I am a drop of rain. My journey began when I was born from a raincloud as one of many, many raindrops which fell upon the eastern part of the Ouachita mountains of central Arkansas around the time when the Great Pyramid was being built in Egypt, some four thousand years ago. Instead of forming a stream right away, then a river, an ocean, or a lake, I was absorbed into a sloped fault containing porous and cracked stone called Bigfork Chert and Arkansas Novaculite. My journey downward was a very slow one, taking almost all of the forty centuries since I was precipitated. The deeper I went the more I was filtered, but I also dissolved gases and minerals. Lots of gases and minerals. And the temperature kept climbing. It was so hot that if it hadn't been for all the pressure, I would have turned into a cloud of vapor again. Finally, at a depth of nearly 8,000 feet, an extraordinary thing happened. I found a way back to the surface. Compared to the trip down, this was an expressway! I made the journey back to the surface of the earth in a little over a year, bringing much of the thermal energy that I had absorbed with me. My return trip was through cracks in the deep roots of Arkansas Sandstone that forms the foundations of Hot Springs Mountain. I emerged piping hot, a steamin' 143 degrees F., along with enough of my fellow raindrops to add up to 850,000 gallons on the day I surfaced.
Hot Springs National Park inspired the above anthropomorphism. According to tradition, these hot springs were considered neutral ground by Native Americans of various tribes who frequented them. The Native Americans called the mountain containing the springs "The Great Manataka Mountain". For a fascinating Native American perspective see final link below. Some also believe that Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto visited the hot springs with his troops in 1541. In 1803, the United States acquired the springs as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France. The following year President Thomas Jefferson sent William Dunbar and George Hunter on an expedition to explore and research the "Hot Springs of the Washita". Dunbar kept a detailed journal and both men did a commendable job of analysis and measurement from a scientific standpoint. Dunbar and Hunter also documented the rare blue green algae later identified as Phormidium Treleasei which, in North America, is found only in the scalding waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas and in Banff, Alberta, Canada. Another item described by Dunbar and Hunter was a tiny bivalve mollusk no larger than a grain of sand which appeared to feed on the algae, but on which I can't seem to find any additional documentation.
In 1832 The Federal Government formed Hot Springs Reservation, the first U.S. reservation created exclusively to protect a natural resource by setting aside four sections of land including the hot springs. This makes it the oldest park currently in the National Park System, pre-dating Yellowstone National Park by 40 years. Descriptions of the development of bathhouses that followed are less than flattering with references to ramshackle wooden structures rotting, burning and collapsing.
In 1884 Hot Spring Creek was channelized and a road was put over it. This is now Central Avenue in the city of Hot Springs. Eventually better facilities were built, under the supervision of the Federal Government which even operated a U.S. free bathhouse. Finally, in 1921, at the urging of the newly formed National Park Service's first director Stephen Mather, the Hot Springs Reservation became Hot Springs National Park. This would make it the 18th national park. The roaring twenties brought with them a major improvement in the quality of the facilities on Bathhouse Row as each tried to outdo the others.
Today the baths are operated mostly as concessions under the supervision of the National Park Service. As of September 23, 2000, there are 4,880.30 acres of Federal Land in Hot Springs National Park and 669.76 acres of Non-Federal Land. Recreation visits in 1999 totalled 1,384,469. At least fifteen trails are available for hiking and with a city of just over 35,000 (Hot Springs, AR) literally on top of the park there is plenty of lodging, dining and night-life.
Below are citations and links for more information:
Rowland, Mrs. Dunbar [Eron O. Rowland]. Life, Letters and Papers of William Dunbar. Jacksonville: Press of the Mississippi Historical Society, 1930.
Disclaimer: It has come to my attention that the claims made by Manataka.org (linked above) are highly questionable. Caveat emptor.