Last week I headed down the road from Havre to begin my journey to Mexico. I thought I might go to Saratoga in southern central Wyoming for their hot springs. That stubborn van I drive has a mind of her own, that's for sure. She insisted we bop into Missoula and head down I-90 west, never my favorite route. Just out of St. Regis, I tripped over nostalgia, took the exit and contined north another 20 miles to Quinn's Hot Springs.
Back in the '80s Quinn's was our favorite family get-away place, usually in the winter. I'd load the kids in the car along with a cooler of cheese, apples and orange juice. For $17 a night we stayed in a musty decrepit cabin. We changed into bathing suits, ran through the snow down the icy trail, through the bar and out back to the little round hot pool which I seldom left and the larger pool which the kids splashed in and out of all day.
Sometimes the restaurant opened for Saturday night steaks or Sunday brunch. Most days we drove to Plains for our one restaurant meal. Otherwise we foraged from the cooler. I set up a bar tab for my kids with the admonishment that I would close it, no excuses, if they abused it. The tab covered sodas and chips and I never had to close it.
Memories crowded my mind as I drove along the river and finally turned into the renovated Quinn's with newly built cabins, and a posh lodge. Inside I recognized the original bar and restaurnt structure. Otherwise all the buildings were expanded or new, while keeping the simple rustic log-cabin appeal.
Ah, but the water, which now flows through six pools, each one a different temperature, has the same healing minerals and the restaurant serves meals full time. I arrived for a night and stayed for three. When I left, I turned north and drove the few miles to Symes Hotel in Hot Springs. I wanted more days to soak in the healing springs.
One could say I went from posh to the pits. Or back in time about 80 years. This place is old, funky and boasts the stinkiest water. There is no cell service in town. I drove around and checked. In order to send email, I must park in the lobby with my computer. However in a postage-stamp sized room off the lobby, there is a pay telephone. When did you last see a working pay phone?
With the curved-front dresser, boudoir chair and tiny closet, my room in the hallway below the stairs could be the backdrop for Miss Kitty in an old-fashioned western. It is modern though. I have a toilet and porcelain sink. Showers are down the hall. From my room I hear every shout and whisper, the comings and goings of all the guests. Though more than the $17 a night for the old cabins at Quinns, this place is easy on my budget.
Down that same hallway with the shower are makeshift rooms with huge clawfoot tubs where guests may disrobe and sink to their chins or lie full length in soft water of whatever temperature one wants, any time of the day or night.
The water keeps me here. The water is stinky, slimy and laden with minerals that appear as tiny floating ghosts. Town folks carry off jugs of water for drinking. I hold my nose and drink it too. If they can, I can. Others fill 500 gallon tanks to haul back home to their hot tubs in Libby or up on the Yaak. And true to the healing claims, not for a long time have I felt so good or slept so well.
Judging from the license plates I see in the parking lot, mostly locals are here this week; local being western Montana and near-by Idaho with a smattering of Spokane. I've been here a week — does that make me a local?
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little diffeent. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)