Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hot Springs, Arkansas -- What's in your Water?

I've lived in Louisiana for over ten years now and have wanted to visit Arkansas for nearly that long. And this past weekend, Bob and I finally made it there.

While I'd love to someday take a week or two and explore the whole state, we had but a weekend getaway, and we chose Hot Springs for our inaugural visit. Hot Springs is not only a town, but a national park within the town, and we love visiting national parks.

I had heard Arkansas is a beautiful state, lush and green, with mountains, rivers, and lakes. In February, it's of course quite brown and, at least on this particular weekend, rather cold. But we nonetheless had a fun time exploring the historic district and learning about the history of Hot Springs.

The park boasts an impressive 40 natural springs where water bubbles up out of the earth's surface at 143 degrees Fahrenheit. You can touch it, but only briefly.

Steam rising from a thermal pool behind our hotel.

For centuries, mankind has considered the mineral water to have healing powers. At the very least, it is relaxing to bathe in. And bathe they did! The town was built around public and private bath houses along Central Ave., also known as "Bath House Row."

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The park's Visitor Center is housed in what was once the opulent Fordyce Bath House. It is now a bath house museum. The ranger-led tour was fascinating!

Sitz bath on left. Steam box on right. Just your head sticks out.

Needle Shower

The ceiling in the bath house.

We stayed at the Arlington Hotel, a grand old dame originally built in 1875. While currently in need of some renovation here and there, I overheard a couple people say the hotel is gearing up for a 30 million dollar upgrade sometime this year. I recommend it for its sheer gilded-age uniqueness.

Like most of the bath houses and hotels in the town, water from the hot springs is piped into the hotel. We had a room with the spring water coming right into our own private tub! Still so hot, we had to dilute it with cold water from the shower.

You can also drink the spring water from a spigot in the lobby.

The locals also love to drink the water. They line up at the filling stations scattered about the town with as many jugs as they can fit into their cars. One little old lady working in a gift shop told me it's the only water she drinks. I asked her if she felt healthier as a result. "Well, I'm 78 years old and I don't take any medicines," she said. Bob and I filled a couple jugs of our own to bring home.

The historic district naturally caters to tourists, with plenty of restaurants, candy and ice cream shops, art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, souvenir shops, and a couple (no surprise) soap shops.

I had to look up the word caldarium. It means a room with a hot bath, from ancient Rome.

Bob and I liked the Colonial Pancake House so much for breakfast Saturday morning, we ate there again Sunday morning!

Overall, and sadly, the town has been on the decline for decades. I guess the reason would be that modern medicine has replaced the need for thermal healing mineral water. Throughout the town, there are numerous buildings, once stately, but now abandoned and in disrepair. But some folks have done a good job at re-purposing the old grand bath houses. The Visitor's Center is an excellent example; as is the Superior Bath House Brewery. It's the only brewery in the U.S. located within a national park, and they claim to be the only brewery that uses hot spring water to make their beer. They offer an extensive beer menu, and they make a mean Reuben sandwich, as well as the best soft pretzels Bob and I have ever eaten!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Scotland -- Part 1

Bob, Eric, and me in front of University of Glasgow

We went to Scotland this past September to help usher our son Eric into the next chapter of his life -- graduate school at the University of Glasgow. (Andrew was not able to accompany us due to school.) We flew from Houston to Manchester, England, (and may I say, we were more than happy with the excellent service on Singapore Airlines), and from there, a moor-jumper into Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-brah, we learned.) Highlights of our time there included the Haymarket District, Old Town, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and St. Giles' Cathedral.

Nicholson's Irish Pub

Great beer in Scotland

The average high temperature in Scotland is 51 degrees. It rains approx 200 days a year, and even when not raining, it is often overcast. 

To counter the gloom, you see lots of flowers and red doors.

At a kilt shop. The man purse is called a sporan.


We spent barely a day in this enchanting town, and then on to Glasgow via train. Eric was on orientation the week we were there and had several events he needed to attend, so our adventures were limited to the city, but there is more than enough to see and do in this fascinating metropolis where old world collides with contemporary, a colorful mash-up of cultures, food, and languages.

