Morning Run One of Lee's long-time friends was married this fall. One of their wedding events took place in the middle of nowhere Kentucky. We took advantage of the wedding location and planned a two-week vacation to explore the national parks of our nation's South. Our first stop was Arkansas. We flew into Little Rock on Saturday, October 1, rented a car and drove to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hot Springs is a small, historic town that thrived in the 1800's when men and women would come from all over the United States to soak in the 143 thermal waters believing it would cure all their ailments. With train travel, Hot Springs boomed and bathhouses popped up claiming to have the best treatments for different health issues. West Summit Mountain Loop In the late 1800's and early the bathhouses transitioned to luxury spas with billiards and sitting/social rooms and operated until the early 1960's. Hot Springs became a national park in 1916 when the park service was created. There are 29 miles of trails in the park and Bathhouse Row. Within the last 10-15 years the four bathhouses that closed have been restored and have opened as museums, visitor center, administrative buildings, modern spa and a brewery. Buckstaff was the only bathhouse that never closed its doors and still offers the traditional 1912 bath experience.
Balance Rock We had two full days in Hot Springs. The first day we hiked 15.3 of the 29 miles in the park. We parked at the West Mountain Summit overlook where we picked up the Sunset Trail that continued along the ridge line of the Zig Zag Mountain Range for 10.3 miles. The high point of the day was about 1,400 feet and we rarely saw a vista. We were hiking in dense deciduous trees nearly the entire day. It was such a change from what we are used to here in California. Squirrels seemed to fly from tree to tree and acorns were plentiful. Our one view was when we took a small detour to Balance Rock which is just what you would expect - boulders balancing on one another. The views of the green luscious hills were really pretty. Stone Bridge along the Sunset Trail The next most notable site was near Stonebridge Road. We walked past Desoto lake were a million turtles were out for a swim and below the damn a picturesque waterwheel and the stone bridge. The official Sunset Trail ended at the campground but we still had 5 miles to get back to the car. We hiked two or so miles along Dead Chief Trail back to Bathhouse Row and then two + miles up West Summit Trail until we reached our car. We were pleased to have hiked so much of the park and enjoyed a relaxing evening nearly as much!
Buckstaff Baths Our second day was all about the bathhouse experience. We signed up for a traditional bath - just like they did in 1912. Once we arrived we were separated for the next couple of hours as Lee went to the Mens floor and I went to the Womens. I'm not really much of a soaker (Lee either) but we felt like we couldn't be there and NOT give it a try. The experience was very relaxing but boy was it HOT.
Fordyce Bathhall After a bit of a wait my friendly bath attendant, Latoya directed me to my bath where I soaked for 20 minutes in 106 degree mineral water. While you sit and soak, they bring you cups of the hot mineral water to drink. I was dripping with sweat through this entire process. The second stage was "Hot Packing". This is when you lay on towels that have been soaked in 140 degree water for 10 - 15 minutes. It was so refreshing when they applied a cool towel to my face. During this stage they also offered me cool mineral water. Step three was the steam cabinet. It's essentially a sauna for your body. I stepped inside a stall and sat on a bench and then the metal doors closed in front of you and around your neck. The only thing not in the steam box was my neck and head. These were some long and hot minutes. Five felt like 15! Stage four was a sitz bath. I liked this one. It was a soak from the waist down in a deep tub that was supposed to sooth my hips and lower back. I could have stayed in here longer than 10 minutes. The conclusion to the traditional bath was a cool, one minute "needle shower". We opted for the extra 20 minute massage and walked about deeply relaxed!
Sitz Bath & Steam Cabinet After our experience at Buckstaff we went to Fordyce Bathhouse that is the visitor center and "museum" of the historic bathhouse. Parts of it were absolutely beautiful. Having just experienced a bath it was fun to walk through and take pictures of. We had a late lunch that day at opted to do so at Superior Bathhouse - the first and only brewery in the national park system. The lunch was tasty but the root beer float was incredible. It is the best root beer float we have EVER had. Perhaps it's the mineral water they add to their brew... who knows?! We attempted to go to the top of the "mountain tower" to check out the views but it was closed to wasps. So instead we drove out to Entergy Park on Lake Hamilton and just enjoyed sitting on a bench and watching the sun set. Arkansas really is quite beautiful and everyone was so friendly.
Dinner that night was at Brickhouse Grill where we tried our first fried catfish. The waitress couldn't believe we hadn't ever had catfish before - it just blew her mind. But then again, she didn't know what fish and chips were..... Arkansas and California might as well be two different countries. The following morning we got up and went for a run before packing up and getting a late breakfast. We had high hopes for the Pancake Shop but it was pretty dreadful. French toast just shouldn't be fried.... We rounded it out with returning to Superior for one more of the world's best root beer floats before getting on the road.
Most of the time we don't have the opportunity to experience everything a national park has to offer, but we felt like we were able to at Hot Springs. It was such a unique and historic park. I'm so glad we went!
Pictures are here.