Hot Springs, differs from other regional towns in that it hasn't tarted up its downtown to look like a movie set. It doesn't need to. Several dozen utilitarian yet handsome sandstone structures dominate its center, through which flows the sprightly Fall River.
Battles over the town's thermal pools have caused as much grief as the clamor for gold. Before white settlement, the Sioux drove out the Cheyenne, and later landowners, speculators, and settlers dodged and outwitted each other for ownership of the springs. The disputes ceased in 1890 when Fred Evans incorporated numerous small springs and one mammoth hot-water pool into a spa center. Today, Evans Plunge, on the north edge of town at 1145 N River St (summer Mon– Fri 5.30am–10pm, Sat & Sun 8am–10pm; rest of year Mon– Fri 5.30am–8pm, Sat & Sun 10am–8pm; $11; Tel:605/745-5165), is a popular family-fun center, where three great slides zoom down into the 87° waters.
The unique Mammoth Site on the Hwy-18 bypass is the only in situ display of mammoth fossils in the US (daily mid-May to Aug 8am–8pm; rest of year times vary; $7.50). In 1974, building on a housing project here came to an abrupt halt when a tractor driver unearthed a seven-foot tusk. Paleontologists soon declared that the workers had discovered the 26,000-year-old grave of Columbian and Woolly mammoths – to date, 55 animals, all male, have been found. Inside the dome, fascinating guided tours explain how these ten-ton mammoths, along with camels, bears, and rodents, were trapped in a steep-sided sinkhole (a pond formed by a collapsed underground cave) and were gradually covered by sediment. Complete skeletons are easy to pick out in the excavation site, which is still being uncovered slowly by groups of summer volunteers.
Information for visitors to Hot Springs is available from the old train depot (June– Aug only Mon– Fri 8am–7pm, Sat 8am–6pm, Sun noon–7pm) at 630 N River St. The Super 8, 800 Mammoth St (Tel:605/745-3888 or 1-800/800-8000; Price: $76-100), offers comfortable rooms adjacent to the mammoth site; alternatives include the sumptuous The Flat Iron, 745 N River St (Tel:605/745-6439), which serves great coffee, sandwiches and salads on a sunny terrace or in a cozy dining room, as well as offering five suites upstairs from the restaurant (Tel:605/745-5301; Price: $101–160).