nestled way back in the mountains of madison county, deep in the pisgah national forest, lies a tiny, little mountain town named hot springs. there’s not much there. a railroad track – which is still in use multiple times throughout the day and night (as experienced while camping at night when the low, rumbling, clacking of the train over the tracks woke me from my slumber in my cozy tent). a few restaurants. a small library. a church. an outfitters store and a vintage/used store. and a post office. a creek runs under the main street, creating two separate blocks. and a few homes lie on some small streets just off of the main road. but, that’s about it. even with a population of only about 600, though, it’s a friendly place, bustling with movement + people – most of who have come to stay at the campground/resort or who are passing through, needing a little break from their trek in the woods or their ride through the mountains. of course, the real draw for hot springs is just that… its hot springs.
hot springs has been a destination spot for years, since the 1800s to be exact. of course, the land has been used much longer than that. native americans gathered in the area to use the healing powers of the hot springs, conducting ceremonies and rituals. some time int he 1700s colonists began coming to the area to heal the ailments and sicknesses. at the tun of the century, a white colonist had purchased the land (from whom, i don’t know?! hopefully he didn’t just “take” it and claim it his), and began making money from visitors coming to experience the healing powers of the area.
soon there were hotels and people flocked there for resort vacations. a place catering to the rich in the midst of a poor, rural part of north carolina. big money at work, capitalism at its best, in the 1800s. somehow, as i type this, i find myself feeling more and more irritated at the way the people claim and use the land for their own profit, instead of keeping it wild + free.
then, the history takes an even darker turn, in my opinion. in 1917. the hotel was leased to the federal government where it became internment camp for hundreds of german merchant sailors captured in u.s. harbors when war was declared. according to the hot springs website, “the internees were treated well by the townspeople, and several returned to visit after the war.” let’s hope so. i will say that while were there camping, each night we talked about the old german prisoners of wars’ souls… are they still around? haunting and wandering?
after the war, things weren’t the same. the hotel never regained its glory (good!), and hot springs was almost forgotten way back there in those magical, healing mountains.
today, as people seek to get back in touch with nature + with the mystical, healing waters that flow through the area, hot springs is again a tourist destination. but, it without that upper-class feel. yes, there is a resort with a spa and some mineral baths, places to get in the 100 degree springs, but it is not over-the-top. the town is simple and cozy. and the campground keeps those seeking a real, wild, natural experience coming back. hiker walk through the town on their 2100 mile hike from georgia to maine on the appalachain trail. rafters shoot the rapids and float in the river. and people seeking a few days of rest, peace, simplicity + grounding come here to renew their spirit + tap into their inner wild side.
and that is exactly what i experienced.