Enter ye springs of heat

I have been dreaming of sitting in a hot tub for months now, knowing that we’d planned it for the first leg of our cross-country journey. Having spent a week in Radium, British Columbia, last summer, I had some expectations about what Lava Hot Springs would be like in Idaho. It’s actually the first set of expectations I’ve ever had for Idaho that didn’t involve either potatoes or white supremacists. And while I’m sure that’s not entirely fair to a state that hasn’t actually done anything to me personally, I have driven by Disciple Way in the northern part of the state, and it made this Lebanese boy rather nervous.

Our original plan was to leave early today, the day after we vacated our house, but the thought of getting up at 6 in the morning to drive for seven hours was just overwhelming. I didn’t think we’d manage it, actually, or if we did, we’d be off on the wrong foot, all cranky and overtired. So we caught our second wind yesterday and drove as far as we could until it was time to turn in. Well, logistically speaking, we had to figure where we’d be likely to find safe and decent accommodations, so we identified that it would be either Baker City or Ontario, OR. We pushed it and made it to Ontario, which made Walla Walla seem like a veritable metropolis.

The front desk of the Holiday Inn was happy to tell Susanne that this was a full-service hotel, I suppose because it had a “Tap Room” and a sit-down breakfast available at the Country Kitchen. We had hit the big time. As it was, we were excited to get out of town quickly, so we pulled into a Burger King and got breakfast: two crossanwiches, two orange juices, one water, one coffee. I drove away as Susanne popped open her orange juice, the iPod humming with some catchy pop song dittering along. My coffee was way too hot drink for a while, so I looked for some OJ.

“Oh no, they only gave us one,” she said, looking around.

I eyed her small container expectantly. And I was astonished at what she did next.

She saw me seeing her juice box and rushed to get her mouth around the straw so she could finish the last sip! Yes, she raced to finish the juice!

I drove with my jaw hanging open.

“I really wanted that juice,” she explained, as if articulating her awful behavior would somehow provide impunity. I muttered something about sending an email to Burger King.

lava hot springsAfter five hours, we rolled into Lava. It wasn’t nearly as pristine as Radium, but at least it didn’t have any kitchy fake Bavaria presence. We quickly changed into our bathing gear and the warmth was all around us. Susanne and I positioned ourselves in front of two hot water jets. The joy was indescribable. After 20 months in Walla Walla, a week of constant packing, and months of anticipation, we were here, our feet floating in 104 degrees.

On the other side of the pool, an interesting conversation emerged:

Older woman who identified herself as a beekeeper: So what is it you do?

Guy who had been chatting up everyone at the springs: I was a stockbroker for 30 years.

Beekeeper: Oh. So I suppose you haven’t been doing very well in this economy.

Asshole stockbroker: Oh, this is when people make the most money, actually.

Beekeeper: And how well do you sleep at night?

Asshole stockbroker: Oh, I sleep fine.

We decided we liked the beekeeper, who also took the guy to task over saying the mortgage industry collapse was all the fault of poor people who couldn’t afford their houses.

Afterward, we started driving again, through valley system after valley system, cutting through five or six rows of mountains. As soon as we would get used to one style of mountain—say, tree-lined—we’d round a corner on a pass and would then befall a new style, like snow-capped rocky outcroppings. All above us, clouds and sky. The sky is so big out here, actually, that just standing on the bottom of the canopy one can see entire weather fronts, rolling this way and that. When lightening strikes it gives all of itself away, from the start to the terminus, and for 50 miles around, everything is bright, just for a few seconds.

Finally we drove along Stateline Road that divided Wyoming from Idaho, and I’ve never seen anything as informal as that boundary. It’s not like the state line between Washington and Oregon is lined with armed guards or fences, but there are signs denoting the two states’ territories, and oh, road lines. This was a rung or two up from a seasonal road, and it was barren of all markings, as if each state were refusing to spend money on painting the surface. Unleashed dogs ran around on the shoulder, and buildings that had been abandoned long ago had also at some point given up their ghosts and just crumbled to the ground. It was a rural brand of poverty that made me realize a little better how many Americas there are in one big country. And all that mountainous beauty amid such a dispossessed people. When we finally came across rich houses with four-car garages, I sensed my own frustration at the inequity.

million dollar cowboy barWe motored on, driving under a ridge of a T-cell storm, the rain literally on one half of the car, and pulled into Jackson Hole. I’m not sure where the tourists are form who visit here, but there are a lot of tourists. It was late enough that most of the shops and tourist-boutiques (read, fake nice things) had closed for the day, but we wandered in to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, or perhaps I should say we sidled up to it. Sure, sidled is better. Susanne and I ordered up a buffalo and an elk burger from the window and watched a local band belt out some country music. I still can’t see country folk and not think they’ll have Southern accents, but I’m trying.

Then it was time to turn in. We’ve got some exploring of the Grand Tetons tomorrow. I wish I’d never realized that “teton” is French slang for boob. Crazy French trappers.

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Categories: driving, visiting


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4 Comments on “Enter ye springs of heat”

  1. Susanne
    June 2, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    I have been misquoted in the OJ incident of Idaho. The hot springs were amazing though.

    • evmaroon
      June 2, 2010 at 8:06 am #

      Everyone, we have since agreed that Susanne was working out of a framework in which she has two brothers.

    • Jesse
      June 2, 2010 at 8:56 am #

      I was thinking you were going back to the emotional place you were in when last you were in that region…


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