Dilapidated, slanted barns and old homesteads marked our distance. We went past Norris, past Harrison, and to Pony. The beautiful brick school house sat neatly on the hill, and as we went a small ways up a little muddy hill road, a graveyard stood there. Broken and and tilted gravestones sat grey and tan, some limestone, some sandstone, some granite.
We drove on through deep puddles and past large granite hills. The trees were green and dusted with snow. The creek below was swollen and clear, looking incredibly cold. Enormous boulders sat creating deep pools. Chris wondered aloud if they held fish, although most of the pools and eddies looked too shallow to hold any sort of sizable aquatic creature.
After driving right through the stream and parking in a small clearing, we found the trail buried under a little snow. I wore Chris’s flannel-lined Carhartt’s and some winter boots guaranteed to keep my feet warm to -20 Fahrenheit- standard issue Montana gear. Although it was mid-May we knew we’d most likely need it. We hiked through the damp snow and some mud, admiring the beautiful trees and lamenting the fact that once again we forgot the bear spray (a recurring theme in our adventures.)
Potosi Hot Springs was our destination. A warm, silty spring about 15 feet in each direction, it sits on a small hill after about a mile of easy hiking. After we encountered no bears, only a weasel and multiple pesky prairie dogs, we found the pool completely empty! Enthralled by our good luck we quickly undressed and got into the pool, which was a pleasant bathtub temperature. We found a lovely little grotto-like corner and squeezed into it. There were delicate spider webs and we saw a beautiful spider test the lines. Dew drops hung from every clover and leaf that surrounded the pool.
That’s when I spotted the frog.
A frog! A frog! My mind rushed excitedly, nostalgia washing over me, remembering how I caught frogs in upstate New York and in various rivers whenever we went camping and how the last time I saw a frog like this was on a hellish Father-Daughter backpacking trip through Yellowstone and the worst mosquitoes they’d seen in 40 years.
I didn’t catch it with my hands but rather with my lens- it seemed decent, because we were sharing this small warm pool with the frog, and I didn’t want to be rude. Actually, it was because I couldn’t catch him! He was very calm and I put my hands behind and around him gently and touched him- then he leaped into the silty water where I wouldn’t be able to find him. He made several more lovely cameos during our visit! I later found out that he was a Columbia Spotted Frog, a type of frog I’d never seen before! How neat!
Immediately after the frog-neighbor made an appearance a mother and two blond children joined us with their very nervous dog. The dog mowed down grass more efficiently than any herbivore ungulate I’d seen and barked anxiously at nothing whatsoever. A couple joined us for about 20 minutes then left. Chris and I stayed in our warm section- we knew we had the best spot in the pool.
Chad, a Coors-drinking hotspringing veteran, showed up later. By then we had prune hands and were thoroughly relaxed. Chad told funny stories and we all admired our luck at being here in this little pool of warm water on such a nice day.
After almost five hours of intense soaking in the silty, mineral-rich water, we got out and headed back. The whole way I had the luxury of thinking how lucky we were to do this, and as Chris drove us back down the muddy and hole-filled dirt road I felt extremely balanced and happy.
Also, as a side note: the mineral water did something crazy to my hair to the point that it ended up curling in perfect spirals instead of descending into it’s normal frizzy mess. I wish I could re-do the effects.