Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hot Springs National Park - Hot Springs, Arkansas

If the cold weather that swept across the South this week has you dreaming about warmer places, there is a place in Arkansas where the steam rises from the mountain sides 365 days a year.
Hot Springs National Park, located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, preserves the famed "hot springs of the Ouachita." The stunning historic site is considered by many to be America's first national park, and with just reason. The U.S. Government set aside thousands of acres surrounding the springs in 1830 to prevent their exploitation by private developers and preserve them as a national resource.

Long before the action was taken, however, the hot springs had gained fame. They are mentioned in documents relating to the Hernando de Soto expedition of the 1540s and by the 1700s were frequented by early French explorers and fur trappers. President Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition to find the springs in 1804 and by the 1820s visitors from across the United States were already making the trek into the Arkansas mountains to soak in the mysterious waters that many still believe hold healing powers.

By the time of the Civil War, Hot Springs had become a major resort area. Soldiers marching past during the Red River Campaign described a community evacuated due to war. In the years following the War Between the States, the resort rebounded quickly and even attracted the likes of Frank and Jesse James, who vacationed - and committed at least a couple of robberies - in the area.

They were not the only unsavory types who made their way to Hot Springs. The community became known for its gambling and nightlife during the 1920s and 1930s and attracted the likes of Al Capone before Governor Winthrop Rockefeller finally shut down the gambling and cleaned up Hot Springs in 1967. Since then it has developed as a marvelous family resort and treasured historic site.

Steaming water flows down the mountain year round and visitors can even enjoy a soak in slightly cooled water from the springs in a restored historic bathhouse and at several other spas in Hot Springs. As a result, the city is popular year-round. Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs also boasts one of the finest Christmas lighting displays in the South.

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