 University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

This part of campus is called the cloisters.

One of two main lawns.

Murals abound in Glasgow.

Botanical Gardens

Eric walks through this . . . 

or along the River Kelvin every day on his way to campus. Nice, huh!

Outside of City Chambers -- their courthouse.

Inside of City Chambers. All so ornate!

Old World meets contemporary.

Random door.

This was once a church but has been re-purposed as a pub called the Oran Mor, home of A Play, a Pie, and a Pint, held weekdays at lunchtime.

These are a few of my observations while visiting Scotland:

  • The people there are super friendly.
  • Despite that fact that we speak the same language, I barely understood a word they said.
  • Very few toilets work properly (based on my limited experience.)
  • Sunshine is rare, but so appreciated when it peeks through the clouds.
  • Their public transportation system is fabulous. No need for a car. Within the week, we traveled on a plane, a bus, two taxis, a train, a tram, and the Glasgow subway.
  • There are NO water fountains, ie the drinking kind, anywhere. Not even in the airports. ?? That baffled me. 
  • Very few public restrooms have paper towels. Which could be related to the fact that they are... 
  • very environmentally friendly. They are big on recycling, give incentives for people to bring their own bags for groceries, use public transportation, have water savers on all facets, etc.

This trip was but a mere introduction to Scotland. We plan to revisit next August to celebrate Eric's graduation, as well as enjoy a bona fide family vacation. Andrew included.

Please forgive me is this post is a wee bit late. And never mind it's been a year since my last post. I'll refrain from excuses.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Zion National Park, Utah

This is the 7th and final installment of my Utah National Parks series. We concluded our two-week tour across southern Utah at spectacular Zion National Park.

Zion offers some incredible awe-inspiring vistas, no doubt about it. But I have to say it was my least favorite park for only one reason. People. Too many people. Oh, the crowds. I'm not kidding when I say Zion felt like a nature-based amusement park. There are rides -- cars are not permitted in most of the park, so visitors get around on buses. And there are lines to stand in -- for the buses, the rest rooms, at the visitor center. And assuming you enjoy hiking, there are LOTS of things to see and do, for all ages and skill levels.

Speaking of skill and stamina, here and there throughout our trip, Bob and the boys would want to tackle a hike a bit too strenuous for mom. And I was fine with that. At Zion, they hiked the steep Angels Landing Trail. Not suited for those with vertigo or a fear of heights! As hikers near the summit, they cling to these chains, lest they lose their balance and topple off the narrow rim.

They made it to the top!

While the guys hiked Angels Landing, I took my own pleasant lovely hike.

Look closely, you can see horses crossing the stream.

We had a bit of drama and excitement that day. Just as my guys ascended Angels Landing Peak, dark clouds moved in, and what started out as a beautiful sunny day soon became ominous.

I had finished my hike and got off a bus at the park museum when it started to sprinkle. A shower soon became a downpour with thunder and lightning. And my guys were on top of a mountain, out of cell phone range. Zion is known for being prone to flash flooding, so there was reason for concern.

Soon the buses stopped running due to flooding of some of the roadways in the park. Now even if the guys got safely off the mountain, there was no way to return to the campground. And I was stuck at the museum. This was my view.

All I could do was pray for their safety. Calm quiet creeks quickly turned into raging torrents like this.

Eventually, the buses resumed service and I hurried back to the campground and waited. After a time, my men returned, soaking wet and tired. We all piled into our tent, which fortunately did not leak, and while they napped, I thanked God for their safe-keeping.

The next day, Andrew and Bob set off on an excursion Andrew had been eagerly anticipating from the beginning -- hiking "the Narrows," or basically hiking a stream through a slot canyon. Not easy to slog through all that water, but they saw some cool sights. At times, the water was chest high. Bob wasn't taking photos during those parts.This hike can be particularly dangerous in a flash flood situation and can only be attempted on days when no rain is predicted.

Eric opted not to get wet and spent the day hiking with me. On dry land. We saw some beautiful sights, too.

So that concludes my series on our Utah National Park tour. It was by far our best family vacation to date. What has been your favorite family vacation?