We left Athens just after 11 am on Wednesday. It would have been 11 on the nose but we had to give our favorite next-door neighbor a hug on our way out of town. This is Horace the Forester Gump’s first big trip and he’s doing great. Our cargo bin is splattered with bug guts but perfectly holding our camping gear for later in the summer.
After spending the first night in Little Rock (that’s in Arkansas), we headed out just after sunrise for Hot Springs National Park about 40 minutes away.
Hot Springs National Park is a strange place. Not necessarily bad, but strange. Rows of historic bathhouses sit across restaurants, miscellaneous stores, and abandoned buildings. We hiked a little over fourteen miles around the park on hiking trails that felt like an afterthought rather than the main event. Aside from the heat, the hike was quite pleasant. We traversed undulating mountains, had occasional views, and met only a few friendly fellow hikers before dropping into town and utter madness. It was the fourth of July, to be fair. After a quick stop at the air conditioned Visitor Center to make sure we could find a hiking route back to our car, we were pleasantly surprised the climb out of town was manageable.
For interested hikers, we started at the West Mountain parking lot and then started on the Sunset Trail. Eventually, we picked up the Sunset Loop to the park campground, where we walked right into Dead Chief Trail. That took us to downtown. We had hoped to just hop across and pick up the Oak Trail, but there was no access. Instead, we walked up the street to Canyon Trail, which we took up to West Mountain and Mountaintop Trails. They brought us back to Sunset, and we traced .2 miles back to our car from that intersection.
We sat in the shady breeze at the top of the West Mountain lookout and enjoyed sandwiches and being out of our hiking shoes. With a few hours to kill before check-in at the historic Arlington, we drove around the park’s scenic drives, strolled to Tower Mountain lookout, and found our way to a pond we had passed on foot earlier. The Arlington is like a lot of the rest of the town—historic and clearly loved, but also needing some attention. Our room had a view of the main drag and great water pressure. We couldn’t help but wonder what the town would be like if it weren’t a National Park. On the one hand, park status protected the baths and area from over-commercialization. On the other hand, it might have more resources for upkeep if it weren't relying on a National Park budget that is too tight for its needs.
After cleaning up in our room, we wandered the streets a bit more and secured our Parks Passport stamp from the visitor center. We ended up at Superior Bathhouse Brewery for dinner. The spinach & artichoke dip were excellent but the highlight was getting a second root beer float on the house. We got to sit in the window for people watching, which was perfect because as it turns out, 14 miles in humid weather takes a lot out of you. We were too tired to prioritize fireworks on the 4th but we did spy a few from our hotel window.
It’s now approaching 6 pm on Friday and we’re nearing Dumas, Texas. We got up early and walked around Bathhouse row and the Grand Promenade this morning, and then had breakfast (included with our room) at the Venetian Dining Room in the Arlington. The omelet was great and we should have gotten two.