October 9, 2011

10/4/11 - Hot Springs NP

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas says they're the first national park--although I understand the folks at Yellowstone feel the honor is theirs.  Hot Springs began in 1832 as a reservation to protect a natural resource (the springs), but didn't get the NP designation until 1921; Yellowstone became a NP in 1872. 

I thought Hot Springs was in the Ozarks--but I was wrong.  It's in the Zig Zag Mountains (don’t all mountains zig-zag?) on the eastern edge of the Ouachitas.  I'd been there as a kid, and I remembered the fall colors, the twisty roads and the scary-tall metal observation tower. 

It's been a very dry year, so scratch the fall colors.  Leaves just dropped off the trees, or turned brown.  The only red leaves were poison ivy. 
The roads are still twisty.  The old erector-set tower is gone, and the new one is even taller.  We rode the elevator up, and walked down.  The next day I remembered I hadn't used that particular set of muscles in a while.


We stayed at Gulpha Gorge campground--which I kept calling Gorpha Gulch.  Either way it's a great name.  It's 5 miles to town if you drive, or 1.4 miles if you hike.  And it's a hike--not a walk!  Some of it's pretty steep, and we're waaaaay out of practice.  A couple of days George opted to stay at the RV, and I hiked by myself--in spite of my singular lack of navigational expertise. 

The Dead Chief Trail leads to town; the Goat Rock trail leads to (guess what!) Goat Rock.  I do wish they marked the trails a little bit better…I'm sure it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t run out of string.  
The springs are definitely hot--143⁰ hot!  By the 1920s the springs were a destination for vacations and health seekers.  They built big fancy bathhouses along Bathhouse Row (cute), and really pampered their customers.  Most of the bathhouses closed down during the '60s because water therapy wasn’t quite as popular as it was in the past.  (Plus they'd invented penicillin--see below.)
The park service not only owns the springs and the woods, but also the section of downtown Hot Springs where Bathhouse Row is.  They have a directive to maintain the park resources, and that includes the bathhouses.  The Fordyce Bathhouse was restored and is now the Visitors Center. 
The tour guide explains how it was during the "Golden Age of Bathing".  They had some really funky ideas about health treatments 100 years ago--like mercury sitz baths to treat STDs.  (The guide said that’s what actually caused Al Capone’s death.)  And they did it all with grandeur!


The Quapaw Bathhouse is once again a spa.  A couple of other old ones are being renovated, and then the park service will lease them out to entrepreneurs.  (If you're interested, contact a park ranger.  You can use me as a reference.)

 Click link to find more pictures of Hot Springs.  Hot Springs NP 

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