After battling ants for the past few days, our only requirement of our next stop’s accommodations was that they be ant free. Or at least free of RV invading ants. I like ants when they are not in my RV (or biting me). They build super cool ant houses and go places in long lines and carry things that are 3x their tiny ant size. That’s pretty neat.
But I don’t want them in our RV, stealing my candy with their ant strength. So, ‘ant free’ was pretty much our only requirement for staying at Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs National Park. And we were impressed. Because no ants. Also, it’s a very pretty little campground. A bit noisy with road traffic, and some of the sites are a bit janky for a big rig to back into, but very pretty. And RV invading ant free. And first come, first serve – which is our favorite kind of reservation system. Because then we can pick the site we want after further examination – the site with no ants.
And also, the campground offered great access to running (or walking, if that’s what you’re into) trails. After a few days I figured out that there was a 14-20 mile trail (depending on how many times you get lost) that loops right past the campground. I was pleased by this discovery. Very pleased.
Hot Springs runs were not boring. Trails were pretty much the option for running here. Which was fine by me. There was decent foliage and semi-varied terrain and the occasional deer to enjoy. And also an abandoned nursing facility, which we couldn’t help but wander into. And a robot, just chilling on the edge of the forest. And while we didn’t stumble upon Bigfoot, we did heed a warning regarding his presence in the area.
Hot Springs National Park is neat. A little weird for a national park if national parks are your thing and you have expectations of what a national park should be. The ‘glory’ of this park is its row of old bathhouses, rather than the nature that surrounds the bathhouses. Some people probably really enjoy the nature of Hot Springs National Park (I know I did), but most of the celebrity of the place seems to be Bathhouse Row and the town itself (most of which is not actually national park, but they intermingle).
And since the park’s preservation and history is based on its thermal waters, which bubble to the surface at 143 degrees, and therefore had to be ‘tamed’ by pumping them into a bathhouse, the glorification of the old bathhouses over the nature that surrounds them is to be expected. Also, even if you did want to see a ‘real live’ hot spring in the park, you’d be shit out of luck. All but three of the ones we found were covered by lock boxes to protect them from contamination. And the three uncovered ones were definitely ‘show springs’. Aka, they didn’t pump into any drinking/bathing sources. Which is probably good, because people drink straight from the springs. And nobody wants poop water. So, to fight off possible poopetraitors pooping up the water, the park covered most of the springs and built jug fountains so folks could fill up – poop free.
And lots of folks fill up. Every single time we were in town, we noted at least 2 people filling up jugs with their poop-free, naturally drinkable water. We saw more than one mini-van crammed full of old water jugs ready for filling. And we overheard more than one water jug filling citizen mention that they had traveled from quite a distance to fill up their jugs.
We decided to give the water a go based on the fervor that the water jug fillers had for traveling long distances to fill up jug after jug of the water.
And also the water is free. And we like free.
Also, maybe this water does have magical healing powers (ala, history). And while we didn’t have any specific ailments needing healing, maybe the water will give us some sort of covert super power? Like the ability to drive Dyna more than 4 hours without getting tired? Anyways, it tasted fine. But no notable super powers yet.
Maybe we needed to drink and bathe in the waters to get the super powers? We didn’t bathe in the waters. We could have, but the idea of sitting in luke warm water (anything below 108º is luke warm to me) inside an old building (which sorta creeped me out) with a bunch of other stranger type folks (which probably would have creeped me out even more) without any form of filtration or cleaning agent (some people pee in pools guys) wasn’t my idea of a good time. But let’ be honest, I might have liked it if we tried it. Maybe next time.
We did tour the Fordyce Bathhouse, which also acts as the park’s visitor center (but not the gift shop – that is in yet another bathhouse on the row, apparently in an attempt to utilize more of the old structures). They are restoring (or have restored) the Fordyce to represent its former glory. And it’s neat. And also creepy. Something about old medical/health centers just creeps me the heck out.
You know what doesn’t creep me the heck out? Beer.
One of the old bathhouses (Superior) has been converted into a brewery, which is a brilliant idea. Also, fun fact: it is the only brewery in a national park. Clearly that couldn’t be passed up. And the beer turned out to be pretty darned good. Maybe hot springs water does have magic? At least for beer making? Anyways, it was good enough to fill a growler and utilize the libation to get through another NY Giants game (they are a big blue disaster crew this season). Also, Arkansas has crappy liquor laws, and the only place you can buy alcohol on a Sunday is a bar. And since the brewery is a bar, (and we’re poor planners and didn’t stock up before Sunday) we were able to buy beer there. Arkansas might actually change their liquor laws if they were also NY Giants fans. Suffering Giants fans need lubrication. Beer lubrication.
The town of Hot Springs (which is on the other side of the street from the bathhouses) is really cute. Also, it has a cupcake shop. And a burger shop. And a pancake shop. And a bit further down, a beer shop. We liked all of these shops. I especially liked the pancake shop after getting lost on a long run (there’s that whole Sunrise Loop Trail being between 14-20 miles thing).
Like the national park, the town of Hot Springs (city?) is a little bit weird. When you are not walking down the main strip – where the bathhouses/national park headquarters are, much of the town has a feel of abandonment. Most all of the big lovely buildings built as hotels, medical centers and theatres in the early 1900s to entertain guests during the time in history when taking a bath in a bathhouse was considered entertainment, are now empty. They just kind of loom there. I hope they can get un-abandoned soon. They made me feel sad. They also made me feel like we should sneak in and check them out, but we didn’t. I’m a cautious explorer.
You can go up to the observation tower above the city if you want to see far and wide. We hiked up there one morning. It was nice. It isn’t free, which was fine. Just be prepared to pay an entry fee if you go. I warn you because like us, you might have gotten used to Hot Spring National Park being free. Because unlike most national parks, Hot Springs National Park does not have an entrance fee. Your national park pass does get you a discount to climb to the top of the observation tower though. Tip: there is an elevator to get to the top. The elevator does not have bees. The stairs do.
Other than being on the edge of semi-abandonment, Hot Springs seems to have a small crisis it’s dealing with. Or maybe it’s Little Rock with the crisis? I don’t know, but I’m pretty confused coming from Little Rock to Hot Springs – both of which seem to lay claim to President Bill Clinton. It is clearly very important that I know who actually ‘owns’ President Bill Clinton. #makebillchooseatown
Our fridge is filled with Superior Bathhouse Beer and Hot Springs natural hot spring water (come on covert super powers!) We have enjoyed some fall foliage, although being from the North East it is hard to impress us with foliage (sorry Hot Springs, valiant effort though). We haven’t eaten barbecue in weeks.
So, it’s time to head out. Texas is calling. Mostly Texas barbecue.
See you in 15lbs.