In the heat of the day, like some desert creature retreating out of the glare of the high sun, we had to stop, to refuel, to hydrate, to take a break in the shade after hours of riding and exploring. As we sat outside a small convenience store on highway 58, two young brothers with pale red hair and long features pulled up on their stripped down, home modified Harleys, the most impressive I’d seen all day just for the sake that they were genuine. They were both in t-shirts and jeans, worn concho covered belts and cowboy boots, not the drug store cowboy types, but Okie farm boys. On the back of the shorter boy’s bike rode one of the most beautiful Native American girls I’ve ever seen. She was absolutely striking with deep crow black hair and dark yet creamy skin and those high boned features that should instill a natural haughty air, but were instead muted by her distant sad eyes.
I was knelt down pouring water on my bandana to wrap my head, watching them from my periphery as they carried on with Josh about the bikes as casual as small town conversations inevitably are. I couldn’t help chuckling to myself about the difference between these sweet kids with their home grown mechanical know how and the “bikers” we met a couple of miles back on their shiny new baggers in shiny new leather costumes with all the shiny new attitude and the lack of trueness that tends goes along with all those shiny new things.
As we relaxed in the shade and chatted it occurred to me what this same meeting would have looked like a century ago with the convenience store exchanged for a trading post and bikes swapped for horses and my mind went into a reel of comparing how much stays the same no matter how much changes. Against the nature refuge backdrop and otherwise rural landscape, all only minimally changed as the decades rolled by mostly unnoticed, it is easy to lose track of the current decade and to picture everything as it was. Just as those boys would have looked remarkably the same sans Harleys many decades ago, the scenery is only altered by a few modern houses and conveniences added to shells of buildings unchanged from decades past, and the Wichitas themselves roll into the distance, a protected primal wilderness.
When we left, this train of thought stayed with me as we ventured into Medicine Park to relax out of the afternoon heat before continuing our adventure. And with so much of the town just as it was a hundred years ago, the missing details from Medicine Park’s past are easy to envision.
A beautiful town, it is centered around its waters, with Medicine Creek running directly through town and homes and businesses built up the hillsides on either bank. At its inception, the waterfront was developed into swimming areas, walking trails, bridges, gardens and parks for resting along the water’s edge. According to legend, the waters are healing, thus the land around the area was bought up just at the time of the Oklahoma Territory achieving statehood and built into a health sanitarium for the well to do as was the turn of the century fashion. However, unlike other turn of the century spa towns, Medicine Park features buildings, homes, and other structures built from its unique red granite cobblestones naturally formed in the Wichitas. The tiny globes of rock brick the outside of nearly every original building and most of the structures along the water’s edge, giving the town a very distinct style.
A perfect place to rest and cool down, we wiled away the two hottest hours of the afternoon exploring the water’s edge, slowly riding through town admiring the homes, and taking in the awe inspiring view of Mt. Scott ever looming on the horizon west of town. At the Old Plantation Café, a once restaurant and resort hotel now operated solely as a restaurant, we admired the minimal but beautifully maintained interior while enjoying a cool beverage and a little of their bought air before crossing the main street to the swimming areas. The path along the creek’s edge is ideal for a lazy afternoon stroll and admiring the views, and just up the creek is the Riverside Café whose patio is well shaded and overlooks the creek. Unfortunately with the exception of a hardworking and friendly young lady named Amber, their staff left many patrons complaining about rudeness, but their comfortable patio is a fantastic place to sit with friends and watch the light creek traffic go by and bikes crossing the antiquated bridge into town.
As we took in the scenery of Medicine Park, I wondered at what lies ahead for the small town. Dubbed the “Jewel of the Southwest” in the thirties, the area flourished until later decades when it fell into decline. In recent years however the area is in a state of steady regrowth, and with its unique charm and proximity to the Wichitas, it stands poised to be the jewel it once was again. The smattering of abandoned cobblestone structures in disrepair was unfortunate, but with so many thriving small businesses and so much of its history preserved, Medicine Park is no less charming in spite of the slightest blight. With the many festivals held there annually and through the efforts of the locals, expect to see great things from this little jewel in the coming decades, and in the meantime be sure to stop for an afternoon and support their efforts.
Read more about Medicine Park here.