Although water is the main attraction, there is so much more at Hot Springs National Park. Mountain hiking trails, gentle walking paths, an observation tower with views of forever, scenic drives, a campground, and a brewery are just a few examples of activities in the park. Stephen and I are here for a weekend visit to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. Knowing we cannot participate in everything the park has to offer, we choose a sampling of activities. First order of business: a traditional bathing experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse. Bathed, buffed, and beautified, we explore Bathhouse Row.
Bathhouse Row is the heart of Hot Springs National Park. Eight bathhouses line the street of downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, each with a unique look and style. Beginning at the south end of Central Avenue, Lamar Bathhouse is the location of the national park gift shop where various spa items such as bath salts, oils, mani/pedi sets, and fluffy towels and robes are sold alongside books, stuffed animals, souvenir magnets, and a plethora of national park knickknacks. We collect our Hot Springs National Park cancellation stamp and purchase a thick white hand towel embroidered with the Hot Springs National Park logo. Next to Lamar is Buckstaff Bathhouse where we received our early morning pampering. Ozark Bathhouse is currently closed, but will reopen as an art museum; a great excuse for us to return. Quapaw is an operating bathhouse offering more modern services such as hot stone treatments and revitalizing body polishes. Another excuse to return to Hot Springs! Next to Quapaw is Fordyce Bathhouse. Fordyce is the national park’s museum. After watching the short film that explains the history of Hot Springs as well as the science of the springs, we follow the self-guided tour route and explore all three floors of the museum passing through both the men’s and women’s bathing areas, the basement where mechanical exhibits demonstrate how the springs are pumped from the mountain into the bathhouses, and ending at the Hubbard tub, a large, elaborate tub once used for specialty treatments such as physical therapy. It is fun to notice that our bathing experience this morning is so similar to the bathing experience of guests fifty years ago. After touring Fordyce, we pass by Maurice and Hale Bathhouses which are both currently closed. Superior Bathhouse is the last bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. Superior is currently operating as a Brewery with a tasting room; and, since it is lunchtime, perfect timing for a break. Stephen and I are not normally beer drinkers; but…since we did wear togas this morning…when in Rome…I order a beer. Well, actually a mead. Stephen orders a root beer that is brewed in-house and we share a hummus plate with pita chips and bread. Sitting at the counter facing the street, we enjoy lunch while watching people stroll up and down Bathhouse Row.
Bathhouse Row is nestled at the base of Hot Springs Mountain where rain falls and pores and cracks in the rock take the rainwater deep into the Earth. As the water goes deeper and deeper, it heats at about 4 degrees Fahrenheit every 300 feet. As this heated water passes rocks below the earth’s surface, it dissolves the minerals from the rocks. Eventually what goes down comes back up. Four thousand years after rain falls from the sky, the water comes back to the surface, hot and full of the minerals it has collected from the rocks. Forty-seven natural hot springs dot the lower west side of Hot Springs Mountain. A network of hiking trails passes by many of these capped and protected springs. Stephen and I drive scenic Hot Springs Mountain Drive to Hot Springs Mountain Tower. For a fee we ride an elevator 216 feet to an observation deck where we admire the views of the Zig Zag Mountains on the eastern edge of the Ouachita Mountains. One level below the observation deck, we explore a small museum explaining the history of Hot Springs, Arkansas including some famous and notorious residents and guests. Apparently, Al Capone was a frequent visitor. And we all know which president hails from Arkansas. (hint: he enjoys hamburgers and jazz, he did not inhale, and he did not have sex with ML).
Before returning to the Arlington Hotel, Stephen and I fill our five-gallon water container, water bottles, and backpack bladders from one of several fountains scattered throughout Hot Springs. The park collects 700,000 gallons of water each day for use in the public drinking fountains and bathhouses. Fortunately, this water is for all to enjoy and is free to everyone. And lots of people take advantage of this wonderful amenity of the park. People gather around the fountains and wait their turn to fill their containers. Milk jugs, orange juice cartons, even peanut butter jars can be used as delicious, cool, natural, mineral-filled spring water receptacles. A refreshing way to recycle!