Hot Springs, Arkansas. January 2-3rd

Hot Springs, Arkansas. January 2-3rd

On January 2nd, 2021, our westward journey continued. It started with a drive across the mighty Mississippi, crossing into the state of Arkansas while suspended over its famous banks. A quick brunch in Little Rock and we made it to our destination of Hot Springs in no time. Hot Springs was well… not straightforward. We will admit it… we were confused. Just exactly what is Hot Springs, Arkansas? Is it a town? Is it a national park? Are there hot springs to see? How do we get to which part? It took a bit of navigation on foot and persistent question asking to find out. As it turns out, the answer is … all of the above. 

Our first impression of Hot Springs was as a quaint destination town with charming shops and lively streets. On second glance we realized there were a number of empty buildings. Large buildings. Old hotels, motels, and historic homes. Most striking was an enormous, really enormous, historic building with a majestic perch on the mountainside overlooking the town. What was this? Why was it empty? What happened to this town? Why was there no rooftop bar on this magnificent building?

We soon learned that most of the buildings were property of the US National Park Service. Many buildings were slated for renovation and others were just waiting. The town IS the National Park. Hot springs erupt naturally on the western side of the mountain in the hundreds. After the Civil War, the injured and ailing flocked there for the curative waters. Bath houses were built, too. The owners of the bath houses became concerned that the camps of public bathers were contaminating their water supply and received permission to cap off most of the surface wells. You can see them as you walk along the Promenade and other beautiful brick paths that wind through the hillside. The Christmas lights were beautiful and were a nice treat to cap off the holidays. We were sad to learn on our historic walk that only the rather pricey bath houses are set up to receive the continuous flow of this tasteless, odorless 150-degree mineral water now. No soakable natural hot springs are left.

The town was also the literal “hotspot’ for baseball spring training camps and a violence free home base for gangsters in the 1920s. This interaction allowed the town of Hot Springs to build ritzy hotels and glamorous bath houses. There was also the old army navy hospital (the enormous building on the mountain) which has been at times used for a mental institution as well as a rehabilitation center for the disabled. As you can imagine, there are many famous and dramatic stories considering this rich history. It would be amazing to see this beautiful little town returned to its former glory. Having the bath houses restored and open to the public would also be fantastic. As part of this restoration, we would prefer to see affordable public access to these springs returned in some way, outside of the pricey bath houses. What a gem Hot Springs would be if it could be visited as it was in its heyday. 

Overall, we loved Hot Springs…almost as much as we love rooftop bars. A friendly word of advice. Do not believe the staff of “The Rooftop” Hot Springs if they tell you they have plenty of heaters to offset the chill of a damp 38-degree evening. However, the Superior Brewery(only brewery in a US National Park) uses the mineral water to brew a delicious Irish Red, and is a must try. 

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