Hot Springs, Arkansas, gets its name from the naturally thermal spring waters that flow out of the ground. At an average temp of 143 °F, they say the hot springs produce almost one million gallons of water each day.
We could feel the history in this place and began to explore. We learned that Native Americans called this area “the Valley of the Vapors,” and it was said to have been a neutral territory where all tribes could enjoy its healing waters in peace.
In the mid-1500s the Spanish and French settlers claimed the area. In fact, famous explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to visit Hot Springs in 1541.
The hot springs were such a coveted natural wonder that in 1832, President Andrew Jackson designed Hot Springs as the first federal reservation. Hot Springs Reservation was essentially America’s first national park, predating Yellowstone National Park by 40 years. Congress finally established the National Park Service in 1921 and Hot Springs Reservation became Hot Springs National Park.
In just a decade, the area changed from a rough frontier town to an elegant spa city centered on a row of attractive Victorian-style bathhouses, the last ones completed in 1888.
In 1886, Bathhouse Row was discovered by the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs). With its hot mineral waters and Ouachita Mountain scenery as well as its hotels and nightlife, this bustling turn-of-the-century resort town was the perfect place for something no one had ever heard of: annual spring training for professional baseball. In time, five fields were built. Each spring, as many as 250 players came here to train, including the legends of the game.
Hot Springs also became a hotbed for organized crime. Like the Native Americans that came before, this area was deemed safe or neutral ground for enemies to gather. Especially in the 1930s, it was a popular hangout for Al Capone, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, Madden and other infamous mobsters.
Gangster activity in Hot Springs came to an end in the 1960s, due to a federal crackdown on what the government called “the site of the largest illegal gambling operation in the U.S.”
Although we weren’t able to fit in a visit, The Gangster Museum of America, which is located in downtown Hot Springs, features classic relics and a documentary in the museum’s theater.
We did however take full advantage of Bathhouse Row and spent an afternoon soaking in the thermal waters with our host’s Anna and Rickey Rodgers. We choose the Quapaw Baths and Spa’s which is situated right in the heart of the city and National Park. The daily rate to soak in the public pools, of which there were four, was $18 and well worth every penny.
We also took a day to explore the Garvan Woodland Gardens, which boasts one of the top five Bonsai gardens in the US. It’s a childhood dream of mythical beasts and strange companions, waterfalls, bridges that twist and turn, and home of the “Tolken-esk” Anthony Chapel.
Our favorite exhibit of the day, the Anthony Chapel sits nestled under a thick canopy of sky-reaching southern pines and age-old oak trees. Nearly six stories tall, the brilliantly designed structure compliments the surrounding wooded landscape.
We learned that Maurice Jennings and David McKee, both from Fayetteville (AR), created this awe-inspiring chapel. Jennings describes the Anthony Chapel as “the finest” of the more than twenty chapels he has designed around the country. It is said that the chapel project cost about $3.8 to construct.
The rest of our visit was spent enjoying time with our host family, the Rodgers. We shared meals, encouraged each other in faith and family life, built with lego, played board games, sang songs, and at over a hundred degrees the whole week of our stay, we enjoyed the air conditioning in their home.
We took advantage of our five days in the area, seeking out a chiropractor that could help with some migraine issues and taking care of much-needed maintenance on our vehicle. As it turned out our 7 hour drive from Coffeyville Kansas to Hot Springs AR, which was a bit treacherous, with winding hills and stormy conditions, could have been our last drive. Apparently, the hub cap screws on our trailer had fallen off sometime during our drive, meaning that our wheel was miraculously held in place until we arrived to our host home. Where by, it then fell off. It truly was a miracle that we made it safe and sound. As it was, we ended up finding a mechanic to help us out for about $500 and a few days later we were on our way. We are so grateful for the supernatural protection that we know covers us wherever we roll and we are always delighted to meet kinfolk willing to keep us on our way.
We also said goodbye in Hot Springs, to Sylvia. After two weeks sharing space with us through IL, IN, KY, TN, MO, KS, and AR we were sad to see her go. She was a delight to have on board. We’ll especially miss her desire to learn and her fantastic sense of humor.