50 Hikes 50 States–Arkansas
After a quick dipping of our toes into Texas on our 50 Hikes 50 States Project, we returned to Arkansas for our next hike. On our way to Little Rock, we stopped at the William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope to experience the awe of how an average boy can become President of the U.S. It was an inspiring story that reawakened our hope for a strong democracy.
From Opulence to Tacky to Elegance Again
We stayed the night in the historic Arlington Hotel, now under new management and renovation. It appears Hot Springs has survived a downturn and is on its way back to a thriving destination for southerners and others to enjoy elegance at affordable prices. The next morning, we couldn’t wait to get to the visitors center of Hot Springs National Park.
An Old Bathhouse Comes Alive
The day started with warm skies and 65 degrees. It would turn to rain at 1, so we hurried start our day. At the visitors center, we got to tour the old Fordyce Bathhouse. What a fascinating place! With restored locker rooms, ceramic tubs with fancy faucets, original showers with pulsating shower heads, massage rooms filled with ointments, an old style gym, and even a parlor restored to opulence, we felt like we had stepped back in time. The National Park Service’s skills to restore history remarkably to original condition is world-class.
And then we talked to the Ranger.
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Walking for Wellness?
Little did I know that we had stumbled upon the perfect Eat Walk Learn adventure. We asked about hiking in the National Park. She then launched into an historical chat about how people would consume the Hot Springs. Generally, their visits would start with a consultation with the doctor where they would expose what ailed them. Then the doctor would prescribe a whole-body prescription that included, not only a series of treatments at the hot springs, but a series of walks in the woods behind the bath houses.
The woods, now part of Hot Springs National Park, are still filled with the trails that the doctor would prescribe. Patients started at the easiest trails, and if they felt up to it as they got better through the treatments, they would work their way up to the more difficult trails. They might start on the Hot Springs Mountain Trial, an easy stroll of 1.7 miles and a grade of .5%. They then could work their way up to the Glupha Gorge Trail, only .6 miles long, but a grade of 13.8%. The doctor would prescribes routes and elevation gains based on health and progession. How cool is that?
Wouldn’t it be great if doctors did more of this now?
We couldn’t wait to get started. Out behind bathhouse row we went. Climbing an historic stair case, we continued straight up on a series of the trails, eventually arriving at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Our hike took us through well-maintained trails of mostly dirt past just-about-to-bloom dogwoods and red buds. Native oak, hickory and short-leaf pine dominated the views. I imagined that in just a few short weeks, the hillsides would explode with color from azaleas and magnolias.
From the top of the mountain, we could see down into the valley and the city of Hot Springs. I’m sure the view has changed drastically since the first Hot Springers arrived. I giggled to think, also, about how my clothing and shoes have morphed from what folks originally wore to climb these mountains over 100 years ago. No hoop skirts and heeled shoes for me, my skort and Solomon boots were just perfect.
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We scurried down the mountain in front of rain drops just starting to threaten. But we couldn’t resist promenading along the Grand Promenade and past the green boxes that top the fuming spring. It was such a step back in time.
A Deadhead Lunch
As usual, my stomach growled at the end of the walk. We had heard about Grateful Head Pizza, and couldn’t resist a stop through this Grateful Dead landmark. We grabbed a slice of Treehugger and tuned into music my husband loved. Me, what’s a Jerry Garcia?
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History Tells Stories We Shouldn’t Repeat
On the way to the airport, we had some extra time and pointed the GPS to downtown Arkansas. But on the way, a brown sign caught our eye. “Central High School Historic Site” drew us to a place I’ve read about and studied so many times, but it never occurred to me that it’d be a place I could visit.
We flipped a u-turn and drove the few blocks to where the “Little Rock 9” students desegregated Central High School. The school is still operating as a high school; the visitors center was fascinating. Sharing the chronology of the events that led up to the day these amazing nine black children walked into the school, the exhibit also delves deeply into States’ Rights. I had no idea.
To a nice surprise, a friend reached out to me while we were in Little Rock. She wanted to grab a cuppa. And we did at the quaint MyLo Coffee where everyone goes on a Sunday. From there, we jetted to the airport to catch a late Sunday evening flight. With Coronavirus starting to scare up the US, we flew on flights that had empty seats: a first in a long time. What will happen next?
What You Need to Know about This Hike (click for interactive map)
Hiking Arkansas and Supporting EatWalkLearn
I hope you’re enjoying my 50 Hikes 50 States Project and following along as I hike all 50 states. I share these experiences with you to provide motivation, information, and adventure. Please feel free to share my info, ask me questions, and provide suggestions. I’d love it too if you’d follow me on social at @eatwalklearn.
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See you on the trail, Chris