A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

5 Surprising Guests to the Hot Springs in Arkansas


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The Hot Springs in Arkansas have been attracting an unusual cast of characters for centuries. This naturally flowing, super-heated water has been used through the generations for a variety of reasons making Hot Springs, Arkansas a hangout for an unusual cast of characters. Below is a list of 5 visitors that you may not expect to visit this national park in the middle of Arkansas.

Visitor 1 — Native Americans

Even before this area was discovered by explorers and settled by Europeans, the Native Americans were lounging in the hot streams flowing out of the mountain. Ever since the hot springs were found, people have been using them for therapeutic and medicinal purposes. The water that comes out of the springs fell as rain 4,000 years ago and seeped deeper and deeper into ground beneath the mountains. The water is naturally heated by pressure and earth's temperature before eventually being pushed back up through unique rock formations. And this is not just a little amount of water, we are talking 750,000 gallons of water a day!

Here is a view of the Ouachita Mountains and one of the naturally flowing hot springs that goes through the city (notice the steam!).



Visitor 2 — The Sick

I guess sick people will try anything to get better! In the 1800s people believed that hot water would treat skin and blood diseases. Listen to some of these bizarre treatments that people endured:

  • Alternating between lounging in a 150° F hot spring pool to produce perspiration (which was thought to be an effective way to fight disease) and a cold-water stream. While sitting in the hot spring, people also drank the hot water.
  • Sitting in a wooden cabin built over the streams to breathe in the steam to treat respiratory illnesses for hours at a time
  • Enclosing oneself in a "vapor cabinet" (a box that you sat in that secured tightly around the neck) that heated up to 130° F

Eventually the government stepped in and limited some of the more crazy therapies by limiting baths to 20 minutes and showers to 90 seconds (but this may have been to conserve water since the park was becoming more and more popular). The average prescription for hot water therapy was a 3 week session, but people could stay for years.

Today there are still 2 bathhouses that still offer therapies. There are also water fountains throughout the park where you can drink the hot spring water. I drank from one of the fountains, and it tasted good (except it was hot!). They also have taps where you can fill up containers with the mineral water. I saw several cars lined up filling 5 gallon containers full of water.

Here is a picture of a vapor cabinet, a therapy shower and bath, and drinking from the water fountain.

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Visitor 3 — Major League Baseball

Starting in 1886, Major League Baseball teams starting their spring training in warmer climates. When the Chicago White Stockings chose Hot Springs as their training location, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Browns (Cardinals), Philadelphia Phillies, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Highlanders (Yankees) soon followed. Most teams continued this practice through the 1920s, and some continued to send pitchers/catchers through the 1940s. Babe Ruth was one of the many baseball players that loved visiting the hot springs.

Hot Springs was rising in popularity not only with Major League Baseball, but also with the general population. Hot Springs grew and grew, and the bathhouses became much more organized. The national park staff enclosed the streams beneath a street, and Bathhouse Row was created. 9 Bathhouses still sit on Bathhouse Row that runs along the Central Avenue. The park also collected, cooled, and distributed the hot spring water so that the individual bath houses didn't have to collect and cool their own water.

Here are some pictures of me and Jason out front of the bathhouses, a view from the walkway that lines the back of Bathhouse Row, and a view of the underground hot spring.

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Visitor 4 — Gangsters (including Al Capone)

Professional Athletes and the Sick weren't the only ones attracted to the therapeutic hot springs, criminals also flocked to Hot Springs. As far back as the 1880s, gangs were paying police to collect gambling debts. By 1920, ten full sized casino houses (along with smaller venues) and a dog/horse track could be found in Hot Springs. The Hot Springs was reported as a favored retreat by Al Capone.

The lavish lifestyles of professional athletes and gangsters eventually found their way into the bath houses. Everything in the bath houses was made of marble, statues decorated the individual rooms, and ornate stained glass decorated the ceilings. I thought it was very impressive, and invoked an image of Roman Bathhouses where the wealthy would hang out.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that the gambling was forcefully shut down (although there is still a racetrack).

Here are some pictures from the male bathroom (notice the naked women on the ceiling).

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Visitor 5 — Armed Services (Army & Navy)

During World War II, the army considered 20 cities as a redeployment area before selecting Hot Springs. Soldiers were granted a 21-day furlough in the city and received discounted rates at the bathhouses. Soldiers received physical and dental treatment before being deployed. In 1944, the army had taken over most of the hotels since the Army and Navy Hospital couldn't house all the soldiers.

