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volume 1                                November 1990                            number 9
RON  &  BARB  QUIT  PLAYING
And  Go  To  Work  In  Arkansas
Barb and Ron Hofmeister are not on vacation here in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They are each giving a minimum of 33 hours per week to the National Park as volunteers. 

When they first arrived the end of September, they were quite amazed at this little known park which is located within the city of Hot Springs. In fact, Hot Springs National Park is a large part of the city and the reason that the city grew. 


Ron at the visitor desk                                                Barb beginning a tour

The Hofmeisters arrived late on a Saturday afternoon and found their way to the visitor center which is the recently renovated Fordyce Bathhouse. Ranger Paul Sullivan greeted the new volunteers warmly and after a short visit, in which they learned their hours and duties, they left to spend the rest of the weekend getting acquainted with the town and learning about the park. Much of the weekend was spent in studying and they reported to work at 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 2. 

The first week at work was spent learning. They took a half dozen ranger-led walks to the springs, toured all three floors of the bathhouse with tour guides, and began getting ready to lead those same tours. They learned about the springs, where the water comes from, where it goes, what it is like, how it has been used for healing, and what it is like to take a traditional thermal bath in Hot Springs. They even took a bath at one of the bathhouses to enable them to give first hand information to the visitors. 

Much of the time at the Fordyce is spent in behind-the-scene projects. Because of Ron's computer knowledge regarding a software program called Lotus, he has been formatting statistical reports for continued use by management. Barb keeps busy filing slides and reorganizing some of the research files. 

Barb's favorite part of the job is leading the Thermal Feature Tours. This tour which lasts about 45 minutes, takes the visitors to the two display springs and along the promenade which is behind bathhouse row. The tour ends at the beautiful cascade, a block from the Fordyce. "Everyone is so amazed that the water in the springs is 143 degrees and 4,000 years old," said Barbara. "It is very exciting to be able to help people understand why this area was and is so special, and to share some of the history; the visitors are very appreciative," she added. Barb also has two other favorite jobs. She spends several hours each day at the information desk, and works as a floating interpreter, answering questions about the bathhouse, its furnishings, bath procedures, and so on. 


Ron at work in the book store                   Barb at the display spring with her tour

Ron also leads the Thermal Feature Tours, works on the information desk, and on weekends completely runs the bookstore and theater area. "Yes, it is different to set the alarm, make lunches and go to work five days a week again, but the rewards are the good feeling of helping the National Park Service and meeting interesting people," said Ron. Ron explained that their “weekend” (days off) is Thursday and Friday and going to work after a few days off is often difficult. "I hate Mondays, even when it is Saturday," he quipped. 

The visitor center is very busy at this time of the year with many senior citizens touring the area on their way south for the winter months. Fall is also a popular time because of the fall colors and that brings a large number of tourists from Texas and Louisiana. Things will slow down in November, and Barb and Ron hope to cut back to only three (four at the most) days a week. They want to have time to do some touring and hiking in the area. 

Barb and Ron are scheduled to volunteer until the first of December, but will leave a little early to drive their car to Michigan for Susie's wedding on December 1. They will leave the motorhome in the campground under the watchful eye of the National Park Rangers. Barb and Ron said that volunteering was something that they would like to do often. Barbara  commented, "It is fun to be a part of a team and community for a while, but I will be ready to move on to new sights in December." 



Bathing in Hot Springs 
In order to properly visit Hot Springs one must take a bath. Bathing has been going on here since well before recorded history. The Indians called this place “The Valley of the Vapors” and believed that the “Great Spirit” livid under the springs and that the steam was his breath. They also believed that he created the thermal waters for healing. 

The first bathhouse was built here in 1830. It was a very crude long structure. At one time there were 24 operating bathhouses all using the waters from the 47 thermal springs that are located at the base of Hot Springs Mountain. 

Historically, bathing was done to cure ailments and diseases. Everything from venereal disease to corns and bunions were thought to be cured by the bathing process here. Physicians sent patients for a specified number of weeks (depending on the ailment) and a bath a day, along with rest, fresh air and exercise were prescribed. 

Antibiotics, cortisone, and pain killers discovered in the 40's eliminated the need for the baths at least as far as some diseases go. The bathing business declined and only six bathing places remain. All but one (the new Hilton) were built in the early 20's and all furnishings are of that era which appeals to romantics. Many still believe in the waters and the therapy of the baths especially for arthritic problems. People travel here from far away and stay from two to six weeks at a time enjoying a bath a day. 

