Okay, readers…I admit…I am a bit behind in the posts. When we said “Happy Thanksgiving” over a week ago, we were in Hot Springs, AR, and I am just now getting to tell you about our time there.

Hot Springs came on our radar while searching for National Parks in our route, since we have barely had opportunity to utilize our “America the Beautiful Annual Pass”.  (Note about that pass – the Annual Pass only makes sense if you will be visiting a National Park many times in a year, but for those of you over 62 who will go to a National Park ever or camp in a National Forest, click on that link and get yourself a Senior Pass – that is an amazing deal! $10 for a lifetime pass, good not only for the entrance fees that ours is for, but also 1/2 price sites at National Forest campgrounds, National Park campgrounds, and even some state campgrounds honor it for discounts). Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, AR is just a short jaunt from the Ouachita National Forest, and we stopped there to enjoy the holiday weekend.

As you can guess by the name, the town is built around natural hot springs. Bath houses were first built around the hot springs about 200 years ago. Rough wooden shacks at first, today Bathhouse Row is lined with grand buildings erected in the mid-20th century. Spa tourism to the springs dwindled throughout the last fifty years or so, and today most of the buildings on “Bathhouse Row” are no longer operated as bathhouses.The buildings are restored and maintained as historical landmarks by the National Park Service. Today’s visitors have two options to bathe in the spring water: Buckstaff Baths offers traditional private baths for 20 minutes (loofa sponge body washing service is extra) and Quapaw Baths & Spa has four common pools ranging from 94-104 degrees in addition to the private bath option. We opted for Quapaw public baths – John didn’t want the time limit, and I was only going to keep him company. [ John here:  The “bath” was really great!  Super relaxing and peaceful.  If you’re ever in the area check it out!  Despite Heidi “…only going to keep him company” I’m pretty sure she is thrilled she went with me and will be a little more excited about it next time. 🙂 ]

Steam rising from a fountain is a surprising sight!

Steam rising from a fountain is a surprising sight!

Quapaw Bathhouse. We can only show you the exterior, as cameras are not allowed in the bathing room.

Quapaw Bathhouse. We can only show you the exterior, as cameras are not allowed in the bathing room.

Several “bottle filling” stations can be found around town, where anyone can fill up on spring water. Most of the filling stations dispense the hot spring water (purportedly carbon dated to be 4000 years old), and a couple dispense cold spring water. At one cold water station, I overheard a man going on and on about how great the water is…his wife is from the Philippines where they only drink bottle water and it’s the best even she has tasted (I don’t find this comparison particularly compelling, given that bottled water is often just filtered tap water); he had plenty of time to extol the virtues of the water as he filled 50 one-gallon jugs.

I am holding a steaming bottle of water fresh from the thermal bottle filling station behind me.

I am holding a steaming bottle of water fresh from the thermal bottle filling station behind me.

John humoring me and drinking hot spring water for the camera.

John humoring me and drinking hot spring water for the camera.

A list of the minerals in the water.

A list of the minerals in the water.

As befits a tourist town, across from Bathhouse Row is a line of small shops. We wandered through a couple after our trip to the baths. In particular, John wanted to visit the Toy Chest. While looking around, the owner came up to us to chat. The man was the archetype of a toy store owner; tall and thin, wearing a bow tie, I could imagine him showing a child how a toy comes to life, like in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. He shared his toy philosophy with us, which is that the best toys don’t “do” anything – they leave the doing to the child’s imagination. We had a lot of fun playing with the wooden train track, figurines and especially the animal puppets. John makes a great puppeteer!

John was impressed enough by the size of this wind chime to insist that we enter the store so he could take a picture; I am only present for scale.

John was impressed enough by the size of this wind chime to insist that we enter the store so he could take a picture; I am only present for scale.

 Hot Springs the town has one additional claim to fame: Bill Clinton grew up there. They are very proud to advertise this fact.

Hot Springs the town has one additional claim to fame: Bill Clinton grew up there. They are very proud to advertise this fact.

Spot our van at Gulpha Gorge Campground! I was surprised at how many neighbors we had for Thanksgiving.

Spot our van at Gulpha Gorge Campground! I was surprised at how many neighbors we had for Thanksgiving.

View from Goat Rock outlook up hill from the campsite.

View from Goat Rock outlook, uphill from the campground.

Ripe persimmons hung from the branches of the tree at the entrance to our campsite. I dreamed of harvesting them so we could eat something fresh off the tree with our Thanksgiving feast. Sadly, they were much too high and we couldn’t find away to reach them. Even without the fresh-picked fruits, we enjoyed a tasty holiday meal.

