What’ s So Hot About Hot Springs?

Hot Springs NP, Arkansas

The View From Bathhouse Row

Before we wind up falling further behind in posting than we already are, here’s a post on our time in Hot Springs. Arkansas from January-March 2017. Our first visit to this area was in 2010 before we were full time RVers. Still dazzled by the splendor of the western parks we were very unimpressed with Hot Springs and left wondering why this was a National Park. A National Historic Site or even a Monument but a National Park? We are so glad that we had the opportunity to return, spend time and learn about both the national park and the city. We really had missed the boat the first time around! So if you come here be sure and take the time to do tours and come prepared to learn. Both the park and the city have lots to offer but you can’t do it by whizzing through in a day or less. It is like an iceberg. There’s what you see above the water but when you start looking deeper there’s more and more.

A Tub In The Fordyce

Fordyce Music Room

The Quapaw Bathhouse

Us At Work In The Fordyce

 

 

Chari’s Reflection In The Hale Bathhouse Window

 

 

Monument To The First NPS Ranger Killed On Duty

 

We were working at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center, the museum and information center for Hot Springs National Park on Central Avenue in the historic district. There are 8 remaining bathhouses along what is known as Bathhouse Row in the national park and 6 of them are open to the public: the Fordyce visitor center, the Lamar gift shop and the Ozark art museum for the park, 2 operating bathhouses (the Buckstaff and the Quapaw) and the Superior microbrewery. So here’s some of what we learned and shared during our tours.

The Buckstaff, The Lamar and The Former Army-Navy Hospital (now ACTI)

Hot Springs National Park is the smallest of the 59 National Parks and the only one with a city completely within its borders. The geology of the hot springs is special because it is one of only 2 in North America not heated by volcanic activity. The rainwater takes 4,400 yrs. to travel over a mile and a half into the earth reaching 150 degrees but returns to the surface in about a year thus retaining its heat (139-143 degrees). So when you drink from the springs you are drinking water that fell as rain at the time the Egyptians were building the pyramids! That’s another big difference. Most national parks warn you to not take anything while Hot Springs NP encourages you to drink the water and take some with you by having drinking and jug fountains all around. In fact the original legislation protecting the hot springs states that the water will forever be free to the people.

Historic Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

It Is Always Spring Time In Hot Springs

 

Filling Up At The Jug Fountain

 

The Stevens Fountain

Old Hot Springs Artwork At The Ozark

The springs yield, on average, 700,000 gallons per day. Of that the park collects and distributes about 250,000 gallons. People come from hours away to fill pickup trucks full of bottles with the mineral rich water. Don’t want to drink hot water? There are two cold springs from another source as well. However, don’t expect to dip in the springs outside. They’ve been covered up for over a century to protect them from man-made and natural contamination. We occasionally had the opportunity to assist the water technicians as they tested the springs each week. The park contains the oldest land in the world ever set aside by a government to protect a natural resource. That was in 1832. If they had named it a national park back then, Hot Springs rather than Yellowstone would have been our first national park. Instead it was called Hot Springs Reservation and did not come under the NPS until 1921 as the 18th national park.

Volunteers Help With Water Testing

Recording Water Quality Data

So what is a bathhouse? In the days before modern medicine (post WWII) as we know it, people had few medications and surgery was very risky. So they depended upon the curative properties of heat, light, water, exercise and later electricity. The bathhouses were the rehabilitation facilities of the day. We told visitors that coming to Hot Springs was coming to the Mayo Clinic on one side of the street (Bathhouse Row) and Las Vegas before Las Vegas existed in the city. Hot Springs was also the primary spring training area for major league baseball before it relocated to Florida. Other sports stars like Jack Dempsey trained here. Babe Ruth hit his longest home run here (over 500′). Follow the signs on the Baseball trail to learn more.The museum is filled with interesting old equipment.The Fordyce featured the best appointed gym in Arkansas when it opened in 1915. A few items like the Hubbard tank from the 30s and the Hoyer lift from the 50s I used during my career as a physical therapist. Well, not those models but a generation later. Once again I’m seeing my life in a museum! Make sure to take the guided tour and hear some stories. When that’s done, take a hike or drive and check out the view from the observation tower. Steve was reading in preparation for our next volunteer job about some of the ways Lewis and Clark handled medical issues using Indian sweat lodges and alternate heat and cold. Equipment may change but principles stay the same.

