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Travel Logs May 2012

Compulsive Traveler

Hot Springs, Arkansas: America's First Resort

By Sandra Scott

At one time Hot Springs was a mecca for gangsters. They found it a safe place to rest, recreate, and gamble. The vices were never legal but authorities basically ignored the goings on until 1967 when Winthrop Rockefeller was elected governor and "cleaned" things up.

v_scottpicts05Although many places claim to be "America's First Resort," Hot Springs was the first federally protected area having been so designated in 1832. Hot Springs was, in essence, America's first national park even though it wasn't official until 1921. The hot springs still draw visitors from near and far to enjoy the spa waters but today there are a plethora of other attractions and things to do.

  1. Visitor Center: The National Park Visitor Center is housed in the Fordyce Bathhouse, one of eight bathhouses constructed in the early 1900s. Many of the rooms have been restored portraying an accurate depiction of how the bathhouses looked and operated in their heyday.
  2. Spa time: The Quapaw Baths & Spa is the newest of the bathhouses to be refurbished and open to the public. Housed in the 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival building, guests can enjoy the therapeutic thermal waters along with other rejuvenating treatments.
  3. MOCA: The Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in the former Ozark Bathhouse. It showcases artists from around the world. Currently they are featuring the amazingly realistic work of L. M. Chan, an artist from Taiwan who sculpts in leather. Hot Springs was named "No. 4 Small Art Town."
  4. Gangster Museum: At one time Hot Springs was a mecca for gangsters. They found it a safe place to rest, recreate, and gamble. The vices were never legal but authorities basically ignored the goings on until 1967 when Winthrop Rockefeller was elected governor and "cleaned" things up.
  5. Shopping: The historic downtown area is a shopper's delight with everything from homemade soaps to art galleries to antique shops. Do not miss the museum-like Tillman's Antique and Collectibles, Arkansas' premier Faberge dealer.
  6. Vienna Theater: For a relaxing evening out take a trip down memory lane with Ken Goodman, the Vienna's Theater founder, as he sings songs from the ‘50s and Broadway. Check out the Phantom of the Opera-style crystal chandelier in the window, the fainting couch in the ladies' room, and enjoy complimentary snacks during intermission.
  7. Mountain Tower: Ascend to the top of the 216-tower for a breathtaking panoramic view of Hot Springs, the Ouachita Mountains and the area’s many lakes. Story boards tell the history of the area with a video of Hot Springs favorite son, former president Bill Clinton.
  8. Mid-America Science Museum: Be amazed. Perfect for visitors of all ages. It is the largest hands-on science center in Arkansas and an affiliate of the Smithsonian, with over 100 exhibits. Visitors can fly a hot air balloon, generate electricity and have a hair-raising experience with the Tesla Coil.
  9. Garvan Woodland Gardens: Located on a peninsula that juts into Lake Hamilton, with Asian-style bridges, a Children's Adventure Garden, Daffodil Hill, Garden of Pine Wind, bonsai trees and much more. There is a photo opportunity at every turn. Don't miss the stunning Anthony Chapel that seems to have grown up out of the yellow pines.
  10. Outdoor fun: The Ouachita Mountains and lakes offer every imaginable opportunity to experience the wonderful natural side of the Hot Springs area. Go hiking, houseboating, swimming, camping, horseback riding, and/or golfing. The lakes are some of the most pristine in America.

 

Accommodations range from the historic Arlington in Hot Springs to Lookout Point Inn on Lake Hamilton to the Mountain Harbor Resort on Lake Ouchita. Dining options are many and varied from a light lunch with entertainment at the Muses' Three Arts Café to the eclectic Bleu Monkey Grill to Rolando's Nuevo Latino Restaurante. For more information log on to hotsprings.org or call 800-SPA-CITY.


Sandra Scott travels the globe recording the top attractions at every destination.

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