Way up on these branches, ripe persimmons taunt me (I know what they are because a s

Way up on these branches, ripe persimmons taunt me (I know what they are because a s

John preparing to eat a vegetarian harvest feast of butternut squash soup, roasted brussels sprouts, baked sweet potatoes with amazing honey-molasses butter, cranberry sauce and spinach quiche, followed by apple crisp.

John preparing to eat a vegetarian harvest feast of butternut squash soup, roasted brussels sprouts, baked sweet potatoes with amazing honey-molasses butter, cranberry sauce and spinach quiche, followed by apple crisp.

John preparing to eat a vegetarian harvest feast of butternut squash soup, roasted brussels sprouts, baked sweet potatoes with amazing honey-molasses butter, cranberry sauce and spinach quiche, followed by apple crisp.

We thought you’d want to know what a campervan kitchen looks like after Thanksgiving dinner preparation.

After a few days of relaxation, we walked the Sunset Trail traversing the park land, which happens to be a donut with the town in the center. The trail is 10 miles, but is not quite a loop; from the end we had to walk a couple more miles through town and back to camp. John almost backed out of the hike, but I convinced him to come along because he had promised to take our Arkansas superwoman picture on Sugarloaf Mountain.  [ John here:  I really enjoy hiking, especially with Heidi.  She points out many plants, actually berries mostly. :), and creatures that I might have missed, but sometimes it’s nice to have some alone time.  Something we don’t talk about much on the blog is the amount of time we spend together.  We spend just about every waking moment together, and that’s not a bad thing when your girlfriend is also your best friend.  That said when we do different things for even a few hours we have new experiences to talk about when we see each other again.  Because we share almost all of our experiences, we end up talking about tiny-houses and fermented food all the time, and that’s just not normal.  The point is my “…almost backed out of the hike” is not nearly as bad as it sounds and talking about other things besides houses made for ants and rotting food is good. ]

John pointing to Sugarloaf Mountain on the Sunset Trail map.

John pointing to Sugarloaf Mountain on the Sunset Trail map.

Superwoman on Sugarloaf!

Superwoman on Sugarloaf!

Balanced Rock view point; the boulders are covered in fun colors of lichen.

Balanced Rock view point; the boulders are covered with fun colors of lichen.

Orange and shaped like a hairy trumpet, this lichen is even more fun than the lichens on the boulders.

Orange and shaped like a hairy trumpet, this lichen is even more fun than the lichens on the boulders.

Bright berries line the path.

Bright berries line the path.

Close-up of the berries.

Close-up of the berries.

A delicate purple flower stood out against the browns of fall.

A delicate purple flower stood out against the browns of fall.

Holly trees and bushes abound in the area, to my great delight. Two holly bushes stood guard in my childhood front yard; I was fascinated by the spiky leaves when growing up and love seeing the plants now.

Holly trees and bushes abound in the area, to my great delight. Two holly bushes stood guard in my childhood front yard; I was fascinated by the spiky leaves when growing up and love seeing the plants now.

6 Thoughts on “Giving Thanks in Hot Springs

  1. 1. John you look amazing with that curly blonde tipped hair!!!
    2. Heidi your Thanksgiving dinner is wonder to behold. I don’t know how you managed in that kitchen. That is very little mess for such an amazing meal.
    3. John & Heidi. Any two people who can be together ALL the time are either crazy or going to be. Sounds like you are balancing time perfectly.

    I wonder about you often especially when I am watching weather reports.

  2. I definitely would have joined John in the bath house! I live for a hot soak – every day! And thanks for the Thanksgiving feast update. Yum! I like the interior van shots too – Ive been wanting to know what it looks like.

    Keep on trucking’

    Your cousin,
    Judi

  3. Patricia Lehne on December 11, 2013 at 11:31 pm said:

    What a beautiful place to spend Thanksgiving. It made me hungry seeing all that delicious food. Thank you for cooking for me when you were here. John’s a lucky man, he’s probably healthier now then he has ever been.

  4. Hi Wonderful update Thanx!!! Good food and fresh air do wonders for the soul

  5. maudie engel on December 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm said:

    love the wind chimes, don’t you think that would look along with my other ones, I bet the sound is like BIG BEN, saw some like that in Leavenworth , spendy $; but sounds so nice. KEEP ON BLOGGING, love you two

  6. The toy store guy sounds like quite a character. I totally agree with his “best toys” philosophy, and worry about how today’s modern toys don’t leave enough to the imagination. Your Thanksgiving meal looks delicious, and is very impressive for being cooked in such a small kitchen!

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