When we were planning our trip, one of the first things we did was check out the tourism websites for each state we’d be passing through. The most disappointing one was Arkansas. We didn’t know much about the sate, and this website didn’t seem to either. It was like…. “Yup, we’ve got trees and stuff…ummm….you know, some parks.” Nothing that you’d travel specifically to come see. So we planned on making a quick stop in Texarkana and winging it the rest of the way.
Now, a little bit of history. When I was a little girl, I once did a school project on Texarkanna. It was supposed to teach us how to do research in the library and stuff. I thought it was pretty cool that it was a city in two different states.
But that’s not what my project ended up being about. When I mentioned to my dad recently that I was excited to visit Texarkana because I’d done a school project on it, he said he didn’t remember that at all. So I said “Remember? I talked all about the kangaroo rats–”
“THE KANGAROO RATS, you do not need to tell me about the kangaroo rats. Was that project supposed to be about a city?”
Yeah, so I got a little distracted by the awesomeness that is kangaroo rats.
We didn’t actually find any, sadly, so you just keep enjoying these photos of what we did see.
We did ask about the kangaroo rats – a couple of times. But the locals just gave us long, vacant stares like we were completely crazy. I guess it’s not as much of a “thing” as baby Rachel thought. Very sad – I was hoping to get some kind of kangaroo rat t-shirt or something.
But in all seriousness, Texarkana is still a pretty cool little town. It’s very functional and not really touristy – in fact we had to ask someone if there was some kind of photo op. We drove up and down State Line Road, which was cool because each side of the street was lined with flags – Texas on the Texas side and Arkansas on the Arkansas side. But it was a really busy street and you couldn’t really stand in the middle of it without a death wish.
The nice lady at Walmart thought hard about our question before remembering that there’s a post office quite literally in the middle of state line road a ways down. The road splits to go around it. And they have nice signs and the state line painted on the sidewalk – just what we were looking for. When we were planning, we read that there was an island where you could take photos and stand in both states at once, and we thought it was on our route, buuut apparently we somehow missed it. So don’t be afraid to stop and ask for help, whether you’re looking for a photo opp or those illusive little kangaroo rats.
Seriously if you just had these little guys running around wouldn’t you make a HUGE deal out of it?
Some last-minute research on pinterest found a free bath house museum in Hot Springs, so that was our next stop. We passed the diamond state park, which I was really interested in seeing but we didn’t really have time. Arkansas Tourism Website – if you have a park with lava flows where you can mine for diamonds, THAT’S A GOOD THING TO MENTION. I’m just saying. Hubby didn’t really think it sounded that cool and it hurt my feelings a little that he didn’t seem excited about it – or our next stop, for that matter.
Other than some beautiful photos, I didn’t know much about this bath house or Hot Springs – but it ended up being one of our favorite stops on the whole trip. We decided we’ll definitely have to come back someday and stay for a while. It’s a unique little town that’s been built up around the natural hot springs that bubble up out of the mountains. A whole row of roman-style bath houses was built as a resort and spa destination for the rich and famous. Now, sadly, many of the bath houses stand disused and empty, but one still functions exactly as it did back in the day, one is a more modern spa, and one, The Fordyce Bathhouse, is a museum.
Let me say that this is a must-see for spoonies in particular. It’s free, that’s important. But it’s also a place of “healing.” They talk about all these illnesses that were treated here, and in addition to being a spa it was a sort of hospital. Many of the famous people who came here were sports stars who needed therapy on their worn out muscles. But they never say “treatment” or “medicine,” they always use the word “healing.”
In addition to the traditional roman style baths, they had many other sections for other kinds of therapy. We started in the Hydrotherapy room – a very odd little place, haha. You ever see those hydro-massages in malls? Where you lay in a rubber case and water jets massage you? That is apparently a very old idea.
In addition to many hoses used to spray patients, they also had wacky showers like this.
These are steam boxes. You sit in there with your head sticking out and it fills with steam. Now, a lot of this place is creepy. It’s very old and has a very haunted feel – yet at the same time, it was a spa. So it’s very relaxing in there. You feel at ease with the haunted feeling. Probably any ghosts here haunt this place fondly.
On to the traditional roman-style baths. This was the men’s wing – apparently men were much more prone to visit places like this than women, so their wing is large and extravagant. I find this very interesting, as nowadays men are less likely than women to seek treatment for illness and physical pain. This beautiful stained glass roof reminded me so much of the prefect’s bathroom in the Harry Potter books.
So this was sort of a waiting area for the men. Each of those stalls has a large, private tub. So you weren’t actually bathing with other people, but you did walk around in your birthday suit while you waited. Men would sit on these benches, chat, and maybe get a drink of the nutrient-rich natural spring water from this elegant fountain in the middle of the room. This reminded me of Bath, as described in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey – another dream destination of mine.
After a nice soak in the naturally hot spring water, you’d then go into the cool down room, which was sort of an indoor tanning room, or into pack, where you were wrapped in hot towels, or into one of the many other spa service areas. They even have a rooftop pavilion where men and women could (separately) tan in the nude. The women’s side was more shady, though, as being pale was “in” at the time.
Ladies, can anyone guess what this is? It’s a mani-pedi chair! A little more foreboding than our plush pink modern-day models.
This was the ladies wing – they didn’t have a big waiting area like the men, just rows of stalls. These are actually the changing stalls and not the bath stalls, but just look at the sheer number of them. And this is only part of it! Remember – the ladies wing is much smaller than the mens – clearly this was a VERY popular place.
They of course had massage parlors, including electric massage rooms which sounds like the most unsafe thing ever, but I guess no one died… I mean no one mentioned any mortality rates… I don’t know. Like I said, it does feel a little haunted there.