Fordyce Gym

Indian Clubs

The Hubbard Tank Room

Chari and Steve Hiking On Hot Springs Mountain

The city is just as interesting. Gambling, bootlegging and other carnal activities were the main business. While never legal it flourished d/t payoffs to police and government official until the mid 1960s. When Winthrop Rockefeller was elected he vowed to clean up corruption and gambling. He did. Learn more at the Ganster Museum. We enjoyed the tour there and as you can see hammed it up a bit with some pics. At the same time the golden age of the bathhouse was declining. Hot Springs fell on hard times. In the late 1980s the NPS remodeled the Fordyce Bathhouse into the Visitor Center and repurposed others. This was no small task. Today you can visit the Fordyce and see the most opulent of bathhouses restored to its former beauty. Don’t miss the beautiful stained glass on three of the four floors or ride the original elevator car. Only the Buckstaff never closed its doors. Today you can experience treatment as if it were one hundred years ago at the Buckstaff or enjoy the mineral rich spring water at the Quapaw Baths spa pools. We did both and came out feeling like a piece of cooked spaghetti each time! I (Steve) had a bad cold and went to the Quapaw. Almost immediately I could feel the congestion in my chest lessening. I do believe soaking in the water cut the length of my cold in half. 

Make My Day! Steve At The Gangster Museum

This Lady Is Serious!

 

Stained Glass In The Fordyce Women’s Bath Hall

Skylight In The Music Room

Neptune’s Daughter

The architecture of the town from the 1890s-1940s is terrific and makes for some great photos. Like to shop? Only your credit card limit will dictate where and how much. Hungry? We enjoyed numerous good restaurants in Hot Springs. A few of our favorites were McClard’s for BBQ (also Bill Clinton’s), Colorado Grill for Mexican, Rolando’s for Ecuadorian, buffets at the Arlington Hotel, a Southern Living best breakfast winner Colonial Cafe and the Ohio Club where you can rub elbows with Al Capone (or at least his statue). For fun in the evening catch the monthly free performances of the Jazz Society, attend a show at the Five Star Dinner Theatre or feel like a kid at the Maxwell Blade Magic Show. Garvin Gardens was just as magical in the Spring as it had been at Christmas with a sea of tulips at peak bloom. We didn’t go to the horserace at Oaklawn but it is a big attraction from late winter through April. In summer there is the Magic Springs amusement park and all the water sports of lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita plus the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat.

Exterior Window At The Fordyce

The Arlington Hotel Lobby

 

Stairway At The Ozark

Volunteers And Ranger Touring The Archives

Ranger Leading A Guided Tour

Best Breakfast In Town

The Name Says It All

Tasting A Flight At Superior Brewery

When all is said and done it is the people from Hot Springs National Park we will remember. We made new friends with several volunteers. The Rangers were fantastic. They coached us and taught us so that we could hone our interpretive skills. They made it possible for us to visit places not open to the public such as the water distribution system, the Hale and Maurice Bathhouses and the museum archives. They thanked us for our time volunteering at least once a day. While we enjoy new experiences by volunteering at different parks or for different agencies, if we ever do repeat a job this will rank high on the list. Thank You Hot Springs National Park for a fabulous three months!

The End!

Where Next #9

Laguna Atascosa NWR, Flaming Gorge NRA, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado

From LANWR To Flaming Gorge NRA

It’s been a long time since we’ve posted on the blog. Guess we needed a vacation from having so much fun! Before we get too much further behind here are our travel plans when we leave Laguna Atascosa NWR and head for our summer volunteer position at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.

When we head out we will go north to the piney woods of northeastern Texas to see Big Thicket National Preserve, Cane River Creole National Historic Park in Louisiana and the area should be in bloom with azaleas and dogwoods. Now add local BBQ joints and fried catfish to the mix. We’ll be staying at Alley Creek Camp, a USACE campground on a lake with water and electric hookups. We bought fishing licenses but haven’t been able to use them. Maybe we will here.

Then we drop back south a bit where we’ll be 75 miles NW of Houston. Lots of small towns, Spring blossoms, the Texas Painted Church tour and hopefully getting to Galveston and sightseeing in Houston too. We’ll stay at Cagle Recreation Area, a USFS campground with full hookups.

On to the Hill Country where there is so much to do I know we won’t scatch the surface. We’ll be staying at Cranes Mill CG on Canyon Lake, a  USACE campground with electric and water hookups. We plan to visit Fredricksburg,  New Braunfels and San Antonio. There will be many drives through the famous blue bonnets and we’ll meet up with friends volunteering at the LBJ NHP.

