Hot Springs, Ark., is a travel destination for the outdoors, hot springs

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Rose Schweikhart raises a glass of Madden’s No. 1.

Converting a large century-old bathhouse into the Superior Bathhouse Brewery wasn’t easy, but Schweikhart, like the town itself, managed to change. The brewery and town have grown to meet the changing tastes of generations of people who come to this intriguing destination.

Madden’s No. 1, one of 18 beers brewed at Superior, is named after Owney “The Killer” Madden, a mobster who fled New York in 1935 to settle here. Locals like to say this was when Hot Springs was Las Vegas before Las Vegas.

Gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone visited. Just like movie stars like Mae West and George Raft.

The Anthony Chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens near Hot Springs, Ark., features large window panes and oversized skylights to let in light and views of the landscape.  The intricate trellis mimics the branches of the surrounding pine canopy.

Major League Baseball teams began bringing their players in preseason around the turn of the 20th century for a combination of hot spring bath treatments and spring training. Honus Wagner, Cy Young and Babe Ruth were among the many greats who played here, as were Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. The Negro League also held spring training here.

Everyone loved to party. Gambling, alcohol, smuggling and prostitution flourished.

The Gangster Museum of America tells the stories of notorious criminals who lived the high life right across from wellness spas.

Eight bathhouses line Central Avenue majestically, as they did when Capone passed by for his hot spring bath, but just about everything else in Hot Springs has changed, at least a little.

Colorful bands of tulips bloom at Garvan Woodland Gardens near Hot Springs, Ark.  The 210-acre botanical wonderland features a wildflower meadow, sensory garden, fern glade, birdsong trail, children's adventure garden, and scenic views of Lake Hamilton.

National park and public baths

Although Hot Springs did not become a national park until 1921, the area was designated as public land – a reservation destination – by President Andrew Jackson in 1832, 40 years before Yellowstone became the first national park and four years before Arkansas became a state. Long ago, Native Americans called the place “Valley of Steam” for the steam that rose from its hot springs.

While leading tours through the Fordyce Bathhouse, now part of the National Park, Park Ranger Cane West explains that in the early years, leaders weren’t quite sure what the purpose of the bathhouse was. reserve.

Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery in a US national park, uses hot spring water to make its beer.  Housed on Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the brewery preserves relics from the healing era in its tasting room and restaurant.

At first, the driving concept was to make the reservation a place where Americans could come to recover and learn how to live healthy lives. In the 1900s, Hot Springs was one of the most visited health and wellness resorts in the United States. In 1947, the peak year, bathers took over a million baths.

West said a new concept developed that Hot Springs would be a place to “teach the American middle class about luxury.” Bathhouses have transformed into opulent facilities, with stained glass windows, marble floors and ornate fountains.

Visitors enjoyed thermal baths and massages, then in the evening strolled on the Great Promenade behind the public baths. And, of course, there was the other side of Central Avenue at establishments like the Ohio Club where the party never stopped. “A healthy lifestyle” had a much looser definition on this side of Central.

Located in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains, the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center and Museum tells the story of health and wellness resorts in the United States.”/>

Today, only two of the bathhouses, Buckstaff and Quapaw, are open for spa treatments. Then there’s Superior Bathhouse, the country’s only brewery located on national park land. The owner of the Schweikhart brewery said the hot springs help in the brewing process as the water flows through the pipes at 144 degrees.

Mineral water is also popular with locals who often stop at public fountains to fill large plastic jugs to bring the water home.

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outdoor life

Hot Springs National Park isn’t just bathhouses. Its 5,550 acres also include over 20 miles of hiking trails through the Ouachita Mountains. Fishing, camping and bird watching are also popular. Visitors can see sweeping views of the national park and the rugged Ouachita Mountains from the top of the 216-foot Hot Springs Mountain Tower.

In keeping with the city’s health and fitness heritage, local leaders have developed their own network of Northwoods Trail hiking and biking trails.

“It’s a distant feeling here,” says Traci Berry, Northwoods trail coordinator, as she pedals up a slight incline on her bike, “but we’re only five minutes from downtown.”

