We weren’t sure what to expect from Hot Springs, but similar to Harper’s Ferry which we visited earlier this year, the main part of the park is housed within the Historic Bathhouse Row in the center of town.
Our thought was that we would explore the park first, then go check out the downtown area . . . but it turned out that they were one and the same!
We walked around for a bit,
and then stopped in the Visitor Center to get the scoop on what to see. The woman in the Visitor Center was very helpful with some good tips on things to see in the park and around town, including some fountains where we could touch the hot spring water and fill a water bottle.
Tom was surprised when the water was actually very hot . . . and almost melted the water bottle!
While we were in the VC, we met another couple and they just happened to be RVers from Royal Oak, MI . . . what a small world!
They got the same information, and we ended up on the same path exploring Bathhouse Row.
Several of the buildings have been restored, with two of them still operated by the National Park System as bathhouses,
a cultural center (still under renovation),
and the Fordyce, which is operated as a Visitor Center/Museum.
We ended up in the Lobby at the same time as our new friends, Tom and Jean, so we toured the bathhouse together.
The hot springs and the therapeutic benefit of soaking in them were first discovered by the Native Americans, but as pioneers travelled west, visitors began coming to the springs for their healing effect, too.
Arkansas is not a volcanic region, so this water is heated by an entirely different process, and without the sulphur smell that comes along with volcanic thermal action. The mountains that surround Hot Springs to the east collect rain water and it travels through the porous rock deep into the earth, increasing in temperature as it travels. It eventually makes its way into faults and joints in the mountains to the west of Hot Springs, and the water surfaces there.
As more and more people came to soak in the springs, crude bathhouses began to spring up, and the town grew up around them. In the late 1800s, the US government decided that the spring needed to be protected and established ownership of the spring, but allowed private bathhouses to be built. The structures built in the early 20th century were much more modern and elaborate than those early bathhouses, and Hot Springs became a very popular destination for vacationers and people seeking relief from their aches and pains, often on the advice of their doctors.
The Fordyce Bathhouse has been restored with much of the furniture and equipment that was used during its operational years.
The women’s and mens’ bathing halls were on the first floor, complete with private bathing rooms,
and steam cabinets.
The women’s side had beautiful stained glass windows.
The men's side was even more elaborate, and much larger than the women’s side. Apparently, bathing was a social activity for men and they would gather on a regular basis at the spa.
It was definitely a beautiful place!
On the 2nd floor, we walked through the dressing rooms and lounges,
The 3rd floor was where the clients gathered between spa treatments. There were staterooms, a beauty parlor,
a gym, and a beautiful recreation room.
It was definitely a different way of vacationing or seeking medical treatment.
Vacationers weren’t the only ones coming to the hot springs – the US Military built a major Army-Navy Hospital overlooking Bathhouse Row, although today it is a private rehabilitation center.
Our tour of Bathhouse Row ended at the final bathhouse that has been restored as Superior Brewery. They use the spring water to brew all of their beers, as well as root beer. We stopped in for a light lunch before continuing to tour the downtown area.
Afterwards we found the Hot Water Cascade, where hot spring water flows naturally out of the side of the mountain and cascades down a small waterfall to a pool at the end of Bathhouse Row.
Yes, that water is HOT – 143 degrees – we could see the steam rising off it as it cascaded down the mountain.
The four of us walked through the shops on Main Street, sampling treats and lotions, and just enjoying the nice afternoon weather.
There were several interesting sights . . . the parking lot cut into the mountain,
and this advertisement on the side of the building. Our new friend’s name just happens to be Tom Moore!
We enjoyed spending the afternoon with Tom & Jean, and it was great to get to know them. We parted ways as it started to drizzle, and each headed back to our respective campgrounds – maybe we’ll meet up again somewhere!
One other thing that we had heard about was a Christmas light show at a nearby Garden, but with the drizzle we decided to wait on that until the following night. We stopped for a pizza, and then went home . . . Tom was apparently worn out . . . I’m not sure what Casey’s excuse was!
Saturday was a beautiful day with nice sunny skies. We did a little shopping, had an early dinner before church, and then went to Garvan Gardens for the Christmas Light Show.
This was a walking light tour, with each area of the garden decorated in a different theme. It was very crowded, and we waited quite a while to park, then again to buy tickets, and finally we were in the gardens.
The paths through the woods, and around the lakes and gardens, were beautifully decorated,
and it was a great evening for enjoying the lights.
Around the ponds and lakes,
through the flower gardens,
and past the musical tree display.
The next area was the Enchanted Garden, and it was really beautiful – so much more than just lights, they also used foliage and the surrounding buildings and vegetation to create the beautiful displays.
They called this the Dandelion Garden – the colors constantly changed, it was really pretty.
We were amazed that there were still flowering trees with blooms on them!
There was an enchanted chapel in the woods, and a magical concert playing music.
The last area we reached was Santa’s Village – the reindeer barn,
the Abominable Snow Monster,
snowman family greeting visitors,
and Santa’s train.
Tin soldiers stood watch where Santa posed for pictures . . . my turn!
We really enjoyed the light show, and it was a wonderful way to wrap up our visit to Hot Springs!