Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is located in the state of Arkansas in the United States, very near the city of Hot Springs. The park holds 5,550 acres of land that was once inhabited by Native Americans including the Cherokee, Caddo, and Choctaw tribes, among many others. These tribes formed a peace treaty in order to enjoy the peaceful environment of the area. The first explorer of European ancestry to visit the area was Hernando de Soto, who entered the area in 1541 after hearing about the Valley of the Vapors from Native Americans. The first American to settle in the area was Jean Emmanual Prudhomme, who chose the area for its healing properties.

The establishment of Hot Springs National Park began in the 1832, when Hot Springs Reservation was established. This gave the area federal protection and in 1880, the Hot Springs were opened to the public. It was not until 1921 that the reservation would be established as Hot Springs National Park, after which it was expanded by nine hundred acres and later by five thousand.

The hot springs in Hot Springs National Park are located in the Ouachita Mountains, between West Mountain and Hot Springs Mountain. The water that flows from the springs is mainly comprised of water that moves from mountains in the north and north east, through the earth to about 4,000 feet below the surface, and out through fissures caused by a moving fault line, but it does contain small amounts of cold ground water. The water is not heated by lava or volcanic activity, as there are no volcanoes in the area, but by natural heating from rocks. Despite flowing from one source, the water attains different characteristics as it emits from the springs. Mud Spring produced warm, oozy water that held a moderate temperature, while Big Iron spring produced water with significant amounts of iron. The water from these springs, and many others, has been altered to emit from one source.

Hot Springs National Park contains a mainly forested habitat with abundant deciduous trees like hickory and oak along the northern slopes and pine trees along the southern slopes. The park supports a variety of animal species including the plains bison, American cougar, red wolf, gray fox, raccoon, American mink, and nine-banded armadillo. The temperatures in the area remain stable and mild throughout the year.

Hot Springs National Park receives over one million visitors each year and is open throughout the year. The park can be accessed in the town of Hot Springs, of which a small portion occurs in the park and is the most popular access point. Besides the hot springs, the park offers many activities including hiking and camping. Visitors can also stay in one of many hotels in the city of Hot Springs, which has greatly benefited the economy of the entire city. The main attractions to the park are its many hot springs, which have served as healing and relaxing destinations throughout the years. The Rehabilitation Center, once known as the Army and Navy General Hospital, used water from the hot springs to treat mild cases of illness and injury as well as serious cases that could not be treated by any other means.

Early bathing customs that occurred in Hot Springs National Park consisted only of sitting in the relaxing waters, which were said to heal rheumatism, skin and blood disorders, and many other ailments. These customs became more varied throughout the years, consisting of different time regimens and procedures that included taking medicines before baths and drinking the spring water. Modern facilities are used for spa or pool services, rather than healing. The government once offered destitute visitors free bathing in areas known as the Government free bathhouse, but these visitors eventually had to apply and were sent to commercial bathhouses after the free bathhouse closed in 1957.

The park once held about two dozen pay bathhouses, where visitors paid a fee to enter and bathe. About nine of these occurred along Bathhouse Row, although some of these were used for other purposes at varying times, and nine others were associated with hotels sanatoria, or hospitals. Although the water used in these bathhouses came from the source, visitors had to pay different fees in different areas due to varying equipment and procedures. Today, the only bathhouses in operation in Bathhouse Row are the Quapaw and Buckstaff bathhouses. The park holds the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Ozark Bathhouse and a replica of original bathhouses at the Fordyce bathhouse.

Image Caption: Aerial view of Hot Springs National Park. Credit: Ultratomio/Wikipedia