After primitive camping for three nights during a four-day paddling trip down the Buffalo National River, it’s time to take a bath. Of eight bathhouses on historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park, two are active bathhouses: Quapaw and Buckstaff. Quapaw offers modern spa treatments such as hot stone, facials, Swedish and Deep Tissue massages, as well as the traditional mineral bath. Buckstaff has been in continuous operation since 1912 and still offers a bathing experience in the historical therapeutic style. Stephen and I choose the traditional bathing package at the Buckstaff.
The Buckstaff does not accept reservations so Stephen and I get up early and arrive when the bathhouse opens at 8 am. We are separated and Stephen is taken to the men’s section and I am whisked up an antique elevator to the women’s area on the second floor. I am escorted to a dressing (undressing?) room and told to strip to bucknackedness and place my clothes in a private locker. My personal attendant, Carolyn, who has been a bathing attendant for 37 years, wraps me toga-style in a large sheet and we go to a small room with a large bathtub. Carolyn helps me into the tub and gives me a cup of mineral water to drink during a private, twenty-minute soak in a warm (100 degrees), whirlpool bath of natural mineral water pumped from the hot springs in the mountain behind Bathhouse Row. I lie back on a padded incline and try not to fall asleep and drown as the tub really is quite large. Carolyn returns and scrubs my arms, legs, back, and feet (tickles!) with a loofa mitt that I get to take home as a souvenir. I step out of the tub and she again wraps me in the sheet. From the tub bath I go to a vapor cabinet, a metal box of steam. Carolyn closes the top and I feel like Lucille Ball in an I Love Lucy episode as I sit with only my head exposed, steam rising around my ears, watching women of various ages and sizes, dressed in togas, coming and going. From the vapor cabinet, I am escorted to the hot pack table. I lie on my back, with my head on a pillow, covered with a sheet. My legs and feet are wrapped in very hot towels and a hot towel is placed over my eyes. I lay here for quite a while, listening to the sounds of the activities of the bathhouse. Eventually, Carolyn removes the hot towels that have become cool towels and takes me to a room with a circular metal contraption, the needle shower. I am apprehensive as she unwraps my toga and instructs me to stand in the middle of the upright tube-like structure. Carolyn leaves me and very warm water suddenly shoots from all directions. This is actually quite wonderful and I twist and turn, making sure every inch of me receives the benefit of the therapeutic, healing water. The spray stops, Carolyn returns, and I am once again wrapped in a toga. From the needle shower, I go to a resting room where I say goodbye to Carolyn and wait peacefully and patiently for the last step: a 20-minute full body massage. After a short wait, I am escorted to a private massage room where my already relaxed muscles are blissfully kneaded into a limp, loose, and lifeless state.
Feeling like a rag doll, I manage to retrieve my clothes, get dressed, and find Stephen resting on the veranda enjoying an ice tea. I join him and we contemplate going back to the hotel for a nap. Although our bodies are relaxed and our muscles are saying, “nap! nap!”; our brains know it is only 10:30 in the morning and are saying, “explore! explore!”. The brains win (they are always so smart!) and we slowly walk away from the Buckstaff Bathhouse to explore Hot Springs National Park and the rest of Bathhouse Row.