MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

History, High School and Victorian Bathhouses

On the hiking trail in
Hot Springs National Park
Did you know that this year marked the centennial of the National Park Service?  Do you know how many national parks there are?[i]  How about total elements in the Park Service?[ii]  I do, and I am on a mission.  If you have read any of my musings, you know that I LOVE getting outside and enjoying these bits of natural treasure.  I wanted to make sure I celebrated the Park’s Birthday by visiting a few new places… I wanted to up my park number a bit.    At the same time, my boyfriend wanted to join me on one of my park visits.  He was new to this type of trip-quest.  He wanted to see what I saw and enjoy the beauty and the history, yet he is not a hiker.  (Heck, I have not got out enough the last few years).  So looking over the list of parks, I decided the perfect spot was Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. 

I have been to Arkansas only one time before, and it was a side trip off a trip in Texas.  On that Arkansas visit, I focused on the southwest quadrant of the state – visiting Hope (Clinton’s birthplace) and the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.   I wasn’t that far from Hot Springs the first time, but I just ran out of time.   That heat while in the park, in June, was awful and wiped me out.  But I also was gobsmacked, Arkansas was beautiful.  It was nothing like I pictured in my head as a flat dead brown land– instead I saw beautiful waterways, rolling hills and plenty of green.  So a special trip to Hot Springs in late autumn sounded like a good plan.

To get there, we flew to into Little Rock.  For a three day trip, I planned to spend 1 full day in the capital city and a day and a half in the resort town.  We had a plan, and we needed one if we were going to fit all of it in.  I fully admit that I have in intense pace when I am power touring, and that is not for everyone.  I have gone easy on prior trips with my partner, but he was warned that we had a mission.  So, from the moment we stepped off the plane until the moment we got back to the airport, we were cooking.  It was funny (for me).  I think he is still tired from the experience!

Walls of plates at the Flying Saucer
Our first stop, once we got off the plane, was the Flying Saucer for a late meal and relaxation.  This place came highly recommended from some plane seat neighbors, who told me it was an eclectic “must- see” locale that was casual, open late and in a great area of the city that we could not miss.  So, we headed straight to the UFO pub for some grub.  Immediately upon entering, you notice that the walls are lined with plates – those cheesy decorative plates.  And they are from all over the place.  We were seated in front of a HUGE big screen television showing the game, and I could not stop scanning the walls looking at all the places the plates illustrated.   Mixed in, and on the ceiling, were color ringed plates with names – and this was where their “wall of fame” was enshrined.  The Flying Saucer is known in Little Rock for its beer list - Over 200 kinds.  And if you register, and finish the list (NOT in one setting, but many), you are immortalized on a plate.  So, as we chowed down on loaded tots and an arugula and prosciutto pizza, I read crazy plate sayings.  This place is a trip.  And it has spunk – it was that perfect casual meal in a place with character. 

Junction Bridge
After food and drinks, we headed to the waterfront to walk over Junction Bridge, mosey down some pathways and settle our food.  We were lucky it was a gorgeous evening.   For once (in a blue moon) the weather cooperated with me and the sky was clear.  So we were able to walk across the river to take in our first real views on downtown Little Rock.   Thanks to historical preservationists and green space planners, efforts to keep bridges over the River standing and make them pedestrian accessible, have been a huge hit. This area was one spot everyone told us to visit when hearing about our weekend adventure in Arkansas.  The three bridges over the Arkansas River are one of the most iconic views in the city.  Postcards are littered with these views...Especially at night when their colors play on the waters.  Wandering the pathways to look at the sculpture art by the river was another story.  We did not see much outside of the pavilion and one of the main things I left on the table in Little Rock was finding the “Little Rock” that the city was named for… it was down that path somewhere. 

Little Rock Skyline
from the Clinton Library
The next day began our power tour of Little Rock.  We needed clockwork precision to make this all work.  I wanted to fit in 3 museums, a park, a distillery and a damn bridge before we headed to Hot Springs that evening.  I am a bit ambitious, I admit. 

