Hot Springs National Park, AR
At long last, we are back in a National Park, Hot Springs in Arkansas. I really feel like these are the places we belong. They are all different, yet every one feels like home.
To get here we had a relatively mild drive along I-30 through quiet parts of east Texas, then a winding scenic drive of about 30 miles through the hills and lush green forests of Arkansas. I’m still on edge about the mechanical things, so the slightest lurch or squeak got my attention, and when we exited the highway for the back roads we began to hear strange clunks and thumps from the hitch. The noises had no particular pattern except that the only occurred when we were turning, and then the sound varied from a light thump to a series of clunks. It sounded as if stress was building up in some part of the Hensley hitch and then being released unevenly. Naturally, my first thought was that somehow our newly-reinforced receiver had developed yet another crack, but upon inspection in the campground (with a flashlight), all of the welds appeared perfect. My presumption at this point is that the Hensley is making a bit more noise than usual because we’ve got the strut jacks tighter than we did with the Armada. I’m going to try a little silicone spray on the stinger and upper connections to the strut jacks to see if this quiets the hitch.
That niggling issue aside, everything else is great. The campground at Hot Springs (called Gulpha Gorge), is shady and attractive, nestled in a river gorge with newly renovated full-hookup sites. There are only about 30 sites, and 1/3 of them are still undergoing renovations, yet we had no trouble getting one on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. on Father’s Day weekend. I can’t understand why it’s not more popular. For anyone visiting historic Hot Springs in an RV or travel trailer, this is a great place to stay.
On the other hand, Hot Springs is filled with historic hotels and bathhouses, and the variety of architecture in and near downtown is fantastic. We dropped into the Arlington Hotel just for a look. It would be fun to spend a night in it or one of the other hotels in town. The buildings seem to fall into three general styles: late Victorian, Art Deco, and 60’s modern. On the fringes of the downtown area a lot of the architecture is in disrepair, and I get the sense that this area is just aching for a massive preservation movement and revitalization. As it is, the Central Street area is pretty lively, thanks largely to the historic hotels that are still active and the presence of the national park service.
There is of course the usual tourist stuff (amphibious boat tours, wax museum, various “gift” shops), but it is easily ignored if you don’t care about that stuff. Take a walk on the brick-paved Grand Promenade walking path instead, just above downtown and behind the regal bathhouses that line the north side of the street. There are thousands of hot springs on the Hot Springs mountain, and you’ll see them all capped by green boxes (to preserve the water source), but a couple of them are left open for viewing purposes so you can imagine how the mountain looked when all the springs ran wild. You’ll only see this if you get off the shopping trail and up on the elegant walking path.
From the campground it is about three or four miles by car to downtown, or you can hike up and over the Hot Springs Mountain in about 2 miles. But even though we love hiking, there’s no chance of that this weekend. It’s too hot and humid for enjoyable hiking, even in the early morning. The humidity helps keep the heat in place, and so it never seems to cool off here. We wake up in the morning and it’s still 80 degrees with humidity that slaps you like a hot wet blanket. The next time I hear a Tucsonian complain about how hot it is in the summer, I’m going to buy them a one-way ticket to Arkansas or Missouri. Tucson is much nicer this time of year. At least it is dry, and it cools off overnight so that we have refreshing early mornings.
I will give this area credit for not having hordes of mosquitoes. I don’t know why, but I have yet to see a biting insect since we arrived in the Land of the Humid a couple of days ago. Being from the northeast I fully expect to be riddled with bug bites whenever I’m near a forest this time of year. I won’t question it — just roll with it. I’ll donate blood to somebody’s larvae later this summer anyway.
Since we are on a schedule (groan) and still hustling to make up for two weeks of delay, we can’t stay long. But since this is the first time since we began our trip that we are spending two nights in the same location, we’ll relax today. Emma will do the Junior Ranger program at the NPS Visitor Center, we’ll walk in town a bit, and drop in on some place for a leisurely lunch. I doubt we’ll do much more than that. After 1,200 miles of driving in four days, we all feel the need to decompress a bit, and in my case (since it’s Father’s Day) I expect that may call for an afternoon of reading with the air conditioning turned down to 72 degrees.