Hot Springs Everywhere

Twelve Mile Circle has featured hot springs before. There was Hot Springs, Virginia in Taking a Bath. There was Hot Springs County, Wyoming and its county seat of Thermopolis in The Largest Smallest US County. Geothermal activities existed in many places and I’d taken notice plenty of times. Nonetheless I was mildly surprised when I spotted a virtual visitor dropping onto the site from Hot Springs, South Dakota. I’d not heard of that one before. I wondered how many places were named Hot Springs — just Hot Springs and not Something-or-Another-Hot Springs — scattered around the continent wherever warm water bubbled from deep below. There were many. Some of them were even worth mentioning.

These towns dated back to an earlier age when natural hot springs were a much bigger attraction than they are today. Eventually even budget accommodations like the Super 8 and Motel 6 installed hot tubs that plugged into wall sockets. However, back at the dawn of American settlement, hot waters warmed by the earth as if by magic seemed wondrous.

Hot Springs, Arkansas

View of Batthouse Row from Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas
View of Batthouse Row from Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs, Arkansas by Ken Lund, on Flickr (cc)

I supposed I should start with the obvious one, Hot Springs, Arkansas. If anyone mentioned Hot Springs, chances were good that this would be the one. It had been a resort town for most of two centuries and even today boasted thousands of residents. Hot Springs was the oldest Federal reserve in the United States, set aside for future generations all the way back in 1832 before becoming a full-fledged National Park in 1921.

Hot springs in the middle of town? Water. That’s what first attracted people, and they have been coming here ever since to use these soothing thermal waters to heal and relax. Rich and poor alike came for the baths, and a thriving city built up around the hot springs. Together nicknamed "The American Spa," Hot Springs National Park today surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

One of the most interesting features was Bathhouse Row, a collection of eight buildings constructed in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. (map). Each one had been designed with increasing opulence by entrepreneurs competing with each other to attract the most visitors searching for curative waters.

Hot Springs, South Dakota

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs-12
The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs-12 by Gouldy99, on Flickr (cc)

I figured I should look at Hot Springs, South Dakota next since that was the one that started me down this tangent. The site went back in history although it didn’t seem to catch-on as a spa town.

Called Minnekahta (warm waters) by the original white settlers in 1879, the town’s name was changed to Hot Springs in 1886. Earlier, the Lakota and the Cheyenne Indian tribes fought for control of the natural warm waters. Legends tell of a hostile encounter waged in the hills high above the gurgling springs on a peak called Battle Mountain.

A more recent find actually fascinated me more, the Mammoth Site discovered in the 1970’s when a new housing development was being built on the edge of town (map). Excavators stumbled upon the remains of a karst sinkhole that had once been a spring during the Pleistocene era about 26,000 years ago. Megafauna, particularly Columbian and Woolly Mammoths, occasionally wandered too far into the spring and couldn’t escape. Their skeletons were beautifully preserved where they died. It remains an active archaeological site.

Hot Springs, North Carolina

lover's leap - hot springs, north carolina
lover's leap – hot springs, north carolina by sarahriceNC, on Flickr (cc)

Hot Springs were discovered in the early days of settlement after the American Revolution where Spring Creek fed into the French Broad River in North Carolina. It became a spa town and a resort built around the springs continues to operate at that location in the modern era (map). It may be better known, however, as a stopping point on the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail was built through the town of Hot Springs over seven decades ago, and today white blazes still mark the path through town and over the bridge across the French Broad River, before heading north up to the vista, Lover’s Leap. The Trail is unequivocally intertwined with the town – it is the first town, headed on a northbound hike, through which the Trail literally overlaps the town’s main street.

I imagine a dip in the hot springs might feel pretty good to a thru-hiker who has already marched hundreds of miles on foot along the mountaintops.

Hot Springs, Nevada

Hot Spring, Nevada

The actual town of Hot Springs, Nevada ceased to exist a long time ago. It is a ghost town: "As near as one can tell, the doctor closed up shop in the mid-1870s and no other interest emerged in the area. Today absolutely nothing remains of the wooden bathhouse but the hot springs are going strong." A park for Recreational Vehicles, Bailey’s Hot Springs, later occupied the site and continues to serve travelers. According to the website, "Hot Mineral Baths [are] Included" — a nice perk for those wanting to park an RV overnight.

Natural Forces: Nuclear

My series on Natural Forces seems to be a dud based on the (lack of) comments which are usually rather robust in terms of both quantity and quality on the Twelve Mile Circle. It goes to show that I have no idea which articles will resonate with an audience, which probably also explains why 12MC readership is rather modest compared to lots of other sites.

The bad news is that I kind-of like the topic so I’m going to complete it. The good news is that the final two natural forces need to be combined into one due to lack of content so this will be the final article in the series. We’ll get back to a new bunch of geo-oddities in a couple of days.