Art Deco in abundance at
Little Rock Central
To meet our goals, we made sure we were at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site the moment it opened.  You can’t come to Little Rock without seeing this bit of civil rights history.  We arrived before it opened and I was able to beg our way into the first tour of the day. (Note for future visitors, make a reservation)  The fantastic ranger walked us through the history of the Little Rock Nine – beyond anything we learned in our few paragraphs in a school text book.  Sitting in the visitor center, we spoke as a group discussing the doctrine of “separate but equal” and what it meant here; uncovering nasty truths of
This HS remains state of the art
how city and state leaders conspired to ensure that students would not integrate even after the Brown vs Board of Education ruling (ruling that separate was not equal), and then hearing the accounts of everything these children and their families endured just so they could attend the best public high school in the city.  Did you know that city leaders actually shut school down for a year?  No, neither did I.  They fail to mention that in the textbooks.  And just when you thought the city had reached a low, we walked through the Little Rock 10 (yep, it started as 10)’s walk to school.  The experience was enough to make you cry, feel disgusted  and be fighting mad at the same time.  You can’t visit this place without being inspired by the bravery of these students.  I am in awe – pure awe.  It touched me deeply. 

Purses by the Decade at Esse Purse Museum
After the high school, we needed a mental break.  So, I dragged my boyfriend to the Esse Purse Museum.  Located in the South Main Street District, this museum is the ONLY purse museum in the country and only 1 of 3 in the world. Anyone that has ever dumped out a women’s purse, or tried to find something in it will tell you that you can tell a lot about a person’s life from their purse contents.  Here you can track the evolution of the 20th-century American woman through the bags she carried and their contents – it offers a glimpse at the life of women.  And while he begrudgingly came along, the boyfriend actually ended up having fun. 
He appreciated the small museum for its story , and for the fun – he busied himself finding things that were familiar, laughing at some of the bad fashion of his youth (and the 90’s – yuck), pointing out stuff he thought I would like and taking my purse to the weight station to compare bags! (In my defense, my purse was filled with a camera, water bottles, and maps. ) Me?  I loved this place for its story and message.  I loved the fashion review, but more importantly, I loved how it clearly showed a link between fashion and feminism.  I wish this place wasn’t so far away because I would love to bring my mom (my fashion icon and ex model) who taught me everything I know about good fashion choices.

Presidential Park Wetlands
By this time, the boyfriend was starving.  We had skipped breakfast to make it to the High School on time and it was now pushing 2pm...but sorry hon, we have another appointment for the last tour of the day at the Clinton Museum and Library at 3pm.  We had just enough time to walk some of Main Street and stop for the magical ice cream at Loblolly Creamery.  They have the craziest flavors.  After trying a few, he ended up with Cornbread and I decided on S’mores with actual gram cracker.  Good stuff needed to hold us over. 

Clinton Library from the pedestrian bridge
We made it to the Library in time to sign up for the tour and watch the Clinton retrospective mini-film.  The tour walked us through a model Presidential conference room, and into the archives and the hall of gifts; the guide held no punches talking of the highs and lows and in-betweens of the Clinton Presidency – balanced budget vs impeachment vs NAFTA.  The main archives are separated into topical sections and centered on the presidential timeline – it was a great way to revisit his presidency . The guide thrilled us with the idea that at any moment Clinton could pop by (if he was in town) since his office and apartment was in the facility.  The building is modeled after President Clinton’s guiding principle, Building a Bridge to the 21st Century, as it sits right near the edge of the river.  Outside, you can walk over another bridge … the Library is credited with saving Little Rock.  It brought people and businesses back to downtown, (like the area we were in the prior evening).  The location of the Library was risky since it was filled with burnt out warehouses – now, there is reclaimed riverfront (and a boardwalk walkway to learn about wetland ecology) and the Library hosts special exhibits for traveling shows – such as the Beetle’s Retrospective we were able to quickly view.

