Water! That’s what attracts most people to Hot Springs National Park, but oh no... my "LZ Bucket List" has priority over the water on my National Park quest and trips priority. But that really doesn't change the fact that people have used these hot springs for more than two hundred years to treat illnesses and to relax. Both rich and poor came for the baths, and a town built up around the Hot Springs Reservation to accommodate them. Together nicknamed "The American Spa,” Hot Springs National Park today surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Mrs. LZ nor I had ever knew a thing about this National Park and actually found it one of the most individually unique National Parks that we have visited so far. This was not because of its beauty, but rather it was just because is was just so darn unique.
We we drove into the City of Hot Springs, Arkansas is when we realized that the park itself has its headquarters in Downtown Hot Springs. It was almost as if the U. S. Government just came into town one day and said; "We are going to take all of the bath houses on this side of the street and turn it into a National Park.
The first thing we did after our arrival was to find the highest point in the park and then found out that there was actually a viewing tower on the top of it that was an additionally about four more stories higher than the top of the mountain. From the top of this tower, you could see for miles and miles in a 360° in every direction.
Other than the hills around there and the interstate, one of the most visible objects you could see from up there was a very large and old hotel. Later that same day, we also visited that hotel and were able to see it beautiful interior. It really most have been something in its day, but a had many references to it's hay-day in the 1930's-1940's era. It even had an old 1930's vintage Cadillac in its lobby. I guess that "Hot Springs" was a big destination for some organized crime figures from the 20's, 30's and 40's.
Hot Springs National Park has a rich history. The park has prehistoric American Indian novaculite quarries. It was the destination of the Dunbar-Hunter Expedition sent by President Jefferson in 1804. A bustling town grew up around the hot springs to provide services for health seekers. Central to the American Spa was the bathing industry. The Public Health Service Clinic that was in conjunction with the Government Free Bathhouse was one of the first facilities in the United States to use penicillin.
Another cool thing about this place is that it now has its own U.S. Minted quarter made after it. I didn't even realize it until AFTER I was given one of these quarters in change while we were in Arkansas.
While we were there we also managed to find an old bank that had been converted into a wood burning stove pizza parlor that was called "Angel's". When we are on the road, we often consult our AA Guide Books for ideas of places that wee want to eat or things that we want to see while we are there. That is where we got the name of Angels from as well as the Arlington Hotel (which we saw for the top of the tower).
There was a little park are right around there that had several plaques that were dedicated to several Arkansas people of note who had been raised in Arkansas. We did know of several of them, but probably the most notable would be President Bill Clinton, who was born in Hope, AR raised in Hot Springs and then after becoming Governor of Arkansas moved to Little Rock, AR until being elected President. There were many things around Hot Springs that made reference to President Clinton who they are obviously prode to call one of their native sons. But more on that in some other blog post.
The first bathhouses were crude structures of canvas and lumber, little more than tents perched over individual springs or reservoirs carved out of the rock. Later businessmen built wooden structures, but they frequently burned, collapsed because of shoddy construction, or rotted due to continued exposure to water and steam. Hot Springs Creek, which ran right through the middle of all this activity, drained its own watershed and collected the runoff of the springs. Generally it was an eyesore-dangerous at times of high water, and mere collections of stagnant pools at dry times.
In 1884 the federal government put the creek into a channel, roofed over it over, and laid a road down above it. Much of it runs under Central Avenue and Bathhouse Row today. This allowed room for sidewalks and landscaping in front of the bathhouses, creating the Bathhouse Row you see today.
The water that comes from the Hot Springs is a constant 140 degrees Fahrenheit which is too hot for a bath, but they cool it down a bit before actually using it in the bath houses. (Many of which are still in operation today). But the one we toured was just a non working one that showed what they looked like in the hay-day.
Even though this park was very different to most of the ones we have explored before, it was still an experience we will long remember and re-live in my photos. "Being president is like running a cemetery: you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening."
~ Bill Clinton