Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Hot Springs National Park
There are hot springs all over the United States but none will take you back in time the way Hot Springs National Park will. Pulling onto bath house row you will be transported back to the 1920's - when these Arkansas hot springs were believed to cure whatever ailed you. Today, we know that the water isn't magic, but there is still something about this place. Its not uncommon to find people filling up jugs from the public springs - both hot and cold - to bring this water back home. My dad tells me that my great-great grandfather used to frequent the springs, so it was fun to step back in time and imagine Hot Springs as it once was.
Start your visit at the National Park Visitors Center, located in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse. There is a short film on the history of Hot Springs National Park and the prominence of the bathhouse. Then catch the ranger lead tour of the Fordyce Bathhouse, the only fully restored bathhouse in Hot Springs. The tour takes you to see the best rooms in the place - plus you can ask questions about the strange gadgets in every room that were thought to help enhance the healing properties of the water. Most of the stained glass is original and really gives you a flavor for the place. My favorite room was the fully restored gym complete with hanging rings and medicine balls.
If the tour has you wishing you could take a soak two of the bathhouses are open for bathing. Jeff and I stopped next door at the Quapaw Baths for a quick soak. Quapaw has several heated pools and provides you with robes and a chilled spring water to drink while your in the pools. These pools are communal and bathing suits are required. We basically had the place to ourselves when we were there, although it apparently gets crazier in the summer.
Next, take a stroll down bathhouse row and back up the promenade. Interpretive signs have been placed in front of each of the bathhouses while the National Park Service works on restoring a few more of the houses. Several fountains on bathhouse row spew out boiling water - if your visiting on a chilly day steam fills the air. At the end of bath house row stairs lead up the hill behind the houses to the promenade, a brick walking paths used by bathhouse visitors for a bit of fresh air. We found lots of visitors taking a stroll and viewing the bath houses from behind. The promenade also provides views of all the hot springs on the hill. The springs have all been covered to prevent contamination but the steam rises from the green boxes and each springs name is prominently displayed. The promenade dead ends into a park with an open spring running down a hillside and into a fountain. Here you can see the large historic hotels that once housed all the bathhouse visitors.
There are plenty of little places to grab a bite to eat - we didn't really find any that stood out but there were plenty of options even on a Sunday. There are some longer walking paths you can take if time permits, we however had to head back to Fort Worth. You could certainly spend a whole weekend relaxing here, although its probably better suited for a day trip.