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Hot Water 'n' Goosebumps

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Hot Water 'n' Goosebumps

Hot springs and big trouble


There’s something to be said for hot water, so I guess I will.

I kind of grew up in it. My favorite variety by far being the ‘natural’ sort one could find scattered here and there that, if everything went right, you could have yer ass in without being in trouble at the same time.

My honey ‘n I recently celebrated Mother’s Day, her birthday, and our 39th anniversary by cramming them all into one visit to Quinn’s Hot Springs over in Paradise, Montana. This is referred to as ‘bundling’ and economically makes a heap of sense.

We love the place and as soon as we recuperate from a visit, we wanna go back for more. Just soak, relax, eat and repeat.

After checkin’ in and suitin’ up, bribing Loraine the barkeep with our debit card and discussing ‘possibles’ with the staff at ‘Harwood House’, we found ourselves up to our chins in 98 degree water and working our way up the temperature range, drinking coffee with stuff in it, mullin’ over dinner and gazing at the mountains all gussied up in springtime finery as an intense cross light of sunset applied nature’s color wheel to the clouds and trees. A light wind quartet provided the sound track as my mind opened that trap door of the past and pulled up my very first dip in naturally occurring hot water. Go figure.

It was just prior to the end of my junior year; I was 17 years old and almost ripe in late spring of ’69. Jellystone was freshly reopened for the seasonal rat race liberally peppered with extreme weather disturbances, high altitude sun burns, stupid questions and even stupider answers.

The local kids all looked forward to imitatin’ our predecessors by, among other things, going up to Madison Junction and skinny dipping in ‘Bathtub Hot Pot’ (a ‘hydro-thermal’ feature). It was by then a long-standing therapeutic pastime, spanning fifteen decades, give or take, and included literally thousands of characters, mostly human. If that hot steamy pool of water could talk, well I’d certainly want to give a listen. This was, after all, a sacred tradition. I can easily picture John Colter, after ditching his ‘control freak’ employers Lewis and Clark in 1807 and escaping anti-tourism Indians near Three Forks, taking full advantage of the beneficial effects on his weary hide and sore feet in this very same pool. He would’ve been a fool not to, and he was not one to skip an opportunity. The CCC and WPA even used it to bathe the crews rebuilding the roads back in the Thirties. You can still see the rings they left behind!

The first time you went, no matter if  you were in the ‘age of discovery’ (15-21), or an old fart (anyone past their 20s), it was like a ‘rite of passage’! A newly christened member of a social order that got to wink at one another in common experience. Now I don’t know when it became illegal to partake in this hobby but my first hunch is that it had a lot to do with freeing up more time for the rangers to do it or maybe it was simply out of jealousy as most of these ‘90-day wonders’ were hard pressed to find dates of their own anyways or lacked the imagination to figure it out.

This was a chance to go somewhere in the middle of the night, peel off yer duds and slide into 105 degree water which, during the daytime, was usually littered with Bermuda shorts, knobby knees, mosquito bites, disgruntled kids and Instamatic cameras. Imagine, if you will, a time-lapse composite photo of this ancient portal into the earth’s crust, festooned with the ‘Great American tourist family’ lined up on the boardwalk for the typical vacation album snapshot and completely unaware of the ghost images down in front of a wide and wild assortment of mountain men, mountain movers, movie stars, gamblers, ramblers, lawmen, highwaymen, highway builders, blue collar, white collar and no collar; heads adorned in hard hats, cowboy hats, ball caps, bowlers, beaver skins, and fedoras all up to their chins in hot natural wonder. As I said, if that old pool ever talks... 

My indoctrination into this ‘social elite’ was on a pre-Memorial Day Friday night, just prior to being completely overrun for the summer by ignorant savages from concrete jungles far and wide. A batch of us decided to go see if the park rangers were paying attention. I flashed my ‘Golden Eagle’ pass at an unmanned tollbooth from the back seat of a ‘62 Dodge loaded to the headliner with teenage testosterone and other substances known to the state of California to cause increased birth rates, mirth defects, reckless abandon and lasting memories. We all laughed.