The Army and Navy Hospital still sits behind Bathhouse Row and looks over the town of Hot Springs.


Visitor 6 — Me and Jason!

We enjoyed our trip to Hot Springs, but it would have been nice to have a little more time so we could have experienced the bath services firsthand!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 08:39 Archived in USA Tagged mountains museum national_park Comments (0)

President Clinton and Little Rock — Woo Pig Sooie!


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I'm visiting the final state in the South to see the 42nd President of the U.S. and to try and find a razorback. I'm off to Arkansas!


Upon arriving in Little Rock, Jason and I started exploring the city at the "little rock." The city was named for a small rock outcropping that served as a landmark while traveling up the Arkansas river and was commonly used as a crossing point to get over the river. "Little rock" wasn't really anything to see, but there was a nice waterfront trail that led to some informative signs about the city. While I read the signs, Jason studied the Native American carvings.


The waterfront tourist signs and statues were only able to keep our attention briefly, another sign had caught our eye. We saw our first sign of a razorback in the area! The trail took us over the river which offered a nice view of downtown (you can see some of the hotels, like the brick Peabody, and a couple of the taller buildings).


After crossing the river into North Little Rock, it didn't take long for us to find the razorback. It was huge! In fact, it was over 300 ft long and weighed over 1,500 tons! As you probably guessed, this wasn't the same razorback as the University of Arkansas mascot. In fact, this razorback wasn't even alive. This razorback was the USS Razorback, a submarine built and deployed in the Pacific during World War II. Despite finding its final resting place in Arkansas, the Razorback was named after a species of whale, not a hog. Before boarding the ship, Jason and I played with some of its weapons.



While I read the memorial for the submarine veterans, Jason sat in one of the deck guns and pretended to shoot enemy aircraft. Both of us were eager to head below deck.


It was tight moving around in the sub. The ceilings were low and had plenty of objects that could knock your head. The first room we entered was the very rear of the ship which contained bunks and torpedoes. Our guide told us that the bunks always had someone sleeping in them (as soon as someone woke up, they switched places with someone on a different shift). Some of the bunks were under the torpedoes, only allowing about 8 inches of space. I couldn't imagine sleeping pressed against a torpedo as the ship bounced through the water!

Moving from section to section, we had to crawl through the bulkheads (yet another place you could bump your head). The next section we entered contained the controls for steering the submarine. It would be weird to have to drive a ship like this without being able to see (the periscope was in a totally different section of the boat!). There was only 8 people in our tour group, and we barely fit into any space. The typical crew was 80 sailors, but they could have up to 145 on the boat!




You may have noticed that the controls and signs in the sub are in a foreign language. In 1970 the sub was sold to Turkey, who then used it for another 30 years.

We kept moving forward in the boat, passing the engineering room with the engines (which you can kind of see in the back of the picture of the guide). The sub was diesel powered, which meant that it had to stay near the surface to supply the engines with fresh air. The ship also contained tons and tons of lead batteries to power its systems when it went into a deep dive. Let me put this into perspective, as a sailor you slept in a room with 20 other guys hanging 16 inches above and below you with 2 locomotive-size diesel engines producing deafening noise, running in a metal tube that captured leaking exhaust, producing copious amounts of heat, and are sitting on top of tons of lead batteries. Oh, and everyone is smoking to pass the time. Who is ready to serve on a submarine?


The guide is holding the emblem of the submarine that contained its kill record and rescue record (I forget how to actually interpret the symbols). We moved out of engineering and onto the bridge. We could look out of the periscope, look at maps, and see the communication equipment. There still wasn't much space, but it looked like a much better work environment than engineering. After walking through another set of bunks we entered the kitchen.




The best part of living on the sub was the food. Two full time cooks were on staff and cooked nearly all day. The sailors ate very well, and rotated in and out of the small kitchen. There were pictures of the crew in the kitchen, and again I was surprised at the number of people smoking. You would think that fresh air would be at a premium on the boat, especially in the kitchen. We left the kitchen and walked through the captain's quarters and finally into the front torpedo section. This section was similar to the rear torpedo section, except the front had twice as many torpedoes and launching tubes.


We left the sub and gulped down the fresh air. I had only been on the sub for about an hour, but it felt great to be back above deck. Jason and I had casually decided to take the tour, but it ended up being an incredible experience (granted we are two engineers that enjoy learning about this stuff).

