Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I Left My Heart In… Arkansas?

Well, I kind of did… left my heart in Arkansas that is. Hot Springs National Park to be exact. I can't really pinpoint one particular aspect that attracts me. It's the 'feel' I get from the place, but it is also many other things: The rolling and slightly mountainous landscape, rugged geology, the trees, lakes and creeks; the friendliness, modern shopping conveniences, a slower pace, and the old homes—many of them Victorians—that I daydreamed about renovating. In fact, after having picked up one of the local real estate advertisements, I saw a beautiful, old Victorian on a one acre parcel that was for sale for $135,000, smack dab in the middle of Hot Springs National Park. The ad also showed a photo of the staircase inside, which only made me want to see the rest of the house. I went to the realtor's website and it said that all the house needed was cosmetic work done (although, if that were true, why didn't they show a photo of the kitchen!). I made Rob drive me by the house and, oh, how I yearned. I was wishing we could win the mega millions so I could buy it, renovate it to its former glory, and turn the treed parcel into a park-like setting. The area where the property is situated was once where the local professionals lived, doctors and lawyers and such, which is now rather run down. But, wouldn't that be the challenge? To help bring up the neighborhood, again? I think of the HGTV show, Curb Appeal, where they would fix up the front of neighboring homes and yards and make everyone feel part of the beautification. I would love to do that kind of good.

I'm already living a lifelong dream of traveling the country, so I don't know if I'll ever get to fulfill this other dream of mine. I do count my blessings and I'm grateful for what I have.

With all good things there is the opposite. Ying and Yang. I think summer in Hot Springs could test my patience. It is a National Park after all, and with it comes lots and lots of vacationers, and humidity. Though I'd be a happy camper (no pun intended), if I could live in the park's campground year round—right next to the creek that makes a sound I could listen to forever, surrounded by the tall pines and sycamores, moss covered stratifications, walking paths, and the birds—robins, cardinals, wrens and sparrows—and have a yearly membership to the hot spring baths at the Quapaw.

Oh, yes. The famous hot spring baths. Quite the experience. Your skin feels so good, soft and smooth, after being in that water. They drain the communal baths every evening and refill them each morning with bubbled up-fresh-from-mother-earth-143°F-mineral rich water. The Quapaw, built in 1922, modernized the spa experience when it was renovated in 2007, providing private baths and massage rooms for individuals and couples, men's and women's locker rooms and four communal baths, each maintained at a different temperature of 104°, 101°, 98° and 94°F, respectively.

Rob and I went to the Quapaw twice. The first visit I treated myself to a long overdue massage, then the baths. They supplied both of us with two towels—one for the baths and one for your shower. For my massage, they gave me a robe and waterproof slippers to change into, and you were welcome to keep the slippers. The lockers were made of wood, not metal, and each person was equipped with a key on a plastic, spiral bracelet (men's were blue and women's were pink), which you could wear into the baths. The showers are kept very clean and you need not bring any soap or shampoo as they provide plenty of each in the form of a wonderfully mild scented shower gel and 2 in1 shampoo. At the communal baths, you are welcome to stay from morning until closing if you so choose. They have fully adjustable, teak chaise longues on which to rest, tables and chairs next to the cafe within the area, which sells soups, fresh made salads and sandwiches, tea and wine; plenty of warm or cold hot spring water to drink while bathing from your personal, numbered, plastic cup and, when you're finished, plastic bags to take into the locker room for the purpose of toting home your wet swimsuit. All that for $18 per day, $110 per quarter, or $360 per year. Such a deal. Believe me, I'd be down there all the time.

The Buckstaff is the oldest of the bathhouses, built in 1912, and is still in operation. But the spa experience is entirely different from the Quapaw. It is still done the way they did it in 1912. I decided I didn't want to try the Buckstaff unless they were willing to give me a tour of the place before I plunked down my money, but I didn't bother asking. Sometimes old things give me the heebee jeebees and one of those things would be old, worn bathtubs that have bathed hundreds if not thousands of other people's bodies. And what about those old steam cabinets—the big metal boxes where only your head sticks out. Shiver me timbers. Uhn uh. No way. No how. Gives me the creeps.

The Fordyce Bathhouse, built in 1915, was the most expensive and extravagant of all the bathhouses. It closed in June of 1962 and has been the park's visitor's center since 1989. It has a small museum to peruse and a video to watch that gives you the history of Hot Springs, as well as a self-guided walking tour of the baths, dressing rooms, sitting rooms and therapy baths. It was very interesting and was just the thing to tell me I didn't want to partake of the services at the Buckstaff.

