One place that had always intrigued me that I’d never been to was Hot Springs, Arkansas. The name conjured up images of pools of hot water surrounded by pine trees. I decided to make that my next destination, but first wanted to pass through Little Rock. I took the 49, briefly pulling over at the Louisiana Purchase State Park before deciding that my plate was already full enough, and getting back on the road. I got on the 40 west and was just about fifteen miles from Little Rock when I saw a sign for the Toltec Mounds, which I decided to check out. I took the 15 south to the 165 and the park was right there.
The Toltec Mounds were named that, based on a false assumption that they were constructed by the Toltecs of Mexico. Both the mounds, there and at Moundville, do resemble the bases of sites I’ve been to in Mexico, but even archaeologists don’t know for certain who really built them. The best that they can do is make educated guesses, like dreaming up a whole dinosaur out of a discovered tooth or bone.
A wooden walking trail looped around the mounds, but what interested me more than anything was a cluster of broad-based swamp cypress trees growing out of a narrow, green lake behind the second mound. The color of the water and the way the trees reached out of it took me by surprise, adding a science-fiction element to the grand mystery of it all. A UFO touching down on the mound right behind me would have fit right in.
It was just twenty miles to Little Rock from there. The few times I’d passed through had all been on a Greyhound Bus. On this occasion, I didn’t see much more, just drove downtown and past the state capitol. What I really wanted to do was get to Hot Springs National Park in time to enjoy the rest of the day there. I envisioned myself changing into my swimsuit, sitting beside a hot pool with my ukelele, dangling my legs in the water. It was just an hour to get there. I took the 430 to the 30 to the 70.
When I reached the National Park, I was puzzled. I’d been directed to downtown Hot Springs and a series of bathhouses on the main street. Was this the park? Apparently, it was. I found street parking about a half mile away and walked back to Bathhouse Row. Dating back to 1892, eight historic bathhouses stand side by side: Superior, Hale, Maurice, Fordyce, Quapaw, Ozark, Buckstaff, and Lamar.
I walked past those, looked at the Fordyce Spring, took a picture of an Indian mural in a parking lot, stopped outside the Gangster Museum, with Al Capone on a bench out front, looked into the window of the Wax Museum, featuring both George Bushes, and passed the Gambling Museum on the way back to my car. What I never did was get into my swimming suit or get wet. Frankly, I was confused. I needed to find a place to camp.
There was a campground on Lake Catherine, about twenty miles from Hot Springs. I let Karen from Google Maps take me there. I was on auto-pilot, just blindly following directions, hoping there’d be something open. It seemed to take forever to get there. When I did, there were a few spots available. I was supposed to register at the office, but it had looked closed when I passed it. I just took my chances and put my tent up, flipping the sign in front to say it was reserved. Just as I’d gotten my camp set up, here came a ranger. He said it was OK if I stayed there. I could just pay when I checked out.
It had rained a few days on my trip, but mostly every day had been beautiful. This was another good one. A long deck stretched out into the lake. I walked to the end of it. There was not the slightest breeze. The water was totally calm. The sky was still blue, and the lake was blue, ringed by a green reflection from the surrounding hills. The lake seemed shallow, not deep enough to dive into. Some locals told me I’d come at the perfect time. For the past week, it had been almost unbearably hot. Now everything had cooled off in time. The weather was going to be just fine.