Hot Springs' Northwoods Trail System encourages people of all ages to experience the outdoors.  Open to cyclists and hikers, 26 miles of intersecting trails wind through rugged pine and mixed hardwood forests, past rocky creeks and serene lakes, and into secluded hollows.

The 26 miles of Northwood trails, some for mountain bikers only, others for hikers and cyclists, are well maintained and designed for a range of skill levels. They meander and circumnavigate the Zig Zag Mountains taking in views of three mountain lakes along the way. The Northwoods System connects to Garland County’s 10-mile Cedar Glades Trail System and even adds an eighth of a mile of trail within the National Park.

These trails showcase the Diamond Lakes region, an area known for its fishing, boating, and other popular recreational activities.

On a peninsula that juts out into Lake Hamilton, the University of Arkansas’ Garvan Woodland Gardens feature abundant flora and fauna. The 219-acre property offers 128 species of ornamental and native shrubs and wildflowers and 160 different types of azaleas. Additionally, it has a sensory garden, fern glade, and bird sanctuary, home to 70 species. Peacocks strut their stuff in the Asian garden and kids have fun in their own adventure space. For many people, the architectural treasures nestled in the pines are a reason to visit. The six-story Anthony Chapel soars from a hillside and welcomes nature through walls of glass and floor-to-ceiling skylights. The whimsical $1 million Tree House elevates visitors into a canopy of pine and oak trees. Four levels represent different parts of a tree.

Extraction of crystals

Some people like to dig in the dirt, especially when they can find quartz crystals. That’s how it goes at Avant Mining, which has set up public digs on Fisher Mountain’s Ocus Stanley claim, which has been in operation since 1946.

The mine is not in a cave, as often depicted. Layers of quartz crystals run along the slopes of red earth. Discovering small treasures is a fairly easy task. Almost everyone walks away with sparkling trinkets, and the lucky ones find clusters of crystals. A display in a store at the entrance to the site shows crystals weighing hundreds of pounds.

“We’re known for having the best crystals in the world,” says owner James Zigras, mentioning that his world-class specimens are held by the Smithsonian’s American Museum of Natural History and other national museums.

Eat, drink, stay

President Bill Clinton, who attended Hot Springs High School, remains a big fan of McClard’s Bar-BQ. He found a way to stay connected during his years in the White House. Scott McClard recounts providing meals for the president on Air Force One. McClard is the fourth generation of his family to run the restaurant business, which dates back to 1928. The small white restaurant with red awnings and neon lights drew customers from far and wide for the ribs, beef and pork, as well as the spicy tamales and smoked sausages.

A plate of McClard's Bar-BQ is a must when visiting Hot Springs, Ark.

Anthony Valinoti learned how to prepare Italian food during an extended visit to Italy and brought that expertise to Hot Springs at DeLuca’s Pizzeria, where the really tough decision is whether to choose between one of his savory pizzas or thick and thick burgers. amazing.

“Cooking from scratch” and a cozy atmosphere are the hallmarks of The Pancake Shop, a family restaurant since 1940. All food and beverages at Kollective Tea + Coffee are made with certified organic or natural products.

The Avenue, a gourmet restaurant at the Waters Hotel, offers a privileged view of the comings and goings of Central Avenue. The hotel’s rooftop bar is the place to be seen on warm evenings. Al Capone and Lucky Luciano would fit right in these days at the Ohio Club, as their beloved bar retains the 1920s vibe.

The Reserve, a boutique bed-and-breakfast hostel at the gates of downtown, offers a moment of awe-inspiring relaxation. Mark McMurry, who owns the home with his wife, Rhonda, said they were bored with retirement and bought the historic home from WC Brown. Over $2 million and two years of work transformed the structure of the National Register of Historic Places into luxury accommodation. From its upper porch, you can sip mint julips while watching thoroughbred races at Oaklawn Racecourse.

Horses have raced on the track since 1905. Today, the oval is part of an entertainment complex that includes a casino and a 198-room hotel called Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

Linda Lange and Steve Ahillen are freelance writers living in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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