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There Are Certain Questions You Don't Ask at a Bathhouse in Hot Springs Arkansas


When we first arrived in Hot Springs, Arkansas, we didn't really know what to expect.  We had a vague idea that there were some natural hot springs in town (duh right) but we didn't know what exactly was here.

Our first couple days consisted of finding our way around town,  filling the pantries, and spending evenings after work and school at the pool.  One evening at the campground pool we met a nice couple that kept telling us we just had to go to the "whoah pah" or the "kwo po" or the "kung pow."  We just couldn't make out what the heck the name of the place was.  But as they continued to describe it, I really wanted to go. After a bit of discussion we learned that the Quapaw is a spa.  It is also one of the few fully operational bathhouses on historic bathhouse row.

So on our first full weekend in town we set out for bathhouse row to see these spas for ourselves.  The weather was beautiful as we walked along the sidewalk and took it all in.  The architecture of Hot Springs is stunning.  We could have walked along just looking at the buildings all day, but we wanted to learn more about them so we stopped at the hotsprings visitors center and asked where we should go.  The woman working at the center was very helpful.  She gave us a map and circled the must see spots.  If you ever go I suggest doing the same.  The people there are a wealth of information about things to do and upcoming events. 

Armed with our map we headed for our first spot, the Ozark Bathhouse. The beautiful building is now the Hot Springs National Park Cultural Center.  Inside we toured the many rooms looking at artworks on display showing the history of the town as well as local artists' works.  We got a sneak peak at some of the restoration they are trying to do to another bathhouse in town called the Maurice.  It was really fascinating and it gave us our first look into what these bathhouses used to be.

We moved on from the Ozark and made our way to the Quapaw to peak our heads in.  Because we have small children in tow we weren't allowed to go into any of the spas.  You must be 14 or older because of the heat of the water.  We were able to look in through the large plate glass windows to see the different pools and rooms.  It looked like an amazing place, but it was like watching someone else enjoy my favorite flavor of Ice Cream. Disappointed, but not surprised we made our way outside just in time to see a parade going down Central Avenue.

The town was hosting a Patriots Day parade. Dalton and Zebby went absolutely nuts as fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars went down the street with their lights and horns going.  A nice gentleman from the local VA handed out flags to all the children. Our kids sat there waving away as they watched local heroes march and roll down the road.  When the last marching band went by and the sirens stopped we headed off down the road to our next stop with smiles on our faces.  It was really neat that we got to experience an unexpected parade.  It is kind of like travel magic.

We arrived in the lobby of the Fordyce Bathhouse A.K.A The Hot Springs National Park Visitors Center just in time for a guided tour to start. If you ever find yourself here I suggest taking the guided tour.  It is free and you get to learn a ton about the history of these beautiful buildings.  You also get to chuckle to yourself when a young teenage boy asks the park ranger about a strange table in one of the rooms, and you get to see the ranger blush and squirm as he explains that it was used for enemas and douches.

Spas were much different in the early 1900s.  Unlike today's spas where people go for a relaxing massage and body wrap,  the spas of the early days were more like hospitals.  They were opulent but the primary purpose was to heal people. Patients would get prescriptions for procedures such as a sauna, or a massage.  They also sometimes got mercury rub downs and electroshock baths (yes really).  As medical science improved the allure of the bathhouses diminished until most of the old bathhouses had closed somewhere in the mid 1960s.  It was really fun to learn about the spas of the golden age.

Having soaked in so much knowledge, Kate and I knew what we needed to do next.  We took the kids to the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and grabbed some beers.  Well, Kate and I sampled the beers.  The kids got pretzels and root beer. The neat thing about the place was that the beer and root beer are made in-house with spring water from their very own thermal spring.  The beer was just okay, the best one on tap that day was the stout.  The root beer was pretty darn good though.  It was our youngest sons first taste of soda and he went nuts for the stuff.  I may have stolen one or few sips myself.  You know, for science.

Do you know what the best thing to do after drinking beer is?  Hiking up a mountain on a trail designed to make your heart rate go up!  No.  Not really.  But that is exactly what we did.  In all seriousness the trail up from the National Park Visitor Center to the Lookout tower is really nice.  It was a great way to see some nature and get away from things for a bit. 

When we made it to the tower we learned that the elevator was closed.  Now I'm not a big fan of heights, but I was really looking forward to going to the top of the tower to see the view.  I wasn't looking forward to it enough to climb about 300 stairs with three kids in tow. So after checking out the gift shop and the 1920s observation gazebo instead, we hiked back down to grab some diner.

We ended up eating at BubbaLu's Bodacious Burgers & Classy Dogs.  Yes that is really the name of the place.  The food was your standard burger and hot dog joint, but it was the girls behind the counter that made the meal memorable. These women were a hoot. We sat at the bar and I was promptly told that because I sat at the end of the bar that it was now my job to hand out menus to anyone who walked in.  They meant it.  So I did as I was told and got a few "Good Job!" comments from them.  We sat and chatted with them about our lifestyle and they ooh'd and ah'd over how cute our kids were. The kids' meals were served on frisbees.  It was a nice touch.  When we were done the little ones got to keep their "plates" as souvenirs.

Now that our bellies were full, there was only one thing left to do.  We had promised the kids that we would take them to the candy store Rocket Fizz. Sophia had heard from some other kids in the campground that they could get bacon flavored candy there. So, we just had to go.  I was able to get some green tea Kit-Kat bars that are only available in Japan. Kate and the kids picked up a ton of odd flavored taffy.  My favorites were the buttered popcorn and the chicken and waffles.

It was time to go. We were all tired from our long day so we started our trek back to the campground.  At the end of the day we had seen art and beautiful architecture.  We had some good food and great conversations.  We got to commune with nature.  And we learned a ton about the golden age of bathhouses.  We especially learned not to ask about the strange table with the hole in it.

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