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!

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

Just Add Water

Lake Mead NRA, Boulder Dam, Boulder Beach CG, kayaking, photography, RV, camping, Nevada

Lake Mead Panorama Showing Low Water Line

What do you get when you take a desert, a river and tons of cement? You have Boulder Dam. By just adding water to a beautiful desert landscape you make it possible for one of America’s biggest playgrounds to exist. Without water from Lake Mead courtesy of Boulder Dam, Las Vegas would not exist. During our four days here we were aware of how much the lake level has fallen (15 feet or more) and this is a huge lake. You’d think that there would be moratorium on building so development won’t outstrip resources. Alas no, new homes and businesses are popping up all over.

We’d planned to stay a week at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Then we learned that a friend’s sister was married to the museum director at Manzanar NHS. Our original plans were to head that way after seeing Death Valley NP. We wanted to visit with them however they’d be away on vacation at that time. So we cut our time back to four days and would head to Lone Pine and still be able to keep our reservations at Death Valley.

The campgrounds at Lake Mead NRA are all dry camping but the sites are paved. Even though they don’t take reservations we easily found a beautiful drive through spot for less than $10/day with the Senior Interagency Pass. Every once in a while we spy an unusual RV. Here we found the “Gypsy House” from Canada. The owners had built it and have lots of folks drop in for a look. It serves them as a hard sided tent with totes for storage.

Homemade Gypsy Wagon

Homemade Gypsy Wagon

We were able to get out on the water in our kayaks for the first time in several months. Eight miles later we were pooped! We paddled from near our campsite over to Boulder Dam. Quite impressive from the water looking up. We’d hoped to do the tour but with our time cut short we had to push that to “when we come back”.

View From Chari's Kayak

View From Chari’s Kayak

The remaining days were much too windy for paddling so we toured the Visitor Center, took Opal on a long walk and drove about 80 miles to the far end of the lake. This area is about 100 miles from the Grand Canyon and retains much the same coloration. Absolutely beautiful at sundown.

Steve And Opal On A Hike

Steve And Opal On A Hike

On A Clear Day ...

On A Clear Day …

Sunset At Lake Mead

Sunset At Lake Mead

















Our time went by too quickly to catch up with a friend from North Carolina or to get to see a Cirque de Soleil performance. Next time for sure. We did have breakfast at a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives spot in Boulder City called The Coffee Cup. Another night we met Terry and Alice, RVers who had volunteered at San Juan Island NHP last summer. They were volunteering at a rifle club near Las Vegas and we had previously chatted online through an Escapees website. We did add Nevada to our states we have camped in map. By the time we reach the San Juan Islands we will have the western states filled in. Now we head off for California.

Our Top Ten Campgrounds For July 2014- July 2015

Now that we are spending about 50% of our time volunteering we didn’t know if we’d have enough great places to recommend for another Top Ten post. Fortunately that was no problem. So here are our choices as we moved from Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington. Again, this list in no particular rating order and is for folks like ourselves who travel via large RV. If dry camping was involved it is noted. Otherwise there was at least water and electric hookups. Some of the other campgrounds we used would be suitable for smaller units but proved challenging for us. We started with a list of 16 campgrounds we really enjoyed. After listing our 10 favorites we mention the runners up.


 1) Bullards Beach State Park near Bandon-by-the-Sea, OR

 2) Le Page USCAE Park on the John Day River/ Columbia River, near Rufus, Oregon

 3) Lake Havasu State Park, Lake Havasu, AZ

 4) Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, AZ

 5) Farragut State Park, north of Coeur d’Alene, ID

 6) Hells Gate State Park, Lewiston, ID

 7) Riana USACE Campground, Abiquiu, New Mexico

 8) Curecanti National Recreation Area, Elk Creek CG Loop D, near Gunnison, CO

 9) McDowell Mountain Regional Park, near Fort McDowell, AZ

10) Angostura Lake State Recreation Area, Hat Creek CG,  near Hot Springs, SD

Sometimes it was very difficult to choose so here are the wonderful runners up:

Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, WA

Lake Cochiti USACE, Cochiti Lake, NM

East Canyon State Park, Morgan, UT

Big Creek Flathead National Forest CG, Columbia Falls, MT *** dry camping***

Langhor CG in Hyalite Canyon, Gallatin USNF, Bozeman, MT *** dry camping ***

Boulder Beach, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Boulder City, NV *** dry camping ***

Furnace Creek CG, Death Valley NP, CA *** dry camping ***

Codorniz USACE Recreation Area, east of Merced, CA




What Else Can They Do With Rock #2? – Black Canyon Of The Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Panorama

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Panorama

Now we move on to Colorado. Our original plan was to see both Dinosaur National Monument and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison but we made a last minute change in plans. We’d hold Dinosaur NM for a later trip. The drive to our campground at Curecanti National Recreation Area would be nine hours. We could make it a one day drive from Salt Lake and get there after dark. We hate setting up in the dark. Plan B would mean an overnight stay at Walmart in Grand Junction and on to Curecanti the next day. We are becoming Walmart people! As in other stays we were not alone. The lot was full of RVs.

