Hot Springs National Park

It took me two days to drive from San Antonio, Texas to my final stop, Hot Springs, Arkansas (567 miles). I spent the night northeast of Dallas then finished the drive to Hot Springs on Sunday, November 3.

On Monday I “took the waters” at the Quapaw Baths. It is a beautifully modern, remodeled bathhouse. For about $20 all day I had my option of four very large “pools”, actually very large “Jacuzzi” type tubs each potentially holding 20 – 30 people. One pool was set at 95 degrees, another 98 degrees, a third 102 degrees and the fourth 104 degrees. There were 30 or so chaise lounges surrounding the pools. I spent 10 – 15 minutes in each of the first three pools (104 degrees is too hot for me!) with a 10 minute rest on a lounge between each pool dip. I added to the basic package with a private mineral bath and a 30 minute massage. This bathhouse did not offer traditional spa services (body wraps, body polishes, facials, etc.) other than massages and no salon services (waxes, hair styling, manni/pedi etc.) either. I was very relaxed at the end of the day!

People have known about the healing and relaxing properties of the hot springs in this area for thousands of years. The first Europeans to visit the springs were said to be Father Marquette and Jolliet who claimed the area for France in 1673. Other Europeans visited the springs intermittently but the first settlers arrived in the early 1800’s. When Arkansas became a territory in 1819 it requested the hot springs area and the adjacent mountains be set aside as a Federal Reservation to protect the thermal waters. In 1832 the Hot Springs Reservation was created by the US Congress and in 1921 the reservation was renamed Hot Springs National Park.

About 700,000 gallons of 143 degree water flows from 47 springs on the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain per day. The flow is not affected by rainfall fluctuations in the area. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the water that reaches the surface actually fell as rainfall 4,400 years earlier. Surface water gradually trickles down through the earth’s crust about 8000 feet until it reaches a super-heated area and then rushes up to emerge from the springs. It takes less than 100 years for the water to reach the surface after it is heated.

Unlike some hot springs this water has no distinct odor. It has a relatively low mineral content. The rock it flows through is mainly made up of silica, calcium and bicarbonate. Only traces of magnesium, potassium, sulfate, chloride, iron and zinc are present in the thermal water. The average pH of the hot springs is neutral, at just over 7.

To keep the springs free of contamination as early as the late 1800’s piping and wooden trough structures were built to route the spring water directly to the bathhouses. The current underground collection system has been in place since 1974. The National Park Service is responsible for routing the water to the bathhouses, hotels and drinking fountains.

Hot Springs is also known for nearby Oaklawn horse racing track and gaming (January thru April). Historically, Hot Springs hosted Baseball Spring Training and also attracted gangsters. Those days are over but tourists can visit the Gangster Museum.

On Tuesday, November 5 I began the drive home. I got as far as Elizabethtown, Kentucky and on the 6th I drove through Portsmouth to see Dad and ended up in Columbus Wednesday evening.