In general, I’d rather be naked. Preferably outside. This passion of mine doesn’t get much exercise in Winter, though; desert pot holes are frozen over or empty, rivers build ice bridges that crack and are carried downstream, and layers and layers of capilene, fleece and wool keep my poor skin warm but suffocating. Which is why I am especially grateful for tectonic rifts. Not the rifts of millions and billions of years ago, rifts that spawned mountains and spewed magma. I mean the great great great great grandchildren of these mountain building events. I am grateful for cracks. For fissures. For wounds in the otherwise very solid igneous protrusions we are blessed to have so many of here in the West. I am particularly grateful for the happy coincidence of these steaming, smoking peepholes into the underworld and water. I am grateful for hot springs. And if the hot spring bubbles up right next to a dogwood and willow lined river, so much the better.
Right now, it’s hailing. The hail plings off my cheeks and eyelids and shoulders. It is thrown by gusts of wind against the tin roof covering the picnic area next to me. It pings and pongs off tiny windmill blades 50 yards away. The windmill chirps as the wind rushes the blades faster, then quiets as the winds ease. I couldn’t care less. I’m almost oblivious. I’m floating, body draped over three bright purple and blue foam noodles in a 30 foot, 100 degree pool. I am happy and as naked as I can get in polite company. Which thankfully, there is none of right now.
The pool in which I so luxuriously recline, hat pulled down over my face to protect my eyes from the hail, bikini strings floating out from my neck and hips, was originally dug by the Hopkins family when they homesteaded here in 1913. Lucky bastards. In the 40’s, the spring was open for commercial use and was also home to a burger joint which apparently was famous for their homemade cheese. Damn, a few decades too late. The most recent owners bought the land in 1998 and opened Maple Grove Hot Springs to the public in 2003, after giving the property a serious overhaul.
Given the fact that we are in middle-of-nowhere-Idaho, that every house we passed on the way here had pioneer outbuildings, half a dozen horses and some cows on their property, that every vehicle we have passed has been a larger than life truck with a gun rack on top, Maple Grove Hot Springs come as a bit of a surprise. When we first walk in the door to the Pool House, we are greeted by a man with waist long dreads wearing a green dress. With him are an equally dready woman, brushing her teeth and wearing pajamas, and a girl in a peasant blouse, standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. They don’t own the place. Rather, they have been staying the night in the little 1950’s era trailer you can rent just a few minute’s walk from the pools. It’s turquoise.
Looking around, I’m guessing the people that do own the place wouldn’t find a room full of dreadheads alarming or strange. The check-in desk features a display of their locally-made soaps and lotions, containing jojoba and almond oils, shea butter and essential oils. The property is completely off the grid so any power used is generated by solar panels, windmills and a little generator. The grounds are xeriscaped, decorated with beautiful stones (obviously local) and native plants, now bare stalks and chaff, bending beneath the weight of snow.
The property runs along a narrow shelf of land between the Bear River and some gently sloping, but still big enough to loom, juniper and fir covered hills. Just downriver, the hills slot up to form a gorge. There is only one other house around and it’s set back so artfully into the trees, you barely notice it’s there. We are 24 miles from the closest thing resembling a town (Preston). There is no sound except the pattering of rain and hail on water.
After discovering the gate closed at Diamond Fork Hot Springs one too many times, I found near-naked-refuge last winter at Crystal Hot Springs in Honeyville, Ut. My need for warm water in February kept me coming back but if I’d known I had other options, I never would have put myself through it. Crystal Hot Springs, while boasting the most mineral rich waters in North America, is a bit shabby and neighbored by a feed lot; every so often your soak is interrupted by heavy wafts of cow. Despite all of this, the place is regularly packed. A friend and I made the mistake of going there on Martin Luther King Day. Who knew that celebration of the civil rights movement inspires hundreds of whiteys to skip work and get (semi) naked. There was literally no room to move.
Maple Grove on the other hand is utterly still. There’s no water slide, no drifts of hair, no diapers, no cows. The Pool House has a little kitchen, fully stocked with dishes and open for visitors to use. The bathrooms and locker rooms smell like Dr. Bronners and Citrasolve and are lined with beige tile, immaculately clean.
The Pool House opens onto four developed pools. The largest, also the coolest, is the one in which Adam and I happily float and occasionally paddle. The remaining three can be reached by following a quaint pebbly and lantern lit path north along the river. Each of these pools is stone lined, big enough for maybe six people, and separated by little hillocks of raised xeriscaped beds and fruit trees. Water runs into the pools down handmade wood and stone waterfalls. The pools are kept clean by the constant flow of water in from these little falls and out through a drain on the downhill side of the pool. The drain then opens up on the downhill slope, allowing the water to run in little stream-bed-looking troughs to the river which is less than 10 yards away.
As we float, the hail shifts to rain. All around, rain drops make little ripples as the water in the pool splashes up to meet them, plip plip. We float for three hours, occasionally hopping out of our pool to race barefoot down the hill to one of the smaller, warmer pools. Watching the river through the steam, we see two swans floating casually downstream. Just above the springs, the river spreads out making a marshy area. The marsh is thick with red dogwood and tall grasses. I imagine that just a little earlier in the season, this must have been an amazing spot for watching bird migrations. Behind us, two deer munch on fallen apples from a small, fruit-heavy tree. Since these aren’t sulphur springs, the air is simply sweet with wet fall smells; decaying apples, wet grass and junipers. Looking up into the sky, if I let my eyes go kind of lazy, I can see the rain drops leaving the clouds and falling to earth.