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The Long Road to Idaho: The Montana Sessions

Breakfast of Champions, Ten Degree Air Temperature, The Boiling River Hot Springs, To Idaho

sunny 10 °F

Saturday February 4th: Elk, Hot Springs, Bozeman, and a Return to Idaho

I woke up before 6 a.m. It seemed excessively early, but I got up anyway. My plan was to head down to Yellowstone national park to take a soak in the Boiling River hot spring. I left just after six, stopping at McDonald’s for coffee, and a grocery store bakery for some donuts. It was a breakfast that I have researched extensively. I have run many trial tests, and have decided that this combination meets my high standards for my nutritional needs.

I was heading south, flying fast through the Yellowstone Valley, the sky lightened closer to dawn. A large range of mountains to the east blocked any chance at seeing the sunrise. I listened to my book, sipped my coffee, and I felt good. I love road trips, and my van (Marvin, who is a she) and I have traveled these roads many times. It is to the point where I can say to her, “Marvin! Go to Montana!” and she will take off heading west, smoothly and sweetly. I think she likes road trips as much as I do.

I reached Yellowstone National Park just as the sun was edging over the mountains. A crisp white light lit up the elk eating their breakfast on the distant hillside. I pulled out my national parks pass, showed it to the ranger, and proceeded on into the park.
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I drove slow, watching the foraging elk for a while, before driving to the trailhead to the hot spring. I parked, noting that the temperature was 10 degrees (F), grabbed my backpack, zipped my keys inside and headed up the trail.
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For as many times as I had been here, I’ve never brought my camera. Today is the day to remedy that, and I pull out my camera to photograph my way up the trail. It isn’t long before my fingers are frozen. It is COLD out. My thin down jacket isn’t enough, and I realize that I really didn’t dress properly for the cold. Not a big deal, but I know that I would not last long if I had to spend a lot of time out in the cold. I pick up the pace, and as I near the pools, I see a huge billowing cloud of steam emanating from them. I hike the last 200 yards, rounding around the seep in the earth where the Boiling River emerges from the earth.
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The billowing steam inundates everything, and a thick hoar frost has formed on the boardwalk, wooden rails, and grasses around the river. It’s very beautiful and fragile. I compose a few photos, before my frozen body cannot take anymore, and I head to the first pool. The first pool is in my mind the best pool. For one, it is close to the trail, and when you visit in 10-degree weather, it’s good to be close to the pool. Secondly, it is a lot warmer than the lower pools. Actually, that is not quite right, the lower pools are very nice, but they have more flow from the Gardner River, which sends more cold currents through those pools.
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I strip down. My body is cold, and very clammy to the touch. I’m shivering, and my fingers have lost their dexterity. I manage to get down to my shorts, decide to leave my beanie on my head, and step into the pool. It’s very painful. It hurts, and I have to sit on a rock and pull my legs out of the hot water. I realize that there is probably a hundred degree difference between the air temperature and water temperature. I dip my toes tentatively, and then my ankles finally my knees. I can stand the heat, and I wade out to a good sitting spot and begin to lower myself in.

My first thought, is that this feels amazing. I love hot springs, and this one has always been one of my favorites. Then my nerve center in my chest seems to flicker, like a slight interruption in electric service, and I think to myself that this might not be such a good idea. It feels like there is a thunderstorm going on in my body, and I’m not sure how to feel about it. Hot springs are known for their therapeutic properties, but this seems a little extreme. I figure I either added three years to my life, or took away five. I’m still not sure.
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It was a good soak. I wanted to stay until the first rays of sun hit me, but it was not to be. The conditions were too extreme to last a long time. Either I was overheating, boiled like a potato, or frozen solid. My arm hair would freeze if I left it out of the water for too long. I planned my moves, and got out of the spring. I dried off, put on my socks, boots, shirt and jacket. I left my wet shorts on, as I had planned to change in the van. The park service prohibits nudity at this spring, and it was just as well. I probably would have fallen over trying to hop into my underwear and froze instantly to the ground. Not a pleasant thought.

I began to walk back to the van. My shorts froze. They became a solid chunk of ice that began to wear against my thighs. It hurt, and I realized I probably was going to get frostbitten on my legs if I didn’t hurry up. I looked around for buffalo, and didn’t see any. This was a relief, because I really didn’t want to have to either wait on them to move off the trail, or bi-pass around them.

I saw a bird fly out to a rock in the middle of a river. It was a small bird, and I knew it had to be an American Dipper. For some reason, I see a lot of Dippers here on the Gardner, almost every time I visit. This one seemed to be showing me up, as it took a sip, and then dunked its entire body into the freezing river water before emerging and doing it a second time. I think that its chirping had an offensive tone to it, probably calling me a pansy.

I got back to the van, and changed into my warmest clothes. I put on long johns, jeans, my wool socks, and my Nepali wool sweater with reindeer dancing across the chest. I jumped into the driver’s seat, and pondered my next move. I decided to go to Bozeman to get a bite to eat before I knuckled down and drove the last stretch of highway that separated me from my destination.

I stopped in Bozeman, and was really looking forward to eating at my favorite restaurant. When I pulled in there was a sign that said they were not open until 4 pm. Damn! I opted for Burger Bob’s, which “offers same day service. At Burger Bob’s you get the food you ordered the day you order it.” I can appreciate a man with a sense of humor. I had a burger and a beer (I’m such a dude), and headed back onto the highway. It was a beautiful day to burn some rubber. The sky was blue, and the sun was out. There before me lay hundreds of miles of high plains valleys and mountains. My chariot was running smooth, and a ribbon of asphalt was my golden ticket. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I drove to Kellogg, Idaho some two hundred miles distant. I met my landlord, and moved into my new temporary home. I turned my thoughts to skiing, and settled in for the night.

Posted by Rhombus 18:31 Archived in USA Tagged birds rivers hiking photography trails yellowstone hotsprings montana roadtrips

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