Fordyce Bathhouse

Fordyce Bathhouse

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed the bill creating Hot Springs Reservation. By setting aside four sections of land, this was the first time the nation acted to protect a natural resource. In 1921, Congress declared this spot the 18th national park. Hot Springs National Park is different from other national parks in that Bathhouse Row, a core component of the park, is across the street from commercial businesses in the City of Hot Springs. The Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center, found in the middle of Bathhouse Row, is in the Fordyce Bathhouse. We started with the 15-minute introductory film “Valley of the Vapors” before touring most of the 23 restored rooms furnished as they appeared during the heyday of the spa. All the women’s side and some of the men’s side of the building are outfitted with the furniture and equipment of the time: hydrotherapy equipment, steam cabinets, Zander mechano-therapy equipment, tubs, massage tables, sitz tub, chiropody tools, beauty parlor, a billiard table, and a piano. I especially liked the large domed skylight in the men’s area. It contains about 8,000 pieces of glass arranged to represent Neptune’s daughter, mermaids, dolphins, and fish in swirling water.

Superior Bathhouse, originally operational from 1916-1983, is now a brewery, the first in a U.S. National Park. They turn 144-degree water into a myriad of brews such as the ones I sampled: Sidetown Smoked Saison, Foul Play Stout, Desoto’s Folly Golden Stout, and SPA (Superior Pale Ale). The Hale Bathhouse, 1892-1978, is the oldest such structure on Bathhouse Row. The Maurice Bathhouse, 1912-1974, was the only bathhouse with a pool. The original Quapaw Bathhouse operated from 1922-1968, and under different ownership from 1969-1984. In 2008, under a lease agreement it opened as a modern spa. The Ozark Bathhouse, 1922-1977, was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The Buckstaff Bathhouse has been in continuous operation since 1912. The Lamar Bathhouse, 1923-1985, now houses the park store.

Hot Springs Mountain Observation Tower

Hot Springs Mountain Observation Tower

We explored some of the Hot Springs National Park trails. The half mile Grand Promenade winds behind Bathhouse Row from Reserve Street to Fountain Street. Started as part of a PWA project in the 1930s and not completed until 1957, this intricately designed brick promenade is a National Recreation Trail. We ascended the steep Peak Trail 0.6 miles to the massive 210-foot-high Hot Springs Mountain Observation Tower. I took the elevator for panoramic views. After a picnic lunch, we walked part of the Hot Springs Mountain Trail before descending on the half-mile Honeysuckle Trail. On Wednesday, we ventured across the street to hike some of the West Mountain trails. To access the one-mile Oak Trail, we climbed part of the Canyon Trail’s winding switchbacks. At the West Mountain overlook we continued our walk on the West Mountain Trail before descending 0.7 miles on the Canyon Trail and seeing a deer cross our path.

Belle of Hot Springs

Belle of Hot Springs

On Wednesday evening, we boarded the Belle of Hot Springs for a sunset dinner cruise on Lake Hamilton. We were impressed by opulent homes on the lake, some with their own water features, and we were gifted with a pretty sunset.

On Thursday, we drove to Lake Catherine State Park where we hiked the two-mile Falls Branch Trail meandering along valley streams, mountain ridges, and lake shoreline. The terrain is steep and rugged in places, so don’t be like us and forget your walking stick. Three pileated woodpeckers traveled together looking for a mid-morning snack. A waterfall is a popular destination. We found young people enjoying the water and inappropriately egging their two dogs to jump from the cliffside. The dogs appeared to be smarter than their owners. We learned from a self-guiding interpretive trail brochure that Lake Catherine was formed in 1924 by the construction of Remmel Dam to generate hydroelectric power. Near the end of the trail we crossed a 45-foot-long swinging bridge that was built to prevent erosion caused by pedestrian traffic.

In the afternoon, we visited Garvin Woodland Gardens, part of the University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture. This 210-acre botanical garden features several miles of walking trails. We enjoyed walking through the impressive Japanese garden where koi in a pond converged on me begging to be fed while I was setting up to take a photograph. We looped around the Perry Wildflower Overlook with its sweeping views of Lake Hamilton, including Mt. Riante in the distance. Several daylily varieties caught my eye in the Southern Inspiration Garden as well as the bright blue and purple colors of hydrangeas. A tooth fairy house is part of a whimsical collection of creative wood structures. We missed seeing the Anthony Chapel with its soaring columns and fan vaulting of southern yellow pine. Maybe on our next visit.

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