Leaving the sub at the edge of the river, we walked back across the bridge to checkout the rest of downtown. The downtown area was easily walkable, and a lot of people were moving around (I think due to the boat show in the convention center). Several bars and restaurants lined the main drag, but our next destination was the Old State House Museum.


The museum was interesting and had a lot of information about the people who settled in the area. Several exhibits explored the civil rights and how the Civil War affected the area. The most interesting exhibits had a lot of artifacts from the Civil War. The exhibit also detailed the veterans of the civil war, and how Little Rock hosted some type of Confederate Convention in the mid 20th century. Firstly, I was shocked that cities still held conventions for the Civil War 70 years after it ended (there were pictures of how the town went all out for the event). Secondly, I was astounded that still living veterans attending these events! The last Civil War veteran died in the 1950s. The last widow of a Civil War vet died in 2004!


We left the museum and headed to grab a bite to eat. We passed the Peabody just before the traditional March of the Ducks and decided to "duck" in and watch. I had seen the ducks at the Memphis Peabody hotel, but Jason had never experienced it before. And you haven't lived until you see a herd of people stand around to watch ducks ride an elevator!


For those that don't know, the Peabody hotel keeps several live ducks in the fountain in its lobby. Every morning the ducks come down from their rooftop enclosure via the elevator and jump in the fountain. Every evening, the ducks do this in the reverse. Each "march" brings in a crowd of people. A PA announcement came over the hotel speakers letting us know the marching of the ducks was getting ready to begin. The "duck conductor" gave us a well rehearsed speech on the history of the duck march, and then coerced the ducks to walk the red carpet to the elevator.

So far I had learned that Arkansawyers seem to enjoy mentioning the Razorbacks at every opportunity, holding festivals to celebrate the Confederacy history, and watching ducks. But we hadn't seen or heard much of their favorite son, Ex-governor and US President Bill Clinton, until now.


Jason and I decided to get a quick view of the rest of downtown by riding the tram. The tram pretty much retraced the areas we had already been, but it was nice to get off our feet for a little bit. The best part of the ride was talking to the tram conductor. He was a true ambassador to Arkansas, discussing policies of Walmart (which is headquartered in Arkansas), mentioned the Razorbacks, tried to convince that we should always buy "Made In America" products, and talked about Bill Clinton at length. Despite a staunch republican, this tram conductor spoke of Clinton as if he could turn lead to gold. For the rest of our time in Arkansas, this would be a reoccurring theme. Here is a picture of our tram going over the river with downtown in the background.


That night, each bar seemed to have some reference to Bill Clinton. We also happened to catch our second razorback sighting.



The next morning we set off to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library (which was really just a museum to all things Bill Clinton). The bottom floor had display after display demonstrating Clinton's successes in gun protection, job creation, balancing the budget, etc. The displays were very nicely done, but each made it seem like our nation was on the verge of collapsing before he took the top office. And not a single display mentioned Monica Lewinsky or his impeachment. We moved on to some of the other floors to escape the Clinton dogma.



The next floor described the life of Clinton. Clinton's childhood and college years were pretty inspiring. Clinton was portrayed as always having an interest in politics and being active in the community while still finding time to follow his passion of music. A picture of Hilary and Bill in college was particularly amusing, Bill was sporting a full beard and shaggy hair while Hilary had on "John Lennon" sunglasses. Here is a picture of Bill in high school in his band uniform and one of him with the Razorback pig call.

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The top floor of the museum was the most interesting. The top floor contained a gallery of all the gifts Bill Clinton received from countries around the world when he was president. Some of the things were just bizarre. The coolest rooms were the recreation of the Oval Office when Clinton occupied it and the Cabinet Room. Each president can decorate the Oval Office however they see fit, and most put knick-knacks or items of personal significance in the room. Clinton displayed busts of the presidents that he particularly admired and a collection of pins from across the 50 states.



The recreation of the room is exact, down to the carpet and the presidential seal on the ceiling.


The cabinet room allowed us to see where each member of the cabinet sat during their meetings. I took a picture in the Commander in Chief's chair!



Our Little Rock trip was a success. We saw a Razorback, we learned something new about Arkansas, and we got to know our 42nd President on a more personal level. We are leaving the city now and heading to the Hot Springs for some rest and relaxation!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:04 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical Comments (0)

Racing Around Indy


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Indianapolis is a great city. I had planned on traveling up to Indy to take part in the Superbowl festivities, but an even bigger event popped up—Brian is getting married! Megan, Greg, and I drove up to Indianapolis to visit with 4 awesome cousins and watch Brian tie the knot!


