26 Jun
2015
Posted in: travel
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Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park

Kids with fountain at Hot Springs

Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for Hot Springs National Park located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I thought the kids wouldn’t find the bathhouses interesting enough and that the water you can collect wouldn’t taste good enough to warrant bringing home with us. Wrong and wrong.

Fordyce Bathhouse music room - Hot Springs National Park

Wisely-named Hot Springs National Park revolves around the local hot springs, which have a history of people flocking to the area for therapeutic purposes. Bathhouse Row sprang up in the 1800s as wood and canvas structures and evolved to what visitors can tour now with elaborate stained glass windows, marble facades and carved stone accents. People traveled to Hot Springs to relax, rest and heal.

Fordyce Bathhouse shower - Hot Springs National Park

Fordyce Bathhouse is restored as the park’s visitor center and museum. It is restored to what it would’ve looked like during its glory years when it was purported to be the best the town had to offer. There are separate spaces for men and women including changing areas, bathing facilities and steam chambers. Attendants would have helped visitors with their bathing and steaming needs.

Fordyce Bathhouse men's shower room - Hot Springs National Park

Fordyce bathhouse men's room - Hot Springs National Park

The women believed their side of the bathhouse was equal to the men’s side. A tour of the facility proves they were misguided. The men’s area is more spacious and includes a large, intricate stained glass skylight featuring several mermaids as well as a large fountain showcasing Hernando de Soto who was believed to have come through the area in the 1500s.

Fordyce Bathhouse gym - Hot Springs National ParkThe Fordyce also has a beauty shop, early physical therapy machines, a gymnasium, courtyards, music room and billiard room.  The gymnasium with its wooden dumbbells, rings, weight balls, and climbing ropes were intriguing for the kids. I know they were trying to picture their dad and I using that equipment to exercise.

Fordyce Bathhouse beauty parlor - Hot Springs National Park

Upper courtyards separated men from women. The men’s side was used for smoking and sunbathing. The women’s side was more shaded to help keep women from tanning. The kids asked several times why husbands would spend their vacations at the spas and most of that time was not with their wives. It was an opportunity to explain past society rules of etiquette from dress, to genders to the role of children. Bathhouses were a place for adults to find peace and healing. Children didn’t fit into that agenda.

Public water fountain station in Hot Springs, Arkansas

There are 47 springs in the area dubbed “Valley of Vapors” because of the steam wafting from the hot water. The average temperature of the hot springs is 143° F. Scientists say the water is over 4,000 years old and is heated deep below the earth’s surface before making its way up to the west slope of Hot Springs Mountain and the surface.

Woman filling a water bottle at Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs National park collects 700,000 gallons a day for public use. We watched people fill jug after jug at the free fountains available for use. I was skeptical about the taste of the water, but it might be the best water I’ve tasted. The water comes out hot from the fountains, some hotter than others. I filled an empty bottle and played hot potato with the container – the water was that hot! I regretted not grabbing a tea bag from our hotel to make hot tea.

Magnolia bloom

There are several miles of trails in varying degrees of difficulty. We stuck to the trail system behind the bricked Grand Promenade behind the Fordyce. We’re from a dry climate so the heat and humidly of Arkansas in June was a shock to the system. Everything is so full of life. We were surrounded by the smell of magnolias and honeysuckle. We could have hiked more miles if we weren’t so distracted by how different the trees, plants and animals are from the west. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked, “What’s that?” our house mortgage would be substantially smaller.

View of Hot Springs, Arkansas from mountain observation tower

We drove to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower for a 360-degree view of the surrounding hills. The road to the tower is a one-way, narrow, winding road that only takes a few minutes to reach the top. We were overzealous and climbed the stairs of the 216-foot structure instead of taking the elevator. It was a sweaty climb in the heat. Our boys practically ran up the stairs in their haste to see the view, which is lovely. It’s said you can see 140 miles on a clear day, but the thick humidity made quite the haze during our visit.  There are miles of rolling, tree-covered hills and bodies of water in the distance as well as the town itself.

Follow our 6,025-mile adventure.
Next: Crater of Diamonds State Park (Arkansas)

 

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