Hot Springs Eternal

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My favorite getaway will always be to a hot springs somewhere. Something about soaking in hot mineral water is embedded deep within me. I almost always ask if there are hot springs whenever I travel somewhere.

Montana isn’t what I’d call a hot springs Mecca by any means, but I’ve found some of my favorite springs within an hour or two of Missoula.

“It’s a beautiful day in Paradise.” The typical greeting when you call Quinns Hot Spring’s Resort is one of my favorites. The web site asks you to check in and make sure the pools are not taken up by overnight guests, so I look forward to their fun greeting whenever we get ready to go.

Seemed appropriate to begin one of the busiest weeks of our lives with a trip to the springs. I find hydro therapy to cause the most relaxed state I believe I can achieve.

The drive to Quinns is one of my favorite Western Montana trips. My daughter and I looked for deer on the summer-baked hillsides and on the backside of the National Bison Range while Cheryl took a nap.

The rolling highway reminds me of driving through parts of Sonoma County, where I first fell in love with hot springs.

My great grandparents owned a small piece of property in the town of Calistoga, which was nothing more than a little hippie enclave at the time. My great grandfather made wine and spent summers at the cottage known as a dacha. My father and his brothers and sister spent summers at Pachita’s Hot Springs. And years later, that is where I first fell in love with soaking in hot water.

One of the lasting memories I have of spending some good time with my grandmother before she died was at Nance’s Hot Springs in Calistoga. After Pachita’s was renamed Indian Springs and transformed into a very high-end exlusive resort, we’d spend more and more time at the lower-end Nance’s, and my grandmother reveled in the healing hot waters she had learned to love after almost 50 years in America.

Quinns reminds me of the old Pachita’s Hot Springs. It’s rustic and unrefined. It’s woodsy decor has not yet been stuccofied and palm treed like the California resorts.

Gabbers and I enjoy a soak in the warmer pool at Quinns

The pools are quiet as we arrive. After changing into our swim wear, we heard a lyrical language coming from the far end of the cool pool. My wife smiled at me knowingly as she recognized the Russian words for “more people are coming.”

I laughed at her, because no matter what hot springs we visit, we’ll almost always find kindred Slavic spirits abounding. Slavs love hot water. Visit Lolo Hot Springs any time of year and you’ll hear a beautiful symphony of byelaruskaya spoken as you enter the pool. The same goes for Fairmont Hot Springs near Butte.

We settled into the warmer pool next to two couples wearing knit caps and conversing casually about coming to Montana from Canada. I can follow along with Russian to a point, but when native speakers are speaking to each other, the speed at which they communicate is often too much for me to catch more than a gist of their conversation.

At one point, one of the men moved over into the hottest pool and sank down to his neck, his knit cap looked like a black mushroom on the pool surface. After a few minutes, he stepped over the wall into the cold pool, which felt colder than the air temp, which was 36 degrees when we arrived. He sat in the cold pool up to his neck for about two minutes as his companions discussed how many minutes he should spend in the pool to reap the benefits of hydro therapy. Most Slavs believe that soaking in pools with different temperatures is really good for the circulation.

The method the man used is one of my favorite soaking techniques. I like to start out in the middle warm pool and spend about 5 minutes soaking before moving to the hottest pool for 3 or 4 minutes. When I’m ridiculously hot, I get hop over the wall into the cold pool.

The water is so cold it numbs you instantly, and if you do it quickly enough, you won’t feel a whole lot until you are completely submerged. If you’re completely still, the cold water won’t feel like anything, and your breathing becomes very deep and your oxygenated blood causes your body to rise to the surface.

I like to float in the ice cold water until my breathing normalizes. If I can make a full five minutes, I feel completely refreshed. Once you start to move around, you begin to feel the cold water. Panic sets in, and all you can think about is getting into the warm water again.

After soaking in the cold pool, I ease into the larger warm pool for a brief swim to increase the already beneficial circulation effects. My daughter starts to chase me, and I begin the cycle all over again.

Quinns is not always so quiet and peaceful, but as I sat back and craned my head up to watch the sun come over the jagged hills behind the resort, I couldn’t help but be grateful for one last quiet soak.

After a bison burger and a Bloody Mary for lunch, we cruised back to a completely empty set of pools for a few more rounds of hydro therapy. At times I relaxed to the point of falling asleep in the warm pools. A good shot in the cold pool revived me, and when new swimmers showed up, they remarked that I must not have any blood in my system to be able to completely submerse myself in the cold pool.

Knowing that the closest hot springs I can find to Anchorage are in Fairbanks is bit disconcerting. But my plan is find the first Slavic person I can find and ask where closer hot springs are hiding. Slavs always know where to find a good place to soak.


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