Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hot Springs

The last stop on our Arkansas tour has been the unique town of Hot Springs. Our home for the last 12 days has been Catherine's Landing, a new and quite comfortable park on the southeastern edge of town.

Catherine's Landing is the second RVC Outdoor Destination park we've stayed in. (The other is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, which was recently purchased by RVC.) Everything about this park was top notch. We'll definitely be back!

Our site backed up to Lake Catherine, which looks more like a creek right here. Our spot was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. 

The autumn colors are just arriving at Lake Catherine. They look particularly stunning at sunset.

One of the highlights of our stay was meeting up with friends Cathy, Steve and Dottie. We had a great time with these three, as always. We look forward to seeing them again in Kansas City.

The primary reason we chose to visit Hot Springs was to check another National Park off our list. Unlike most National Parks, where you drive miles and miles to cover everything the park has to offer, Hot Springs National Park is located in the center of town.

For years, the thing that brought visitors to these parts were the namesake springs. They are hot, indeed! The thermal water coming from this spigot averages a temperature of 143 degrees. It was definitely hot to touch. (Yes, of course we did!) We saw folks filling jugs from this spigot and others like it around the park. 

Our tour of the park was actually a stroll. The Grand Promenade is a beautiful tree-lined walking path that sits above and behind Bathhouse Row. Once upon a time, the hot springs were accessible from this path. But, they have since been sealed.

Walking along Bathhouse Row, we felt a bit like we'd stepped back into the 1920s. These eclectic buildings are in various states of renovation and repair. But, they reflect a bygone eara when the rich and famous came here to enjoy "America's Spa."

Buckstaff Bathhouse is the only facility that still offers the traditional Hot Springs bathing experience. The park Visitors Center features a video that explains how the process works. We decided we didn't need a personal assistant to scrub us down, so we opted for a less traditional way to take in the "healing" waters.

We decided to enjoy the Quapaw Baths. The Quapaw Bathhouse closed in 1984. A renovation in 2007 included the creation of four "public" thermal pools, several private bathing rooms and a full service spa.

We donned our swimsuits and headed for the thermal pools, which ranged from 93 degrees to 104 degrees. Upon the attendant's advice, we started with the hottest pool and worked our way down to the "cool pool". (It's amazing how cool 93 degrees can feel!) The pools featured jets and waterfalls. The stained glass dome cast a soothing light as soft instrumental music played in the background. A row of teak lounging chairs provided a perfect spot to cool off with a glass of icy water (It's important to stay hydrated!) between soaks. Ahhhhhhhh!

This is what a couple of hours at Quapaw will do to you! While Steve was with us enjoying to pools, Cathy had a full body massage. Don't they look relaxed? We all did! The Quapaw portico offered us the perfect spot to transition from the spa to the real world. 

At the north end of Bathhouse Row sits the stately Arlington Hotel, a Hot Springs landmark. In the 1930s, this was reportedly a favorite hangout of Al Capone. Today, it has a standout lobby bar, a highly acclaimed spa and lovely Sunday brunch buffet.

Steve and Cathy also joined us for a tour of Garvin Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre botanical garden that is part of the University of Arkansas. We had been told this was a "don't miss" when visiting Hot Springs. And, we would have to agree. This time of year, the thriving clumps of mums are one of the few things blooming. But, there still is so much to see.

This is a place where you must have good walking shoes. Our five-miles-plus hike took us through each of the themed gardens amongst the heavily treed forest on the shoreline of beautiful Lake Hamilton. It was a great walk!

We did see a few azaleas in bloom!

We saw hundreds of interesting "blooms" like these! Garvan staffers were busy hanging lights everywhere for the Holiday Lights spectacular. Beginning November 17th, more than two million lights will twinkle throughout the gardens. We'll have to plan a return trip during the holiday season!

In addition to the stunning flora and fauna, the gardens feature creatures, too. These residents of the koi pond in the Japanese garden were very welcoming. (They thought we had food!)

This Blue India Peafowl is one of the residents at the aviary in the nature preserve. Reportedly, the local Audubon Society has spotted more than 120 species of birds in this area, which features a 1.9-mile aptly named Birdsong Trail. We didn't see or hear many birds on our hike. But, the views were lovely.

