Don’t go to Lava Hot Springs on the weekend

Friday (Oct 18) 

Close-up of my dwarf buckwheat buddies
My favorite thing here, cinder fields dotted with dwarf buckwheat

Still windy and bitterly cold this morning. Usually the sun more or less instantly warms up the van in the morning, but not today. 10 am and it’s still 48 inside! I COULD turn on the heat, but that’s not how I roll. So I get myself moving a little earlier than usual.

I decide to do the first half of the driving tour of the park before I go. Once on it I realize I did this other time I was here also! It is very cool. My favorite thing is pictured here – the fields of featureless black cinders populated with nothing but little sprigs of dwarf buckwheat. I took a cool moving video of it that I am trying to get my phone to upload.

Craters of the Moon info signs are patronizing and annoying.

On the little 3/4 mile hike I took there I noticed again the unfortunate hectoring tone of the signage here. A lot of the kind of thing in this picture:

Arco is the first civilization leaving Craters of the Moon heading eastward. I decided to breakfast at the truck stop on the far side of town. The food was not memorable, but the waitress was. A tattooed blond cutie who stared into my eyes in the most charming way. Then when the cook brought my food out she was another tattooed cutie. She didn’t have the time or inclination for the soulful stare routine, but for sure, if I lived within 50 miles of Arco I would be a regular at this place. While I was eating, a continuous stream of people started piling in until pretty much every chair at every table was taken. Some folks in their Sunday clothes, others not so much. Kitchen cutie told me that it was a funeral! Thank you Universe for letting me get my order in before them!

I like Pocatello and enjoy stopping there, it’s a college town after all. Under the previous “go to Challis” plan I had picked out a cheap hotel here for the day after Challis and was kinda looking forward to it. But under the new “stay out of the mountains” plan I’m passing through too early in the day so I just blast down the eastern side of town on I-84 and head directly for Lava Hot Springs, which is actually quite close.

Ranch Inn Motel and Campground:  

Very, very basic place. Cable is good, wifi is bad, they don't provide cups. Heater works, It's very handy to park right outside the door.

Two miles down US 30 from Lava Hot Springs. The Portneuf River runs right behind it. Very scenic back there.


The only place with a vacancy on Friday night.

my uhhh, plain motel at Lava Hot Springs

Very unfortunate that I have ended up here on a Friday night with no reservation. All my researching about which place would be the perfect spot for me was an utter waste, because literally every room in town under $145 was taken. I even drove out to the campground I stayed in last time and it was closed (for the season or forever was not clear). Having exhausted the in-town motels, I called the shabby place I’d driven past on the way in, and it was $65. Considering the campgrounds here are at least $45, an extra $20 to be out of the rain inside with a heater and wifi seemed like a no brainer. It was um, basic, but staying here was fun.

Checked in, hung out for a while, watched a little tv, then a little bit before sunset headed back to town for fun time at the hot springs:

Lava Hot Springs:  

Six pools. The big rectangular one, around to the right in the grotto, is the very hottest - 112°.

They get progressively cooler moving left. Next is the biggest and ranges from 110° to 103° according to the sign.

Beautiful setting at the opening of a little canyon with the busy highway and railroad tracks right above..


It is my fate to come here on weekends.

Again, the experience spaced me out so much I left something in the changing room - my swimming trunks this time.. I guess they're not as desireable as my boxers were five years ago, because they were in lost and found the next day - woo!

Lava Hot Springs on Saturday morning

The Springs were pretty crowded, it being a Friday night and all. Later, around 8 it got really crowded. People from all those hotel rooms coming for their after dinner soak I guess. But I was ready to go by then so I left them to it.

I do really enjoy myself at this place. I started at one of the small pools – 103°-ish I think. It did not work for me. The intimate setting seemed to encourage people whose lives I didn’t care about to want to get acquainted and share – no thanks! So I moved to the big pool where I could mind my own damn business. Much better. I find that it varies how much of the serious (112°) heat I can take. Sometimes I can stay i as long as I want. Not tonight. I love the dramatic physical setting of the hottest pool, but tonight I just couldn’t take the heat, literally!

The little town of Lava Hot Springs is crammed into a narrow canyon in the Pontneuf River Valley. An inconvenient place to put a town in general, but that’s where the hot springs are so that’s where the town is. The valley is a pretty busy transportation corridor between the Snake River Valley / Pocatello to the north and … I have no idea what to the south, but it is for sure quite busy. The railroad tracks are very busy with very long freight trains, and the roar of semis on US 30 is pretty much constant. US 30 is literally right on top of the springs. The train tracks are immediately on the other side of the road. So there was a time, a little after sunset, where my heat-addled and stoned self just stood at a railing in the Springs and watched as one 100 car train went north verrry slowly, a car visible for 40 seconds, while another 100 car train went south behind it very fast, while double or triple trailer big rigs when whizzing past in from of them both. Some of them decked out with running lights from front to back. Delightful!

I get really spaced out at hot springs. Some combination of overheating my brain, smoking a little pot, and just intensely spacing out for hours makes my normally buttoned down life get a little unbuttoned sometimes. The time at Edgefield I “lost” my wallet for 20 hours and it turned out to be in my van all along comes to mind. Anyway, back at the motel I realized I left my swimming trunks in the changing room. Annoying, but hopefully fixable tomorrow. Then I realized I’d left my phone in the van, and my super-genius move was to zip out there, shut the door behind me, retrieve my phone and … realize I locked myself out!!!