On to west Texas via Amistead NRA (a reservoir on the Rio Grande), Guadalupe Mountains NP and El Paso. From there we turn north to New Mexico and hope to stay at Elephant Butte Lake SP. Using this as a base we will visit White Sands NP, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Salinas Pueblo Missions and Pecos NHP. If there is time we will stop to see fellow volunteers at Sevilleta NWR.

Hoping to make up for our missed visit last Fall, we will drive north to see friends in Los Alamos, NM. Other points of interest will be Santa Fe and possibly 5 more NPS sites. We haven’t camped that much in Colorado so we look forward to staying at Cheyenne Mountain SP near Colorado Springs. Our last leg will turn west toward Dinosaur NM and Fossil Butte NM. If we see all 17 planned NPS sites we will have seen 42% of all the parks.

We’ll put down roots (or as close as we come to it these days) for 3.5 months in NE Utah. Home is where you park it.

Walking In John Muir’s Footsteps – Yosemite NP

Yosemite, Tunnel View

Tunnel View Panorama

This is our 200th post on our blog. Yes, we are still way behind and it looks like that might be a permanent condition for us! If you have noticed, over the past six months the posts have gotten much shorter. Better to post a shorter version than nothing at all! We have just passed 40,000 views as well. Thanks to all who enjoy our footloose and carefree life even if only from the comfort of their home. May some of the wonder and laughs we experience come through to you.

View Of Eastman Lake From Our Campground

View Of Eastman Lake From Our Campground

How fitting that we pass a milestone on the blog just as it was time to write about one of America’s Icons: Yosemite National Park. Next to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon it is probably the most recognized landscape in the USA. So what more can you say that hasn’t been said before… not much. At this point (late March) we were camped at Codorniz, a USACE park on Eastman Lake in central California. We had a full hookup site, Whoopee! Like going to a resort for us. The lake level is low as we are finding all through the west. It is about an hour to Yosemite but the drive itself is beautiful.

Driving To Yosemite

Driving To Yosemite

Scenery Along The Way To Yosemite

Scenery Along The Way To Yosemite

John Muir In Yosemite Forever

John Muir In Yosemite Forever

How often had John Muir sat at this very point soaking in the beauty of the valley below? Of all the National Parks he is most associated with this place. His likeness is immortalized in bronze so he never really leaves.

Steve had visited Yosemite twice before we became reacquainted. This was my first visit. He’d described going through the tunnel and exiting to find the amazing valley spread in front of you. As we entered the tunnel I could feel my pulse quicken in anticipation of what lay before me only seconds away. I was even salivating! My palms were moist. And then … there it was! As if God was opening his hands and offering a very special gift. How many rear end collisions occur here as people slam on their brakes? I really am at a loss for words as hard as that is to believe!

Tunnel View In Spring

Tunnel View In Spring

 

 

 

El Capitan

El Capitan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

 

 

 

 

 

Rushing Water

Rushing Water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yosemite In Blue

Yosemite In Blue

On our second visit to Yosemite we drove to the northern end of the park known as Hetch Hechy. We had taken longer arriving as we took another scenic route. We were informed that Hetch Hechy closes at 5pm and the gates would be locked. Pets are not allowed on trails so after a short walk along the road Opal settled down for a nap. Some “scenic view” I had. As usual, all I saw was the inside of the truck!  We set off for a 4-5 mile hike to some waterfalls. John Muir thought this section was even more beautiful than Yosemite Valley and fought against flooding it for a reservoir. Alas he did not succeed. As we hiked along the shore and enjoyed its beauty for over 2 hours, I could not help but wonder what had he seen that we will never know? We took our time enjoying the scene around us. Surrounded by all this majestic beauty one has to remember to look down and take in the smaller miracles of wildflowers in Spring.

Yosemite In Blossom

Yosemite In Blossom

Then I asked Steve “what time is it?” “3;30 he answered.” “OMG! We have to be out by 5p!” “I forgot. Let’s get going.” We walked back as fast as my rather short legs could go. I fell and scraped my knee rather badly so now I looked like a clumsy kid. I really didn’t think we’d make it back in time and had visions of spending the night in the truck with trail bars for supper and coveting Opal’s Kibbles. We jumped into the truck and drove the eight miles to the gate making it out with three minutes to spare.