Rock Town Distillery Barrels
Big Dam Bridge
After power walking the wetland pathway to see what they highlighted, we headed off to the Rock Town Distillery (in one of those warehouses nearby).  After a day of history, and power touring, I figured the boyfriend needed something he could relax at… sadly they did not have food, so once the samples came out, he got drunk.  The tour was simple – 3 stops – the barrels, the fermenting room and the bottling machine.  I truly think the crowd was there to taste – and taste they did.  I smelled a lot of them – just not my thing.  After the tour and tastings we headed for food, finally, to a highly recommended Rebel Kettle Brewing right up the street for good burgers and a chance to sit.  Because the last thing we were stuffing into our Little Rock Day was Big Dam Bridge.  We asked just about everyone at the brewery what we should do before we left and everyone agreed that we needed to walk this bridge.  So we did, and it was beautiful. 

(Part of) Bathhouse Row in the Daylight
Once we were back in the car, the boyfriend passed out (poor guy) and I drove us the quick 1 1 /2 hour trip to Hot Springs.

The Arlington
  I was excited to get there.  People all day had been telling me how beautiful it was… they had asked where we were staying… and the mixed replies should have warned me.  I had booked us 2 nights in The Arlington, the art deco crown jewel at the heart of the town.  Everyone said it was a beautiful hotel – and it was… not everyone agreed that it was the best place to say, just was the most convenient. 

Bathhouse Row to The Arlington
It was that too.  Beautiful and convenient.  That is all I can say because the staff, service, room and food still leave me fuming.  But this is a happy blog, so if you want to read about it, head to Trip Advisor or contact me privately… I would just say, stay in a B&B, that is my plan if I go back.

Hot Springs near the Promenade
Once we got there and survived check-in, I immediately headed out for a walk on the street.  I needed to cool off and this was a good way to get a lay of the land.  Bathhouse Row was literally right out the front door, as was the famed Promenade.  I walked past all of that to the edges of the “city” streets – in both directions.  I touched the famous waters pouring from fountains and I noted the water fill stations.  I found a naturalistic rock/gem shop and went in (of course), and learned some local history and local “must-sees/eats”  from the shop owner – we covered founding history to the nation’s first army/navy hospital to recent changes and catastrophes (floods and mud slides).  All this history boiled down to a lot of death for a tiny town… so of course there are ghosts, lots of them.  Then she and her partner told me about their ghost stories… WOW.  I don’t think I could have worked there.    

Take a Bath at the Buckstaff

The whole purpose of coming to Hot Springs was to experience the baths.  These waters were so legendary the whole town exists because this was the place to come if you were sick.  They were magic waters.  (Now science knows that they are naturally heated by ratioactivity!) So, the next morning after a god-awful, disgusting breakfast at The Arlington (sorry, I had to tell you – YUCK), we headed straight to the Buckstaff Bathhouse.  I learned from the park site that the Bathhouse was 1st come 1st serve, and that only 2 Bathhouses in Hot Springs still offered bathing services.  We got there and went right in (whereas by the time we left there was a line). 

Each Bathhouse was unique and beautiful
Qupaw Bathhouse

Neither of us had done this before, but we were up for the experience – so off to our respective gendered sides… there we were wrapped in a white sheet and unwrapped and rewrapped multiple times.  First up – the whirlpool bath – a deep soaking tub where you can just relax for 20 minutes.  From there you scrubbed down and then put on a table to be wrapped in hot towels for a while before you are moved to the shitz tub where your butt and lower back are submerged in a sitting tub.  Then off to the steam closet to sweat before your needle point shower to rinse off.  After all that exposure to the magic water, you are sent off to a massage.  I will admit, by the end, my skin was baby smooth and soft and I was completely relaxed.  I can’t say that it cured my ails, but by boyfriend insists he was more limber and felt better-Joints felt better.  Perfect!  Just what the doctor ordered.