I’m the only person staying at this godforsaken place, it’s 10pm, I’m in my pajamas, it’s 35° and windy, and the office is totally dark. I go down there and yell for awhile to no avail, then finally I get the bright idea to call. Thank god I locked myself out WITH my phone. She materialized from somewhere to let me in and set the door to not lock (DUH) and that’s the end of that. But I thought I was good and fucked for about 10 minutes.


My motel was plain but really pretty comfortable.
Portneuf River behind my motel. It's really pleasant here.

Pack up the van and clear my sad little room by 11 am, then take a little walk around the perimeter of the motel property. It’s got quite a nice back yard facing onto the river. There’s ever a campground back there, which appears to be shut down for the river. It’s very pretty back there.

Back to town, show up at the Springs to say I forgot my trunks. I’m evidently the first such dumbass of the day. My request is the cue for the desk fellow to go back and empty the dryer. They wash and dry the lost stuff! My trunks were the sixth thing he pulled out, so I was very happy! Drive three blocks (it’s pretty miserable today) to the breakfast place with wifi. All those people filling all those rooms have to eat, so it was no surprise that it’s very crowded on Saturday morning. I sit at the counter and enjoy my overcooked eggs and the waitress, who was quite nice when she had the time.

on time for the Soda Springs geyser!

The whole world is at 4-5,000′ elevation around here, but it was still warm enough that it rained instead of snowed. There was a 7,000′ pass between Lava Hot Springs and Soda Springs, and I did get exciting snowflakes up there, but it was over quick. In Soda Springs I did a little three block side trip into old downtown and lucked into the “every hour on the hour” geyser. It’s a pretty impressive sight!

It rained pretty much all day. Not a hard rain, but constant. I always enjoy Montpelier. I didn’t stop today, but I usually have in the past. For some reason I just like the place. Out of Montpelier the normal route is to take a right turn on US 89 west, over the top of the Bear Lake marshes, then turn south down the populated west side of the lake, through a couple of staid little Mormon towns. From camping on the east side, I know one can continue on US 30 to a good gravel road that goes down the east side of the marshes, to the top of the lake. After some dithering I decide to go that way. At the top of the lake is Bear Lake Hot Springs, closed for the season again. I have never quite manage to go here. The drive from there over the top of the lake is quite fun. There is a dam area, where the flow into (out of?) the lake is controlled, and there is Idaho’s Bear Lake State Beach, which runs for miles and miles. Tomorrow I will drive past Utah’s Bear Lake State Beach at the south end of the lake. On the far side of the lake I rejoin US 89 and proceed to Garden City.

The weather is forecast to get even more miserable tonight, so it’s going to be another motel night for me. There is only one motel in Garden City, for for a while there I thought it was no longer functional. The “office” was simply an enclosed stairwell landing about 10′ square with a row of mailboxes with individual combo locks. Not a trace of a living person, not even a chair for a person to sit in. I called the phone listed on Google, and no answer. I’m confused. I called again a few minutes later, and a nice lady in Salt Lake City answers, and we did the deal. I gave her my credit card info, she gave me the combination to mailbox #1, which contained a key to Room #1, and that was that. Weird.

Waters Edge Resort:  

Was called the Bear Lake Lodge until recently. The old motel seems to be some kind of doomed placeholder for a deluxe extended stay place "coming soon".

Great location, the lake directly in back, pizza place to the north and a nice modern place that even serves beer to the south ... which turns out to be the same owners as the motel.


No human in the lobby, just call a number give 'em your credit card info and they give you the combo to a mailbox with a key in it - weird!

Quite a bit nicer than last night's dump, except the heat doesn't work very fast or well.

Ate a great salad next door!

cramped quarters in my Garden City motel. Sad to think it's gonna get demolished though.

So here I am, on my motel bed at three in the afternoon. A bitter 35° wind is whipping outside. There is a restaurant next door – the only one in town that serves beer! Owned by the same group as my motel, it turns out. The restaurant is the early part of a whole new concept for the place. My shabby but quaint motel is part of the doomed old look, soon to be torn down and replaced by a “resort”. Yuck. Anyway, I walk next door and surprise my stomach with a nice big grilled chicken salad!

Taking a cold walk on a gloomy day in Garden City

I had one of those cold fear moments at the end, with a happy ending. I went to pay, but my credit card was not in its spot in my wallet!! I distractedly paid in cash and hustled back to the motel office, and there was my card sitting on the storage cabinet where I’d left it two hours ago! I had laid it there to read my credit card number to the lady on the phone. I was so intent on trying out the combination she gave me that used it, picked up my key, and totally forgot my card was still sitting there. WHEW!

Great night to be in a motel room.

I took a little walk around the neighborhood, but it really is too miserable to enjoy it much.

11:30 pm. Snow has stopped, but the wind is howling out there! I spent most of the evening researching what I am going to do tomorrow and subsequent days in the face of this unexpectedly nasty, cold, bitter weather.


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