I crawled out of the tent at twilight, anxious to greet the day despite the cold, and started breakfast. Today, I took my coffee sweet, creamy, and double the recommended dose. Then, I sliced green onions and cheddar for our morning omelets and slipped three butter packets for toast next to my skin to warm. Sizzle. At daybreak, the sun hit Ouachita Lake as it crested the hill, making a double sun. Twice the light, instantly.
I brought hot tea to Jake in the tent, coaxing him out, and together we sat and scarfed down our food. The lake was a perfect reflection of the world above.
We began our day with 5.5 miles of wooded hiking on the North Loop of the Blakely Trails. There was nothing remarkable along our hike, and Jake and I were both glad. It may sound strange to be happy with lack luster views, but today we didn’t want to stop, we just wanted to breath hard, sweat, and move like two unstoppable trains. Maybe it’s because we knew the rest of the day we’d be sitting on our butts.
Our intention, as with any national park, was to experience it as fully as we could with the time we had. In Yosemite Half Dome calls to you, in the Shenandoahs it’s Skyline drive, in Acadia its Cadillac Mountain, and here… Here, you take traditional mineral baths in the hot springs.
We walked bathhouse row. It’s a street in the metropolis of Hot Springs, AR, lined on one side with large magnolia trees, and nine mansion sized buildings, some marble, some tile, some brick, all sitting atop bubbling 143°F springs. The geysers produce around one million gallons of hot water daily, and as we walk, mineral water flows underfoot across the sidewalk. The water is ancient. 4,400 years ago, it left the surface and sunk into the heat of the Earth’s interior. Since then it has been sent back up on a slow journey through bedrock. Along the way, it gathered silica, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, sulfate, chloride, and fluoride. Locals take it home by the car-ful, swearing by the water’s health benefits. We met a woman busy filling who told us she, “just wont drink anything else.”
The hot flowing water, the lush landscape, and kind people, made it feel like the garden of eden.
Jake and I turned into the Buckstaff Bathhouse, the only bathhouse along the row still offering traditional baths. The outside was covered with tiny tan tiles, and blue and white striped awnings. The inside was gray white marble.
It’s a walk in only facility, no reservations required, no reservation taken except for specialty treatments like facials, manis and pedis. Jake and I decided to get two traditional baths, and I opted for an additional 20-min massage. Because, why the heck not?
Men and women are separate through the process, and Jake is ushered through a first floor door as I wait for the elevator to the second floor. We both wished we could do this together. For one, it was a belated Valentines Day event, and two, we were both nervous.
Jake’s door closed, and my elevator opened. An attendant, and I rode up to a changing room. There she took me to a stall, where I disrobed, and locked my things. When I was ready, she told me to turn my back, and wrapped a sheet around me like a toga.
Then I met my bath attendant, Latoya. Let’s just say she’s the sweetest lady in Arkansas. Calm, sugary voice, like a mom. She escorted me to the biggest bath I’ve every seen. It was five feet long and two feet deep of pure white porcelain. Alone with her, I un-toga-ed myself and climbed in. She turned on the oversized faucet of hot water and the tub filled in less than ten seconds. Along with two cups of hot water to drink, I was left alone to soak for twenty minutes.
I remember looking at her hands. She had large, smooth, rounded hands. She didn’t wear gloves, it was just her bare hands in hot water all day. I asked her how she faired with all that heat exposure day in day out. And she said, “It’s hard, but thank God for Cocoa Butter. Is this your first time?” “Yes.” I said. “Well, welcome to the Buckstaff. No need to be nervous.”
Next, the tub drained as fast as it had filled, and I was wrapped in a sheet again. Latoya led me to a cool bed, where she covered me in hot wet towels. A few for my back, some for my legs, and a single cold towel around my face. I could feel my fast heart rate vibrate my body. The towels laid heavy on me. Sweat beaded in the crooks of my elbows, and on my temples, and then slide off. I felt swaddled like a child, and in little time, sleep overcame me.
Latoya woke me sweetly. Then more heat—two minutes in the sauna, ten in the sits bath, and a cold water rinse in a needle bath. By the end of the massage, I was feeling like a true goddess.
Three hours after I entered, I emerged from the second floor, pink, smooth, and wishing I could do this more often.