We realize we are falling behind on our blog posts…as some of you have reminded us in the past few days. It’s fun to do but surprising how much time it takes to get these things posted. Funny how dependent we’ve become on technology in our daily lives. Getting a blog post out from home would probably take no more than half an hour, start to finish. It’s certainly not like that when you can’t depend on a solid (not to mention secure) wifi connection. Surprising how many places we’ve visited already that have marginal (or no) Internet or cell service. Anyway, enough with the excuses. Time to try to catch up. Here is a start.
Since we spent so much unexpected time in Red Bay, it turned out to be more than three weeks into our adventure by the time we visited Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. This was the first park on the list and we were anxious to check it out. I’m not sure why but I expected the area to be mostly farmland and generally flat. Way off on that call. It turned out to be lush green forests and hilly too.
We drove there after crossing the Mississippi River leaving from Memphis, TN and climbed steadily into the hills of the Ouachita (watchitaw) Mountain range surrounding the city of Hot Springs. Just before the city, we followed signs to the National Park and Gulpha Gorge, the only campground in the entire park that could accept our MH. It was tucked against a river with a steep ledge on the far side, just inside the park entrance. The sites were well-spaced and a few were fairly private. We found an open one with the river running about 50′ behind it and tall thick hedges on one side. Sweet!
After setting up camp, we took a quick run into the city to scope it out. Think Mayberry, with a bit of a gangster twist. You see, this place used to be a hopping attraction. The main drag is cool with lots of history. However, get a block or two off that street and it becomes trivially obvious to the most casual observer that this town has seen its heyday come and go. Gone are the days when throngs of people, rich and not-so-rich, came here to benefit from the hot springs that flow from the western slope of hot springs mountain. The rich and famous of the era would visit. This included people like Mae West, baseball stars Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx and Joe DiMaggio and former President Herbert Hoover as well as gangsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Seagal, and notorious killer Owney Madden who owned The Vapors night club in town.
You might also stop by to visit the Arlington Hotel, a grand old place that is much more ornate when appreciating the interior lobby than when viewing it from outside. And stop in for a drink at the Ohio Club, Arkansas’ oldest bar, that once attracted the likes of Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr and more.
Hundreds of springs bubble up water at an average temperature of 143 degrees. These springs were eventually capped off to capture and control the flow of water into “bath houses” along Bath House Row. Most people, at the time of this town’s heyday, believed these springs provided therapeutic value frequently used to treat rheumatism and other ailments. More recently, of course, science has proven that prior theory false. Many people, however, still come here to explore the area. In fact, the park had more than 1.5 million visitors last year.
A couple of the Bath Houses still operate today and do use some of the 650,000 gallons of water that bubbles up from the hot springs each day. The two most successful of them have morphed into more formal spas.
In addition, one of the old bath houses, the Fordyce Bath House, now serves as the headquarters for the National Park and the rangers provide interesting tours to show what was once used for steam rooms, saunas, whirlpool baths and even some physical therapy. One can also opt for the self-guided tour which we did (quicker, we are fast learners…) and the 10 minute film was informative and worth the time. Some of you were with us in Spain on a VBT bike tour a few years ago. You might remember the bath house we visited one day during that trip. Think of that to get a mental model of what this place is like. This one is just much, much older.
If you should visit the area, be sure to make time to enjoy The Grand Promenade, an enjoyable walk locate just behind the “Bath House Row” on Central Ave. The entrance is just to the left of the Fordyce House (if you are looking at it from Central Ave). This walk will take you up above the town to beautiful vantage points to look down on Central Ave and imagine the bustling Mecca it once was.
Looking for a great hike in the area? Park at Gulpha Gorge, cross the river (or creek, depending on the time of year) and follow one of the many trails to the Observation Tower. (Next post will be about our hike…) Awesome views from the top of the tower, accessible by elevator. In fact, I’m pretty sure you can drive to this tower if you want the view but not the hike.
Lastly, if we were going to stay in town (rather than in Our Way) we would choose the Arlington Hotel.
Now its off to Texas!