We drove the blue highways from Gore Oklahoma to Hot Springs Arkansas. I had heard from someone that it was a place of interest. And Bill Clinton grew up there. Must be cool? Leaving the bleak Texas and Oklahoma flatness and dustiness, we came into the lush terrain that seemed more like home. Mountains and trees and green. Over the Ouachita Mountains to the Zig Zag Mountain of Hot Springs was beautiful. Coming into town through the typical strip malls and Walmart and McDonalds I wasn’t sure this was a good decision…another tacky, depleted small town. We stopped at a little visitor center that pointed us to Gulpha Gorge first come, first serve camping ground (no showers….not that I care). Lyle and I set up camp by a running creek and cliff. The prettiest camp ground yet. The ranger showed us the trail to town. You could hike 2 miles over the mountain to the town. I heard there was a micro-brewery in an old bathhouse, so that was motivating.
Lyle’s email to family:
I don’t hike anymore. I thought about this last night as I struck out on stepping-stones in Hot Springs Arkansas, heading over a mountain in my backless Birkenstocks. Tami and I had our campsite set beside a wonderful brook, and decided to take Dead Chief Trail to town.
It was only two miles. Tami’s been training for a half marathon and is in the best shape she’s been in for awhile. I’ve been obsessed with “getting my steps” ever since Jim gave me a fitbit wristband that would count them for me—and let me compete with him—so I’m in decent shape these days too.
It took us an hour to get to town. We arrived winded and stunned. In Hot Springs there was a plaque at the trailhead that explained in the early 1900s people traveled from all over to indulge in the curative power of the volcanic water. This was a medical town.
Further, there was one doctor who prescribed aerobic activity to his Hot Springs patients. He was so convinced of the power of fitness that he designed and built a series of trails, each one harder than the next. As his patients’ health improved, he would ratchet up the hiking regimen. The pinnacle of his trail achievements was Dead Chief Trail.
During our hike, in between gasps, I explained to Tami that Dad would frequently spy a short cut down the side of the mountain that would occasionally get us hopelessly lost. At one point we encountered “Short Cut Trail” that was roped off by the park service, and appeared under construction.
We had a wonderful evening in Hot Springs, and hiked home in the dark—moving me into closer contention with Jim. This morning, we are driving to town, for a soak in the curative springs…
When we came over the mountain, we were on Central Avenue that had a gorgeous magnolia lined promenade with all the historical bathhouses built in the early 1900’s to take advantage of the hot springs. There were all sorts of contraptions used to heal everything from obesity to syphilis to just sore muscles and hysteria. (I think that is what women are said to get from time to time). This place was a stop for all the famous gangsters and also the baseball players to soak out their wild nights. The sadness is that only two bathhouses remain in use. In the 1950’s when western medicine said hydrotherapy doesn’t help, just take a pill, the Golden Age of Bathing began to decline. I personally think they should bring back Hot Springs as a healing center or maybe we should figure this out for Pittsboro. Hydrotherapy certainly helps most things and has no side effects.
Regarding camping, let’s just say, it’s been very cold and I have to tell Lyle which way I’m sleeping. It’s a big decision and takes planning to turn over. I’m trying hard to “glamp”. I can do it, but it’s exhausting…. although…after cooking something in the van, the food tastes amazing. Starvation helps.
Onward to Dewitt Arkansas for an all day consulting gig for Lyle. (The rice and duck capital of the World) Her name is Tami and he sometimes gets her mixed up when texting which can be disasterous. Lyle explained we were coming through in Baby Blue and she said you can stay at our hunting lodge. The last time I had been in a hunting lodge was when we bought 450 acres next door to stop the constant gunshots and preserve some land in Chatham with a covenant protected development, Abeyance. There was an old homestead that was falling into the ground with broken windows, empty beanie-weanie cans and a stack of hunting magazines interspersed with Playboys. That is fine…I bet there is an old rusty shower and maybe indoor toilet? We can just park the van and sleep in it.
Nope, this was a drop dead gorgeous, high thread count lodge and eco-tourism place that had about 8 bedrooms, pool table, wrap around porch overlooking bald cypress swamp with ducks and alligators. The fridge was stocked, a beautiful bottle of red wine out and I couldn’t have been more in heaven washing laundry and sitting by the outdoor fire watching the birds and ducks. Didn’t mind all the stuffed ducks and deer and camo everywhere…
The interesting part about the rice capital of the world is the mono-cropping. There were constant crop dusters dropping various chemicals. Because of so much standing water, they also fly over with mosquito killer and they have no frogs or other eco-systems. The mosquito repellent doesn’t work, but just imagine all the different chemicals we are consuming in our rice…and we wonder about cancer. This part of Arkansas has no small farming. They ship all their food in from California or further. Lyle’s progressive clients are worried about the resiliency of their community if something happens to fossil fuels either in cost or supply. Their work is cut out for them.
I’m finding it fascinating looking at all the businesses that are wiped out by “progess” (maybe because my family hardware store was wiped out by big box), but the other Arkansas resource is mussels and they used to harvest the mussel shells for mother of pearl buttons and had big button factories. Until plastic came along. Now they are closed.
Onward to Tennessee. I will kiss the ground, when I see NC!