We were followed five (pre-agreed upon) minutes later by a ‘57 Dodge full of good lookin’ teenage prognostication, which was then tailed almost immediately by a ‘55 Olds ‘88’ being whipped to a froth by freshman stupidity.

Fourteen miles in, hangin’ a left at Madison Junction, nonchalantly driving past the ranger station, up past ‘Bathtub’ and around a corner where we could park without alerting “the Authorities” with our brake lights.

I instinctively followed several examples through the woods, stopping to strip down at the edge of the trees (a practice I later abandoned). It looked as though a small laundry had exploded as we turkey-trotted over to this wondrous experience through lichen, moss and buffler poop.

An unmuffled V8 announced the arrival of female adrenalin, who, like us, parked out of sight but being ‘stupid girls’, neatly folded their clothing (in order of removal) on the boardwalk where they got in. We all laughed again.

I leaned back, gazed up at the heavens and gave thanks to the Big Dipper and his little buddy because things were lookin’ pretty darn good at this point. This was one of those cherished snapshots of your life that you can easily borrow from your memory banks. Half a moon backlighting a buttermilk sky while elk, geese and swan talked amongst themselves with sporadic banter and giggles from a dozen high school kids on a field trip to remember. 

Then we heard ‘Murphy’s Law’ coming well over a half mile out, windows down, 8-track blaring ‘Bad Moon on the Rise’ backed up by a quartet of cracking voices, speckled occasionally with grinding gears and random backfires. 

I knew what was next.

Before they even made the parking lot, there were headlights coming up from the ranger station that so eloquently got put on full alert.

As two rangers got out of their truck to have a talk with our four ‘squirrels’, us boys all ran for cover and our clothing. The girls simply got out, put on their things and acted as innocent as the driven snow.

I was busy trying to retrieve my ‘wearwithal’ and get my hot crossed buns the hell out of flashlight range but all I could round up was someone else’s boot and a really old wool scarf. 

The current price tag for “getting off the boardwalk” in this kind of situation was $14.50, representing almost two days wages; money I considered ill spent, as I darted from tree to tree searching in vain for “the Haynes gang,” Mr. Strauss and their steady companions Van Heusen and Justin. Then I heard a string of foul language come up behind me in the form of my truly erudite cousin Bill: “Where’n hell’s my stuff?” 

He’s two days older’n me, demanding some amount of respect for what seems an eternity now, so I handed him someone else’s boot but decided to keep the scarf just in case the weather turned against us as well, “Probably with mine at the other end of this prank,” I replied.

Back out on the road, we heard rigs fire up and in unison head back where they came from, sans two passengers. I heard laughter fade off towards home.

As we walked out of the trees and stood on the pavement wearing only a scarf, a boot and bewildered expressions, I considered the ramifications of our current status. I did this as Bill clippity-flopped around in circles inventing the longest run-on sentences of profanity ever uttered in a national park. I had nothing better up my scarf so I tried outdoing him. Somewheres into my third breath, I was interrupted by the appearance of snowflakes. This sensation was worth the price of admission!

We both noticed our behavior had a warming effect and took our minds off the real situation so we kept at it vigorously even though the only reasonable thing to do here would’ve been to just get back in the water. But that would’ve rendered us too wet to hail a cab if one were to come by.

So one did. 

Of course it was in the form of a Pontiac full of sophomore girls who hadn’t earned their I.Q. badges yet and immediately offered us a ride back to town even though we weren’t wearin’ much more’n goose bumps. Noticing lights coming out of the ranger station again, we opted for a clean and cool getaway with a gaggle of gigglin’ girls. Yeah, there’s a lot to be said for hot water. Enjoy some soon but keep an eye on yer duds!


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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

Tagged as:

Montana, humor, hot springs, Yellowstone, Quinns Hot Springs, Paradise, Madison Junction, John Colter

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