Beautiful pieces of sculpture and architecture can be found throughout the gardens. We went looking for the crown jewel and nearly missed it. It's there, hiding in the trees.

The Anthony Chapel brings the outside in as it soars to a height of six stories. The 160-seat chapel is reportedly the most popular wedding destination in Arkansas. More than 175 weddings are performed here each year. (We were lucky to find the place empty during our visit!)

Paul and I made a trek to Lake Quachita State Park northwest of town. (After much mispronouncing, we learned it's WASH-ah-taw.) We checked out the campgrounds and enjoyed a hike along part of the Caddo Bend Trail. (Actually, we opted to walk the service road most of the way out on the peninsula.)

As we neared the tip of the peninsula, we hopped on the trail, picked up a geocache and made our way to the observation deck.

What a view! Lake Quachita covers approximately 40,000 acres and has approximately 200 islands. No homes are allowed along its shoreline, which helps maintain its pristine beauty. It is Arkansas' largest and as one of the cleanest lakes in America.

The Three Sisters Springs historical site is located in the park. According to local history, this site was homesteaded in 1875 by John McFadden, who named the springs in honor of his three daughters. In 1907 the area was developed into a resort and bottling company. For ten cents a bottle, customers bought water from the three springs, which claimed to cure different ailments. Spring No. 2, in the center, reportedly cured "chronic constipation, chronic indigestion, catarrh of stomach, excessive acid, gastritis, ulcerated stomach, poor assimilation and elimination, low blood pressure, gall stones, mucus colitis." That's powerful water!

We caught up with our friend David who recently moved to Hot Springs. (He has a very official job in town.) During our very enjoyable lunch, he recommended that we visit Blakely Dam. He said the view was not to be missed. On our way back from Lake Quachita, we stopped by the dam. While the dam was impressive, the view was not.

According to Google maps, we had reached the end of the road. But, in search of the not-to-be-missed view, we kept driving. It looked like Rocky was in the water. But, we were high and dry.

This is the view Dave was talking about! The top of the dam offered a panorama that we are certainly glad we did not miss.

With all of this sightseeing, it was important to stay nourished. Our primary travel guide, "100 Places in the US and Canada to See Before You Die", listed McClards Bar-B-Q as one such place. So, one afternoon, we stopped by with Steve and Cathy.

I don't take many photos of food. But, I just had to get a shot of our McClards aftermath. As four former Kansas Citians, we take barbeque pretty seriously. This was good stuff.

We're always on the lookout for tasty local breakfast spots. And, we found one in Hot Springs. The English Muffin, located on the shore of Lake Hamilton, is one of our favorites.

Colton's Steakhouse is popular in these parts. We just had to check out the place that bears Steve and Cathy's name. With buckets of peanuts, plenty of ice cold beers and tasty sandwiches, Colton's was a fun outing. (And Steve had to get a t-shirt!)

After Cathy and Steve headed north, we were treated to a visit from friends Carrie and Bill. It was great to see them again. We're embarrassed that while they got this photo of us, we didn't get any pictures of them. (Although here's how they looked when we met them in Gunnison a few months ago.) We enjoyed a wonderful dinner in their Tour that featured good food, good wine, great conversation and wonderful company, including Carrie and Bill's kitty Tractor.

The most exciting part of our visit with Carrie and Bill was meeting the newest addition to their family, Mizzou, who they adopted on their travels in Missouri this Fall. We fell in love with this cute little puppy, of course. But, as a couple of devoted Jayhawks, we have our own pet name for her. We call her Miss Zou.

We said so long to Carrie and Bill and their cute menagerie last night. We were up bright and early to make the long trek to Kansas City. The 435 miles across three states made for a lengthy travel day.  It was nearly 4 pm before we reached our destination exit. We've never been so glad to see that familiar sign! Tonight we're all tucked in at our "home" park, ready to enjoy a month with family and friends in our old hometown.


Chuck and Anneke's RV travels said...

Looks like a very inviting place, somehow we have missed it. Will have to try and correct that:)

Joe Todd said...

Read several of your posts and enjoyed them all.. Great travel photos

Paul and Mary said...

Thanks, Joe! I'm sorry the blog is so far behind. There are more posts and photos of more adventures to come. So glad you stopped by!