Sunset over Hot Springs Mountains
That great experience set us up for a fast paced rest of the day – with a Duck Tour to the Lake Hamilton (a picturesque residential lake south of the center of town), a tour of the Park Visitor Center Bathhouse – the gorgeous Fordyce (those stained glass windows in the male rooms were simply breathtaking), lunch at Superior Bathhouse (renovated as brewery Hot Springs on Tap – HA). ), window shopping in downtown, bath product purchasing at the DelMar Bathhouse and other specialty shops (because there are a whole lot of them in town and none of them are Lush!) … then a quick change of clothes and off to a see the sun set at the Mountain Tower.    While the Tower itself was closed (we went back Sunday), we did stay to watch scene play out from the pavilion.  So, over the burbs of Hot Springs, with a view of the Hot Springs mountains folding over each other, we watched as the sky flashed a brilliant pink and purple for just a minute… and then it was gone and we were off… we had a show that night!

Maxwell Blade and his HUGE card tricks
We had tickets for a magic show – the magic show, the number one show in Arkansas (according to all sorts of promotional material).  The Maxwell Blade show was a fun and entertaining mix of comedy, illusion and performance.  He was a Vegas act before he set up his gig in this resort town… kinda brilliant if you think about it.  He has no competition in the evenings.  You want to go out and do something when visiting, this is it… and he was good!  We laughed and ohhed/ahhed for over an hour at card and ball tricks and dropped our jaws at some truly cool stuff with liquids, sands and other more.  Good stuff!  Credit goes out to the young girl who volunteered to have her head cut off in the guillotine and the boy who reluctantly pulled the cord…  they were full of gravitas. By the time the show ended around 10pm we were starving, so we followed the advice of locals who told us to head to the Ohio Club, the oldest place in town (old as in original).  There we listened to live music while sitting at a stunning solid oak bar and chowed down on their burgers.  By the time we got back to the hotel, we were relaxed and satiated.

Sadly, I undid all the good work done by the bathhouses the next morning when I went for a fantastically challenging hike through the National Park.  As I said, my partner is not a hiker, so after another god-awful breakfast at the Arlington, I headed out on the trails and he headed to the Gangster Museum.  Our plan was I would hike for 3 hours, shower and we would head to the gardens before our flight out.  It sounded doable.  The day before, I had a ranger at the visitor center suggest some trails for me and map out a plan to see some great overviews.  She said it was going to be tough and she was right.  Normally a 5 mile hike is a piece of cake for 3 hours, even allowing for me to take my camera out… but that was before I met Dead Chief Trail (and a few others). 

View From Goat Rock
YES, I did it – with some time to spare and I did get some great pictures, but wow, I felt that climb for days after.  The road we took with the car to the lookout tower was filled with switchbacks, but Dead Chief Trail just went straight up.  HOLY GAWD.  That is all I can say is HOLY.  I was unhappy – it wasn’t a pretty trail, with a fence on one side and the road switch backing on the other – I was not sure that this endeavor was worth it and cursed it the whole way up … but then I got up to Goat Rock Trail and saw the views of the folded mountains.  So, sure, I could have driven to that view point (and we did for him), but I like to think the view is more joyous when you earn it with a butt-breaking hike up a mountain to see it!?!!?

Anthony's Chapel entrance
Lookout Tower from the Trail
I made it back to the Arlington to shower and check out (after employees walked into the room while I was showering – not kidding)… and we were off again.  We had a few hours and more than a few things to squeeze in.  So we drove back to the Tower (that I passed on my hike) and then drove to the North Mountain Overlook (that I passed on my hike) so he could see some beautiful views and really appreciate my crazy hiking brain… then we headed to the other side of the park for a view of the west side before we took off for the Garvan Woodland Gardens to see Anthony’s Chapel (a chapel that perfectly blends into the woodland surroundings) and a few of the garden plots at this University of Arkansas site.  We wanted more time at Lake Hamilton but we ran out of time… we had a plane to catch.

And that is how you power tour with me!  Whew!



[i] There are 59 National Parks in the US System as of November 2017.  Counting Hot Springs, I have visited 39.
[ii] There are 546 units in the Park Service (as of the end of November 2017)Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites and Parks, Recreation Areas, Sea/LakeShores, Reserves, Preserves, Battlefields, Cemeteries, Trails, Rivers, Parkways and other designated areas.  According to my notes, I have been to over 150 of them.  I have a long way to go.

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