Those final forces of nature are strong nuclear forces and weak nuclear forces. It’s pronounced nuclear not nucular. It’s like someone grating on a blackboard whenever I hear it pronounced "nucular," with apologies to actually, more than one former President of the United States. Sorry about that pet peeve mini-rant.

I can’t possibly begin to describe the difference between the two forces (except that one is "strong" and the other "weak") much less find any distinct towns named accordingly. I blame it on my liberal arts education. Actually, I couldn’t find a single populated place named Nuclear or some variation thereof in any of the official place names databases of the largest English-speaking nations. There’s always radioactivity of course but we’ve already covered that one rather extensively. I did find the names of a whole series of nuclear power plants of course, but I felt that was probably cheating and defeated the entire premise of the exercise.

No, I did not find a town but I did find a curious lake outside of Poughkeepsie, New York.

View Larger Map

Nuclear Lake? That’s seemed like an odd name and I figured there had to be an interesting backstory. I also noticed a dotted-line on the map running along the western shore of Nuclear Lake. I switched it from terrain mode to map mode, zoomed in and discovered that this was the famous Appalachian Trail. Thus, anyone collecting counties along the trail or otherwise hiking the AT from one end to another (like Steve from CTMQ has done) would have to strolled directly along the shores of Nuclear Lake.

View Larger Map

Here’s the scary part, and I think the title of a 1986 article in the Los Angeles Times says it all: New York Trail Includes Site of Plutonium Spill…

Hikers who stray from a new stretch of the Appalachian Trail may emerge from the oaks and laurel to find a shining lake echoing with the honks of Canada geese. To get there, however, they would have to surmount a rocky spine of land that hides the lake from the trail and pass signs posted every 50 feet bearing an ominous warning: “Property of U.S. Government. No Entry Beyond This Point. Potential Radioactive Danger.” United Nuclear operated the complex, a private research facility licensed by the government to experiment with bomb-grade uranium and plutonium, from 1958 to 1973. In 1972, the surrounding woods were contaminated when a chemical explosion scattered radioactive plutonium dust, considered by scientists to be the most toxic form of plutonium because of the threat of lung cancer if inhaled. The plant was closed, the plutonium was cleaned up, truckloads of contaminated soil were carried away.

Nuclear Lake does indeed have a nuclear connection. It may or may not have been contaminated at one time and it may or may not have been completely cleaned-up. It’s still somewhat controversial and a cause for concern for many people.

It looks like I won’t be hiking the Appalachian Trail anytime soon. Yes, that’s the reason… plutonium spill. It may have contaminated all 2,181 miles. Right. I’ll just keep telling myself that.

Appalachian Trail Counties

For a long time I’ve wondered what would happen if a county counter hiked the Appalachian Trail. I know that’s not a normal curiosity but I’m not the type of person to let my mind wander in the same direction as everyone else. I am not interested in walking the Appalachian Trail. I am sure the wonders and hardships a hiker would experience on this truly memorable personal journey of physical endurance would provide a lifetime of memories. I think it’s a great thing, but it’s just not for me. I don’t even want to drive that far. No I simply wanted to see what the map would look like after someone might complete the hike, so I created one.

Appalachian Trail Route

A more useful map, and an interactive one to boot, is provided by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The Appalachian Trail, officially the Appalachian National Scenic Trail but sometimes shortened all the way down to AT, stretches an impressive 2,179 miles (3,507 kilometres) through fourteen states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Thru-hikers will attempt to cover every mile in a single season. Most of them will fail. Generally, but not always, they will start in Georgia and hike north. They’ll catch the warmth of a southern spring at the beginning their journey and avoid the worst of the summer heat later on. This feat of endurance can last five or six months, or even longer.

If a thru-hiker is a purist (e.g., sticks to the white paint blazes with no shortcuts) — and for this exercise let’s call him oh I don’t know, maybe let’s call him Steve — then Steve would be able to mark 87 counties on his county counting map. If he were a county counter. Which he’s not.

I could focus attention on any of those 87 counties but I think I’ll select only one of them as the closest thing to an AT geo-oddity: Jefferson County, West Virginia.

The Trail Crosses a Road in WV

  • West Virginia hosts the shortest segment of the trail. Only 4 miles (6 km) of the trail crosses completely within West Virginia. An additional 20 miles (32km) runs along a shared border with neighboring Virginia. Even with that, West Virginia has fewer miles than any other Appalachian Trail state.
  • The entirety of the 4 miles can be found in Jefferson County.
  • It passes right through the historic town of Harpers Ferry.
  • It’s the easiest place along the trail where one can reasonably expect to be in three states in a single day.

It’s also the only segment of the Appalachian Trail that I’ve ever hiked.