Upstairs they have the one area where men and women can mingle together, fully clothed of course, but even this area is split. On the far end there’s pool tables for the men, and on the ladies side there’s a piano.
There were also lots of puzzles and games, and plenty of little desks where one could write letters home. People usually stayed here for a week or so.
Now this is really cool. And also a bit creepy, I admit. This was a special pool for especially ill or handicapped patients. The wooden table/gurney allowed people to be gently lowered in to the water.
This is way deeper than any of the other baths we saw. There’s also enough room for someone to sit on the ledges and massage the patient.
A track on the ceiling allowed the wooden gurney to go out to both the men and women’s sides of the building, so everyone had access to this special care.
And back in the day it looked much less like a torture device.
This is over the door in the beautiful entrance hall. What a wonderful thing to proclaim – I wish this was written up in all hospitals. Even though I didn’t receive physical treatment here, my soul felt a bit healed. There were just such good vibes, such a positive attitude and constant sense of healing, be healed, heal… I don’t know. It felt good to be there. When we come back (because we will go back) I am totally doing the traditional bath treatment.
This is just a fountain in the lobby, and it’s freaking gorgeous. This whole place is just really beautiful.
In the basement, you can see the huge tanks where the water actually had to be cooled before it could be used for a hot bath – it comes out of the earth THAT HOT.
There’s also a nice little window where you can look down into the hot springs themselves. It looks like something out of a fairytale, the camera does it no justice. Those rocks are all crystals.
This window was actually there back in the day, too. Patients enjoyed coming down to look at the natural spring.
This is just outside, and I wish the camera showed it better, but there’s actual steam coming off this fountain. Yup, it’s fed by the hot springs too. It was actually really awful to stand near it – steam in the middle of August? No bueno.
Now, in the museum we had read that you can drink from little taps out here completely for free. I wanted to taste the spring water! Especially since it was rich in minerals and apparently has magical healing properties. But we couldn’t find the tap right away. There was a shop across the street selling empty plastic milk jugs for sale, so hubby went in to ask where the taps were. He came back with two very overpriced empty plastic milk jugs. I was gobsmacked. And kind of furious. You spent money on plastic milk jugs?! Why?? Just, why?? Why could we not just go get a drink, or get empty cups from the car, or ANYTHING that wasn’t SO STUPID?!
I was rather cross with him. I couldn’t believe he “fell” for such a tourist trap. And I let him know it – by now I was also feeling very tired from all the walking around and driving and I was getting really hungry and was generally feeling mean.
But my husband, ever patient, after explaining that there were no refunds (WELL OF COURSE NOT) calmly and sweetly told me that this meant a lot to him. That he was excited about this water that kept this little town alive. To think of it as his souvenir. He apologized for not getting excited about our plans and even thinking that my ideas sounded boring. He told me he was so glad I found this place, and wanted to take a bunch of water home to keep enjoying later.
So I felt like an extremely awful witch for loosing my temper with him. And I feel compelled to really memorialize that my husband is an awesome person, I can’t say it enough, he’s awesome.
The jug salesman told him that there was a main tap but that there was another a little out of the way that no one really goes to, so we wouldn’t need to wait or deal with crowds. We walked up between two of the bath houses towards the big mountain that holds the springs, and there was a little pavilion with a sweet old fashioned tap in the wall. We filled up our jugs and had a drink – it had no taste, which I was surprised about because it has so many minerals in it. I’m no water connoisseur, in fact I’m awful about drinking water. But hubs says no taste is the best taste water can have, and I can attest that I rarely drink water with no taste so maybe it is special. It was warm and I liked that. I’ve been known to drink hot water like tea. And it’s good for you, so don’t judge!
After that we looked for a place to eat, and I gotta say, Arkansas sucks if you’re a foodie. I’m sorry, it’s true. We found a really cute old fashioned hot dog/soda shop, but the AC sucked and it was way too warm, so we moved on. There’s a really neat bar where all the fabulous celebrities used to go in the old days…but their kitchen broke and they weren’t serving food that day. We ended up eating in this little place that I think was sponsored by a local school…they had hot dogs and burgers of high school football game quality. Kind of a drag when you want to find some local yumminess.
When we drove through Arkansas again on the way home, I searched online for some good local Arkansas food. And there were lots of forums asking this same question. And the response was… there’s not really anything like that. Locals eat at big chain places and Arkansas doesn’t have any special regional foods. I discovered a great website called TV Food Maps that shows where all those little food network finds are, and sure enough there were only three in Arkansas and all were just “finish a big steak and get it free” type things, not actually good places.
We ended up stopping at a Cracker Barrel because I’ve never actually been to one, and….. I don’t think I was missing much.
As a Texan, I gotta call Arkansas out. Where is your state pride? Make a new local specialty, we do that all the time! We just announced the new State Fair food. We love making up food! I really loved Arkansas and can’t wait to go back – but it’s such a well-kept secret! Put the bath houses on your tourism website, put the diamond mines up, start thinking of yourself as an awesome state! Because you are, Arkansas.
Look, this is just a parking lot and it’s beautiful. You are a cool state! I know it’s hard being next door to Texas because we’re SO cool and that probably makes you feel bad. You’re small and no one really knows anything about you, but there are no small parts, Arkansas, just small actors. Erm, states. Whatever. My point is, Arkansas is a gem. I’m definitely going back someday to stay a while and not just pass through. If you have a chronic illness, it’s a very laid back destination to visit. Just consider packing your own food to save money, or at least don’t wander around looking for cool food until you’re a hangry witch (hangry – anger caused by hunger). I guess that’s good news if you have allergies or often bring your own food when you go out – there’s nothing to miss out on here. 😉
So Arkansas is awesome. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to get to our first hotel in our next state, Tennessee. Stay tuned.