In our effort to continue east, we spent only a few days in Oklahoma before continuing on into Arkansas where we spent a few days in Hot Springs.
To get (partially) from Oklahoma to Hot Springs, we chose to travel the Talimena National Scenic Byway. This is a 54 mile, two lane road between Talihina, OK and Mena, AR that travels along the ridge of the Ouachita Mountains. For those of you in the east, the Talimena National Scenic Byway reminded us of a hillier, more narrow, and much less crowded Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a renowned byway for seeing the foliage in the fall, and while we were a little late to see the peak colors, we were surprised to find some leaves still on the trees and a little bit of color remaining! There are grand vistas all along this road, so we enjoyed pulling off multiple times and enjoying the views, but man was it hilly! Who would have thought Oklahoma could be so hilly?! That is one of the things we love about road trips…we are constantly learning new and interesting things about the geography of our great country!
Once in Hot Springs we got set up in Gulpha Gulch Campground which is the only campground in Hot Springs National Park. It has full hook-ups which is unusual for a national park, and it is popular, so try to make reservations early, especially if you are visiting during popular times. We were here in late November and barely lucked into a site a few days ahead of time. It must have been a cancellation and we were only able to get the site for three nights, but like we have said before, we will always choose to stay inside a national park if it is an option. The campgrounds in national parks tend to be a little more quiet than some outside and they usually have perks like hiking straight from the campground. This time was no exception.
There is a decent trail system in the park with a trailhead leaving from the campground. We didn’t have time to do nearly as much hiking here as we would have liked, but we did find it nice that we could hike right to Bathhouse Row by combining part of the Gulpha Gulch Trail and the Oertel Trail. It was a little less than 2 miles to get into town and it was a bit hilly, but nothing too terrible. We loved that we didn’t have to drive into town and try to find parking in our big ole truck!
Hot Springs National Park is a bit different from what we are used to in national parks. It is much more urban than most, and while there are some natural features that it protects, the focus is on preserving the history of the area and the springs. The historic bathhouses that were used from the late 1800s until the 1980s are still standing, and while they are not all still used as bathhouses, the structures themselves are protected by the park. Two of them, however, still function as bathhouses where people can soak and enjoy the restorative waters that people have been enjoying for centuries. We prefer our hot springs experiences to be in more natural settings, so we did not pay to soak in the water, but we did touch the waters at Display Spring and at several of the hot spring fountains located throughout town. There are also bottle fill stations located around town where you can fill jugs with the water to take home with you.
The Fordyce Bathhouse now serves as a visitor center and museum for the national park. It was built in 1915 and 90% of the building is still original. There are four floors to explore here and it is very interesting to see exactly what it looked like when it was in its prime. We were interested to learn that these spas were used all those years ago almost like hospitals. Doctors would prescribe treatments here for everything from rheumatism to syphilis. These treatments weren’t exclusively centered on the hot water, either. There was often exercise involved, electro massage, and even mercury rubs. Doesn’t that sound healthy? Even some of the treatments that did involve the hot water sounded questionable. We aren’t sure how healthy it would actually be to sit in a steam cabinet where the steam reaches temperatures up to 140 degrees or how wise it would be to get into an “electric bath” – but who are we to question the doctors of yesteryear?
Since we were in Hot Springs at the end of November, the town was all decorated up for Christmas, so we couldn’t resist heading back into town after dark to see the lights. There were several large displays and most were set to music. We are usually safely tucked into the Bigfoot after dark, so these are the first Christmas lights we have seen this year, and it helped to get us in the spirit.
We were so much in the spirit that we purchased a small Christmas tree to set up in the Bigfoot. We don’t have a lot of space, so it is pretty small and it looks a bit sparse and misshapen, but it is enough for us to say we are officially decorated for the holidays!
Until next time!