Sunday, May 18, 2014

US Hwy 70: Hot Springs, Arkansas

I drove a short, 60 mile stint yesterday, mostly on a rare subsumption of US70 into I-30. My final destination was Hot Springs, AR, a combination national park, historic town and tourist trap.

The short version of the story is that the curative powers of the area's natural hot springs have been visited by people for thousands of years. In the early 1900's a few visionaries started developing the town's tourist potential, with Central Avenue eventually hosting an array of elaborate spas, nestled among opulent hotels and various institutional treatment centers.

Teddy Roosevelt liked the area so much that he made it a national park. One of the spas has been preserved as a visitors' center, complete with a steam fountain out front.

Inside, the various treatment rooms display authentic equipment, some of it downright medieval in appearance.

Throughout, however, is evidence of opulence and elegance designed to please and impress the most discerning visitor.

That's all well and good, but it's the town's back story that is more interesting. It turns out that the combination of ample idle time between treatments and the town's lack of other amusements fostered the development of… wait for it… drinking, "social" and gambling establishments. Ultimately, Hot Springs became a mecca for "adult entertainments" and a forerunner of Las Vegas.

In its day, all the big name gangsters visited Hot Springs, with the mutual agreement that it was a neutral territory. Bosses like Capone, Lansky, Luciano and Madden frequented the place, dined and generally socialized with each other in peace, then went home and tried to kill each other.

There's a pretty good "Gangster Museum" in town, a gem among the usual raft of souvenir shops, arcades, rides, wax museums, etc.

The town's other claim to fame is being the hometown of Bill Clinton, and there's an informative "walk" of celebrity paving tiles.

Overall, the town is a little rough, but worth a visit if you're in the area. Tomorrow I'm going to explore the actual national park area and will let you know if I find anything noteworthy.

Otherwise, I'm going to push west on Tuesday, maybe to the Oklahoma state line... Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

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