Hot Springs is Hot Again

Humans have been taking baths for millennia. The practice of releasing toxins in hot springs dates back tens of thousands of years to the Neolithic Age, when nomadic tribes would soak in thermal waters they accidentally discovered when seeking relief from winter weather.

And there is archeological evidence from the 1900’s from Pakistan, where the earliest public bathhouses were discovered in the Indus River Valley around 2500 BC.

In, fact, every known culture around the world has demonstrated a special bathing ritual with roots in therapeutic cleansing of body, mind and soul.

No doubt, Native Americans enjoyed the 147o F waters that flowed from the lower western slope of Hot Springs Mountain in Arkansas. This area was first occupied by the Caddo, and later the Quapaw, who eventually ceded this territory to the U.S. government in an 1818 treaty.

70 years before the National Park Service was established by Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson declared Hot Springs the first federal reservation in 1832, intending to protect this natural resource.

Scientists ran measurements and evaluated the springs’ mineral properties and flow rate. In journaling their finding, they numbered the springs and rated them according to temperature.

Immediately after, bathhouses began springing up around town to indulge the many guests who would travel to Hot Springs to avail themselves of the water’s restorative powers.

But trouble was brewing closer to the mountain. Ral City emerged as a community of indigents who had no use for fancy bathhouses, and subsequently dug pools beside the springs so they might enjoy the thermal water.

But not before the government put a stop to that and instituted policy that “preserved” and regulated the springs. Fearing contamination, the reservation superintendent ordered the pools filled in, and the transients relocated to a distant spring to appease the bathhouse owners in town.

Enterprising businessmen like railroad magnate, Samuel Fordyce saw potential in Hot Springs, and invested heavily in the town’s infrastructure. He financed construction of the Arlington Hotel in 1875–the first luxury hotel in the area…

and vacation residence to every known celebrity, movie star and gangster of the era.

Fordyce also imagined an international spa resort that could rival Europe’s finest, and opened the opulent Fordyce Bathhouse in 1915.

The National Park Visitor Center now occupies this bathhouse–which has been painstakingly restored to reflect the gilded age of health spas, and how turn-of the-century America tapped into Hot Springs’ healing waters to bathe in luxury and style.

There were many different ways to indulge in water treatments…

But a menu of ancillary services was also available, such as: massage, chiropody, facials, manicure/pedicure, and exercise, etc…

Bathhouse Row quickly filled with competition along Central Avenue,

each one designed with classic architectural details.

and anchored by Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center on the south end of the street.

Formally known as the Army-Navy Hospital, it was the site of the nation’s first general hospital for Army and Navy patients built after the Civil War–treating the sick and wounded through World War II. Subsequently, it became a residential resource center for training young adults with disabilities, but state of Arkansas shuttered the facility in 2019, and the building is now derelict and fallen into disrepair. Currently, it stands as the world’s largest raccoon hotel.

We visited Hot Springs during Memorial Day weekend, and the sidewalks were teeming with families and couples who were happy to return to the land of the living after a year of coronavirus hibernation. Businesses were enjoying record crowds, and the bath houses had finally reopened to the public.

Unfortunately, Leah and I were too late to the party; there were no spa reservations to be had. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

So we took a hike up the mountain, spotted a turtle in the middle of the trail,

and continued to the Mountain Tower,

offering majestic, mouth-watering views of hidden springs beneath us, while we massaged each others’ neck and shoulders.

Hot Tub!

After four months of establishing St. Augustine roots, and putting our house in order, it was time to satisfy our hot tub craving–a thought bubble Leah and I had discussed since settling down to our slice of paradise.

The notion of chilling in a hot tub had become my oxymoronic fantasy, while “a soak and a toke, so long as we don’t go broke” had become my new mantra.

pushing to the rear

Armed with a wellspring of research, we felt well prepared to test the waters, and immersed ourselves in the retail market. Our first inclination was shopping for value, so we patiently waited for Costco’s sale.

dragging the tub.jpg

In the meantime, we diligently sifted through their online sales brochures to review the specs of different tubs at different price points, and screened all the consumer comments through a pro/con filter.

sled ride

While there were many features to whet our appetite, we were nonetheless hesitant about Costco’s “ship it, and forget it” policy, fearing it could backfire into a “ship it, and regret it” experience. Having a transit outfit willing to drop a half-ton pallet at our curb and jet away without concern raised a red flag for us, possibly setting us up for a moving and installation watershed moment.

on the slab

While we could easily hire a third-party to get the hot tub up and running, a catalog of complaints citing broken pumps, leaky tub molds, and buggy software, albeit warrantied, left us feeling lukewarm about this kind of investment.

lining up the connection

So we went back to the well, and drew up a list of likely successors.

shimming for level

We received a call from a ThermoSpa agent less than microseconds after filling out an online form and hitting the <ENTER> button. He was quick to tout the health benefits of his product, but balked each time we asked about price, promising a more in-depth analysis within the confines of our home.

hooking up power

“It seems like a lot of work, but I’m very excited about you bringing over a sample for us to try,” I taunted.

“Unlikely,” he countered. We sell direct from our manufacturer, which is how we manage to keep our costs low and pass the savings on to you, but I have videos of our construction process that will demonstrate the merits of our brand, and I have videos of several models fully operational.

