November 12, 2010

Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Hiking up to the tower from Bathhouse Row
Hot Springs National Park is not just about the bathing and historic district. It also protects 5,550 acres of upland forests of short-leaf pine/hickory forests on its lower slopes, red oak forests on the upper slopes, and white oak/scrub oak glades on the summit ridges. It is an oasis of forest in a growing sea of urban development.

The park contains 27 miles of trails in this relatively small park. We hiked the 8.5 mile Sunset Trail Loop, which we thoroughly enjoyed, and will be discussed on the Hikemaster's Trail Description Site soon.

View to the northeast
But, from Bathhouse Row there is a nice little 1/2 mile hike to the top of Hot Springs Mountain, where you can access the viewing tower. You can also drive there. At the top of the 250 foot tower, you get spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs, and the surrounding landscape of central Arkansas. It also has displays on the history of the City of Hot Springs as well.

The view to the north offers a geological lesson. You can view the Ouachita Mountains heading
 off into the distance, with ridge after ridge all parallel to each other. This syncline/anticline topography is associated with compression of the mountain cores due to plate collisions. In this case, it was African colliding with North America some 400 million years ago.

View north, zoomed out a bit
To the northwest, you can view the bowl that makes up Hot Springs Valley, surrounded by the national park. West Mountain (with the radio towers on it) turns north and then curves east to form Music Mountain. This image below shows the entire route of the Sunset Trail, which we did on Wednesday, and will be posted on soon.

View of Hot Springs Valley and West Mountain
The view due west shows Bathhouse Row and the downtown Hot Springs, with West Mountain rising above.

West View
To the southeast, the mountains flatten and in the distance, the flat plains of the Mississippi Valley can be seen. Forests 50 miles east transition from the oak/hickory of the mountains to swamps of bald cypress and tupelo that will be explored soon enough, as well as, old plantations of cotton.

Southeast View
And to the due east, you can see the last ridges of the Ouachita Mountains before they too fade into the flat valleys beyond.

Due east
Of course, you can also look straight down onto the pine/hickory/oak canopy below. Being November, much of the foliage has been lost, so you can also look down through the canopy to the leaf-covered forest floor below.

Canopy View

The view of the canopy from the trail back down the mountain

So, if you do ever end up in Hot Springs, Arkansas you must check out the tower. $7 seemed a bit steep, but the views are unparalleled in the area and is worth the cost. Since you can either walk up to the tower from bathhouse row or drive up, there is no excuse not to go up and see the view.

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