Looking For An Oklahoma Staycation?

Thursday, July 9th 2009, 11:37 pm
By: News On 6

By Scott Thompson, The News On 6

UNDATED -- If you're looking for an Oklahoma staycation, it's time to meet two families who've made the job easy for you. Both have a love of their land that prompted a move into the resort business: two different approaches, two different takes on Sooner hospitality.

Both Tom Warren and Sam Bracken, think their family's spreads are just about the nicest places in Oklahoma.  And both would love to share them with you.

"It's a real unique place in Oklahoma," said Tom Warren. "So we just love Oklahoma and we like showin' other people the ranch and what we do in Oklahoma."

Ten years ago, Tom retired from his Tulsa chiropractic practice and bought land in Sand Springs, intending to build a retirement home. He's still waiting to get around to that. Instead, he built a bed-and-breakfast-dude ranch-hunting-horseback-riding spread he calls Meadowlake Ranch.

"We don't have swimming pools and paddleboats and golf courses and tennis courts, we let 'em swim in the lake so they swim in a spring-fed lake; they jump off a bluff and swim back over to the side and climb up the side of the bluff and do it again," Warren said.

The lake was quarried for the construction of Keystone Dam. Paul McCartney showed up last summer -stayed in a cabin alongside a little pond.  They have a king-sized bed here, corner fireplace, heat and air over on this side, full kitchen, and in here is a two-person whirlpool tub.

Mary Reeves is from suburban Chicago. She went searching on the internet for a dude ranch within an easy drive of home.

"I knew I liked Texas so I figured I'd probably like Oklahoma, too," she said. So she's been enjoying horseback rides that every-so-often offer a glimpse of downtown office towers.

And you don't believe almost you're going to find a beautiful, peaceful, ranch that close to Tulsa.

Mary and Paul McCartney notwithstanding, most of Tom's visitors live a tank-of-gas-or-less away.

"We always tell 'em you can get away without having to go away," Warren said.

At about the same time Tom was formulating his plan for the family place, Sam Bracken was doing the same thing over on the shore of Lake Fort Gibson. Sam's parents were ready to get out of the Tennessee Walking Horse business. Sam and his wife ready to leave the restaurant business in Colorado.

Four million dollars later, the old horse barn is an eco-sustainable resort, with clay walls, solar hot water, geothermal heat and air and no-VOC paint called The Canebrake.

"We do the right thing by the earth and it's been well received," said Sam Bracken.

Executive chef Les Montgomery was allowed to design his own kitchen from the ground-up.

Now he and his staff turn out gourmet dishes using the freshest local and regional ingredients. There's also a growing market for food and an overall experience that somebody's really put some thought into how you're going to feel when you leave this place.

Sam designed The Canebrake to fill what he saw as a gaping hole in the state's hospitality business.

"And I want you to go away thinking that felt really good, and I didn't have to get on a plane or drive 12 hours to Santa Fe or Flagstaff or Tucson or any of those places that have nice eco-spa resort things going on," Bracken said.

Another part of the horse barn is used for yoga classes now. The guest rooms are tucked into the woods.

Sam would like to double the number to 30. And turn the old show arena - now a giant sand volleyball court - into an aquatics center and spa.

And then he'll stop.

He doesn't want the family place's transformation to get out-of-hand. Charm still has its place.

"We hear very often what an effortless vacation it was. It was so nice; we'll be home in an hour; we'll be home in two hours. Thank you so much, we'll be back, we'll send people, and that's what we really wanted to do," he said.