I left Eureka Springs bright and early Tuesday. I was eager to get on the road, catch some nice morning vistas, and put the 4-hour trek behind me. The morning views did not disappoint. Shortly after leaving Eureka Springs, I had to pull over near Morgan, Arkansas to grab some lovely shots of the foggy Ozark Mountains.
I neglected to fill my gas tank prior to leaving Eureka Springs, and my anxiety level started to build as the needle went down and there was no trace of civilization in sight. I had routed myself on back roads so I could enjoy the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, and while it was full of gorgeous views, I have never been so happy in my life to see a gas station. I drove through a few more (somewhat) populated areas, but all in all, the drive to Hot Springs was extremely rural.
I arrived at the Alpine Inn in Hot Springs a bit earlier than check-in, but Leslie, the very friendly Scottish owner, was kind enough to let me go ahead and occupy my adorable little room. I was feeling worn out and crashed for about an hour. What did I do next?
1. Walked Downtown and Enjoyed the Architecture
Leslie had said it was around a mile's walk to downtown, so after my slumber, I set off on foot to see Hot Springs. I soon realized that while a mile is very walkable for me, I probably should have driven it first to get the lay of the land. I'm not going to get too involved in national political discourse, but I will say that I don't particularly appreciate males heckling or objectifying me, and this mile involved a fair share of it. While it might seem to some to be a harmless activity, the problem with being the target is you never really know if someone is simply being a little too frisky or if their behavior is a precursor to something more nefarious.
Once I got into the main downtown area, I enjoyed the wealth of historic buildings, walked around, visited the information center for the National Park, snapped a lot of photos, and headed back to my hotel (pocket knife in hand).
2. Hiked the National Park
Wednesday, I got up very early and headed out to the trails of the National Park. I got some lovely morning views as I trekked up the mountain and wound around and around through the woods. I was out for two hours before I saw another human being, which was both peaceful and a little spooky. There were plenty of squirrels, chipmunks, and a deer to keep me company, though. I visited the Hot Springs Mountain Observation Tower, which provided some great vistas of the city and surrounding area. After getting slightly lost on my way back to my car, I finally wrapped up my 4-hour, 7-mile hike.
3. Quapaw Baths & Spa
After a quick shower, I visited the Quapaw Baths & Spa. I had been given a pass by my hotel, so the entrance was free except I did have to buy a pair of rubber shoes for $3. Essentially, the experience consists of four large pools of different temperatures of water from the hot springs - 104°, 102°, 98°, and 95°. Always wanting the full experience, of course I hopped right in the 104°. I alternated laying on a lounge chair and soaking in the pool, and left feeling relaxed.
4. Superior Bathhouse Brewery
I completed my relaxation with a trip to the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, a microbrewery claiming to make the "World's First Beer Brewed with Thermal Spring Water." I enjoyed a Belgian Tripel ($2 off for happy hour!) and black eyed pea hummus (also $2 off!). I haven't been eating (or drinking) nearly as much as normal, and I quickly put it all away. Delicious!
5. Buckstaff Bath House
This morning, I woke up early, ready to hit the Buckstaff Bath House for a traditional experience. Buckstaff is the only bathhouse in Hot Springs that has operated continuously since its founding. They don't take reservations, and I couldn't sleep, so I was first in line at 8 a.m. Bear with me because I am going to describe this in detail... I've never experienced anything like it and I doubt you have, either!
I was shown to a changing stall, where I stripped down to my birthday suit and placed all my belongings in a locker. An attendant then draped me with a sheet "Roman Style" and showed me to a waiting area. I don't want to sound negative, but nothing about this is your traditional spa environment - it's very utilitarian. With the exception of the hairdryer in the dressing area, you could truly be in a very different era.
Soon, Mattie called me back to the baths. She had drawn me a tub full of hot spring water and had me disrobe (always back to the attendant) and get in the tub. She gave me two cups of hot water to sip on and scrubbed my back, legs, and feet. Then she turned on the whirlpool (which looked like a giant, ancient mixer) and left me to soak for about 15-20 minutes. This was the deepest, longest bathtub I've ever been in, and it was wonderful.
After the tub, I was wrapped in another sheet and seated on a table. Mattie put soaking, very hot towels behind me and had me lay on them. More hot towels went over my legs and a cool towel went around my face. I was given ice cubes to suck on and left to rest for another 15-20 minutes (I'm guessing on all these times... hard to really know).
Next, I was seated (naked) in the vapor cabinet, which is basically a metal closet with a seat in it, metal doors that come down over your shoulders, and a glass door on the front. I was left to steam for a few minutes with the door open, then a couple minutes with it closed so I could breathe in the vapors.
The sitz bath followed. Wrapped in a sheet, I sat on the edge of this little tub and slid down in to submerge my hips and lower back. I was also given a stool to prop up my legs while in there. Considering that my lower back was killing me when I got up this morning, I decided that I need one of these in my next home.
The needle shower sounds more dangerous than it is. Basically, it's a shower with a bunch of shower heads. I was given the opportunity to spend a few minutes rinsing off in there after the sitz bath.
After that, I had a 20 minute Swedish massage. It was one of the more "no nonsense" massages I've ever had, but it was a great way to wrap up the experience. No pan flute music, no coddling from the masseuse, no fancy oils... just a good, plain old massage.
I would say that my massage at Buckstaff sums up my time in Hot Springs. Very few people have gone out of their way to be overly friendly to me (except men in cars), but most people haven't been unfriendly either. It seems likely to me that life is not all that easy for a lot of people here. Poverty seems pretty prevalent. I don't want to sound at all as if I am judging anyone; I know that every place in this world is different and has their good points and bad points, struggles and triumphs. This is just my experience in the matter of a few days, and I'm glad to have had it.
I'm headed on to Oklahoma tomorrow!