The bath takes one and one half hours. From the moment you undress and are wrapped toga fashion in a sheet, you will be pampered by a dedicated bath attendant. 

The first stop will be your private bath cubical. The six foot porcelain tub filled to the brim with 100 degree spring water will be ready for you. The bath attendant will scrub your back, arms, legs and feet briskly (to stimulate blood flow). You will be given several cups of hot mineral water to drink then allowed to soak for 20 minutes. 

You may choose to enjoy the 105 degree sitz bath next. Again you will relax in a private area but for only 10 minutes this time. 

The steam area is next. One has a choice of the head-in or heat-out steam cabinet. Because both are heated with the hot springs steam which is 143 degrees, two or three minutes will be enough. 

The hot packs follow. Your attendant will ask where you would like your four hot pack. Neck, shoulders and joints are common requests. Thick, thirsty towels will be wrung out of 130 degree spring eater and will be left on you for about 20 minutes while you doze in a cocoon of sheets and towels. 

After a refreshing needle shower (water comes from 270 degrees-top to bottom), the attendant dries you and leads you to the final treat- the full-body massage which lasts 30 wonderful minutes. 

I am not sure if there is any medical value to the baths, but it sure felt good. To be totally pampered in such a personal way, made us feel very special. We've had two and plan at least one more. If you're ever down this way, do take the time to take a real Hot Springs Bath. 


Potpourri
by Ron

This old accountant likes the low cost of living in Arkansas. Can you believe only ten cents for a phone call? 

Gasoline expenditures for the month amounted to only $16.00 since the motor home is not moving while we are in Hot Springs. I love to stick it to the Arabs. [This was the time of the Arab oil embargo.] 

The water from the hot springs here is said to take years off a person. No wonder they now check my age when we visit a tavern. 

Our good friend, Chuck Fisher, an aid University of Michigan supporter, promised to take us to the Rose Bowl, before Michigan lost two Big Ten games and dropped out of contention. Chuck, if they get invited to the Hula Bowl, does the offer still stand? 

It's amazing to me the differences we see in visitors to the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center. Some come to be entertained and are only interested in the videos and postcards, while others want to learn everything and take advantage of all the tours and programs. 

Do you know what novaculite it? It is the Arkansas rock used to make whetstone (for sharpening knives and tools). The mountains here are full of it. It's part of the geology that contributes to the hot springs. The next time you see me, be sure to ask for a sample. I carry some with me. 


Hot Springs National Park 
A different kind of park 

Hot Springs National Park is one of the 50 special areas of the United States that have been set aside and called parks. It is the smallest of the National Parks at just a little over 5,000 acres and it is the only one in an urban setting, When people find the visitor center- a large bathhouse in the center of a block of bathhouses, they ask, "Where is the park?" They are told that they are IN the park. 

The campground two miles away is wooded, pretty and far enough away from the city to seem like a National Park campground. But it is small (47 sites), there is no ranger on duty and there is nothing to see there. There are some nice hiking trails and one of those leads across Hot Springs Mountain to the Fordyce visitor center and downtown Hot springs. 

A little history: 
At one time (before 1830), the water from the 47 springs flowed freely from the base of Hot Springs Mountain into the creek which is now routed under Central Avenue. Steam arose mystically and the only vegetation that grew around the springs was algae -especially the rare blue-green strain. 

This land was part of the Louisiana Purchase and as soon as word spread about the springs here, many came to bathe. The original bathers sat in the creek or in the holes by a spring but it didn't take long to realize that a bathtub was a better way to enjoy the water. 

In 1832 our Government decided that this area needed to be preserved to protect the waters and make them available to everyone. They set aside the springs and the surrounding mountains and called it Hot Springs Reservation. This was our nation's first idea of a national park - a full 40 years before Yellowstone was made a national park. By the late 1800's , the area at the base of Hot Springs Mountain was plotted, land was leased to bathhouse owners, the springs were covered to prevent contamination and an elaborate plumbing system was put in place to collect the water and distribute it to the bathhouses as needed. Only two springs were left in their natural state. 

The Government and the bathhouse owners wanted to attract bathers here and it was decided that this could best be accomplished by imitating the spas of Europe. To beautify the area, top soil was brought in to cover the bare rock where the hot water once flowed. Trees were planted, a promenade was built, a tunnel was made for the creek, a road built over it and Magnolia trees were planted along the street. The whole area was changed over a period of time so that there is little of the original beauty remaining. 

There is another kind of beauty- the bathhouses-which are grand. The Fordyce was the most elegant of these-the fourth generation of bathhouses on bath house row. 

