"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, October 30, 2015

Stepping South One Week at a Time: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Since August we've been "dancing" diagonally across the country from Montana toward our destination this winter at The Great Outdoors in Florida.  We don't really have a repeating annual pattern other than generally north in the summer and south in the winter.  Sometimes we take the short slide straight north or south, and other times we take the long crossing from corner to opposite corner. As we most often try to, we're taking it slow, driving a couple of hours, often stopping for a week at a time at locations along the way. Some are simply the right distance from the last stop, and may not be particularly exciting, while others are "hot spots" like Hot Springs, Arkansas. 

This is our second visit to Hot Springs. The first was on our RV honeymoon in the tiny rented Cruise America in '09-'10. We stopped for one night on our midwinter rush to get to California. The weather was cold, wet and dreary and Hot Springs looked old, grey, funky and forlorn, but our friends Lynn and Glenn love it, so we thought we'd give it a second chance.

Well guess what, Hot Springs was cold, wet, dreary and still looked old, grey, funky and forlorn. (Sorry Hot Springs, I just had to say it.) 

On the first night I went to the Maxwell McBlade Theater of Magic. Don't know what got into me, but I just wanted a change of routine. Like Hot Springs, it was funny, funky and a little forlorn. An appropriate experience for Halloween. In fact, I'd say that second to New Orleans, Hot Springs might be the most perfect location to spend Halloween. It's historical and mysterious, with a lot of old and/or abandoned buildings perfect for haunting fantasies.  In fact my favorite thing about that evening was wandering Central Ave, getting a glass of wine and an ice cream cone (not together) and looking at all the Halloween decorations in the funky downtown store windows. Spooky fun. 

Why am I wandering the streets alone, you ask? Well, this is football season and Rick's Patriots are doing great, so he's really into it. Me, not so much. That leaves me with plenty of time to explore and adventure on my own.  In addition to the magic show, I also indulged at the Quapaw Baths and Spa on historical Bath House Row in Hot Springs National Park. My indulgence included a private 20 minute steamy aromatherapy bath and a 50 minute massage. (Both were lovely, but there was an awkward and poorly timed 40 minute wait between them, sitting in a bathrobe in a lounge/waiting area. No explanation given. If you go, check the timing of your services.) I also did a little personal and Christmas shopping in the chain stores just south of town. And got a haircut. That was kind of fun. 

In all fairness, I know some of our impressions were due to the rainy weather, and we did have a couple of sunny days that perked up our opinion of the place, just a bit.  The sunnier perspective may have also been because on those two days we didn't go downtown to the historic bath house district, but spent them outdoors in the beautiful natural areas that surround Hot Springs. (There, does that make up for dissing it earlier?)

On our first sunny day we went to the University of Arkansas' Garven Woodland Garden, a first class, scrupulously maintained and developed garden on the shores of Lake Hamilton.  

View of Lake Hamilton from Woodland Loop

The garden was created by Verna Cook Garven who almost single-handedly designed and implemented this gorgeous place and then donated it to the University upon her passing.  It's a shaded garden, so it's a cooling break from the humid Arkansas heat that surprised us after the chilly rain we'd been having.  Despite the deep shade, there are colorful plantings and great ideas for gardeners similarly sun challenged.

Seasonal mum planting

Fall annual plantings

The Gardens are preparing for their holiday light display, which looks like it will be glorious. It starts around Thanksgiving. Wish we were going to be here for that.

Blue lights running down the streams and waterfalls 

Koi pond with matching light sculpture
Fairy Garden

Miniature train display

There are themed sections of the Gardens, including a Japanese garden and a children's garden. We crossed a few architecturally stunning bridges as well.

Full Moon Bridge

Floating Cloud Bridge

Here's one Honey wouldn't cross. Just too wide a gap to jump.  Yes! They allow leashed dogs, for a $5.00 admission fee, which was the first we've encountered. We thought it was reasonable.  

We had a great lunch at the Chipmunk Cafe. This is not your typical attraction food concession. This was really good food. I'd absolutely recommend eating there when you visit, and I'm not just saying this to fill space. (Try the Grilled Chicken Raspberry Chipotle Sandwich. You will not be sorry.)

This guy kept us company during lunch. 

The grand finale of the visit was the Anthony Chapel, designed by Arkansas architect Maurice Jennings.  It is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's style, but we thought even better.  

It is beautifully integrated with it's wooded surroundings. 

Constructed completely of wood and glass above the stone foundation, not only does it let the light and views of the trees in, it reflects the images of the trees in the glass...

...and reflects the shapes of the trunks and branches in its structures.

We thought it was architectural perfection, down to the last detail.

The Chapel is part of a five building complex that is popular for weddings. We could certainly understand why.

The Anthony Family Trust Carillon

While here in Hot Springs we are parked at Catherine's Landing, one of the RVC Outdoor Destinations.  RVC is not an ownership park, it's just a corporate chain of RV parks that are very nice. They have a modern feel to all the facilities, rather than the more traditional rustic feel we encounter at so many RV parks. We got a nice long, level, concrete, full hook-up pull-through down by the river.

Site 84 at Catherine's Landing

What I'm calling the river is actually part of Lake Catherine, created by damming the Ouachita River. The park is nicely situated on the river, with a marina and boats for rent, and is surrounded by many many acres of woods and fields with a very long trail winding through them for comfortable hiking and dog walking close to home. They've got a beautiful saline pool and a nice fenced dog park. (Oh, there's a good dog park in Hot Springs as well, just a couple of miles up the road from here.)

Lake Catherine
There's lots of wildlife in the area, including many deer who frequent the dog park. Yes, inside the fenced dog park. They just jump in and out at their pleasure.

Some of the local wildlife

On our other nice day here we kayaked Lake Catherine in a leisurely manner up toward the dam and back. 

View of our rig from the river

More local wildlife along the river

We're wrapping up our stay here tomorrow and moving on to Little Rock. We'll be at the Downtown Riverside RV Park for our next week.  If you're there, let us know!


  1. So glad you got a couple of nice days to show us the local beauty! I know I would love walking that garden and I can certainly see why you were entranced by that chapel! Gorgeous! Did one of you carry Honey across that gap??? ;-)

    I absolutely LOVE armadillos!

    1. Honey's getting too big to carry now. We just had to back up and go another way. Sometimes we can tempt her through difficult passages with a treat, but we didn't have any with us. Silly us.

      Aren't armadillos just the most unique creature in the US? Downright prehistoric. Maybe sturgeons are the biggest competition.

  2. We haven't been to this area but I am sure we'll have the opportunity with our travels back east to Atlanta to visit our son. Looks like a great park and I like that we could kayak on the river/lake! I really like the looks of that garden! And that chapel is gorgeous! Thanks for giving us another destination:)

    1. You're welcome! I think you'd like the hiking in the Ouachita area. Quite different from the rocky places in CA, but plenty of trails.

  3. Those gardens look fabulous and I'm sure when lite at night it's also beautiful. That church is stunning. My son has a friend who's sister got married there a couple of years ago. What a delightful church for a wedding or spiritual enlightenment.
    You two know how to travel right.... nice and slow and smell the roses along the journey.
    Ingrid@ LiveLaughRV.net

    1. We sure do like to stay for a week at a time, if we aren't doing a month. Just enough time to get a sense of the culture and landscape.

  4. Great gardens and love the armadillo. Looks like you have a very happy dog.

    1. Yes, she is absolutely overflowing with "joie de vivre" in every direction!


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