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Hot Water

June 17, 2019

One of the retired bathhouses

I Love Hot Springs!

Remember how I went to Ojo Caliente? And remember how quiet and relaxing it was to lay in the New Mexico sun all day long, dipping in and out of mineral pools?

I realized I would be heading through northern Arkansas and decided to make a trip to Hot Springs National Park, the weirdest national park. No, it is. It has the typical wilderness kinds of areas, but is also part of a town, and commercial hot springs are mixed in with the national park in the town, and it is all very confusing.

In the middle of this cute little town, I found 2 baths still operating, and discovered they were the only way to bathe in the hot springs. Ok, fine.


A retired bathhouse lobby is now a nice air-conditioned place for a sit on a hot summer day.

Taking the Plunge

I picked one, stood in line and paid my money, choosing the most modest package of services. A trip up a creaky elevator took me to the second floor, where ladies only are allowed.

Some laconic looking workers told me to have a seat in a changing room. The other ladies and I sat in a row. Some were in sheets wrapped like togas. No one had told me to bring a toga. Was I supposed to bring a sheet?

No, because soon enough a woman ordered me into a changing booth and told me to lock my clothes and belongings in a locker and wait, naked, with my back to the booth’s curtain. She soon came along and wrapped my corpus into a toga, too, then ordered me back to wait in the line of chairs.

Shut Up, Suebob

Time passed quickly because I started talking with the lady next to me. We started talking racial politics and though she was black and I was white, I was far more radical than her. We were deep in conversation and I was just about to say “Respectability politics are bullshit!” when I realized two things: 1) the lady was calling me for my bath and 2) the other six white women had all stopped their conversations to gape at mine. Um…Read “So You Want to Talk About Race?” Bye!

Where are the Mineral Pools?

A woman named LaToya led me into an exceptionally hot, noisy and wet room. Women were lying on what looked like physical therapy tables, covered in sheets with towels draped over them. I was taken into one of a row of booths along the marble walls. The booth had a large bathtub already filled with hot water and a thing the size and shape of an outboard motor in it.

Huh. I guess this was a different kind of mineral spa. It looked for all the world like a 1900-era sanitorium.

She told me to step up on a stool and into the water as she deftly removed my toga with one move. I got in the tub, but she had obviously calculated the amount of water on a woman of…smaller stature, because when I plunked my large ass into the mineral water, a tsunami of water cascaded over the edges of the tub and onto the floor, adding another inch of water to the already sodden tiles. It was truly impressive. I could hear the ghost of Archimedes laughing.

Mind Your Toes

She gave me some instructions and turned on the outboard motor, which turned out to be the bubble machine. The one instruction LaToya neglected to give me was to keep my feet away from the intake, because that thing sucked onto my foot so hard, and LaToya was already gone. After a panicked second, I jerked my foot away from the evil sucker, inspecting it to make sure there was no lasting damage.

I perched in the pool and breathed in the scalding air as the other outboard motors cranked away around me. A large clock ticked away on the wall. LaToya had told me I had 20 minutes and she then would come get me.

She also brought me two tiny cups of mineral water. Hot mineral water. “Sip on that,” she told me. Ok, that’s just weird. She also came in and gave my legs and back a very perfunctory scrub with a loofah they had given me at the front counter. I had expected some Korean-level exfoliation, but nope.

Not for Germaphobes

Once my 20 minutes were up, LaToya again wrapped me in my sheet and led me to a soaking wet physical therapy table. She squeegeed off the table with the side of one hand and told me to sit there and wait.

I watched the proceedings as I cooled. LaToya and another attendant worked – literally feverishly – to serve the never-ending parade of bathers. In a precise, sweaty ballet, they moved toga-clad women from one treatment to another.

An ever-flowing faucet delivered a powerful stream of steaming water into a large tub sink. The attendants would come over, grab a clean, rolled towel, and saturate the towels in this straight-from-the-spring 143 degree (62C) water, then wring them out with powerful hands.

It was these towels that LaToya laid on my table, then had me lie down on, yelping at the scald. She put a cold towel on top of my head and gave me a cup of ice to suck on. I laid there and steamed for another 15 minutes.

Following that, I also had the option of a sitz bath (a bath for your butt, basically) and a steam bath (looking for all the world like an industrial kitchen steam cabinet), but I was hot enough, so I just got the “needle shower” (about 20 seconds in a shower with nozzles on all sides that had probably been needle-like in 1920, but which now just dribbled out a pathetic stream).


Another old bathhouse. They are so elegant. Gangsters, baseball players and Mae West were notable guests.

Sweet Release

And that was it. I was free. I tipped LaToya a lot because damn, that is one hard-working woman and she had to see me nekkid several times. I squeezed my damp self back into my clothes and descended the creaky elevator.

I went outside and sat on an Adirondack chair on the porch for a minute, wondering “What the hell just happened?”

It was hot. It was weird. But on the other hand, my muscles felt great for a couple days, and my skin was softer and silkier than it had been for decades.


It LOOKS relaxing!




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