Massage? Steam room? National Park? Wait a minute! Surely a National Park doesn't fit in that list! But it does! You can find all those relaxing therapies along Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs National Park, a park that begins in Hot Springs, AR and climbs into the surrounding Ouachita Mountains.
For the first night of our RV adventure, Tim & I did not stay in Gulpha Gorge, the park's campground, although it had sites long enough to accommodate our rig. With 30 miles still to go, dusk was rapidly approaching and, being newbies, we didn't want to try backing into a campsite in the dark.
So we, along with 5 other RVs and a dozen commercial truckers, spent the night in Walmart's parking lot in Malvern, Arkansas. Not exactly our first choice, but, hey! The price (free) was right! Plus, the manager gave us an extended stay, allowing us to leave the RV parked there while we paid a morning's visit to Hot Springs in the Valley of Vapors.
Arriving just as the NPS Visitors Center in Fordyce Bathhouse opened, we stepped back to the turn of the 20th century when bathers believed that a dip in the mineral springs would cure what ailed them. This opulent spa is just one in a row of eight others built between 1892 and 1923 that comprise the Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District in downtown Hot Springs, AR.
The Park ranger at the reception desk in the Fordyce outlined a self-guided tour that would take us from the gender-separated changing rooms through a host of hydro-therapies. Sadly, the rooms at this bathhouse were no longer offering such treatments. Despite that, we found the tour entertaining.
It was quite obvious that men were the masters of that era. The men's bath hall claimed the center courtyard with its stunning stained glass ceiling.
The women's beauty parlor, massage and state rooms were squeezed into the east side of the building. There was no jeweled ceiling here! Instead the ladies had to be content with stained glass windows which were still stunning.
And while the Gymnasium boasted a wooden floor,
the rest of the building, including the Music Room, was intricately inlaid with small hexagon tiles.
I doubt that the workmen who laid all those floors could afford the bathhouse's water therapies, though I'm certain they sorely needed them by the end of the workday.
Currently only two bathhouses along the Row offer bathing, massages and the like. Quapaw Baths & Spa and Buckstaff House which have operated continuously since 1912.
Tim & I thought we'd need those services, too, after we hiked a quarter of the park's 26 miles of hiking trails.
But alas, the earliest appointment we could obtain was mid-afternoon. If we were to drive to the east side of Memphis, that would be too late.
So we slaked our thirst at one of the fountains and vowed that next time we'd take a plunge at Hot Springs National Park, "The American Spa."