“Stanley Hot Springs is a series of primitive soaking pools located in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Idaho, United States. Access is via Trail #211.” Those two sentences make up the entirety of the informational portion of a Wikipedia entry on what has to be one of the most fascinating places on Earth. The dirt and rubble path that leads from Trail 211 to the hot springs is cited as being 9.3 miles, and while it does feel this long, the actual distance is closer to 6.5 miles. Perhaps the path’s narrowness, combined with the fact that you’re walking uphill along a cliff face, has led people to exaggerate the journey’s length. Regardless, this is not a place for the casual traveler. If you’re looking to enjoy a cozy Idaho vacation, try some Boise vacation rentals instead because sleeping on sticks and keeping an eye out for bears isn’t exactly the best way to recharge. From the base of the trailhead to the campsites located near the springs, there is an impressive elevation gain of 2,283 feet.
I was five years old when I took the first trip to Stanley that I’ll never forget. My dad, my mom, our family friend Sean, and I had just finished the grueling hike to Stanley. I remember coming over the final ridge and seeing the three waiting pools of varying temperatures beckoning me with rolls of steam. In the bottom pool, which is around three feet deep and 50 feet around, a naked Texan man sat covering his privates while a moose sniffed him up and down. Even from a five-year-old’s perspective, the man looked nervous. We watched as the moose backed up a few steps, drank heartily from the spring, took a long and leisurely pee, and walked away. Later in the weekend, the Texan told me that his friends back South were never going to believe this.
On the third and final day of our trip, my dad was trying to fire up a Bunsen burner next to the bottom pool, while the rest of us watched him from within the water. He was getting frustrated that the machine wouldn’t light, so he started taking off pieces of the device, despite aggressive warnings posted all over it explicitly directing the user to never do that. My dad cursed and lit a match, holding it to the fuel source, and the Bunsen burner shot out a huge ball of flame before sputtering down to a healthy cooking level.
“Keavy,” said Sean to my dad, “…you’re on fire.”
Sean’s startling words prompted me to look at my dad, who, sure enough, was being slowly engulfed in flame from the waist up. Given that my father is hairy enough to be mistaken for a Sasquatch, the fire was spreading quickly along his torso but not burning his skin.
My dad looked down, and the self-satisfied expression he’d had on his face since thinking he had fixed the Bunsen burner turns quickly into confusion, followed by abrupt understanding. Flames were spreading out from his thick chest hair, licking at his beard and arms. Jumping from the edge of the spring, my dad executed a perfect swan dive into the shallow pool, a relatively simple challenge for a man who had spent the last 13 years as a lifeguard at the YMCA. I’ve seen my dad carry burning logs in his bare hands, spend so long in a sauna that his body hair started singing, and start fires with twigs in his palm before carrying the flame to the fireplace. On this occasion, he spent two minutes straight underwater, and when he emerged from the spring looking like a phoenix reborn, there was no evidence save for the smell of burning hair that he had lit himself on fire in the first place.