In my last post, I left off with our crew just arriving at the rental condo in Hot Springs. We unloaded our gear, surveyed the bedroom situation and made plans for dinner. During our years of doing these trips, we have finally gotten smart and figured out you can’t eat big meals this many times a day. We generally share meals between two of us or sometimes four of us depending on the size of the platter.
Our evening meal took us to Stubby’s BBQ. My friend Derrill works for Goodyear Tire and Rubber company and always buys us matching shirts for our trips. The shirts say Mancation 2017 and always have the Goodyear logo on them. When we roll in to a BBQ joint wearing matching shirts, heads always turn. People always ask if we work for Goodyear Nascar racing team. I give the same response to any query about the nature of our matching shirts. “No, we are a professional BBQ Eating team.” When the guys at Stubby’s asked about our shirts and I gave them my pat response, the free brisket samples started flowing back across the counter. Let me just say, having traveled all over Texas on our 2013 trip, this was the best Brisket we have since that time. Outstanding performance by Stubby’s on their prime brisket. This is no pot roast masquerading as smoked brisket. A great rub, good smoke flavor, tender and still juicy.
One of the unique menu items we have never encountered before that seems to be a “thing” here is Arkansas is the loaded baked potato. When I say loaded, I mean a potato the size of your head, smothered in baked beans and brisket. Take a look at this yummy goodness. No, I didn’t eat it all in case you were wondering. When visiting Hot Springs, put Stubby’s on your list of places to eat.
The following morning (Saturday) was our first and only full day in Hot Springs. Our morning started with a modest breakfast at a local, family owned place on the main strip. The Pancake Shop is the place for you if you like good pancakes smothered in house made syrup. Put this place on your breakfast list when visiting.
Our next order of business was Hot Springs National Park. Those of you who are fellow park travelers, this place is unlike any other park you have ever visited. Not only is it our smallest park, but it’s odd in the fact that it’s located in a downtown area. You can see on the map below, route 7 runs north / south through the park.
The downtown historic area known as “Bathhouse Row” is on the East side of the road. The visitor center where you get your park stamp, pick up maps and talk to rangers is actually inside one of the old bathhouses known as The Fordyce House. Plan on spending at least an hour going through this visitor center. The stained glass windows, the therapy rooms, the exercise equipment were all really fascinating.
There are probably a dozen bath houses in town, it’s hard to know which one to choose. We wanted to experience the hot, thermal pools without being in a private room where we couldn’t talk to each other. We ended up choosing the Quapaw Baths and Spa. It featured a $10 steam cave experience. You take a shower, then ride the elevator down to the basement. There you enter a literal cave back into the mountain. Inside the cave, a thermal spring is producing steam and heat that keeps the cave at a constant 143 degrees. You sit on wooded benches and begin to sweat within minutes. Don’t worry though, they have water to drink and wooden bowls filled with water that you can dip out with a ladle and pour over yourself. The experience last 20 minutes which is about all you can take. After a second shower, you can enter the main pool area. There are four thermal pools to choose from, ranging from 95 to 104 degrees. This part of the experience costs $20. I highly recommend both experiences but don’t forget your bathing suit and flip-flops.
We had worked up an appetite by this stage of the day. Lounging in the pool can really tax you. After a third shower, we headed outside of town to The Ribcage. This place is literally a camper converted into a food truck. This is the type place we love to visit. The proof was in their outstanding product. Larry and I shared the sampler box and couldn’t begin to eat it all. All four of us could have easily eaten off this. The Rib Cage might be the best pulled pork we have had anywhere in the nation. For sure, top 2 or 3 places. If you like eating at places like Guy Fieri visits on Diners, Drive ins and Dives; This is the place for you.
After lunch, we needed some exercise to kick in the digestive process. We drove back to the downtown area and found a parking spot in the parking garage. I can imagine this place being crazy busy during the summer months. Just beyond the bathhouse row area, there are hiking trails that lead up to Hot Springs Mountain Tower. The hike is very short (.4 mile I’m guessing) but steep in places. The tower has a typical National Park store in the base of it. There you can buy t-shirts, hats and every other logo keepsake imaginable. The elevator to the top of the tower costs $7 per person. The view from the top gives you a 36o degree view of the surrounding area. The elevator and gift shop close at 5:30pm during the off-season so keep that in mind.
Our final dinner that evening was at the famous McClard’s. Every person I had talked to prior to our trip, all the reviews I read, The Food Network and Travel Channel all rave about McClards. I certainly have high appreciation for a place that can stay in business 4 generations. They have been turning our BBQ the same way since 1928. What a great story! Sadly, this turned out to be a classic example of the aforementioned “Tourist BBQ.” It had a great atmosphere with super friends wait staff but we cannot give any love to the meat products they served. Maybe they were having an off night but the 2017 Mancation crew cannot give an endorsement to McClard’s.
That night, we retreated to our condo and did our preliminary packing. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day and wanted to get on the road early Sunday morning. Another successful Mancation is in the books. Since next year is our 10 year anniversary, we are planning on bringing all the wives with us and let them in on our annual shenanigans. We are not sure yet, but we may see what kind of BBQ Florida has to offer.
In summary, Hot Springs National Park and the town of Hot Springs should both be on your visitation list. Hopefully you have some new places to consider eating (or not eating) when you visit. My next post will be in April after our 3 National Park tour of South Florida!