Google Earth View of Curecanti NRA

Google Earth View of Curecanti NRA

Curecanti National Recreation Area is a National Park site on the Gunnison River with several campgrounds. We stayed at Blue Mesa where we had an electrical hook-up and tank water. At this time of year they have shut down shower rooms so we used our RV and were conservative on water. The campground does not take reservations but this is off season and there were lots of vacancies. We liked the area and hope to return again for some kayaking and fishing. On our last night after a rainy day we were treated to a gorgeous rainbow.

rainbow, Curecanti NRA

Curecanti NRA Rainbow

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park began like so many of our parks as a national monument in 1933 and became a park in 1999. The park contains fourteen miles of canyon out of the forty-eight miles the Gunnison River  has cut through the Gunnison Uplift. For years this gorge was considered impassable. It wasn’t until 1901 when five residents of the nearby Uncompahgre Valley made an exploratory float of the river on a rubber mattress that the canyon was deemed passable. It remains the steepest and narrowest canyon in the NPS. Some facts: 1) In 48 miles the Gunnison River looses more elevation than the entire 1,500 miles of the Mississippi, an average of 96 feet/mile. In one two mile section the river drops 480 feet 2) the narrowest point of the canyon is a mere thirty-eight feet across 3) the deepest point is 2,772 feet, approximately one and a half times the Empire State Building 4) the name Black Canyon was given because there are parts which never receive daylight. Long overshadowed by destination parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, Black Canyon deserves more attention.

Graph Showing The Shape Of Black Canyon

Graph Showing The Shape Of Black Canyon

Graph Showing The narrowest Part Of Black Canyon

Graph Showing The narrowest Part Of Black Canyon









This is a place where a picture is worth a thousand words. Because of deep shadows on the canyon walls and bright sunshine it is a very contrasty situation for photography. Sit back and enjoy a few pictures from our time there. As always, to bring pictures to full screen just click on the picture.

scenic drive

Along The Scenic Rim Drive

On The Gunnison River At Canyon Floor

On The Gunnison River At Canyon Floor










More River Views

More River Views






Closeup Of Canyon Wall

Closeup Of Canyon Wall









Looking Into The Abyss

Looking Into The Abyss




dog, pets

Steve And Opal At Black Canyon NP










Chari's Best Dead Tree Shot

Chari’s Best Dead Tree Shot

Black Canyon As Seen From Google Earth

Black Canyon As Seen From Google Earth



Where Next #6

With less than two weeks left at Red Rock Lakes NWR we drew up a plan for our next two and a half months of travel en route to Petrified Forest National Park. We are continuing to make seeing more National Park sites a priority. Our route will take us to or near 12-15 more parks. We’re getting close to our goal of having visited 33% of the NPS sites by the end of 2014. Will we make it? You’ll just have to follow along and find out.

For easiest viewing, click on the picture of our route to enlarge.

travel, RV living, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, National Parks

RV Travels For August-November 2014

Favorite Campgrounds For June 2013-June 2014

Just in time for your summer fun we offer our favorite campgrounds. These represent the best of the 39 campgrounds we used while traveling from the Canadian Maritimes to Florida and then west to Iowa over the past year. It was a very difficult choice as 50% of these campgrounds were in the running. Note: we primarily use federal, state and county/city campgrounds.

New this year are two other categories. Our Hall of Fame consists of campgrounds we’ve used on repeated visits and find to be consistently good. Rather than continue to put them in our Favorites list we now include them in their own category. We also have a Think Twice Before Using category for campgrounds we would not use again and do not recommend.


FAVORITES FOR 2013-2014 

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Broad Cove CG, Nova Scotia, Canada

Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada

Wellesley Island State Park, New York

Everglades National Park, Flamingo CG, Florida

Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunellen, Florida

South Bay County Park, Florida

Ortona Corps of Engineers CG, Florida

Maumelle Corps of Engineers CG,  near Little Rock, Arkansas

Chautauqua Municipal RV Park, Beatrice, Nebraska

Big Sioux State Recreation Area, Brandon, South Dakota



Kerr Scott Lake, Corps of Engineers Bandits Roost CG,  near Wilkesboro, North Carolina

George Washington National Forest, Sherando CG, near Stuarts Draft, Virginia

Western Village RV Park, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Mecklenburg County McDowell Nature Preserve CG, Charlotte, North Carolina

Tom Johnson RV Park, Marion, North Carolina

Northern Virginia Park Authority, Bull Run Campground, Manassas, Virginia



Boyd’s RV Park, Key West, Florida – expensive, run down neighborhood, overcrowded, high risk of          accident, arrogant and uncooperative owner

Delaware Seashore State Park – campground is nothing more than a parking lot, site does not allow tow vehicle to be parked, construction noise and mess.

Sebastian Inlet State Park, Florida – bug infestation made it impossible to sit outside

Stone State Park, Sioux City, Iowa – not big rig friendly, no dump site