Once is not enough. So let us say, when we come back…

Hetch Hetchy Wildflowers

Hetch Hetchy Wildflowers

A Day In The Life Of A Volunteer At San Juan Island National Historical Park

off to work 1Many of you know that Steve and I have spent summer 2015 working with the National Park Service as volunteers on San Juan Island in Washington. There are two locations where volunteers work: American Camp and English Camp. We are assigned at English Camp. Our duties run from simple greetings to more detailed explanations of the park’s history, selling bookstore items, working with children on the Junior Ranger program and performing in the weekly Living History. As we became more knowledgeable about the Pig War, Steve developed an in depth talk for interested visitors. To his own surprise, he has found he enjoys public speaking. Chari has found, to her surprise, that she enjoys working with children far more than she would ever have imagined. Volunteers give their time but get so much back in return.

We took our small video camera down to the English Camp Visitor Center with the intention of filming Steve giving his presentation to a small group for our own use. As luck would have it, that day a group of 20 high school students from OMSI camp (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) were visiting and interested in hearing his talk. Then another ten or so visitors came in who also wanted to attend. We set up the camera and Steve talked about one of our country’s lesser known conflicts. Just this past weekend Steve had given his talk to a gentleman who said he wished his grandson could have heard the talk. His grandson is a real history buff and they have visited many Civil War Era battlefields together. Steve offered to e-mail him this video but alas it was too many gigabytes. So we are posting this for him and hope some of our other followers enjoy hearing it too.

The blockhouse At English Camp

The blockhouse At English Camp

A quick note to correct something in the talk. Since filming this we realized we had a name wrong. To set things straight, when Steve talks about one person having kept their cool in thirteen years as Admiral Baynes, it should be Captain Hornsby of the Royal Navy. The learning curve goes on… Also after the introduction which was recorded with a microphone later you may need to turn up the volume on your computer.

And now… Here’s Steve……………..

High And Mighty

Sequoia NP

A Long And Winding Road To Sequoia National Park

We rolled on to the Central Valley of California with a stop at Tule Recreation Area, a U. S. Army Corps of Engineers lake and campground near Porterville. No doubt we are in the agricultural hub now. Great Spring weather greets us but the lake is low. This is primarily an irrigation lake and only secondarily a recreation lake. With rain and snowfall low throughout the west it will be a challenge to meet water needs this summer.

A Long Way Up

A Long Way Up

Porterville proves a good stop for restocking with groceries and supplies after Death Valley. The Hispanic influence in the area is strong and our choice of supermarkets takes us on a trip. With cactus leaves piled high in the produce section along with other fruit we can’t identify, several types of chorizo and hot sausage and a whole aisle devoted to tortillas, it doesn’t take much to imagine you are in Mexico. Steve tries to ask how to cook prickly pear leaves but gives up when he gets five employees trying to tell him different methods all at the same time. We try several sausages and buy a few new ones that turn out to be delicious.

sequoia flower 8

sequoia flower 8 closeupsequoia flower 3 copysequoia flower 6 closeupwildflower 1Our main reason for stopping here is that we are about a half an hour from Sequoia National Park. In a normal year the park would be questionable to visit this early. Not this year. With the snow pack at less than 50% the park was open and quite busy. The only place we couldn’t reach due to snow was Kings Canyon NP that adjoins Sequoia although we could get to the Visitors Center. Not that we need an excuse for returning but we have one. We made two visits with the first one concentrating on the three Visitor Centers, hiking to the General Grant and General Sherman trees and marveling at the size and age of the sequoias despite huge lightening scars or hollow trunks. On our second visit we enjoyed the mountain views, wildflowers, historical photos, Tharp’s log and colorful meadows. You can’t help feeling dwarfed by these giants. They were young trees when Rome dominated the world. From a photography perspective we composed vertical panoramas, black and white landscapes, macro shots and put an artistic twist on others.

