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Montana Dispatch: Horse Creek Hot Springs

Trip Reports
September 30, 2014

Spring at NightI’m beyond tired. My gaze into the space is empty and my mind, also empty. My eyes are gritty with dryness.

My neck hurts. My shoulders hurt. My back is stiff. Even my fingernails are making their presence known, as if the dirt caked beneath them is filled with fiberglass slivers.

I look at my palm where there is a small hole stamped into its center like some sort of flesh-eating bacteria has begun to feed on me. “What could have possibly caused that?” I wonder as sand falls from my hair and rolls down my face.

All of this is not the result of some sort of catastrophic event or epic adventure, but simply the consequence of commonplace weekend adventures in Montana. And this is the reason that I live here.

Montana winters west of the divide are long and grey, punctuated only sporadically by blue-bird days. So when summer finally hits Missoula, weekends are at a premium. And because they are so precious, it is without a second-thought that we quickly gather our provisions for a night of camping even though the forecast calls for rain – a prediction confirmed by the flik-flak-flik-flak of the windshield wipers as we cruise down the highway.

We are not deterred when people look at us like there is somethingHorse Creek Hot Spring not quite right in our heads because “You are going where?” and “You are just leaving now?” But we will still go and we will take our time getting to our destination, because we know, regardless of our speed, we will not be setting up camp in the light of day, but the darkness of night. And despite our day beginning early, filled with workweek commitments, we will set up our tent in the rainy darkness and manage to stay awake until 3:30 in the morning staring at our campfire television, chatting about life and love.

Our time will be filled with natural hot spring soaks, followed by dips into icy mountain creeks – rewarded with another hot soak, exploratory drives and hikes, discovery of a vacant hunter’s camp filled with relics of a not too distant past, and idiotic attempts at off-roading that – when the reality of where you are and what have actually done sets in – leads to frantic pushing, Kuhl Clothesdigging, and the building of an improvised stone and sand pathway to give traction to slick, mud-caked tires.

Hot SpringWhen you get yourselves unstuck and think you are finally safe, a deer will sprint across the road causing your heart-rate to triple and cause you to wonder just what else could possibly come at you. And just when you are at your wits end and you think you couldn’t possibly handle one more near-catastrophe, you will pause and your heart will not feel like it is going to burst through your chest on a surge of runaway-deer-sparked adrenaline, but it instead soars at the sight of a scene more amazing than your imagination could ever conceive.Mud

Not just one elk, but dozens and dozens of elk crossing a wide expanse of river. Their golden bodies offset by scruffy necks of course, dark chestnut fur. A proudly racked bull peers up at you as he stands guard over his herd, letting the cows and calves wade into the brisk moving water of the Bitterroot’s West Fork. As the sun descends behind cold and wet looking jagged clouds to an anthem of bugles and squeaks, you think that there could not be a more beautiful place then where you are – right here, right now. And you cannot wait for next weekend, when you will do it all again.





Bitterroot Elk



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