kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

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."

Image result for photos of bathhouse row, hot springs
photo by donchilei.com

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!