"Me mind on fire. Me soul on fire. Feeling hot hot hot!"—Buster Poindexter, "Hot Hot Hot".
The hot springs in Hot Springs National Park are, indeed, hot.
Hot enough that wisps of steam rise into the air wherever the water flows. Even on a hot day, on a very hot day, the water is even hotter, and it steams.
On my visit to Hot Springs, the thermometer read a steamy 92°F, and oppressive 55% humidity made it feel like 105°F. But the hot springs bubble out of Hot Springs Mountain at about 147°F, so the hot springs still steam.
During the course of my three-day trip from Memphis to Hot Springs, AR to Talihina, OK and back, I am sure that, at times, I was steaming. It was hot, hot, hot!
Friday: Hot Springs, AR
On a Friday morning, my buddy Terry S. and I rode over to Hot Springs following US-70 and I-40 through Little Rock. We spent the afternoon exploring the historic "Bath House Row".
The National Park Service offers self-guided tours of the fully-restored Fordyce Bath House along with periodic tours of some of the adjoining bath houses, all under restoration.
We took a tour that walked along some of the springs on the hillside above Bath House Row, and as billed, we got to "touch the water, taste the water."
Our Park Ranger tour guide Jon was a bit of a loose cannon, but that just added to the fun of the tour. Oddly, Jon repeatedly pointed out the huge cooling units (they looked like air conditioner units) that cool the spring water to a more comfortable temperature before it enters the bath houses.
The water tastes pretty clean, with no discernable minerals or sulfuric smell that volcanic springs usually have. And it is indeed hot. In a pool where it's cooled for a few minutes, you can put your hand in it for a bit before it gets uncomfortable. In a pool closer to the spring, you can barely take the heat for more than a couple seconds. And these are pools where the water has already flown down the rocky hillside!
Although the water is uncomfortably hot when it emerges from the ground, it's well below boiling. There is a green algea, found in a couple other places in the world, that manages to thrive in the hot spring water.
After dinner, we visited the Mountain Tower, rising 13 stories above the peak of Hot Springs Mountain.
On either end of Bath House Row are two huge W-shaped buildings. One is the Arlington Hotel, still a luxury hotel with spa services. The other is a rehabilitation hospital, once Army-Navy Hospital. Like the bath houses, both are now historic buildings but are not the first structures to site on those sites.
Saturday: Mount Magazine, the Talimena Scenic Drive, and Oklahoma
On Saturday, we looped up to Russellville and over to over to Mount Magazine State Park. (This was the first leg of our 465-mile day.)
Magazine Mountain is the highest point in Arkansas, but it wasn't much cooler, even at 2,753 feet. It did offer some scenic vistas of the Ozark National Forest and some gentle mountain forest curves, and was well worth the visit.
Coming down off the mountain, we headed to Heavener, OK. At Waldron, AR, the thermometer at the high school read 104°F. (According to the National Weather Service, this little town near the Oklahoma border only reached 99°F.)
As I sat astride el Bandido at a traffic light, looking at the temperature display, it sure felt like 104°F...or higher. I was melting into the seat. The bike's tires were melting into the blacktop. The whole town was baking under the sun. It was hot, hot, hot!
From Heavener, we headed back towards Hot Springs via Mena. Stopping to consult the map in the parking lot of the Rich Mountain Country Store, a knowledgeable and friendly stranger came out from the store, maps in hand, to direct us up to the Talimena Scenic Drive.
Climbing Rich Mountain (the second highest peak in Arkansas) and up on the Talimena, the elevation and a passing shower had left the road steaming, but cooler. We rode through swarms of dragonflies and enjoyed the vistas tremendously.
This year has been an unusually prolific one for dragonflies, and we rode through huge swarms of them. I managed to miss most of them, and those I did hit bounced off instead of splatting. I also so a roadrunner, which I haven't seen outside of the desert southwest. They aren't as fast as in the cartoons, but it was too fast to get get a picture.
Unfortunately, the route ends down in the flatlands near Talihina, OK, where the temperatures were back in the upper 90s. It was hot, hot, hot!
Climbing the mountain ridge to reverse the Talimena Scenic Drive, it was cooler again, and we rode for an hour facing a rainbow over the eastern horizon.
It was dusk by the time we reached Mena, and we still had a couple hours riding to do to get back to Hot Springs, but at least it was a reasonable temperature.
Sunday: Hot-footing it home
The Sunday ride back across the flatlands of Arkansas, through Pine Bluff and up to Mariana and back across the Mississippi River into Memphis was more of the same: draining heat that made me long for the dehydrating, low humidity of Death Valley.
Much of our path was marked by signs designating the "CSEPP" evacuation route. Later research revealed the route is part of the "Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Plan", in the event something really bad happens with the Army's chemical stockpile at Pine Bluff and everyone has to leave.
By the time I got home, I had managed to log 992 miles on the three-day trip. Despite the heat (did I mention the heat?) it was fun, fun, fun!