Family Fun in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, Part 4: Hot Springs

This is the fourth post about our family's visit to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. I suggest starting with the firstsecond, and third posts. Because I blog about educational travel, some of the places we visited comped my admission tickets, or gave me media rates, discounts, and other benefits. Some locations we toured are free for everyone and we paid full price for the rest. That has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I recommend without hesitation. If you see any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love that particular attraction, hotel, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.


Hot Springs, Arkansas

On Easter Sunday, April 9, we said goodbye to Little Rock and drove 54 miles to Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs NP is unusual in many ways. Obviously, the namesake hot springs are what makes the area special. The naturally-occurring thermal spring water flows out of the ground at an average temperature of 143°F. Sometimes you spot the steam before you see the water.

The hot springs produce nearly a million gallons of water a day.

There are springs all over the place. Before visiting, I thought there would be two or three locations where they came out of the ground. Nope! There are hundreds. Most of them are covered with padlocked collection boxes

In addition to the free-flowing springs and the ones covered by collection boxes, there are 7 thermal springs connected to fountains from which you can fill bottles or drink. You can take as much water with you as you want from the jug fountains, but selling it is forbidden. There are two pools where you can safely touch the water, although there are no outdoor places for immersing yourself. This is the Hot Water Cascade:


Here's the view from above. See the steam?

It's impossible to know how long people have been visiting these springs. We know that Hernando de Soto was the first European to visit Hot Springs in 1541 and we know that indigenous people were using the springs long before then. The area officially became a US territory in 1803 as a part of the Louisiana Purchase and it wasn't long before the permanent settlers began to see the potential of the area for a health resort. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed the first law ever that preserved land for recreational purposes, forty years before the concept of a National Park existed. Yellowstone became the world's first official National Park in 1872, but Hot Springs has a valid claim for the title!

It wasn't long before bathhouses were built and tourism took off. Between 1910-1923, the original wooden buildings were replaced by the brick buildings that now make up Bathhouse Row

Two of the bathhouses, including the Buckstaff Bathhouse pictured below, still offer spa services (although not on Easter Sunday). 

The remaining bathhouses have been converted into a hotel, a gift shop, a restaurant, and the park's visitor center. It was absolutely fascinating seeing the latest in 1920's spa technology! Anybody interested in an electric bath? Or a mercury rubdown? Both were popular options at the time.


The exhibits in the visitor center are really interesting. 

Ever heard of tufa? It's the calcium carbonate buildup inside pipes....

... or formed outside. 

Hot Springs National Park isn't just bathhouses though. It's actually the smallest national park in the United States, but at 5,550 acres, there's plenty of area to hike and explore. 

There are lots of tours, shops, and activities to do in Hot Springs, although the vast majority were closed for Easter Sunday. Despite that, it was pretty crowded when we were there. Although, now that I think about it, if those people had been on tours and in shops and museums, the streets wouldn't have been crowded. 

Speaking of people, I wanted to take photos of a family unloading large water jugs from their car to fill at a jug fountain. It was like clowns in a car. First four people got out, along with the jugs they'd been holding in their laps, then they started unloading jugs. 5 jugs. 10. 15. I have no idea how they fit so many jugs in their car. I wish I'd been there to see them reload them after they were filled, which undoubtedly took quite a bit of time. Instead of a photo of them at the jug fountain, here's a random picture of a non-jug fountain. 

Any baseball fans out there? Hot Springs has a Historic Baseball Trail, honoring the many players who trained in Hot Springs during the off-season. 

You'll also find the Arkansas Walk of Fame in Hot Springs. 

We ate at the Superior Bathhouse

In addition to serving food, they are a brewery. But not just any brewery. They are the only brewery in US National Park and the only brewery in the world to use thermal spring water to make their beer. 

I'll wrap this up with proof that I was actually in Hot Springs, since I'm not in any of the rest of the photos in this post.  

We spent Sunday night at the Embassy Suites Hot Springs. It's a short walk from Bathhouse Row, so it was nice not have to drive anywhere. We'd be doing enough of that the next day. 

Speaking of which, I just realized that we spotted the critter I referenced on our drive out of Hot Springs on Monday 4/10, not into Hot Springs on Sunday 4/9. But rather than wait for tomorrow's post, I'll tell you know that we saw a real live genuine armadillo strolling along the side of the road! It was so exciting. I've never seen one in the wild before. I wish I'd been able to get a photo, but alas, no. I've since learned that armadillos are not native to Arkansas, have only been there for 100 years or so, and are considered a nuisance animal. Ah, well one person's nuisance animal is another person's super-exciting-thing-I-saw-on-vacation.  

Tomorrow I'll tell you about our last stop in Arkansas and where we went from there. 

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