Early in March I drove down to Arkansas to meet up with some family taking advantage of a time share there. The small town of Hot Springs, AR sits just below the Ouchita National Forest, and though it succumbed to the blight of so many small industrial towns in more recent years, the echoes of its historical spa-retreat golden age linger and lend a charm and even mystery to the downtown and surrounding area. The main street of the downtown is referred to as BathHouse Row, old hotels and bath houses built at the turn of the century remain stoic monuments to the town's claim to fame. People with ailments traveled there to seek healing and treatment, baseball teams were sent there to take advantage of the therapuetic properties of the springs, and wealthy americans came for spa holidays. Most of these old bathhouse buildings are in good shape, some have been lovingly restored and now operate as a functioning spa with retail space, community space, and even a local brewery. One bath house is run by the National Parks Service as a museum and it was fascinating to explore.
Just behind Bathhouse Row is a walking path and park that made for a peaceful meander and natural playground. The early spring blossoms were already on the trees and the grass on the hills was a new emerald green. Little waterfalls with trickling pools and man made fountains were here and there, and you could feel the steaming water bubbling up from deep in the earth.
Crystal mines are a continued industry in the area and now some sites take advantage of the small tourist trade by offering zip lines, mine tours, and dig your own crystals experiences. We ventured into one such place and perched on top of a hill next to the mine, we dug in the red clay searching for geodes and crystals and interesting rocks. We found some rocks striped with quartz, and several small shiny crystals with natural sharp edge, and I also purchased raw hunks of rose quartz and amethyst to take home.
Crystal mining and the heritage of the hot springs contribute to the air of mountain mysticism about the place. Signs of the search for natural healing linger with items like salt crystal lamps, dream catchers, and decorative phrenology models stocked in the local shops. Modernity is also making a mark on this old town with shops selling local artisan made leather goods and t-shirts with clever phrases about Arkansas, and Frito Pie, root beer floats, and craft beer available at the converted Superior Bath House Brewery. With the Ouchita National Forest near by there is also the opportunity for beautiful hikes, camping, or back-packing. Unfortunately the afternoon we planned to set out into the forest, severe thunderstorms rolled in with a deluge of rain, so instead we cozied up in the condo, played games, watched Winnie the Pooh, and had popcorn and ice cream for dinner. A pretty perfect alternative. With Hot Springs' blend of bare nature, quirky history, and touches of the Millennial-driven movement towards local artisan products, I found it a quaint little place to explore. I also recommend a comfy condo or cabin as a home base for lazy mornings to lounge and drink coffee, a giant jetted bath tub for bubble baths, and time to giggle and snuggle with your travel companions.