Update 14 (continued)

Hot Springs National Park: March 2-6, 2007 (Location 5 on the Map)

As we entered Hot Springs, Arkansas after a 10-and-a-half hour travel day from New Orleans, we saw a huge sign proudly proclaiming that Hot Springs was the childhood home of President Bill Clinton. We visited anyway.

Whereas most of the National Parks we've been to have been vast areas of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, etc., Hot Springs National Park is mostly comprised of buildings. Yes, there is a scenic drive in the hills around town, but the focal point of the park is Bathhouse Row, a line of buildings along the town's main street. These bathhouses are what remain of the Golden Age of Bathing from the early 1900's, when an estimated one million people a year flocked to the many hot springs for their therapeutic benefit.

Most of the bathhouses are not open to the public, although one is still in operation, offering tub baths, showers, steam cabinets, etc. The park's visitor center is housed in the Fordyce Bathhouse, a restored 3-story building from the period that gave us a good look at what was going on here at that time. We walked along Bathhouse Row, took a tour through the Fordyce, and walked the promenade above town that passed by some of the springs that haven't been capped off by the Park Service. We even filled a few water bottles at the town spring, where the water that we drank first fell as rain water here some 4000 years ago.

I did a 4-mile hike one day in the hills around town, and Susan and Justin took a day trip and went to Crater of Diamonds State Park to dig for diamonds. Like the majority of people who visit in search of riches, they returned empty-handed.

For photos from Hot Springs National Park, Click Here

Big Bend National Park: March 8-11, 2007 (Location 8 on the Map)

Nothing brings home the vastness of Texas like a drive across it. It took three long travel days for us to drive from Hot Springs to Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas. And the park itself is big; we put 200 miles on the car just driving around the park during the time we were there.

Big Bend National Park is named for the big bend that the Rio Grande River makes as it snakes its way between the US and Mexico. The main natural attractions here are the huge desert expanses, the rugged Chisos Mountains, and the calm tranquility of the river as it passes beneath soaring canyon walls.

We were happy to be back in the desert, and eager to get back into a decent hiking regimen. We started with a short hike down to the Rio Grande itself, which wasn't far from our campground. The river was only 20-feet across, which, given all the talk of solidifying our border with Mexico, seems quite narrow. But when you look at the type of terrain someone would have to survive to even get to the river, you realize there is no need for additional fortification. Even so, there were posted warnings about keeping an eye out for drug traffickers traveling through the park. That night Susan took Justin out for a walk after dark, where he got to see javelinas for the first time.

The next day, after a short hike to a hot spring for Justin to splash his feet in, we did a 4-mile hike to a place called The Window in the Chisos mountains, where a narrow canyon ends abruptly and provides views of the desert far below. Even though we were at nearly 5000 feet in elevation, the heat was such that we sought out every available shady rest on the hike out. Justin was in rare form, saying hi to everyone as he rode in his carrier and asking for high fives from passersby during our rest stops. Zane did well, too, sleeping most of the time in Susan's Rebozo despite the heat. After dinner, I took Justin out on a short 3/4-mile nature walk in the dark, with Justin illuminating the way with the flashlight and constantly asking where the javelinas were.

The following morning we took a drive over to the west side of the park to check out Santa Elena Canyon and her 1500-foot walls. This was a great hike not only for the views, but for the fact that much of it was shaded; it sure seemed unseasonably hot while we were there.

Big Bend is a popular birding spot, but we only managed to identify one new bird, the Vermillion flycatcher.

For photos from Big Bend National Park, Click Here

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