Having experienced a busy summer, the JJ family decided to get away for a weekend to nearby Arkansas. Our goal was to drive under 5 hours each way, to spend some time in nature and do much of nothing on this trip. Our first inclination was Broken Bow and Talimena highway but we had done both several years ago. Eureka Springs was a longer trip each way. Eventually we chose Hot Springs, just over 4 hours from Dallas with enough activities to keep us occupied for a day and a half.
Hot Springs, Arkansas is a perfect weekend getaway. The city is physically surrounded by the Hot Springs National Park at one end. As the name implies, its famous for the natural hot springs that spew water at 143 F and contain trace minerals that are thought to have therapeutic properties. Unlike those created by volcanic activity, the hot springs in this area are due to the geothermal gradient created by gravitational compression and naturally decaying radioactive elements. Rain water gets heated up about 4 F for every 300 feet it travels downwards. At one point, the pressure of the water coming down is so much that it causes some of the deeper waters to spew out through fissures and cracks with much force. This happens so fast that the water has little time to lose its heat on its upward journey, thus ensuring a constant supply of hot water. Its estimated that the water we drink today from the springs are over 4000 years old!!
From the native Indians who came here to collect minerals for their tools, to the Spanish explorers, the French trappers and traders, various groups of people have enjoyed the healing properties of these waters. Following the Louisiana purchase and the sanctioned expedition by Dunbar and Hunter, Hot Springs became publicized and attracted much interest.
In 1832, sections of these lands were set aside to be protected as a natural resource under the first “reservation” of its kind. This was later converted to a National Park in 1921.
Not surprisingly, the therapeutic properties of these spring waters gave rise to a plethora of bathhouses. They piped water from the springs into tubs for visitors to enjoy in a comfortable environment all year long. People sought relief from all kinds of ailments, from simple aches and pains to more complex ones like syphilis, jaundice, rheumatism, etc. Starting out as little more than wood and crude canvas structures, they eventually became buildings of elegance and beauty that encouraged rest, recreation and recuperation along Bathhouse Row. Some had gymnasiums and beauty shops, massages and music to better serve their clientele. Eventually, these bathhouses fell into disfavor as traditional bathing practices declined. Only the Buckstaff Bathhouse continues its tradition since 1912. The other non functional bathhouses have been converted, the Quapaw now offers spa services with pools and a steam cave, the Fordyce Bathhouse is now the Hot Springs National Park visitor center and bath museum. The Ozark is now home to the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Hale now houses a hotel.
The other interesting aspect of Hot Springs history is the gambling that was prevalent here for several decades. Alongwith the springs, gambling, prostitution and alcohol brought many a famous (and infamous) character to town. From movie stars to politicians to mob bosses and singers, many well known names have graced the streets, hotels and casinos of Hot springs in its heyday.
There are several different lodging options including The Waters hotel, the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, the Hotel Hot Springs, Embassy Suites etc around Central Avenue. But we chose to stay at the Hampton Inn, a 15 min drive along Central Avenue from the center of all action. The Hampton was adequate for our purpose, served breakfast and had an outdoor pool.
Since we had to leave after work, we planed to get to the hotel on Friday evening, grab dinner and call it a day. The following day would be spent around Central Avenue along Bathhouse Row and the National Park. Sunday morning we planned to explore Garvan Woodland Gardens and grab lunch before heading back home.
Join us in the next post as we explore Bathhouse Row and Hot Springs.