(Photos added for this entry)
I grew up in the southeast, spending more than half my life in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama, but had never visited one of the hottest little destinations in the U.S. – Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was the first destination on the road west with Murphy and Billy, and none of us knew it would be such a cool start to the journey.
It was in the wee dark hours when we rolled into the town where future President Bill Clinton grew up, and our destination – a one room camping cabin at the Hot Springs KOA – was perfect. The air was running, the lights were on and, after a night of scary driving in the rain (see day one), we got a good nights rest.
The next day we made friends right away. Everybody at KOA treated us like family, they helped the dogs. Get acclimated and even watched them for a few minutes while I took a shower. Okay, as the kids might say, too much info, TMI.
Then we rolled into a city that I vaguely remember studying as a kid in school, but now realize was – and is – representative of a vast and rich history surrounding the ancient Hot Springs that run through the base of the town. It turns out the springs, revered and vital for Native American people, were “acquired” by U.S. Government types in 1832 as the Hot Springs Reservation and later turned into a national park. It later became known as America’s first “resort city.” Now I hope you will look into the history and original American friends will weigh in as they wish. I will talk about the today – and it turns out this town in the midst of nowhere (sorry Arkansas) has an artsy, hip vibe while also appealing to travelers from all over the world with the history of hot baths, the baseball spring training heritage and the gorgeous and well preserved hikes.
On our walk through town, all we had to do was turn right. That’s where the beautiful, mostly paved trails took us to the overlook. There were short ways and long ways to the top, and we wandered at a pace suitable for our ten legs. At the top we met two teachers from New Orleans who gave us some great advice on the best trail. Going up, we met a group of four guys from London who were wrapping up a holiday jaunt across America. We caught them on the trail with ease, largely because the tallest of the bunch, a fellow maybe 6’3″ and 250 pounds, was walking in his beach flops. Not the fancy ones, but the kind you get as an after thought in the hotel gift shop. He was in some pain and enduring good-natured ribbing from his buddies. We chatted about their journey that started in Hollywood and would end in Atlanta. They had been to the Grand Canyon on their drive, so we were really interested in their thoughts on that. I told them in Memphis they had to see Graceland to really understand American pop history, and that Beale Street would be jumping for the blues. They already had plans to catch some music and night spots in Nashville, and would spend their last day of holiday in Atlanta.
We walked around and enjoyed the Art Deco style to many of the “bathhouses” that lined the main street, popped in on some shops and saw more than a few events or happenings worth a future visit, like the documentary film festival, Gangster Museum and the Clinton home. And the billboard promised a Bill Clinton musician on stage… I wonder if it’s Bubba?
And if you’re thinking of visiting, there are plenty of hotels in the city. But with just a little bit of roughing it, I recommend you rent one of the KOA cabins, which would leave you enough money to stay for a few extra days. We spent a second night before heading out.
On our way out of town we filled up all of our water bottles at the springs – the cold water mountain springs – for refreshment heading west.