There are two fountains in town that have several faucets each. One pipes up water from the cold spring and the other from the hot springs. People come from all over to fill their jugs with the delicious stuff. One day, we saw a fellow who probably had 30 gallon-sized milk jugs and another who had four 5-gallon water cooler type containers as well as an assortment of other various sized receptacles. Carrying all those heavy containers back to their cars couldn't have been easy because the water coming out of the those faucets is, yes, 143°F, but it's worth it to them. They wouldn't think of drinking anything else. They use their city or well water for bathing and watering lawns. We only filled a gallon jug twice. The second of which we still have a half gallon left.

One experience in Hot Springs that we hadn't counted on was snow. Not a lot of it, but snow nonetheless. I was thrilled. Motorhomes don't really do very well in extreme cold, so its not a situation in which we'd purposefully place ourselves, but I'm so glad it happened. I felt like a kid waking up to a frosty, white outdoors. I just wanted to bundle up and go out in it, which I did.

When we know the temperature is expected to dip below freezing at night, we let the tap in the kitchen flow a little more than a trickle to assure that the hose and pipes don't freeze. It works really well. That is, until someone like me gets up in the morning and turns it off when the outdoor temperature is still 28°! Yes, I did it. Not only did the park's faucet freeze and then crack, our hose and water pump froze and our dual faucet coupler cracked. I have to say, the park got right on it and fixed the problem quickly. Rob and I went to Lowe's and bought a 500 watt halogen work light for $13 to defrost the hose and water pump. Worked like a charm. All's well that ends well, eh? But I won't be that brain dead in the future.

A place I visited by myself was a rock and gem store. I was attracted from a distance by the colors I saw spread over tables behind chain link fences topped with barbed wire. It was much like other places I've been that had tables full of geodes, rocks and minerals except this place had all that and more. They had giant fossils and huge pieces of beautiful, colorful glass. The glass was collected from glass making factories. Very cool. And fun to photograph.

We'll come back to Hot Springs, but next time in the spring. That is definite.

A fountain outside the National Park Admin offices. All that green is slimy and the water is steaming hot.

Our camp in the snow.

Gotta eat!

Love the Robins!

The campground's fire pit. Imagine sitting there on a summer night with a huge bon fire, hearing it crackle while listening the the creek burble. Doesn't get much better than that.

The creek was running high and fast from the snow. The concrete blocks are part of the path to get to the trail and are usually dry.

Lovely sight, lovely sound.

Looks like a hovering flying saucer, doesn't it? And it was hovering.

I thought this was odd. A perfect rectangle.

Remnants of the ice age.

After the snowmelt.

Beautiful creek!


Caught a photo shoot in progress.

A young couple had their cat with them and he followed them everywhere.

The path now dry.

Filling jugs. This was from the cold spring.

Once an Army and Navy Hospital, this building became a rehabilitation center and is now the Arkansas Career Training Institute.

We befriended this young man, Nick, who was (is) a marine and did a tour in Afghanistan. He is as nice as he is handsome.

This fossil measures about 24 X 36 inches.

This fossil was about the same size.

Looks like a glacier to me.

Bubbles in glass.

Like looking through a Hawaiian wave.

So many colors.

Glass drops.

Like raspberry and lemon.

Ollie hadn't had his photo done in a long time. Pretty bird!

Checkers or Chess anyone?

A lovely walking path above and behind the baths.

Sweet blue flowers.

The back of the Quapaw Bath House.

A different perspective.

This photo, taken with my phone, is of part of the hot spring that runs under the Fordyce Bath House, now the Park's Visitor's Center.

The old piping and faucets for a therapy bath.

One of the therapy baths used for persons with injuries or diseases such as polio.

The sitting room for men and women. The women's only section is beyond the arch.

The rest of the men and women's sitting room. The men's only section is beyond the arch.

An example of a private room for female guests staying for extended water therapy.

The men's gymnasium.

More gymnasium.

Detail of the beautiful mosaic floor in the sitting room.

In the women's dressing room. You'll see, its not quite as elegant as the men's.

A long line of the women's changing rooms.

Taken with my phone, you can see the one of the bathtubs in the bathing room.

Love the old faucets.

The stained glass ceiling in the men's dressing room.

Statue craved from stone is under the stained glass ceiling in the men's dressing room.

Guess who?

Coming out of the Fordyce Bath House looking at Central Avenue.

The Fordyce Bath House.

The Quapaw Bath House.

The famous Buckstaff Baths.


  1. So many wonderful memories you have in such a short period of 9 months enjoy!!

  2. Your photos are gorgeous, especially those of the glass, fossils and the bathhouse. You made me want to go to Hot Springs NP. Too bad you weren't able to take a peak inside that Victorian house for sale.