Monday, August 29, 2022

Hot Springs

Hot Springs is one of the most unique cities in the state. It's the only city within a National Park, which just happens to also technically be the oldest National Park in the US. The history of the city is interesting, with its gambling and mobsters and tourists. It makes you wonder what Hot Springs would be like if it was allowed to legalize gambling in order to compete with Las Vegas in the 1960s.

Hot Springs National Park is small and partly urban, so it doesn't get as much love from people who travel to all of the National Parks. I've seen it included many times on lists of the worst National Parks, I guess because people visiting expected to see something like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. But Hot Springs definitely has its charms. 

Because it is the oldest park, it was formed and managed in a way completely different than the parks that came later on. When the land around the hot springs was first protected by the federal government in 1832, the springs were already a popular tourist attraction. So the park was developed in ways to use the spring water to benefit the many tourists who were attracted to the springs for their supposed health benefits. If the springs were discovered later, perhaps the 47 hot springs would have been kept in more of a natural state and how they were displayed and managed would be different.

The city of Hot Springs was a massively popular tourist attraction. People from across the country travelled here to take the baths. And for a time, Hot Springs was also the first "Sin City," as gambling and prostitution was overlooked and allowed to flourish. The city was at its peak from the 1920s to the 1950s, but things began to decline in the 1960s. People began to stop seeking thermal waters for treatment, and the state began to crack down on the illegal gambling. Soon many of the luxurious bathhouses along Bathhouse Row closed, and sat empty for decades.

Recently the National Park Service renovated many of the old bathhouses and opened them up to new usage. It also seems like Hot Springs is emerging again. There is the fancy new casino added at Oaklawn Park. The old Medical Arts Building, which was once the tallest building in Arkansas, is being converted into a hotel. And the iconic Arlington Hotel is getting a much-needed facelift.

We made a quick visit to Hot Springs a few weeks back, and it's always a fun place to walk around and take pictures. I walked down Central Avenue after dark, trying to get a few pictures along Bathhouse Row. Here is a shot of the traffic along Central Avenue, near the Superior Bathhouse. The Superior was built in 1916 and is now home to the Superior Bathhouse Brewery. It is the only brewery located in a US National Park and the only brewery in the world that uses thermal spring water to make beer. I've tasted many of their offerings and they are all pretty good.

Central Destination

The fanciest and most ornate bathhouse in Hot Springs is the Fordyce, which opened in 1915. It now serves as a Visitor Center and museum.


Further down is the Ozark Bathhouse, which was built in 1922. It's now used as a Cultural Center that provides gallery space for art exhibits.


The Buckstaff Bathhouse opened in 1912 and is the only bathhouse to have never closed and has operated continuously for decades.


Walking back to the car, I passed by the Hale Bathhouse and stopped to get this shot looking down Central Avenue. The Hale was built in 1892 and is the oldest of the structures on Bathhouse Row. It is now used as a boutique hotel.


And one more shot, of traffic along the always busy Central Avenue. The taller building is the Dugan-Stuart Building, which was built in 1904. Originally it held medical offices, but was converted into a hotel. In the 1980s, the upper floors were left abandoned. On the far right is the Josephine Tussaud’s Wax Museum, which operates in the old Southern Club. The Southern Club was established in 1893 and soon became one of Hot Springs most popular casinos. It was Al Capone's favorite spot, where he had his own elevated poker table which provided a clear view of the entire room.


The next day I drove out to visit Garvan Gardens, which sits on the outskirts of Hot Springs along Lake Hamilton. The jewel of the gardens is the amazingly beautiful Anthony Chapel, which stands 57 feet tall is made of glass and wood.


I drove out there thinking that it would be hard to get inside, since it is a popular wedding venue. And sure enough there was a guard keeping people back while a lucky couple was tying the knot inside (the cost to rent the chapel for a wedding is about $3,000 to $4,500). Once the wedding party went off to celebrate elsewhere, I was able to get inside for a few pictures....



Next to the chapel is the Carillon, a 57-foot tall electric bell tower.


I drove back along Central Avenue to try to get a few more shots with the infrared camera. I parked by the old Army and Navy Hospital, which was built in 1933 and was the first general hospital in the nation that provided treatment to both Army and Navy patients. The hospital was at its peak after World War II, but was soon ran by the state who used it as a Rehabilitation Center. That center closed in 2019 and the building is currently vacant and unoccupied. Vandals have reportedly made their way inside, which is incredibly unfortunate. It's a shame that this huge landmark is empty, and hopefully it won't have the same fate of the Majestic Hotel (which was abandoned and then later burned). It is frustrating because the state of Arkansas is currently sitting on a billion dollar surplus. I would love to see some our state funds go to preserve our historic landmarks like this (but I know that won't ever happen, sadly).


