We are still playing blog catch up. Here we go, with Arkansas:
We left Stax at closing time and started an evening drive into Arkansas, hoping to reach Hot Springs (approximately 60 miles southwest of Little Rock) by “bedtime”. With fairly easy driving ahead of us, we settled in for a few hours on the road before we remembered dinner and started a bizarre search for a restaurant off of Route 40. Our efforts led us on a sunset drive through ghost towns and farm towns where, apart from gas stations, no commerce was to be found. Eventually (after driving quite a distance further along the main route) we decided to just get a quick snack from a rest stop. As we were walking to enter a service station, an isolated restaurant across the road caught our eye. Its name, clearly in Spanish, determined our fate (we love us some Mexican food) and we made a beeline for Coco’s Dos Fresh Mex.
In retrospect, we really lucked out. Deciding not to question how these folks, a Northern Mexican family, were able to acquire the correct ingredients (remember, we have been looking for a grocery for miles at this point) for what turned out to be delicious, traditional fare, we tucked in to our enchiladas, enjoyed some Jurassic Park on the muted television, and soon carried on feeling much more satisfied than we ever could have expected.
We drove until late that night in order to reach Hot Springs, passing a twinkling Little Rock and substantial suburban sprawl along the way. Hot Springs is both a town and a National Park, possessing the oldest infrastructure in our NP system and probably some of the most unique. We were aware that the “park”, unlike more typical national parks, is actually part of the town of Hot Springs, but hadn’t accounted for how integrated things like the park campgrounds would be with the rest of the city.
When we finally found our way into camp that night, enveloped in sweltering humidity and heat despite the darkness, we realized we were in not much more than a glorified RV parking lot. Too late to seek out an alternative, we set up our tent in between a bohemieth trailer and the main road into town (zoom, zoom,
zoom), and lay down for the least restful night’s sleep of our entire journey to date.
In the morning we set out for a sweaty excursion along some nearby trails in the hilly recreation area between the campgrounds and the old town/National Park, achieving a bit of a walk before running full kilt back to camp to stuff our belongings into the car before an intermittent but monsoon pressure rainstorm took hold of the area. Between showers we breakfasted and packed our things, then drove a few short miles into Old Hot Springs.
We were pleased, very pleased, by the sights that awaited us there. Originally used by Native Americans as a neutral meeting place for dispute settlement, the hot, mineral filled waters that flow forth from this area eventually caught the attention of the “New Americans” and early on a row of bathhouses were developed in order to make the healing waters available as a remedy for ailing folk, wealthy and humble alike.
Goodness knows why, but popular use of the hot springs reached its peak all the way back in 1948, meaning the last major redevelopment of Hot Springs came as long ago as the 1950’s and 60’s. The result is a wonderfully dated and weathered Old Hot Springs that reminds of a Las Vegas that once was and makes a visitor feels as if they are traveling in time a bit.
We drove around, getting a sense of the town (including the giant race track and casino) and then between major rain showers cooked lunch with water from a hot spring tap in the town center. We decided, with a “when in Rome” kind of attitude, to treat ourselves to a bath, spending the better part of the afternoon floating around in pools of various comfortable temperatures in one of two remaining bathhouses in the area, Quapaw Bath & Spa.
In the case of Hot Springs, with its eclectic mix of historic sites, National Park infrastructure, and tourist attracting kitsch, some pictures might speak louder than words:
Decidedly not interested in sleeping in town again that night, we drove but a short distance to the beautiful Lake Ouachita. A talkative, story-telling man in a gift shop had informed us that this lake is one of the cleanest and clearest in our nation, second only to Lake Tahoe back in California. We turned off into the first state camping area we came across and set up our set-up just a stone’s throw from the giant lake.
Here, we relaxed thoroughly, pausing for two nights and enjoying swims, rain induced nap time and some star gazing. We ate dinner by the water both nights. In the spirit of resting (we were exhausted), we even abstained from taking many pictures. Here are a few that just about sum up our break at the lake:
Coming up next: From Lake Ouachita we beelined for Lake Texoma to unite with Northeastern friends Kelsey and Zivi.