Scenic icons of the arid American West are the images conjured in the minds of most people when they hear the words National Park are vast, primeval, unpopulated areas but the smallest of our national parks lies at the heart of a bustling little Arkansas City. As a matter of fact, the park is the reason for the cities being there. The focus of this park is neither geysers nor glaciers but bubbling waters, and it all can be reach with a short drive or taxi.
This place is Hot Springs National Park, with only 5550 acres located 60 miles from Little Rock, the capital of the state.
This diminutive historic park draws over a million visitors a year, there are 47 thermal springs flowing on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs mountain. Everyday over 700,000 gallons bubbles from the air.
Thousands of years ago rainwater started seeping into porous rocks and soil to the depths of 4000+ feet, heated in the cauldron of the earth’s centers, these waters began percolating back to the surface with a temperature of 143°F.
Native Americans, the first to bathe in these springs of magic waters called this place “The valley of Vapors” and considered it sacred. According to their legends these springs held a great spirit who heated the waters with his breath.
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson acquired the springs with the Louisiana purchase, he sent scientists who came back lowing the encouraged health seekers to take the waters. The springs began drawing the overworked and the frazzled, attracted by the luxury of floating on the warm Bubbling waters, the healing waters.
Hot Springs became the Great American spa. Electricity a marvel of the time was coupled with the thermal waters and hydroelectric bass, the waters were charged with the weak current, supposedly it enhanced healing; and then in 1921 United States Congress designated hot Springs Arkansas a national park, the only national park that can boast a bathhouse row as one of its attractions.
Elegant old Fordyce bathhouse is now a visitor center and museum, it exudes the opulence of a gilded past, the ornate assembly room, piano, antique writing tables, marble floors, elaborate fountains and even stained-glass windows. It also housed a gym, bath house patrons were encouraged to box and lift weights.
Quapaw Bathhouse adorned with Native American motifs is still open to the public, the same holds true for the Buckstaff Bathhouse which is been in continuous operation since 1912. The list of notables who bathe here reads like a Who’s Who of a more innocent age. John L’Sullivan the boxer, Billy Sunday the evangelist, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, America sweetheart Mary Pickford and Harry the buck stops here. Gangsters love the place, to them it was neutral ground but Al Capone in the mob let their tommy guns. Are the bubbling waters from these 47 springs the elixir of health and longevity they were once claimed to be, the pard makes no such claims. Still a trip to hot Springs can add to one’s feeling of well-being, and it’s fun to sip the champagne of your water and get into a bath with history.