Saturday–May 1, 2021
Location–Iron Horse Station, Hot Springs, AT Mile 274.4
What a disaster, my room here at Laughing Heart. I’m up at six trying to sort through everything. My bounce box contents, my pack gear, food bags, piles of trash–everything’s scattered all over the floor, on/under the chair, at the foot of my bed, under the bed. Argh! I’ve got to have some coffee before tackling this mess.
Well, proud of myself. Stuck with it. Two coffee refills helped. Hey, tummy took to the coffee! Pack–check, bounce box–check, sticks–check. Sad time, goodbye folks, out the door, down the steps, then to pause and turn for a final glance. Laughing Heart Hostel, goodbye to you, my friend! What a blessing all you dear folks here have been to me!
Downtown Hot Springs once more, still early, but the front door to Iron Horse Tavern is unlocked. Gary (owner/innkeeper) isn’t here yet, but his daughter welcomes me in. I’m permitted to stash my scroungy gear behind their registration desk until my room’s ready–and I’m off to the Smoky Mountain Diner for breakfast. Another fine Hot Springs eatery. This is the place!
On my way back to Iron Horse–hey, the welcome center’s open! Was hoping I could get verification (my memory refreshed) concerning a bit of history here some 40 (give or take) years ago. And Robert, the host this morning, he’s the man. Robert’s pushing my age, been around Hot Springs awhile. “What ya like to know?” His reply to my inquiry about the renowned and historic old hot springs.
And so…38 years ago, when I first passed through Hot Springs, (backpack on) I found the Hot Springs Mountain Park all but abandoned. Lingering somewhere around downtown at the time, and striking up a conversation with one of the locals (and gaining his confidence) I recall asking about the old bath house. I’d read that it was outfitted with beautiful marble-lined pools, each flowing with 100-degree+ crystal clear, curative, natural mineral spring water. I recall the old fellow frowning, then telling me, “Yeah, they’re still here, but you can’t see them or get near them. They’re in a building. It’s padlocked. You can’t get in.” Well, that got me frowning too! After awhile, a bit of idle talk, the old fellow went quiet, turned serious–no more frowning. “Gonna tell ya something.” He said. “Not a word where you heard this. I’ll tell you how to get there. Look around real good. If there’s nobody there, sneak around the back. Way up, you can shinny up, there’s a busted window you can climb through. Two of the marble lined pools are clean. Some locals have a key to the padlock. They get in and use them. Be careful–don’t stay long! And don’t you ever tell anyone how you found this out.” Big grin showing through his tobacco-stained teeth (the few he had left) and a contented and happy smile!
Instructions on how to get to the building, I thanked the old fellow. Walking a ways, there it was, just as he’d told me. No one was around, but I gave lots of time to really study the situation. I checked the door. Securely padlocked. More caution. I returned to the shadows. Then, after more quiet study, I finally crept around back. Yup, a busted window way up. Don’t remember, a pipe, staggered siding, don’t remember how I got up. But it was easy enough, and before I knew it I was in, walking around, looking at the beautiful old hot mineral pools. Even in the dim light they were magnificent.
From the time I squeezed in through the window, got in and out of the hot pool, then back out the window–had to be no more than ten minutes. Ahh, and I recall wishing I could have lounged a couple of hours. Yet, what a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt blessed and grateful for it.
Well, I ran all this by Robert. He kept nodding his head “Yes” as I relived my memory of the old spring pools to him. “That’s all gone now.” he said. “The pools now are all new, all modern. Nothing left of the old place.”
Early afternoon I get checked into my room above the tavern at Iron Horse Station. A great evening meal in the downstairs tavern. I’m improving, gaining back my good strength by the hour. A true blessing. For a zero-mile day (when I’d have preferred to hike), this day turned out mighty fine…
It’s a funny thing about life,
once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for,
you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.