Part Four: Stormy skies, hot springs and other wonders of the great divide.
Summer storms. The power of rain torrentially pouring down upon you, a dark sky ever looming in the distance, threatening to blow your tent down, the most epic rainbows, and lightning’s strobe-light show, slapping loudly not-so-high up above. At any moment the weather can change, really change, drastically, and after five years in California, and a couple weeks in the desert, this was a gloriously welcome addition to our lives.
We burst into Colorado and you could feel the moisture in the air nearly upon crossing state lines. The world was green and the air cool and dewey. After much needed (free) hot showers at Mesa Verde, we started a journey up and across the state, driving through 11,000 foot mountain tops, exploring picturesque old mining towns, and finally landing ourselves in hot bubbling waters beneath the big Colorado stars.
Teetering on the edge of the Great Plains and the Continental Divide, we found ourselves stunned when the Grand Tetons suddenly emerged from behind a poof of clouds with all their jagged glory. We had our first sightings of buffalo, first rumors of bears, and took in the epic views, winding our way up to the most popular park in our country’s system, Yellowstone.
Upon arrival we felt disappointed. The lines of cars, the crowds of people stacked with selfie sticks, and the seemingly zero fucks being given about the reality of where they were besides snapping your photo with Old Faithful, made you think you were at Disneyland rather than America’s greatest natural park. But we soon realized that the moment you make the effort to walk further than a quarter mile on one of the many trails the park offers, you are in absolute solitude and the great wilderness we were promised is anything but disappointing.
After some adventuring we hopped back in the car, and made our way deep into Montana. We got away from the crowds and more glamorous sites this country has, and instead found lakes and rivers we’d never heard of, throwing in a line or two. We found hot springs we got hot tips about, quirky ghost towns, and we drank Banquet Beers at a small town rodeo in Belt, MT. We stood on the spot where Custer had his last stand, and drove by those faces up in the rocks because we didn’t feel like paying for parking.
As we descended from the Rockies into the Great Plains where the buffalo roamed, and hopped on more highways rather than winding roads, the world got a bit flatter, but never less interesting. Our journey was approaching its end with our plan to fast-track across the Eastern half of the states, but we still had a few adventures left ahead of us before we’d be settling down.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Plains below Grand Teton mountain range; looking out above Silverton, CO; mountains near Ouray, CO; power lines; through the trees at Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park; Leigh Lake, Grand Teton National Park; Buffalo and the Tetons; Log cabin, Tetons; Beaver at Jackson lake, Tetons; Storm and thermal in Yellowstone National Park; Thermal creations in Yellowstone; Land of steam in Yellowstone; Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone; road in Montana; Hot spring in Montana; Rodeo in Belt, MT; Buffalo at Custer State Park in SD; Abandoned roadside in South Dakota near Badlands; Sunset at Jackson Lake, Grand Tetons.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
Just a few minutes off the Ring Road and a 2 mile hike in you’ll find Reykjadalur, a natural hot spring fed creek, prime for a leisurely soak. The hike is gorgeous, up, up, up into the hills and then meandering through valley, the greenest of scenery, past bubbling mud pots and steaming holes in the ground ripe with the eggy sulfuric scent that would send some running; all the while the Icelandic sheep just stare, as if to say, “we’re annoyed, but don’t care enough to say something.”
For sure, this place is popular, but not like it should be, not like it would be here in the states. We arrive and stroll down the boardwalk pathway to the top of the stream, where, we correctly assume it’d be hottest. Past the Germans, the French, the locals, and of course other Americans; but it’s different than being at other sites surrounded by the same folks, there’s a camaraderie here that isn’t found with the folks using pervert lenses at the waterfalls.
We soak, trying different spots high up and down low on the stream, the natural temperature adjustment; to get up and move. This place is magical, deep green hills, sheep grazing, blue skies and the sun kissing us the whole time. No wonder the Icelandic folklore centers on elves, fairies, and trolls; why wouldn’t it, the magic of this country is palpable and this is only our first day.
It’s difficult but well traveled and maintained as if it were a half mile loop in one of our national parks. Although you don’t necessarily see a ton of folks on trail, they’re in there, crawling around the tubs, waiting in line, calling dibs. To be honest, it’s off-putting.
Maybe we’re spoiled at this point having soaked all over the eastern sierra and elsewhere. Honestly, should we be feeling that because we do this all the time, we have more right to it than someone else? No way, these tubs aren’t ours, we didn’t make them and we most certainly do not own this land. So why is there entitlement seething beneath the surface and on the tip of everyone’s tongue upon the realization that you’re not the only one who came out here this weekend?
We all worked hard for this, we all dripped sweat up the steeps and felt our knees pop on the scree filled downs, we all jack-assed heavy packs with more food than we needed; we all did the research, made the effort, rounded up our friends and got here, didn’t we?
Maybe we should all just drop our attitudes and appreciate these places that exist for everyone to enjoy. After all, this isn’t the hip new bar your friends have been talking shit about lately.
Saturday – 13 miles Rainbow Falls trailhead to springs
Sunday – 13 miles back to trailhead
Thirteen miles in a day is a long distance for your legs to carry you. But when you’re walking towards something so enticing, you seem to fly! A collection of pristine hot spring tubs in the middle of the wilderness is the greatest reward a hiker can ask for. Your muscles melt into the steaming water and the miles are far, far away.
Giving yourself a gift at the end of a hard day of work can really do a lot for you, even if you’re not in the middle of the Eastern Sierras – treat yourself daily! A good meal and a beer, a stroll through town, a jump in the ocean; anything that gives you pleasure that you think you can’t squeeze into your busy day – squeeze it in. You’ll see it can go a long way, and help take your daily stresses away…