After a fabulous two-course breakfast with the soothing burble of the Manor’s rock fountain in the background, and an opportunity to visit with Jennifer’s dad Steve (a Hot Springs lawyer and title company owner), we were once again ready to head into the charming downtown area. As we headed toward the centrally located free parking garage we actually passed the office of the realtor whom Steve had recommended for our search for retirement properties here, so we stopped in to start the process.
Chris Rix has a small two-story office tucked away on Exchange Street, and he has left the early-1900's space very evocative of the time of its construction. After our ascent of the steep staircase to his office, the mutual brain-picking began: his of us to determine the budget, type of property and likes/dislikes that would play into our decision-making, and ours of him to ascertain where we could do a little sleuthing on our own for just the right neighborhood feel that we are looking for.
Hot Springs is an eclectic jumble of architectural styles, ranging from high Victorian elegance to sadly abandoned Art Deco to the turn of the 19th century grandeur of Bathhouse Row. All of the bathhouses save two have been re-purposed from their original salutary functions to such establishments as a brew pub/restaurant (the gelato alone is worth going in!) and the headquarters/Information Center of the local National Park Service. (Gary fell in love with the rocking chairs dispersed around the Center’s indoor lobby, to the point where I wasn’t sure I would be able to get him up and moving again!)
Oddly enough, Central Avenue through downtown actually divides the Hot Springs National Park, so one has to be extremely careful about which side of the street one wants to commit mayhem on. If you choose the west side it may only constitute a misdemeanor, but acting out on the east side could land one in the federal slammer!
We did the self-tour of the Information Center, which has preserved the bathhouse fixtures throughout. I have to admit, some of the devices intended to improve one’s health present the aspect of medieval instruments of torture! But I suppose that, back in the day, if one had exhausted all the remedies that the medical arts could afford for one’s ailments, you would agree to be subjected to just about anything in the hope of regaining your strength and well-being.
Our next objective was the Observation Tower perched atop the mountain in the east portion of the Park, so we began the drive up the tortuous series of switchbacks that comprise the road to the summit. The views from the various turnouts were by turns impressive and lush, but the vista when we finally achieved the upper level of Tower was enormous. I was tickled to hear a little girl who had ridden up the elevator with us tell her mother that she could see their house (in Louisiana!) from there.
Wending our way back down to town, we elected to head back south in order to scope out the environs of the thoroughbred race track as Chris had suggested. Again we were met by the dichotomy in style and quality of housing that we had noted earlier, changing literally from one street to the next. Returning to the downtown area we tooled around the area to the west of downtown where some of the Arts and Crafts style homes we love can be found. We made notes using the map that Chris had provided; he is going to be one busy young man when he gets the email with all our discoveries for his investigation!
By this time we were ready for some down time, so it was back to Central Avenue for a tasty lunch in the Superior Bathhouse and Brewery - remember the gelato reference? This is where we indulged in our favorite flavor, which offered a rich chocolate base with an overlay of cinnamon and a finish of cayenne (really!) - Amazing!
We had been observing some odd vehicles called “Ducks” that were transporting us tourist types around and, after a conversation with, and advice from, a nice young lady at the storefront where tickets could be purchased, we opted for joining the last ride of the day on one of these rolling oddities at 7:30. We had been clued in to ask for a certain driver by a young mom while on the deck of the Observation Tower, but even after asking while obtaining tickets, we weren’t sure that we would be on his Duck; it was the luck of the draw…
A brief respite back at the Manor had us refreshed and ready for our Duck adventure, so we dutifully reported at 7:20 and climbed aboard the waiting open-air vehicle to await the rest of our fellow passengers and, more importantly, the driver of this beast. Once all were accounted for, we began our graceless but steady progress southward through town toward Lake Hamilton. The driver was a raucously witty raconteur of local history, with a 90-to-nothing spiel that flowed effortlessly from his lips over the primitive PA system in the Duck. As we learned more about him, we found that we had indeed "lucked" into riding with the exact driver we had been advised to look for!
Kevin had been, in various adult incarnations, a war correspondent for the AP, a high school history teacher in Hot Springs, a Coast Guard Captain and most recently a Duck Driver. All of these careers had made him uniquely qualified to trundle tourists around the Hot Springs area, as the Duck is not only a land conveyance, but a sea- (or at least lake-) going vessel as well.
The name DUKW comes from the model naming terminology used by GMC, the creators of these hybrid behemoths:
- "D", designed in 1942]
- "U", "utility"
- "K", all-wheel drive
- "W", dual rear axles
One more note about the Duck itself: Since they were designed and manufactured during WWII for use in both the European and Pacific theaters, all the Ducks (some 22,000+) were put together by women – you go, girls! Sadly, only about 700 of these ungainly creatures remain and, of those, only about 200 are still in any kind of use. The remainder were sunk off the coasts of England and the Philippines after the cessation of hostilities.
Kevin bought us all back safe and sound to the debarkation site across from the iconic Arlington Hotel, after we had been out into Lake Hamilton where we “oohed” and “aahed” over the various celebrity homes that line its shore, and had many a good belly laugh along the way. While some may think it a little bit cheesy, the Duck Tour was a hugely entertaining way to end our first full day in America’s first National Reservation (established in 1843).
We drove back to our lovely pied-a-terre at the Manor with an enormous yellow moon to light our way; another relaxing, yet productive day.