We decided to stay at Yellowstone National Park for a full month. It is America’s first national park and covers more than 2 million acres. Chances are good a month won’t be enough to really explore the park in any depth but we will do our best.
For our first trip into the park, we decided to check out Boiling River which is one of only two places in Yellowstone where you can get into the water. It had been some time since we had access to a nice pool and were eager to get wet. We packed up a lunch and our swim gear and set out. The trip took us from our base in Idaho into Montana, then into Wyoming, all in all, a two-hour drive each way.
Yellowstone is known for its wildlife and day one did not disappoint. During our drive through the park we saw pronghorn, bison, a grizzly bear, a bald eagle, and white-tailed deer. The wildlife on display slowed down the traffic quite a bit as folks rubber necked or pulled over to look. Fortunately, the absolute throngs of people there for the 4th of July weekend had weaned itself to reasonable levels on the 5th.
The night before we attended the fireworks at Yellowstone West, which is a town on the Montana side just outside the park. It was modest by big-city standards but we enjoyed it very much. Even the sunset was giving us fireworks as seen in the cover photo. We also went to the visitors center so Trail could pick up the stickers and stamps she collects for her National Parks passport. They are a fun way to chronicle your adventures and hers is filling up fast! We also checked on what parts of the park were currently closed and what wildlife we could expect to see.
The Boiling River
We managed to find a spot near the trail head and walked a quarter mile to where you are allowed to go bathing. Boiling River is a very short stream that emerges from a cave and runs quickly into the Gardner River. The water is scalding hot, near boiling at times, so you don’t actually jump in there. The thing to do is wade over to where it empties into Gardner. Here the confluence of hot water from Boiling and cool mountain water from the Gardner create a natural jacuzzi.
I was not well prepared for the experience. I figured there would be somewhere I could change. It turned out the bushes were about the only option for that. I also discovered we had to wade down-river in the Gardner to get to the nice bit near the Boiling. The Gardner is not deep, but it is swift, swift enough you can feel small stones rolling past your feet at some points in the current. Said stones were well rounded but far from soft and I’d neglected to bring any aquatic footwear.
So I picked my way carefully down the stream wincing with each footstep and trying not to fall over into the river. Others were also clearly struggling but ultimately all parties, myself included made the journey with no harm to anything but our dignity. Thus I suggest you have your bathing suit on ahead of time, and bring some good waterproof footwear.
Our short but challenging journey complete, we made our way to a lovely eddy just beyond the mouth of the Boiling where the current was gentle and there was even a sandy bottom to rest on. There were some lovely rocks perfect for sitting on and others where you could anchor yourself and let the current of the river flow past you. By moving to different locations we could regulate the temperature of the water. Sit close to the boiling and you could enjoy near scalding water. Move just a few feet and you could enjoy the brisk chill of the Gardner.
The magic spot!
It’s like having a Caldarium and a Tepidarium in one place. Most magical of all was the middle zone. Here the changing currents of the river would fluctuate between warm and cool, sometimes cool on one side and warm on the other. Trail found the perfect stone to anchor to and let these changing currents wash over you.
After some experimentation, I turned on my back with one hand behind me on this anchor stone. I then found a weighty rock from below to rest on my chest so that my whole body would remain submerged with no effort. Finally, I leaned my head back so that I could see and breath but was otherwise submerged. My ears in the water, I could hear not only the movement of the river but also the tumbling stones gently moving with the current. The alternating hot and cool currents washed by as I watched osprey circle above while the river flowed away into gentle grassy hills before me.
It was magical and absolutely, relaxingly blissful. Probably the most amazing bath of my life and this was just our first day here. After a while, I had the place to myself. First, the other tourists left, then Trail decided to climb out and gather our things closer to where we bathed. I stayed a good long time, around two hours all told.
Finally, reluctantly, I decided I was satisfied and we headed back to the truck. We had a picnic lunch before heading home. It wasn’t until we returned that we discovered the price I’d paid and the true depth of my lack of preparation. My time out in the sun and water had burned my back and shoulders pretty badly, just on the verge of second-degree. I’d forgot the sunscreen. Never forget the sunscreen!
Soon both Trail and I began to itch and we found that the Yellowstone Mosquitoes had made a meal of us both. We decided to turn in early and as we did so, I began to feel chilled. It was 74 Fahrenheit in the trailer and I had goosebumps and was shivering uncontrollably before long. My back was both cold and burning at once and my limbs began to ache. I had to break out the electric blanket, down some ibuprofen and try to sleep it off. I slept fitfully for the next 20 hours.
Fortunately, the long sleep cured me of any fever or cold and I was left with only a red and painful back, sore feet, and many itchy spots. For our next outing, I would be sure to bring sunscreen, insect repellant, and wear appropriate shoes. I have no regrets. A little pain and suffering for an experience so blissful is something I’m willing to suffer. Hopefully, if you get the chance some day, you can heed my tale of caution and get all the benefits without any of the challenges.