I, too was direct. “But I’m not buying a video,” I stated, “so goodbye.”

hooking up power

That’s when Leah determined that we had to get our feet wet, and truly test the waters. We visited a couple of second-generation dealers hawking Dimension One and Hot Springs spas from their local showrooms to better visualize our options.

installing speakers

To their credit, each shop owner invited us to take the plunge before we took the plunge. Of course, we were knee deep in questions, and they were awash with answers.

full moon (2)

Ultimately, after much haggling, we selected a Hot Springs model for its five-year warranty, its installation coverage, and its assortment of desirable bells and whistles…

Leah approves

…and Leah couldn’t be happier.

Ouch! and Ahhh!–Part Two

*For those who are reading postaday blogs, please see Part One first to follow the narrative. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Previously on Streaming thru America… (see Ouch! and Ahhh!–Part One, previously published)

Neal and Leah were both feeling the effects of the heat–both inside and outside the F-150. Temperatures had climbed to 103º on the trail, while the mood had turned icy in the truck. Additionally, Neal had aggravated an old knee injury, and Leah was feeling tired and dehydrated.

And now, Streaming thru America is pleased to present…

Part Two: Ahhh

After the hike, it became necessary to regroup at the Airstream. It was our last day in Big Bend and it was only 4 pm. Both of us agreed that we weren’t yet finished for the day. If we could rally after our siesta, then we could pull off one more hike.

But we needed a rejuvenation tonic—a game-changing elixir that would fuel our core and boost our disposition. And given the state of our limited supplies, it had to help us clear our head, yet give us the false sense of security we needed to fool ourselves into thinking that we could endure another adventure. Bottom line—we made frozen strawberry margaritas. Who knew they could be so energizing?

Timing was everything. With the sun expecting to set at 8:30 pm, a light dinner got us out the door and back on the road towards Hot Springs Trail, part of our Big Bend bucket list. Thankfully, not a long drive, it was only ten minutes to the turnoff from Rio Grande Village, and another four miles in to the trail head, but what a drive!

Halfway through the white gypsum track, the road split into two extremely narrow one-way hairpin switchbacks that hugged a striated canyon wall for the balance of the journey.

rock strata

It was a race against time. With the sky expecting to produce a saturated sunset, and the time it would take to traverse this obstacle course, I folded my mirrors in toward the truck, and held my breath as I cautiously moved forward.

It was harrowing yet exciting. The view out my window was nothing but air, while Leah, if so inclined, could reach out her window and file her nails against the cliff. But to her credit, she never said a word about my driving, as she braced herself against the armrest, in anticipation of a catastrophe. Or maybe her silence was driven by my encouraging words as we approached the switchbacks:

“Don’t say another word,” I loosely suggested, not trying to control her.

I successfully negotiated the F-150 into a parking lot occupied by other three cars. Wanting alone time with Leah, it was a bit of a letdown seeing company, but my new objective was to catch the sunset. I sprinted up a small hill with my camera swinging, to gain enough of an advantage over low rising trees just as the sky exploded into colors. I took in the view and my knee didn’t hurt a bit.



I also had time to capture the ruins of a limestone block cabin, that once served overnight visitors who had come to benefit from the healing properties of the mineral waters that Leah and I were about to experience.

Langford House

“Now the trail to the water will be dark,” Leah lamented, “because you had to take so long taking pictures.”

“I have a remedy for that,” I declared. I switched on the flashlight and lit our way down a lush reed-lined path, half a mile along the river, until we stood at the fallen foundation of a bathhouse spa built by J.O. Langston in 1912.

We eased ourselves into the 105º water currently shared by four other visitors. Everyone present had finished a hike in the blistering sun earlier in the day, and was eager to soak their aches and pains away in a hot oasis of salts and minerals.

Langford Hot Springs1

Langston had reported in his autobiography, “A Homesteader’s Story”, that by bathing in the spring water, and drinking it as prescribed by local Indians, he had completely regained the strength he lost from several debilitating bouts of childhood malaria. Claiming deed to the spring, he eventually moved his family from Alpine, TX and developed the property into a successful health attraction and trading post.

The remains of the bathhouse only adds to the character and allure of the location. While the Rio Grande flows on one side of the foundation wall, a floor vent on the other side is releasing over 200,000 gallons of geothermal water a day, pushing the overflow into the river–perhaps, an early rendition of now-popular infinity pools. Strategically sitting in the cool river while leaning against the hot spillover produces the strangest sensations and the best “Ahhh” results.

A break in the trees along the trail to the parking lot revealed a quarter moon and a black sky accented by millions of stars. Our fellow hot-tubbers neglected to bring a flashlight, so they followed our flashlight beam as we all walked back together. A college coed from the pack identified herself as a Langford, and thought she might be somehow related to the spa patriarch, thinking she could claim the spring for herself.

“But it’s a National Park, dear,” I reminded her. “It belongs to all of us.”

It was a perfect finish to a long day, and I had to admit that my knee never felt better.

*For those who are reading postaday blogs, please see Part One first to follow the narrative. Sorry for the inconvenience.