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Where cowboys and Indians shake hands

By Susen Foster

Educators and historians around the globe are familiar with "Indian Territory"--the state of Oklahoma. Geologists and anthropologists worldwide know about the geographic and cultural wonders of the Arbuckle Mountain Range in south central Oklahoma.

Today, the Arbuckle Region is a well-known tourist destination--from historic towns such as Sulphur, Dougherty, and Davis to the natural beauty of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area on Lake of the Arbuckles and Turner Falls, where a mountain-top spring is the "headwater" of a 77-foot waterfall flowing into a playground for thousands of visitors each year.

The Chickasaw Tribe saw this as the perfect place to build their recently opened world-class Chickasaw Cultural Center, destined to bring millions of visitors into the Washita River region where hundreds of streams, lakes and ponds dot the landscape.

Today's journey takes us into new territory--the surreal dream of Tammy and Vic Garrett who, since their first visit to the area 20 years ago, have had a unique vision for an attraction that would bring to life the history and culture of the Arbuckle region.

Exit 51 off Interstate 35 is the turnoff to Turner Falls, Arbuckle Wilderness, Falls Creek, Arbuckle Fried Pies, and the area's newest and most fascinating attraction--The Arbuckle Event Center. Located on Kay Starr Trail just a few miles east of the Interstate, this awe-inspiring dream in the making has already become the "in" place for private and public events.

The setting is a thousand picture-perfect acres of oak covered rolling hills laden with ponds, streams, creeks, and stunning views of the adobe red water of the Washita River. AEC is also neighbors with an exotic animal sanctuary--creating unforgettable moments when visitors are caught off guard by curious, non-native critters large and small.

The Vic and Tammy Garrett family, who originally hail from Texas, first found the Arbuckle/Washita River region about 20 years ago and determined then and there that this country was the setting for their dreams. Their vision continues to be the catalyst for this project. They have put hammer to nail for many months and in the last year already brought events to the site of what is fast becoming a functioning Old Western town; complete with a nine-room hotel, a real cowboy saloon and old-fashioned general store. Real-life store keepers, artisans, boot makers, and barbers may soon fill these store fronts, which will also provide the background for historical re-enactments, live cultural music, Indian Gatherings, live mounted shooting, and much more.

An extraordinary Special Event building, with artful knotty pine walls and western artifacts, doubles in size with its immense patio that overlooks a huge pond, magnificent landscape, the AEC amphitheater and the Washita River. Walls are set in for warmth during the winter months and removed for open-air in the warmer seasons. This country-style Great Room has already been the setting for such events as the Christmas Ball in December and many weddings and private functions.

The entire Arbuckle Event Center is focused on family fun, historical and cultural interactivity, and a facility for vacations, weddings, reunions, and especially gatherings of cowboys and Indians.

Though 2011 will herald in the true Grand Opening, during the summer of 2010 the Garretts provided sneak peaks into AEC's future. "Cowboy Days & Indian Nights" took place on their regularly scheduled annual dates: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends, spawning media attention from OKC to DFW.

Arbuckle Event Center is also an incomparable setting for family reunions, weddings, and concerts. Visit www.arbuckleeventcenter.com or call 580-369-7811 for the latest information. Exit 51 off I-35 north of Honey Creek Pass is the gateway to Arbuckle Country and AEC, the area's latest tourism and historical attraction.

The Arbuckle Mountain Educational Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, was established by this group of entrepreneurs and historians to "make certain that school field trips and assemblies that share the amazing story of the Arbuckles will continue in spite of budget cuts and without undue personal sacrifice by teachers and families of our children."

Editor's note: Susen Foster is the owner of Pecan Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Pauls Valley, Okla. She is the author of numerous travel books. Susen can be reached at www.greatersuccess.com or call 580-622-5408.

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