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. 🙂 ]
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.
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!
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.
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. ]