Well the Austin fun had to come to end sometime, but what better reason to head home for a long weekend than the wedding of a dear friend?! I secured a plus one (potentially tricky) and hit the road from Austin and Hot Springs, AR. While being the first nationally protected land as Hot Springs Reservation in 1892, Hot Springs National Park didn’t receive it’s National Park designation until 1921 and is the smallest of the parks. In all honesty, the “park” part of the park is nice, but Bathhouse Row is the shining star. Mineral rich water at an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit comes to the surface in springs and visitors are encouraged to fill water bottles at various spigots around town.
In the late 1800s, ornate bathhouses were built along the very cute town’s main road to capitalize on the healing powers of the hot springs. Free tours at 11am and 2pm are well worth an hour of your time and touring the former Fordyce Bathhouse, the crowning achievement of Gilded Age bathhouses, is a great way to fully appreciate the bathhouse as more than simply a place to take a dip. They were medical centers with licensed physicians, gymnasiums and equipment that looks more similar to torture devices than healing ones! The tour, a drive to the top of Hot Springs Mountain and a hike had me ready for a beer and some sustenance. Superior Bathhouse delivered with beer tasting flights and surprisingly good food! I love a repurposed building, we don’t have to lose the history in the face of progress!
I realize that I took a 19 hour drive and turned it into a 4 day experience, but sitting in the car for 10 hours straight just isn’t that terrible to me! Podcasts, NPR, audio books, silence to think, dance parties, sing-alongs, snacks (my snapchat story is littered with salt and vinegar chips)….. seriously. What is not to love?? Plus! Your car is an excellent viewing station when driving through beautiful landscapes. I’m conventionally a fly by the seat of her pants type gal, but I greatly appreciate the peace of mind that preparedness gives me so I’m working on looking out for future Maranda. Which I thought I did…. but I apparently could have done a better job at achieving. It was not until two hours after reaching Great Smoky Mountains National Park and my third campsite in the whee hours of the morning after hours of no service did I finally find an open campsite where I could pitch my tent. That being said…. had I not been off on some dark, gravel road looking for campground #2 (that was not open) I wouldn’t have slowly come around corner because deer were everywhere and come face to booty with a beautiful, albeit big and a bit scary black bear!!! My mouth dropped open and remained that way long after the bear turned it’s head to check me out and made moves back into the deep, dense forrest. Ummm worth getting lost! Wow! I feel very lucky to have seem my first black bear in the wild in the place most known for them. I’m not sure how much the bears have to do with it, but I thought it was interesting that GSMNP is the most visited national park annually! Very cool, especially because both GSM and Hot Springs are FREE national parks! What a treasure!
Because I came in from the south I caught Newfound Gap road in Cherokee, NC in the morning and made the absolutely spectacular drive through the heart of the park. I couldn’t help myself and stopped at nearly every pull off only to find myself audibly gasping at the beauty of the waterfalls, many shades of greenery and vast blue mountains with mist drifting around in a way that felt like the park gods were preparing for a National Geographic photoshoot. It was stunning. At the highest point in the Smokies, state of Tennessee and along the Appalachian Trail I stopped at Clingmans Dome. Unfortunately all that beautiful mist made visibility very limited, but the silhouetted evergreens were still and quiet which was enjoyable. If you want the views, go in the afternoon when the fog has cleared. After admiring the Newfound Gap, I drove through Gatlinburg only stopping to get my brother-in-law apple pie moonshine from Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. The shops and commercial areas are fun for one pass and people watching, but aren’t necessarily my cup of tea. That being said, I only have one baby brother and he deserves his moonshine haha
I wrapped up my day with Porters Creek Trail. Moderately easy with amazing contact points with Porters Creek which was flowing forcefully with all the rain, the trail shows off elevation changes, bridges and rapids. I love taking my meditation practice on the road with me. The groundedness and security I feel from the boulders, soft moss and roaring water is unbelievable. When I slow down enough to hear the birds with their healing songs and dense, rich leaves blowing in the breeze I can feel the transformational fire power of Mother Earth. As I meditated, the Gemini New Moon rose and I sowed my seeds of dreams, desires and wishes for this summer to be everything I need and want it be. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun and healing so far.