Hot Springs was the first National Park in America…. well kind of. The land was set aside by congressional act in 1832 “to be developed for future recreational use.” Five years after the establishment of the National Park Service, Hot Springs became a full fledged national Park in 1921, nearly 100 years after the land was first protected.
A series of bathhouses were developed in that first hundred years as people came to bathe in the hot waters that supposedly had medicinal properties. The water exits the mountain at 143 degrees.
Now how is that possible? Rain falls on Hot Springs Mountain and the surrounding area which is a large recharge zone. It percolates through the limestone to such a depth that the earth’s core heats it. The water flow then hits an ancient fault that directs it back to the surface. It is estimated that the water that is flowing out today fell as rain about 4400 years ago.
By these pools the ranger gave us a talk about everything water. The springs have been capped by metal locked boxes to protect them from contamination as people still bathe in the waters and one company, The Superior Craft Brewery, located in the old Superior Bathhouse, uses the water in their brewing process.
Hot Springs until recently had three unique distinctions. First it is the only National Park to incorporate a section of a town as part of historical Central Avenue is within the park. Second: This makes it undoubtedly the most accessible park in the NPS System. Third: Until 2018 when the Gateway Arch area became a full National Park it was by far the smallest of America’s National Parks at just 5000 acres.
Besides the downtown district the park encompasses several nearby mountains. Although only Hot Springs Mountain contains springs the park also includes West Mountain, North Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain . There are roughly 40 miles of hiking trails throughout the park.
We arrived in Hot Springs late afternoon. We checked into our motel near Lake Hamilton and took a drive through the historical district just to get our bearings for the next day when we will visit. Although the park is open until ten, the visitor center was already closed, and we just completed a long drive to get here, so we decided to wait for the next morning to start our adventure.
Only two of the Bathhouses still offer services the Buckstaff which is the oldest continuously operated in the city. It caters to a more affluent clientele, offering private tub baths and complete spa services. Most visits will cost you $100 or more. The other is the Quapaw Baths. Here are large public bathing pools you can enjoy for $20 although they also have complete spa services if you would like. Because of Covid we decided it not prudent to publicly bathe at this time.
Because I am a dumb twit I don’t have a picture of the Fordyce Bathhouse which is the visitors center; it is also a museum, and, I have pictures from inside. The tour is self-directed and judging by the people we passed, almost all of them, we were going through backwards. we went to the left from the visitor center lobby. It is much more common for folks to go to the right.
Here’s a little travel tip for ya. When you stop at a rest area with facilities to the left or right always go left, it will be much less crowded. Human nature tends to take us naturally to the right in most cases.
Anyway back to Hot Springs, …….we toured the Fordyce Baths where a lot of the original spa and bathing equipment has been preserved. It is amazing what people put themselves through before we knew through modern medicine that the hot water and steam is probably not entirely medicinal.
After touring the Fordyce Baths we went out to “The Promenade.” After your spa treatment many of the practitioners here suggested a walk on the Promenade. Now that we are more medically astute it is believed that most of the improvement in peoples condition probably came from exercise; swimming in the public pools and walking the trails.
Hot Springs reached it’s hey day in the roaring twenties and into the 30’s. Hot Springs became a hangout for the gangsters of the day including Al Capone, Bugsy Seagal and others. It also became the biggest spring training site for Major League Baseball so all the greats of the era took the baths. This probably did help relieve their aches, pains and injuries just as such treatment does in today’s world.
We then hit the historical district on Central Avenue. Here is the Arlington Hotel the largest in Hot Springs.
Pictured above is like the third incarnation of the Arlington as it has burnt down twice. I checked on rooms and it was only $95 a night, not bad to spend a couple days in the lap of luxury.
We went by the Ohio Club…. well…….. because we were both born in Ohio. The Ohio Club was the main hangout for the mobsters who frequented the area.
Other buildings of import are the Medical Arts building which is being remodeled into a hotel or apartments and the U.S. Army and Navy Hospital. All the old buildings are Art Deco.
After wearing out the Historic District we decided to go to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. The Mountain tower is on Hot Springs Mountain and there is a scenic drive to take you there.
We parked here and took a short trail to the Mountain Tower.
The tower rises 183 feet from the summit of Hot Springs Mountain. It was a nice elevator ride to the top. The present tower was built in 1982. Originally there was a wooden tower of 75 feet that was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground. It was replaced by another wooden tower that after 69 years of service was deemed unstable and unsafe. This is also where the main gift shop for the National Park is located. There are 360 degree views from the tower.
We went back to town to see if we could find the house Clinton lived in when they moved to Hot Springs. It is still a privately owned and occupied residence so you can’t really go there. We never exactly located it. But we stumbled on the West Mountain Scenic Drive so let’s do this instead. The West Mountain Scenic drive leads to the West Mountain Overlook.
So that ends this portion of the trip. Tomorrow is a four hour mountain drive to the highest point in Arkansas and Eureka Springs the southern gateway to the Ozarks.