National Park 3: Hot Springs National Park

When we finally reached Hot Springs, it was dark and the park campgrounds were closed due to a recent storm, so we wound up staying at a little park on the edge of town.

Now, when we left home, we had planned to tent camp for a day or two. It wasn’t going to be any colder than when we camped at the Grand Canyon (somewhere around 30F), it was our first trip with the pup, and we were going to rock it. What we didn’t realize was that the temperature would drop a full 15 degrees below the forecast. Fifteen degrees is a big difference when you’ve only planned for a 5 degree swing, so we spent half the night sleeping comfortably and the other half sitting in the car with the heater on.

The next day, I was wide awake. This was going to be awesome; a new national park, just our little family, warm water… I was stoked.

…And then we got to the National Park and realized it wasn’t really the park for us. The main drag is a street with lots of steaming fountains in front of rows of bathhouses (read: spas) interspersed with way too many souvenir shops. It reminded me a lot of Roswell, New Mexico.

The Other Half thought we should give it the benefit of the doubt and explore a little. We wandered up to the Promenade for a brief walk, pausing to wait on a stairclimbing fitness class to finish their workout.

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While we waited, the pup and I wandered over to an open hot spring. Which was totally awesome. A mild mist of steam rose from a very old, moss-colored wall while the water slowly trickled down… And into a covered drain to go to the bathhouses.

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Finally, the last of the stair-climbers left so we could get to the Promenade. I was excited to hit the trails until we realized that 90% of them looked like this:

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The greater part of Arkansas had been hit by a snowstorm that apparently hit the trees with ice, freezing the sap and causing it to expand. When heavy ice hits trees and freezes them, the sap can’t expand inside the bark, so it puts pressure on them, causing them to explode near their bases and fall over.

We decided to hit up the mountain to look for something called ‘Goat Rock’ before we left for greener (read: wilder) pastures. Honestly, this park could make a killing by renting out go-karts to go up the slaloming trail to the observation tower. I mean, it’s already banked and has tires on the edges, so what’s the hold up?

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We realized that most of the mountain was closed to cars since so many trees were still down, so we parked the car and hit up the closest trailhead. After about one kilometer (I freely switch between units of measure because it’s fun. So there.), we found this giant pine tree:

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I mean, this was a big tree by pine tree standards, probably 2.5 feet in diameter. And like all big trees it had character. And by character, I mean a giant hole in the middle filled with fungus, rot, and giant 3-inch-long grubs.

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We have no earthly idea what these suckers were, but they were the size of my finger. And that’s just too big for comfort.

Finally dragged away from the cool bugs by the dog, we found Goat Rock. I still don’t quite understand the name. It doesn’t look like a goat, a goat isn’t the only creature that can climb it, and as far as I know, no famous goat assassinations occurred there.

As we were leaving the trail, a single little tiny bird hopped up to us and started creeping up the tree. Why? Because it was a brown creeper! It flew off before we could take a picture, and we disappointedly started to leave the trail, unable to put the little guy on our species list.

Apparently the little creeper was the vanguard for a giant army of birds, though. Suddenly, we were surrounded by the  calls of chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, and the drumming of a woodpecker. We had no earthly idea why they picked that moment to come out, unless some bear was stalking us. Dun dun dun!

Luckily for us, the creeper decided to return, landing about ten inches from the Other Half’s shoulder. No word on why he was still creeping on us, though.

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Anyway, as cold as it was, there were still plants finding their way into bloom for a beautiful bouquet of tiny flowers.

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Once we got back from the trail, we decided to move on to better and greener pastures.

We did make one more stop in the National Forest while we were migrating north, only then realizing that we were passing a body of water called Nimrod Lake.

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Suddenly, our trip seemed so much better.

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