Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is an unusual geographical mix�a highly developed park in a small city surrounded by low-lying mountains with abundant flowers and animals.
Hot Springs Reservation was set aside on April 20, 1832, by the Federal Government to protect the 47 hot springs flowing from the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain, at a temperature of 143� F, for future generations. The name was changed to Hot Springs National Park on March 4, 1921. The Hot Springs National Park is the oldest area in the national park system. It is also the smallest of the national parks. The park contains 5,839.24 acres.
Waters gushing from hot springs are more than 4,000 years old. The pores and fractures in the rock conduct the water deep into the Earth. As the water percolates downward, the increasingly warmer rock heats it, and filters out the impurities. In the process the water dissolves minerals in the rocks. Eventually the water meets the faults and joints in the Hot Springs Sandstone leading up to the lower west side of Hot Springs Mountain where it flows to the surface. The waters gush at an average rate of 850,000 gallons a day.
For Indians, the Hot Springs was a neutral ground where different tribes came to hunt, trade and bathe in peace. Tradition has it that the first Europeans to see the springs were the Spanish explorer Hernando deSoto and his troops in 1541. French trappers, hunters, and traders became familiar with the area in the late-l7th century. In 1803 the United States acquired the area when it purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, and the very next year President Thomas Jefferson dispatched an expedition led by William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore the newly acquired springs. Their report to the President was widely publicized and stirred up interest in the "Hot Springs of the Washita."
In the years that followed, more and more people came here to soak in the waters. Soon the idea of "reserving" the springs for the Nation took root, and a proposal was submitted to the Congress. Then, in 1832, the Federal Government took the unprecedented step of setting aside four sections of land here, the first U. S. reservation made simply to protect a natural resource. Little effort was made to mark the boundaries adequately, and by the mid-1800�s, claims and counterclaims were filed on the springs and the land surrounding them.
In the 1870s, the government continued to control the springs and to reserve certain areas as federal property. Private bathhouses, under the supervision of the Federal Government, were allowed to be built. These establishments ranged from the simple to the luxurious. The government even operated a U.S. Free Bathhouse and a Public Health facility. Gradually Hot Springs came to be called "The National Spa," and such slogans as "Uncle Sam Bathes the World"� and "The Nation�s Health Sanitarium" were used to promote the city.
By 1921, the Hot Springs Reservation was such a popular destination for vacationers and seekers of health remedies that the new National Park Service�s first director, Stephen Mather, convinced Congress to declare the reservation the 18th national park. Monumental bathhouses built along Bathhouse Row about that time catered to crowds of health seekers. These new establishments, full of the latest equipment, pampered the bather in artful surroundings. Marble and tile decorated walls, floors, and partitions. Some rooms sported polished brass, murals, fountains, statues, and even stained glass. Gymnasiums and beauty shops helped cure seekers in their efforts to feel and look better.
The Army/Navy Hospital (now the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center) just above the south end of Bathhouse Row contributed to a continued high level of activity during World War II and immediately afterward. Shortly thereafter, however, changes in medical technology and in the use of leisure time resulted in a rapid decline in water therapies. People also started to prefer taking to the open roads in their own cars rather than traveling by train to a specified destination and staying in a hotel a week or two. One by one the bathhouses began to close down as business declined. Today only one of the buildings on Bathhouse Row operates as a traditional bathhouse.
Many of the hot springs are now covered with green concrete boxes. These boxes keep the waters clean and available for bathing and drinking without artificial chemical treatment.
Scheduled guided bathhouse tours and outdoor walking thermal features tours by park rangers and volunteers in season and upon request by advance reservation for groups during the remainder of the year. Wildflower walks, birding walks and other special hikes may be scheduled throughout the year. There are self-guided tours all during the year, and campfire programs at the Amphitheater at Gulpha Gorge Campground during June, July and August. The evening summer campfire programs present a variety of in depth information on the history, natural history topics, and archeology of the area.
The only lodging in Hot Springs National Park is the Gulpha Gorge Campground located two miles northeast of downtown. The city of Hot Springs surrounds the park and has many hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, boarding and rooming houses and furnished cottages on the nearby lake.
Hiking in Hot Springs National Park can be a fun and rewarding experience as in other national parks. It is a great way to both see and experience the park. There are approximately 26 miles of day use hiking trails in the park (mountain bikes are prohibited). There are two scenic mountain drives on West Mountain and on Hot Springs and North Mountains. An observation tower on top of Hot Springs Mountain is operated by a concessioner. There are picnic tables on the Grand Promenade, Hot Springs Mountain, West Mountain and Gulpha Gorge.
The hot springs are a special natural resource. The tradition of drinking the water and using it for bathing continues today, just as in days past. Many visitors and local residents collect the water in jugs and take it home with them.
Hot Springs National Park has something for everyone, whether you are interested in nature, architecture or history... the park's natural and cultural features blend together along famous Bathhouse Row. The park also offers scenic drives, hiking trails, picnic areas and a camping area in its forested mountains which are open throughout the year.