When one enters the Fordyce, they are in the lobby of the bathhouse just as it was when it was built in 1915. A ranger or volunteer will greet you from behind the counter and tell you about the movie in the theater every half hour. That movie covers the history of the area in less than 20 minutes. You will be given the floor plan of the building so that you can tour all three floors. The first floor is the bathing area. Large porcelain tubs in private cubicles line the walls. There is much marble, stained glass and tile. The men's bath hall is exquisite. It is much larger than the women's (men controlled the money and did more of the bathing) The ceiling of the menus area is stained glass and there is a large fountain in the center of the bath hall. 

The second floor consists of dressing rooms, massage areas, and two exhibit rooms. These help explain the history and geology of the area. 

The third floor contains the gymnasium, staterooms, beauty parlor, music room and parlors. The entire length of the music room ceiling is stained glass and the floor is tile. The furnishings are magnificent. 

You will also be informed of the guided walks back to the display springs. On this walk you will learn that rain water filters down through the novaculite on the mountains at about one foot per year until it reaches a depth of about 4,000 feet. Pressure builds and the heated water finds an escape into the sandstone faults. It comes to the surface fast (in about one year) so it retains the heat it acquired on the way down. There are no geysers - just gently flowing hot water. This 4,000 year old water flows at a rate of 750,000 to 950,000 gallons per day and is controlled by the park service. The whole bath procedure is controlled by the park also. This is a throw back to when physicians governed the proper healing procedures. How long you sit in the tub, the temperature of the water and so on are dictated by the park. 

Yes, this is a different National Park, but we hear all the time from those who take the time to learn-that it is the most interesting. It is about a time in our history that has long vanished and we are thankful that the park preserved it. 


This 'N That
by Barb

One day I was on the third floor of the bathhouse doing my job as a roving interpreter when a man walked into the room and kissed me. Honest!!! I had seen him coming toward me out of the corner of my eye, but I was talking to other visitors. After I regained my composure, I recognized Cal McGee and his wife, Liz. These friends are full-timers we met last spring in Texas. Since they get our newsletter and knew where we were, they thought they would surprise us on their way back to Texas. They had spent the summer working at a campground in Lake Placid, New York. After a nice dinner and lots of conversation, we said “good-bye” again. I hate the “good-byes” but I sure love all of the wonderful friends we have all over the United States. 

Did you know that we had to survive the budget crises too? October 6, 7 and 8 found us out of a job along with all the federal employees. We had just had our two days off and were rested. We really wanted to work. The employees like missing three days either - it hurt their pocketbook. We felt bad for them and also for all the visitors who couldn't see the bathhouse and take the tours. Our campground did remain open so we didn't have to move like they did in the Smokies and other places. 

I have learned a lot about taking care of a museum since we have been here. Just this week, they changed all of the clothing that was on display in the dressing rooms, cloak room and state rooms from summer to winter. It does look better since summer is gone. 

I really miss summer. I hate the fact that it gets dark so early. At least it is nice and warm here. It's a lot like Indian summer in Michigan here now. 

This is the longest that we have been in one place since March 31, 1989 when we went on the road. It is nice to get to know a grocery store and we really are feeling right at home at church too. 

Sometime in these next few weeks, we get to decide where we are going to go next. We had planned to get right out to San Diego so we could go to the Rose Bowl with Chuck Fisher. That offer was contingent on Michigan playing in the Rose Bowl. They're not, so we won't. I'd like to spend Christmas back at Meadowcreek Campground in Mission, Texas, but we will take a look at the map and see where else we might be interesting too. 

Halloween is getting to be a big holiday. It used to be hard to come up with costumes and scary things for my most fun holiday (I had to go to special costume shops). Now one can buy anything - anywhere and there are good scary TV shows now. I like that. 

It is Halloween as I write this. I took the day off to finish the newsletter. Halloween in a campground is just like any other day. I do have lots of nice decorations on the awning thanks to friend Nancy Joy who sent them to me. I also have lots of Halloween cards from good friends. Thanks!!!! 

Ron went to work this morning and I kissed him “ good-bye” for the first time in 19 months. I really miss him today. He is my best friend. 

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and we have been invited to Rangers Paul and Deb Pfennenger's house for dinner. Paul just got a promotion and they will be moving to Yosemite about the same time we leave here. They have told us that we will get special treatment whenever we get to Yosemite. They are a nice, young couple. The park service is lucky to have them because they are very talented. I hope we get to work as volunteers there some day because they are great to work for too. 

 
Copyright © 1999, Movin' On with Ron & BarbTM- All Rights Reserved

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