountain views spanned by manmade bridges. Jumping from the rocks and bringing refreshments into the water are prohibited, but dogs and flotation devices are allowed. Water shoes are recommended as the lake’s bottom is rocky and uneven.
For a break from the pool, grab a snow cone at Santa’s Snack Shop, the snow cone stand and pool toy wonderland at the edge of Bath Lake. It’s open weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, unless the temperature is more than 105. The owner, a gentleman whose bearded face fits his shop moniker beautifully, said even the locals stay inside when the air is that warm. My son recommends the root beer flavored syrup for your cone, by the way. Oh, and drop your Christmas wish list into Santa’s mailbox, located next to the candy cane striped cement stools in the refreshment seating area.
Public restrooms are available in the middle of town, for changing out of wet swim clothes into dry, time-to-do-something-else attire.
Shoppers delight in specialty shops, like Olive Oils and RedNeck Candles, as well as a bakery and ice cream store offering enormous scoops of Blue Bell to enjoy while seated next to a bright, huge animated window of sundancing statues. Plus, a Little Free Library is posted right outside the front door, for anyone caring to grab a novel, hunker into a lawn chair and enjoy the river view. Art figures prominently in Medicine Park, with not only galleries of art and jewelry but also 15 huge bronze animal statues by Robert E. Dean, a local artist whose work dots lawns all over town.
For a cooler environment, take the circuitous outer road to the Medicine Park Aquarium and Natural Sciences Center. It’s a work in progress, still in phase one of completion, currently featuring rows of cool blue tanks holding local fish types as well as exotics we’d never seen before. One enormous tank holds a huge blue catfish that loves to pose for photos. Head outside to Turtle Town, where kids can feed carrots to turtles before setting down the nature trail to see exhibits for reptiles. The aquarium sits on a hill, with great views of Mount Scott and Medicine Park below.
For overnight stays, hotel rooms and bed and breakfast accommodations abound. From traditional cobblestone construction to gorgeous modern facilities, one night or a week, families have their choice of sky views and amenities. For those who can stay a while, a visit to the nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a must. Teeming with stunning views and unique wildlife, a trip to the refuge will satisfy the whole family.
Most prominent of all, though, is the laid-back, friendly spirit of town. Every spot, every store, every house is a unique experience, with a positive feel and welcoming spirit in every doorway.