Thursday, April 28, 2016 – Holy Springs National Forest, Mississippi
It was wonderful waking up in our tent knowing that we had started the second leg of our voyage to Mount Rushmore and that we would be crossing another National Park off of our list today. A slight drizzle fell on the glistening green surrounding us, the sun casting shafts of light in the few places it was able to break through the leafy canopy of the Holy Springs National Forest. We listened to the birds sing the song of a southern morning as we broke camp and made coffee.
We wound down the dirt roads back to the county highway and continued toward Arkansas. Within a few hours we had crossed Mississippi and entered Arkansas.
As soon as we entered the boundaries of Hot Springs National Park, we knew it was very different from any other national park we have visited.
Surrounding by a bustling southern city, the features of the park include a row of historic bathhouses, a network of trails that meanders around fountains of hot spring water, one campground, and Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain on either side of the Bathhouse Row where the majority of the trails are located. In total, there are 27 miles of trail in the park. But the main attraction, of course, is the water. Waters emerging from the hot springs are over 4,000 years old.
Some of the historic structures on Bathhouse Row are still maintained as functional bathhouses, a few have been converted into museums, park information centers and gift shops. After sitting vacant for 30 years, one bathhouse has been turned into the only brewery that brews with thermal spring water, the Superior Bathhouse Brewery.
The bathhouses protected by the park are not the only historic buildings of interest in Hot Springs. At the north end of Bathhouse Row is a historic hotel called The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa. Though not technically part of the national park, it is literally right across the street from the park. You can walk out the hotel doors, cross the street, and all of the sudden you are in the park. We were lucky enough to be able to book a room a The Arlington for our home base as we explored this distinctly urban National Park.
Built in 1924, The Arlington is a beautiful hotel with historic rooms and many stories of interesting lodgers. Notable guests of the past include Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Al Capone, and Mugsy McGraw to name a few. In addition to their own spa, the Arlington boasts a twin cascading outdoor swimming pools and a hot tub with a view historic architecture and the dense forests of hickory, oak, and short-leaf pine that cover Hot Springs Mountain.
After strolling Bathhouse Row and spending time enjoying the The Arlington amenities, we drove both park loops and did the Goat Rock Trail. We had a nice dinner at Superior Bathhouse Brewery, accompanied of course with a few Outlaw IPAs brewed with the thermal spring water.
The day ended with an evening walk up the Grand Promenade then back down through the night lights of Bathhouse Row to The Arlington.
We settled in to our historic hotel room and turned in for the evening. Tomorrow’s plan was to head to the Black Kettle Recreation Area in the National Grasslands of Oklahoma.
Friday, April 29, 2016 – Hot Springs, Arkansas
We woke to deep, growling thunder rattling the windows and strobe flashes of lightening. We looked out the window to see water flooding down the stairs across the street. We turned on the weather to see Arkansas covered with severe thunderstorms and hail, high wind, and tornado warnings for Oklahoma. After much deliberation, we decided to keep our room at The Arlington for another night and leave early Saturday morning. We ordered room service and enjoyed breakfast in bed to the sound of the morning storms.
The forecast for today was was no excuse not to enjoy the park. Some of our favorite National Park memories include hikes inclement weather. Broke out our rain jackets, unrolled our dry bags, packed our Camelbaks and headed back into the park. We hiked Tufa Terrace (twice), Honeysuckle, Peak, and Hot Springs Mountain Trails.
We enjoyed our hikes but this time, my favorite rain-related activity was after hiking, sitting in the outdoor hot tub, covered by a glass roof watching the rain and listening to the storms. Of course, Derrick and I are the only people who decide to spend time at the outdoor pool during a thunderstorm, so we enjoyed our private Hot Springs “spa” experience.
Soaking in the hot spring water, we watched the rain bead and streak down the glass above us. The rain pattered and splattered on the roof and patio. Thunder rumbled, lightening flashed in the distance, and the wind rushed through lush, leafy oak and hickory completing the classic rainstorm symphony. Steam rose and swirled around us as we sunk deeper into the soothing heat of our private pool.
The story of Hot Springs National Park can be interpreted through several historic business and buildings that are not within the park’s jurisdiction. The Arlington Hotel has been provided lodging in Hot Springs since 1875 and is now the largest hotel in Arkansas with close to 500 rooms. Historic rooms, parlor suites, and mineral water rooms with your own spas tub are offered. You can even reserve Al Capone’s favorite room.
Another establishment that was frequented by the famed gangster is The Ohio Club. Established in 1905, The Ohio Club is the oldest bar in Arkansas. Mae West, Babe Ruth, Lucky Luciano, Al Jolson, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. are just a few of the other regulars at the tavern. Ohio Club is the only remaining saloon open of the original illegal casinos that lined the streets of Hot Springs. A speakeasy in the 1920’s, a password was needed to enter the Ohio, which was disguised as a cigar shop for a time. The casino was located upstairs and the bar was hidden behind a false wall. The beautiful mahogany bar back was hand carved and has stood in its current location from the beginning. What better place to have dinner and an adult beverage on our last evening in Hot Springs.
Whatever the weather, we would be back on the road in the morning heading toward Oklahoma and the National Grasslands.