Last time I was in Indianapolis, my cousins took me all over the city. We went to a Pacers game (Indianapolis NBA Team), a Colts game (Indianapolis NFL Team), and even an Ice game (Indianapolis Minor League Hockey)! Despite all that, this trip to Indy would prove to be even more hectic.

One sports complex that I didn't get to see on my last trip was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. On our first day back in Indianapolis, we headed over to see the track and the Hall of Fame Museum.


We first went into the Hall of Fame Museum. The largest portion of the museum was a collection of cars that had won or participated in the Indy 500 or Brickyard 400. NASCAR cars, IndyCars (open wheeled race cars), funny cars, motorcycles, and land-speed record vehicles were just some of the vehicles located in the show room (some from the early 1900s). Memorabilia and timing equipment lined the walls. A trophy case showed medals and trophies from past races.



The museum was interesting (especially how they used to keep track of race times using mechanical equipment), but the best part of visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was driving around the track! Unfortunately we couldn't take our own car, or even drive ourselves, but we did get to ride the full 2.5 miles around the track.


As you can see we were in a bus traveling about 30 miles per hour. Indycars travel around the same loop at around 230 mph, which is a lap every 40 seconds (it took us over 5 minutes for a single lap)! Even at our much slower pace, driving down the straightaway towards the finish line was exciting. The stands towered over the racetrack and I pictured them being filled with screaming fans. This picture shows us getting read to cross the finish line (you can barely see the famous Pagoda on the left).


The Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track used to be made entirely from bricks (hence the nickname Brickyard). Early races were different than they are today, as each car carried two participants, one driver and one mechanic. We learned at the Ford Museum in Dearborn that Henry Ford raced some of his first cars at the Indy 500. Over time, sections of the bumpy brick were paved over with smoother asphalt. In fact, only 3 feet of the original 2.5 miles of brick are still exposed which is located at the finish line.


My cousins have crazy stories about attending the Indy 500 and about how the entire area around the race track is a giant party on race weekend (my uncle had to have his spleen removed after being hit by a motorcycle in college). The parking lots were empty on the cold, rainy, winter afternoon, but we decided to get the party started and head downtown to check out the Indianapolis night life.

We stopped to eat at Steak-n-Shake, a diner that serves the "original steakburger". People in Indianapolis are crazy for Steak-n-Shake (which is headquartered there). The burger was delicious, but my milkshake was even better.


Indianapolis is relatively flat (just like Chicago), so it easy to see the sights while driving around, like Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Colts play and home of the 2012 Superbowl). Indianapolis was also a planned city, which means all the streets were laid out in a grid, and in a city as huge as Indy, you get stopped at plenty of stoplights that give you ample time to take in these sights.

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We had a blast in downtown (the bars don't close until 3 in Indianapolis!), but unfortunately I didn't bring my camera out with me. I also forgot my camera to Brian's wedding, which was a beautiful ceremony in the Indianapolis Historical Center. Since it was a military ceremony, Brian and Courtney walked through the Arch of Sabres (a cool thing to see). Unfortunately I will have to trust my memory with the images of these events instead of saving them here!

Our final day in Indianapolis was New Year's Eve. It was also the first game between the Ohio State (ranked #2 in the country) and Indiana
basketball teams. Despite a million things to do before the party that night, we all took a long break to watch Hoosier basketball. Just like back home in North Carolina, basketball is king in Indiana. The Hoosier fans were intense and passionate, and later they were ecstatic when the Hoosiers won!



That night, fueled from the adrenaline of the big basketball win, we had a blast at the New Year's party. Power hour, beer pong, minute-to-win-it challenges, and flip cup kept the party lively. This Indy experience was unique to New Years 2012, it's unlikely you'd be able to repeat it (although I'm sure my cousins would love to try!).



In craziness only rivaled by the Indy 500 party, a royal rumble broke out (I guess that's what happens when you have a wrestling coach, former wrestlers, and plenty of others fortified by alcohol in close proximity). Even Megan got in on the action. Thankfully everyone's spleen remained intact.



Our trip to Indy was a lot of fun, the trip home was not. It was tough to resist the temptation drive the 11 hour trip back home at an IndyCar speed of 230mph!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 10:54 Archived in USA Tagged museum professional_sports Comments (0)

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