The trip northeast into Arkansas was an easy trip along I-30 and then north on US and state highways to Lake Greeson and our next location at Cowhide Cove Campground. The road down into the campground was 10 miles into the wilderness of the Ozarks winding down to the lake that even included a hairpin turn. Since the COE campground had just opened up for the season, we were hopeful that it was actually open. For the next month the sites were all first-come-first-served, so we did not have any reservations. If it was not open, then I was not sure how we were going to get turned around on this winding mountain road. We pulled up to the campground host that were just outside the entrance to the campground and thankfully they were at home and the campground was open. At the time there was just one other RV in the campground so we had our choice of campsites. We found out from the campground host that the water was to be turned on the next day, which would not be too much of a problem as long it was not more than a couple of days since we did not have any water in our fresh tank. We choose a site on the top of the ridge with views of the lake on both sides of the RV since the campground was along a peninsula into the lake. The site we choose had a wide entrance so we were able to back the RV in with no problem and got set up for the week.
By Monday evening the weather had turned wet with light rain that continued through Tuesday. So we spent the day in the campground while I worked on this blog and watched the contractors chase down all the water valves and get our water going. Wednesday was still wet during periods throughout the day so we decided to combine two activities: laundry and a trip to a casino. We drove nearly an hour to Hot Springs and found a nice laundry right across the road from the casino. Cleaning the clothes took only a couple of hours and after walking next door to Arby’s for lunch, we crossed the street into the casino. Oaklawn Racing and Gaming was currently undergoing some major additions of an additional hotel and parking garage. Therefore we had to park a considerable distance from the entrance, however, they provided shuttle buses that took us under the construction to the casino entrance. This casino is huge with hundreds of slot machines, gaming tables, and poker venues. We found plenty to keep us playing for a couple of hours. Unlike the previous casino experience, I did horribly losing nearly all the money I brought in. Fortunately, Kal did marginally better so we did not lose our entire stake. While this was not nearly as much fun as winning, it was still an enjoyable afternoon.
Since I “helped” Kal do the laundry, which entailed about 5 minutes of helping her fold clothes, she returned the favor on Thursday and watched me clean the RV. After spending the day in the campground we headed back to Hot Springs on Friday to the National Park which was the main reason we came to the area. We have both been to Hot Springs National Park in the past, but it had been decades and it had changed a lot. The National Park has an interesting history that dates back to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The springs had been known about well before that including Hernando de Soto in 1541 and Father Marquette and Jolliet in 1673. In fact, President Jefferson sent William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore the region in 1804. After Arkansas became a territory in 1819, the Legislature requested the site be protected by the federal government. It took them 12 years, but in 1832 Congress designated the area as Hot Springs Reservation as the first to be protected for public use. Since then the area has been under to protection of the Federal Government and was transferred to the National Park System in 1921. The Federal Government has protected the springs making certain that the water remains unpolluted and free to the public. They have leased land at the base of the springs to private ownerships to establish public baths with a flow of over half a million gallons a year. The stream was covered with stone arches and most of the 43 springs have been capped with the water from the hot springs collected and distributed by the park. It is the geology of the area that make the hot springs possible. The hot springs are in a gap between Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain in the Ouachita Mountains. The same forces that created the mountains tilted the shale creating channels upwards from the depths. Rainwater percolates down through the rocks to 4,500 to 7,000 feet deep, moving at a rate of about a foot a year. The water is heated due to pressure and natural radioactive decay. Due to artesian pressure the water is forced back to the surface between two thrust faults in the rock. Since the water is not heated by volcanic sources, it does not have the sulfur smell commonly associated with hot springs. In fact, it is very clean and is some of the only water that is safe and pleasant to drink in the United States. Therapeutic baths were all the rage at the turn of the century and reached its peak in the 1940s. The bathhouses have come and gone over the years, but at one time there were over two dozen operating in Hot Springs. They ranged from very ornate bathhouses to simple public facilities and even included a couple for the black servants. The nine remaining bathhouses make up “Bathhouse Row” which is the centerpiece of the National Park. Two of them, Quapaw and Buckstaff still operate as bathhouses. The others have been transformed into other businesses. The Fordyce is the Visitor Center and Museum, the Lamar is the gift shop, the Ozark is an art cultural center, and the Superior and Hale are a brewery and restaurant, respectively. Th Maurice has been upgraded and is currently accepting proposals for a future business. Each of the bathhouses have a distinctive style and interesting history.
When we arrived at the National Park our first challenge was to find a parking spot for our monstrous truck. Most National Parks have parking lots associated with them, but since the Fordyce is in the middle of Bathhouse Row, there was no parking. Kal made a turn down Fountain Street checking for a spot along the road and we were caught making the one way trip up to the top of Hot Springs Mountain. The road up the mountain is the old carriage road and winds back and forth with one hairpin turn after another all the way to the top. At the top is the Hot Springs Mountain Tower which towers 1000 feet above the trees. We finally found a parking spot and got out to enjoy the view before heading back down to town. Not knowing how long it was going to take in town, we decided not to go up the tower itself. We did get information about parking in town and headed to the free parking garage just a block from Bathhouse Row. Kal hates parking garages and we certainly felt that we would hit the cement roof in a number of places. There was no way we would be able to park into any of the single spots as this truck has to have at least two places in order to get it parked. Thankfully, the top of the parking garage was still fairly empty so we were able to get parked easily. Now it was a simple walk to Bathhouse Row. When we were here decades ago, I remember a simple tour of the first floor of a bathhouse which gave you some idea of the heyday of bathing, however, a lot has changed since then. They have put a lot of work and money into renovating the Fordyce into its glory of the 1940s. The entire building, all three floors and the basement, have been redone. You can either take a guided tour, however, we decided to just do a personal tour of the facilities. With all the interpretive signs it was as good as a guided tour. In the basement you can view one of the actual hot springs under the building. The first floor is the bathing rooms, separate for females and males. While the female area was simple tubs and showers, the male area was ornate with fountains, statues, and stained glass ceilings. The second floor was the changing rooms, message rooms, and other therapeutic treatments. There was even sunbathing areas out on the roof where men and women could relax in the sun, although the women areas was on the shady side of the building so they would not get too much sun. The third floor was the real prize. The front is an ornate parlor for the women and game room for the men. The back was an amazing gymnasium, which was also considered essential for health. We spent a couple of hours just touring the building which is well worth seeing. After our personal tour we walked down to the Superior Bathhouse, which is now a brewery, for lunch. We sampled their beers and had a nice lunch of sandwiches. After lunch we walked up to the Grand Promenade which is a brick walkway up and behind Bathhouse Row. Along our pleasant stroll we saw a lot of their capped wells and even the location of the old bandstand that would play music to waft over the visitors to the bathhouses. At the end of the Grand Promenade is a drinking fountain where you can sample the water, which is very good, and fill up jugs to take home. This is an amazing place and a must see if you enjoy history in an ornate setting.
We stayed in the campground over the weekend, catching Auburn’s basketball game on Saturday as they got ready for the upcoming SEC tournament.