Strolling Among The Giants

Strolling Among The Giants

General Grant sign and tree

General Sherman Tree

General Sherman Tree

hollow tree view 3

Hollow Tree View

 

Sequoia Vertical Panorama

Sequoia Vertical Panorama

Steve and Opal at Sequoia 2

Towering Twins

Towering Twins

Steve at Sequoia 1

Sequoia Starburst

Sequoia Starburst

Soft Trees In Fog

Soft Trees In Fog

yellow twig dogwood

Yellow Twig Dogwood

red twig dogwood 2

Red On Red

Impressionist View Of Sequoia

Impressionist View Of Sequoia

sequoia scene 1

sequoia scene 4 B+W

sequoia scene 6

artsy1

Life In Death Valley

Death Valley, landscape

Subtle Colors Of Death Valley

From Lone Pine we headed back east over the Inyo Mountains to visit Death Valley National Park. We’d never heard of this range but after going up, over and down pulling a 35′ trailer we certainly will not forget the ride! We knew the road was challenging and stopped at the Lone Pine Visitors Center to check on road conditions and potential problems. They gave us the green light and said “just go slow on the descent”. Not that you could have done anything else! With 20/20 hindsight we should have had the video camera going to accurately give you the feeling of heading down over miles of switchback roads without guardrails. Go slow they said. You bet. At times we crept around curves at 15 mph or less only to find ourselves immediately reversing direction for another curve. I’ve become very confident in Steve’s ability to handle the DreamChaser but…when I’d look down the unprotected chasm on my side my toes would curl and I’d find my palms getting sweaty. I let out a BIG sigh of relief when we finally reached the bottom!! When watching the video be sure and take notice of the surrounding mountains and picture us there.

A Vast Wasteland

A Vast Wasteland

 

Water In The Desert

Water In The Desert

Our campground would be at Furnace Creek which is mostly dry camping. There are a few full service sites here but they were booked months ago. The only criteria that is a bit difficult to work around is that you must be at your site to run the generator and all generators off by 7PM. In March it isn’t a problem but we sure wouldn’t want to be here much later without access to air conditioning. One evening we were sitting outside when the campground host came by and asked if that was our generator running. I said yes and (looking at my watch) indicated we had 15 minutes to go. No, said the host. You forgot to change your watch. It’s daylight savings time now and you’re 45 minutes beyond the generator curfew. Oops!

Blue-eyed Grass

Blue-eyed Grass

Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus

Death Valley is a huge park with over 3,000,000 acres to explore. We did a lot of hiking to earn enough points for our bumper sticker, roamed through the Harmony Borax Works and Borax Museum, went on wildflower explorations, watched beautiful sunsets and toured Scotty’s Castle. We joined Ranger led tours for a full moon dune walk and to see Death Valley Scotty’s real cabin home. We made scenic drives to Artists Canyon and Titus Canyon. We explored ghost towns in the park such as Rhyolite and one just outside the boundary on BLM land. Our week went all to fast. Not since visiting The Everglades have I begun a park visit questioning just how much I’d enjoy only to find myself loving every minute. There is so much more to explore so here’ where we say “When we come back…”

Borax Wagon

Borax Wagon

Steve (Spielberg) Maier has created a video of our days in Death Valley. It runs about 25 minutes. So run to the bathroom, grab a beer and some popcorn but most of all enjoy one of our national treasures. As usual, please allow the video to fully upload before playing for best results and click the icon at the lower right corner to bring to full screen.

Steve AT Natural Bridge In Death Valley

Steve At Natural Bridge In Death Valley

 

Dunes at sunset 1

Dunes At Sunset

 

Zabriske Point Sunset

Zabriske Point Sunset

Where Next? #8

San Juan Island, Mt. Young

From The Top Of Mt. Young On San juan Island

It looks as if Lady Luck has smiled on us again. We were to have left San Juan Island right after Labor Day. Now we will be staying until the end of September. Usually the park closes the English Camp Visitors Center at that time. Over the past few years however visitation to the park has remained high through September and keeping the site open is viable. We are thrilled!

This will mean our trip from Washington to Texas will be over a five week period. That’s quick for us and long for most everyone else. We need to stop for RV maintenance (so what’s new?), wanted to see relatives/friends and a few more national park sites along the way. Top on the RV work list is replacing our stove. The last repair only lasted 6 months so we are buying a better quality unit. Just like buying a home with builder grade appliances and replacing them after a few years.

Our route goes from Washington through central Oregon to the Mt. Shasta area of California and on to Mono Lake. Then comes Great Basin National Park, Los Alamos to say hi to a friend from North Carolina and down to El Paso and Guadalupe National Park. The third and final leg will bring us to the Dallas area for a visit with relatives and friends, Waco Petroglyph National Monument and Austin and lastly the Texas gulf coast for a 41/2 months stay at Laguna Atascosa NWR.

We hope you’ll continue to travel with us.

San Juan Island, Laguna Atascosa, Washington, Texas, RV, travel

Our Route From San Juan Island To Laguna Atascosa NWR