“On the road again, goin’ places that I’ve never been, seein’ things that I may never see again, and I can’t wait to get on the road again” – Willie Nelson
Miles traveled: 342.7 miles
After 2.5 enjoyable days in Tennessee, this morning I was back on the road again as I headed out of Memphis traveling west-ish towards Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. Did not take long to get to the state of Arkansas since Memphis sits right on the Mississippi, so as I crossed over one of several bridges that crosses over the great and mighty river I was officially in a new state. New state equals new adventures! Arkansas is now the 8th state I have set foot in since leaving Charleston just under 2 weeks ago….only 22 more to go!
I drove past miles and miles of farmland and watched the temperature on the Jeep thermometer rise to a brisk 98 degrees. Great…the heat wave continues! After about 3 hours and 2 discs of my book on CD (What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty), which I had started on my way from Clarksdale to Memphis the other day, I arrived at Hot Springs National Park….right smack in the middle of the urban city of Hot Springs. Wait – what? Yes, a National Park in the middle of an urban area. After assuming I wasn’t lost, I found a spot on the side of the road, parked the Jeep, deposited my quarters in the meter (saved nearly a $1 from the previous parker – huge score for this frugal gal), grabbed the camera and visor, and was on my way to track down the visitor center to make sure I was in fact in a National Park. It was really the most bizarre thing. I have traveled to quite a few of our National Parks and not once have they been right in the middle of town!
I got the run down of the park, which I believe is one of the smallest (if not the smallest) of the National Parks in the US, from the park ranger, caught the short video about the park, and went off to check it out. The visitor center was inside of the Fordyce Bathhouse along Bathhouse Row. Fordyce also serves as the primary museum in the park where you could walk through the old bathhouse rooms and learn about the amenities that people used to flock to the hot springs for back in its hay day. Interesting. The hot springs have been around since the 1700s and during the 1800s people would travel to them either for relaxation in the bathhouses or to cure their ailments. In 1823 the federal government made the area a US Reservation (this was the first US reservation created to protect a natural resource). It was later changed to Hot Springs National Park by President Woodrow Wilson. I did a project on Woodrow Wilson in grade school – one of my favorite Presidents – and I don’t recall this fact from my research, so I learned something new about President Wilson today! Woot woot!
The bathhouses that you see today in the park are not the original structures. Many were rebuilt by the early 1900s into the bathhouses that you see today. Two of the bathhouses – Quapaw and Buckstaff – are open to the public and visitors can experience bathing in the hot springs in either the modern day spa facility of Quapaw or the traditional therapeutic experience at the Buckstaff. No, I did not do either – it was 103 degrees out and the thought of sitting in water that was coming out of the ground at about 134 degrees was not at all appealing to me! Had it bee 70 degrees, I may have been more inclined to take a dip! I did stick my toes in the hot spring and also drank some of it (which they let you do) – and well, it was pretty hot. Anyways, I thought it pretty amazing that the Buckstaff Bathhouse has been in continuous operation since the day it opened in 1912. Impressive.
After checking out Bathhouse Row, I took a sweaty stroll (here we go again with the heat and the sweat – sorry) around the town of Hot Springs…quite a quaint little place…and stopped in a few shops that had some air conditioning. After taking a quick call from my AC guy back in Charleston – my AC unit has to be replaced after struggling through yet another hot, Charleston summer…cannot wait to get that estimate – I found myself dying of thirst as I had already gone through my water bottle that I brought with me from the Jeep. So I swung into a little place called The Ohio Club to grab a cold drink and a late lunch. Little did I know I was sitting in the oldest bar (established in 1905) in Arkansas, which had been frequented by the likes of Al Capone, Mae West, Babe Ruth, Bill Clinton, and Tony Bennett. The Ohio Club is the only remaining saloon that is open of the original illegal casinos in Hot Springs and the bar back, which was stunning, was the original bar back that was hand carved from mahogany in the late 1870s and brought down the Mississippi river from Cincinnati by the bar owner, John Coffee Williams. Since Ohio was his home state, he names the bar The Ohio Club. Amazing what you learn and stumble upon when you are parched from the heat wave in Arkansas.
Before heading on, I took the scenic mountain road drive in the park to check out the views of Hot Springs from atop the Zig Zag Mountains. After the short drive, I headed North on old highway 7 to get a head start on my day tomorrow. I was originally planning to camp today in the park, but I’m a pansy and was not about to sleep in a puddle of my own sweat. So I drove about 3 more hours and 2 more discs of my book on CD North, and then a tad bit West to the town of Van Buren for a cooler night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Express.
Arkansas was both interesting and a bit bizarre today – I’m off to Oklahoma tomorrow to drive route 66 – and I cannot wait!
Until next time…