And one last shot from Hot Springs, of the old Medical Arts Building. This is one of my favorite buildings in Hot Springs. It opened in 1929 and was the tallest building in the state. But by the 1990s, only the first floor was in use while the upper floors were abandoned. Luckily the building was recently purchased with plans to convert it into a hotel. I would love to stay there once it opens.


Monday, August 22, 2022

Delta Storm

I headed back to the Delta with a list of places that I wanted to try to photograph again. The phone GPS sent me out on a few random little country roads that cut across flat fields, and I stopped at one that I thought might make an interesting picture. I got the camera out and realized I made a mistake - there wasn't a battery in the camera. It was still sitting innocently back home on the charger.

Now I could have gone back home and picked it up, but I didn't really have time to backtrack since I only had a few hours before it was time to pick up the kids. So I looked through the camera bag and lo and behold, there was the spare battery. And it was even charged! It had been months since I last charged it, and I was shocked it still had juice. Hooray, little battery! I stuck in the camera and got this picture:


When you do photography, there are some days when things just work in your favor. Like if you hike that long trail to reach a waterfall and find it flowing well and with perfect light. But today wasn't quite one of those days. There was an old gin that I had taken a picture of years before that I wanted to revisit with the infrared camera. I drove out to the small town where it was, but couldn't find it. I knew of the area it was in, but not the exact location. So after aimlessly driving around for a bit, I turned around and tried to get a few other pictures before I needed to head back to town. Of course, when I got home I realized I was just maybe a mile or two away from where I wanted to be, but didn't realize it at the time. Oh well. It just means another trip back out there to try again!

I did end up driving through the small town of Humnoke, and stopped to get a picture of this old abandoned building. Weeds and grass were growing up through the cracks in what must have once been the parking lot.


I noted that a building that stood across the street had been torn down, one that I got a picture of on a rainy day back in 2019. The lot where the building stood is now a Dollar Store.


Another building in Humnoke that had been torn down in the last few years was this old abandoned church, which was in bad shape the last time I was able to get a picture of it in 2017:


From Humnoke I headed north towards the freeway, but stopped several times to get a few more pictures. There was a large summer thunderstorm brewing off in the distance, and the clouds began to get closer and closer.



I went through the town of Carlisle, and stopped at the old and abandoned Esso Station. This gas station's big claim to fame was being the location of a car accident involving Elvis Presley. In 1955, Elvis and his bandmates were driving towards Little Rock from Memphis. At the intersection of Hwy. 13 and 70 in Carlisle, Elvis broadsided a dump truck and sent his Lincoln Cosmopolitan into a ditch across the street from this station. No one was injured and the Lincoln was still drivable, but Elvis was fined $25 for damaging the dump truck.


It looks like the building had been used recently for an espresso shop, but sadly it's now empty.



I headed west and eventually went through the small town of Lonoke, and stopped at the old First Christian Church. The church was built in 1916 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately the congregation for the church has dwindled away to just two people, and services haven't been held here in about 15 years. The church is vacant and needs extensive repairs. This year, it was added to the list of Most Endangered Places by Preserve Arkansas.


The massive thunderstorm was now really close, so I raced from Lonoke to try to find something interesting nearby to get a picture of with the menacing storm clouds in the background. My first attempts weren't successful, since it was boring stuff by the freeway like gas stations and a Wal-Mart. But I drove down this road and soon swerved to a stop. I don't know exactly what these do, but they did look kinda neat against the dark clouds.



The wind had picked up and the temperature dropped about 25 degrees.






Nearby was this tractor, and I tried to get a few pictures before the storm hit. There were frequent bolts of lightning dropping down from the clouds, and I was kicking myself for not bringing my tripod with me so I could try some longer exposures (this is the time when my wife kindly reminds me that metal tripods in a lightning storm is not a great combination). I managed a few pictures before the storm hit and started pouring down rain, which meant it was time to start driving home...


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

On The Edge

Pulaski County is surprisingly large. It stretches from the flat lands of the Delta in the southeast to the rolling hills of the Ouachitas in the far west, with a bunch of city stuff in the middle. And one day we made a quick drive out to the far western edge of the county, where the suburban sprawl gives way to Lake Maumelle and forests. Along the way there was a pull-off next to this abandoned stretch of road, with grass and weeds sprouting up from cracks in the pavement.


And we soon stopped to get a shot at this old barn that sat behind an abandoned house.


Saturday, August 6, 2022

Back To The Big Dam Bridge

It's been an awfully hot and dry summer this year. The lack of rain has dried up waterfalls in the Ozarks and the grass in my yard. And it has lowered the Arkansas River enough to where it looks like no water is going through the dam at the Big Dam Bridge, which means that there might be some good reflections of the bridge lights at night. So I headed out there recently to see if that were the case:


It was actually fairly crowded down there along the riverbank. There were lots of people out there fishing, including one guy who caught a large catfish (I think that's what it was - it was dark). He tossed it back in the river, creating ripples that briefly messed up the reflection.