“Where are the hot springs?”
We did little research before visiting Hot Springs National Park, and for some reason expected to see a lot of outdoor hot springs to bathe in. Actually, the only open natural spring is preserved in the heart of the park, while most of the other 47 springs are capped to prevent contamination. This place is all about indoor bathing – which is tough to do in a campground with no showers – and it turns out the hot springs were tapped long ago to build a world-famous reputation for healing. We asked locals about natural springs and received polite head shakes in return. I have a feeling they’re out there… but not for visitors like us.
2. Meeting the locals
People here love their water. Go to any of the public fountains with the cold spring water, then ask about the water. Posted signs list the numerous minerals and those filling up their jugs will tell you in kind country tones how it’ll help cure this and that and everything in between. One lady even pulled out her harmonica to give us some musical healing as we gulped the clear liquid down with delight. Another offered to take us up to the top of a building for “the best view of Hot Springs,” simply because he saw us walking around with a camera.
3. Sunrise from Goat Rock
Waking before the birds at Gulpha Gorge Campground, trying not to disturb the friendly neighbor literally right next to us as we tip-toed outa’ there and up and up and up. A beautiful little trail winds up the mountainside to a low mountain overlook called Goat Rock. From there you can follow many intersecting trails in the bit of green space that makes up the park.
Admiring the natural hot spring near the visitor’s center, I teetered a little too closely on that edge… Luckily caught myself before getting a public bath.
5. Feeling like we were in Italy again
The promenade in the heart of Hot Springs was designed to mimic European parks, and we could think of no where but Florence as we strolled the wide avenue dotted with benches, lamps, iron railings, and little fountains. This was all done long ago to please the very rich who came here for their bathing treatments.
6. Kilwins ice cream parlor
We’re living quite frugally by tent camping and cooking most meals from scratch, but there are moments like this photo… how can you resist a bite? I haven’t tasted fudge in years and the ice cream is pretty darn good too.
7. Camping in stormy weather
But as they say, it’s not all chocolate fudge and ice cream.
After a few days of pure sunshine, we got our first taste of stormy weather. We awkwardly packed everything into Oscar the Outback and slept our first night in the car, waking to a crack of thunder around 5 AM this morning. After some repacking with lightning to help us see, we jumped into a coffee shop at 6:30. Right before the sky let loose buckets of rain. We spent the rest of the day in the welcoming Garland County Library.
All in all Hot Springs has been a unique experience, where urban meets natural, and folks from all over the world enjoy baths that exists to this day.