Traditionally it would be the catch that goes from the stream to the cook pot. Yellowstone has the famous Fishing Pot Geyser known in times past to have boiled a few feasts of the trout persuasion. We have a growing obsession with a variation on that theme. Nature has wonderfully placed hot springs near mountain streams and we are all too happy to take advantage. When the soggy, cold feet from wader boots are ready to kick back and relax, you’ll increasingly find us in a stew pot of bliss.
The stack of books bearing beta of hikes to backcountry and quirky hot springs is growing on our dining room table, also known as the very important trip-staging zone. The experience of going from wading the marshes, a ghost forest of spent wild iris and boot sucking mud, beside the Upper Owens River, and then jumping into the hilltop hot spring was far too fantastic. Mammoth is gaining stature on my top five mountain towns list and the abundance of hot springs and trout water is very alluring. We’ll note the obsession as having started here.
Well over a dozen years and thousands of road and boot miles ago, we wandered to a pool of hot water in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in a far corner of New Mexico. While one of us eagerly removed shoes and socks, the other noted the presence of dead frogs and suspicious biotic funk. I eventually conceded to standing in the pool with a cautious eye over my shoulder for bears looking to dine on a soup concoction of toad and tourists. I preferred the soak in the occasionally scrubbed dormant fish tanks at Truth or Consequences next to the Rio Grande.
I chuckled at the teenagers at the hill off Benton Crossings Road earlier this month under a searing Sierra sun. They were repulsed by the algae, the murky water, the presence of strangers, and generally crazy feeling of throwing yourself into a pool of hot water in the middle of nowhere. I remember those days. I’m over it—way over it. We had the pool to ourselves for twenty mountain-view-soaking moments of bliss. Then the teens, parents, and grannies arrived and the space between bodies diminished substantially. The grannies were by far the most fun, locals who preferred the times the pool was less crowded and bathers less clothed. They gave us the skinny on dipping in other locations around the valley for a return trip. While we failed to catch a trout that day in the river, we did land some relaxation and joyfulness in the spring.
Fishing certainly is about the pursuit of a fish. Greater than that, it is an endeavor to obtain mental quietude and a sense of balance with the natural world. It makes perfect sense to me that we would pair a fishing day with a trip to Mother Earth’s bathtubs. You can be sure we will be using the guidebooks, granny beta, and other word-of-mouth, to have more stream to steam days.
Post-Script: The teens that stood squeamishly at the edges of the tub in the Owens River Valley were on a weekend sojourn to the East Side from Mariposa, California. Mom was celebrating her birthday, dad was giddy to be out with all his girls, and the young ladies were reluctantly having more fun than they’d admit. The past week we’ve watched news reports of the Detwiler Fire taking aim on the charming town of Mariposa. That place holds a soft spot in our hearts. We worry about Yosemite, but this week we’ve worried about the hot springs family. We hope their home remains. We hope the heroes that saved it know they are cherished. And we hope the fire is put to rest soon.