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Posts Tagged ‘Hot Springs AR’

Traveling the Backroads, I stumble across many interesting little places that you will not find along the interstate highways. Scattered around the Southeast are small public springs and artesian wells where the public is free to take water. I’m not talking about  springs where you go swimming, but places where you drink the water.

One of the most famous, though hardly off the beaten path, is Hot Springs, Arkansas. People have enjoyed its healing waters for thousands of years. About one million gallons of water flow daily from forty seven springs. This  is ancient water which fell as rain some 4,000 years ago and percolated slowly through the Earth’s crust, finally to emerge from the depths at 147 degrees Fahrenheit, rich in minerals. Over the past one hundred fifty years, bathhouses have been constructed over the springs, and various health treatments have been offered to supplement the waters. Although the popularity of bathhouses has declined, people still flock here every day. Many do no more than fill water bottles at the public spigots. I once encountered a hale senior citizen whose car trunk was full of gallon jugs. He told me that this water is what keeps him alive and healthy, and he is not alone in this contention. I go out of my way to visit Hot Springs and take some of its health with me.

Over in Oklahoma, along Highway 259 in the Ouachita National Forest, is a small roadside park called Pipe Springs. The place has a history I will not relate here. Today it is visited only by the few who pause to picnic, climb the nature trail, and drink the water. This spring is no more than a pipe sticking out of the rocks which emits a steady stream of sweet water. It is not much to look at, but the water is well worth stopping for.

Back East, somewhere in the Carolinas on Rt. 15, is another little park whose name I do not know. An artesian well gushes from the ground through pipes. Here you will always find a line of people with their water cans ready. They seem to be mostly local people who know the value of the tasty mineral water, but there are a few like me who have wandered by and taken the time to stop. The water is good.

One of my favorite places is Healing Springs, near the antique town of Blackville, SC. I often overnight at the nearby Barnwell State Park, which is a comfortable days’ drive between my home and other destinations. I was told of this place by a park ranger and I make the pilgrimage about once a year. Native Americans considered this spring to be sacred and they would bathe here when they were sick or injured. During the American Revolution, as the story goes, four British soldiers were brought here by friendly Indians for this purpose. The men had been mortally wounded in battle. Two able bodied men had been left to care for them and bury them when they died.  Six months later, the soldiers rejoined their garrison in Charleston, healthy and ready to resume action.

Since that time, ownership of the springs passed from the red man to the white man. In 1944, the last owner deeded the property to God, so that the water could be enjoyed freely by all people. This is a legally recognized deed. The place cannot be sold without God’s signature. An adjacent church maintains the park, called God’s Acre, which is no more than a couple of picnic tables and several pipes in the ground. Each pipe has four branches from which a generous stream of water continually flows. What is not collected in people’s bottles spills into a picturesque little creek. Healing Springs is visited daily by folks of all walks of life, some of whom swear to the healing power of its waters. I always take some home to my loved ones.

These waters have diverse histories and their taste is different depending on their mineral content. They may or may not have purported or scientifically proven virtues, but the one thing I have found in common in all these places is the friendliness and good will of the people I encounter there. None of them know me and few of them know one another, but they will engage in cheerful conversation. It’s as though, coming together to share a gift from the Earth, people find a common connection that goes beyond ethnicity, social class, or religious affiliation. Is it the magic of the waters? Or is it something much deeper that finds a bond among our souls? At Healing Springs, especially, parting is frequently accompanied by a heart felt, “May God Bless.”

There is another, very unlikely place that I consider it to be one of the friendliest I have found to take water.  DeFuniak Springs is a little town in the Florida panhandle, built around a spring-fed lake which is ringed by a public park. A street encircling the lake and park is lined with Victorian era houses. This is a popular place for locals to jog or walk. But what I find most interesting here is not the park, and the water I take is not from the lake. At the sidewalk in front of one of the houses is a water fountain inviting one to stop and take a drink. A sign posted behind the fountain quotes, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” Although no food has ever been evident, I almost never fail to stop by for a few minutes to take a few sips of water.  Usually I am the only one there, but I feel a connection with others who stop by and with the owner of the house who has extended hospitality to strangers, many like me just passing through, some who may never return.

So when you travel, slow down and explore the back roads and out of the way places. Don’t be afraid to stop or take time to visit. You, too, may find yourself partaking of the gifts of the Earth or sharing the hospitality of strangers.

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