Friday, April 2, 2010

Hot Springs I Have Known and Loved

The hot springs in my life have gotten progressively harder to get to and yet my fondness for them has only increased with time. Here they are in order from first visited to last.

Ainsworth: Anyone who has lived in the West Kootenay region of BC's interior knows Ainsworth Hot Springs. It's the place to be on a snowy winter evening (especially after a day of skiing). The horseshoe-shaped natural cave is filled with waist-deep water and has a couple stifling pocket caverns at the back of the "u" where the the real hardcore heat-seekers sweat it out. The rest of the leisure soakers meander through the cave and settle in the outside pool overlooking Kootenay Lake. The cave thrilled me as a child in the 80s. I'd doggy paddle the whole way, refusing to touch the sandy floor with my feet, shrieking and gulping until we'd emerge from the oppressive heat to the cool night air and I'd beg to do it again.

St. Leon's
St. Leon's: I discovered these springs in high school on a trip to my municipal library to find out about natural, hike-in hot springs in my area. St. Leon's quickly became my favorite and I frequented this paved pool in the woods as often as I could get my hands on a car and friend willing to camp out with me. Hot water comes straight out of the mountain into an upper rock pool and is piped into the lower pool (shown here). These springs were once a destination for the original tourists in the area who would come up the lake in a paddle wheeler, stay at a long burned down hotel, and ride to the springs to take the waters for their curative effects.

Yellowstone: I spent a summer on a 20,000 acre organic guest farm in southwestern Montana; the property borders Yellowstone National Park, which means grizzly bears galore and plenty of petrified wood. Montana speed limits being what they are, a whopping 75 miles an hour in rural areas, allowed me and my fellow co-workers to make it to the park between shifts to hike the trails around some of the springs. They're far too hot to soak in, but a technicolor eyeful for sure. The tales of unfortunate tourists straying from well-trodden paths and ending up boiled kept us from searching for soaking springs.

Pagosa Springs: After spending two weeks in the Utah desert in 2001, I found these springs to be a welcome roadside attraction in southwestern Colorado. In the change room shower the water ran red with 14 days worth of desert dirt and the warm tap water felt like a novel luxury. Therefore, the numerous pools (all set at different temperatures) and the view over the river felt downright extravagant. I remember wishing we could wash our clothes there too. 

Puna Steam Vents: A few years ago I was spending time on an organic noni farm on the big island of Hawaii. I had no electricity, no vehicle, and only one friend for company. Needless to say, doing laundry in catchment barrels and heading down the road to the steam vents were the highlights of our evenings.  The vents are like small claustrophobic crevices in the hilly ground. The eastern side of the island gets a serious amount of rain (over 200" annually) and the steam occurs when this rainwater soaks through the rocks and is heated by lava flowing beneath the surface. Depending on the cavern, there may be a ladder to climb down, a plank to sit on, red cockroaches, male tourist couples, or lone locals to contend with.

Hot Springs Cove
Hot Springs Cove: I am somewhat partial to this spot in Clayoquot Sound on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island as I first visited these springs on the week-long trip where my husband and I got engaged. Accessible only by boat, these are the only hot springs I've been to that are right on the ocean. The water runs out of a steaming creek, over a small waterfall that you can stand beneath, and into successively cooler pools all the way down to the sea.