As soon as we arrived at Quinn’s Hot Springs, the first thing we noticed was the biting cold. It hadn’t been warm at home on the Palouse, but spring was definitely in its early stages, and the bitter cold had been behind us for the most part.
In Montana’s western Rocky Mountains, though, spring had not quite sprung (it snowed heavily the next day after we left). Amber and I shivered as we walked into the building in search of Amber’s parents, whom we were meeting there for a relaxing weekend of soaking in mineral water, and enjoying the mountains.
Before slipping into our bathing suits to enjoy the hot springs, Amber and I spoke to some people in the gift shop, grabbed an “Area Attractions” brochure, and found a close place to go for a quick three-mile hike (roundtrip).
A hike that both of us had been needing for a long time, even if it was fairly brief.
As I get older, each year I feel a deeper need to maintain my connection with nature; the mountains and woods in particular. We went for a short hike/walk at the McNary Nature Preserve the weekend before, but it didn’t satisfy my need for a mountainside. While both of us had taken Maizy on short walks at the base of Moscow Mountain in recent months, the last legitimate hike we had been on was in early February at Oyster Dome near Bellingham, and that was a quite short hike as well.
As soon as we stepped onto the trail – named Iron Mountain Trail, which had been a wagon road for hauling lead ore to the Clark Fork River over 100 years ago – which led above Cascade Creek Campground, a familiar giddiness overcame both of us. We breathed in the mountain air. The woods and undergrowth were still in their winter dormancy for the most part, but nonetheless the crisp smell of the woods refreshed our senses, and in a deeper sense, our souls.
We climbed the mountainside along the trail, taking in the views that opened up in certain areas. The vastness of the mountains invoked a feeling of awe and wonder. I’ve been in the mountains plenty, but no matter how many times I visit them, each time it feels like the first time. It felt incredible to be back in the mountains. Being out in the woods, surveying the rugged Rocky Mountains, and marveling at their majesty, I felt completely at home.
We winded our way around a few ridges, working our way up, breaking in and out of the woods. Sections of the trail cut through thick forest, while other sections opened up and featured great mounds of what I believe was shale rock, or some other type of volcanic rock formed centuries ago. My eyes were repeatedly drawn to the mountains surrounding us above, covered in pines reaching toward the heavens, those at the tops of the mountains frosted with snow that looked as if some deity had garnished them with powdered sugar.
As we climbed, Amber and I talked about the impact of humans on the mountains, and our world in general, wondering what the world would look like if humans weren’t hard-wired to move forward, to progress, to develop new exciting and things, and to create better lives for ourselves in the present, while oftentimes ignoring the impact we have on the future.
As a race, we are so often irresponsible in the way we eat up the earth’s resources, not thinking about the impact we are having on our environment. We discussed that a balance needs to be found between progress and conservation at the government and corporate levels – the entities that have the largest environmental impact – so that we can continue to move forward as humans with drive and ambition, while being responsible stewards of the environment at the same time.
Eventually, we climbed up a few steep switchbacks and entered a flat, wooded area, and came to the place we’d been looking for.
A side trail broke off to the left toward Cascade Creek Falls and an overlook. When we got there, the falls were quite underwhelming, however the view of the river valley below was not. It was utterly breathtaking, and the pictures don’t do it justice.
Below us was the Clark Fork River, mountains lining each side of the river through the river valley, stretching as far as the eye could see. I sat down and breathed for a few moments, trying to soak myself into the moment. I could have sat there for hours, simply ingesting the river valley, the mountains, and the cold breeze that bit at my face and hands.
We hung around for a while, but eventually headed back, where we would enjoy the mineral pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs, and enjoyed a wonderful evening with Amber’s family.
All the while – and now as I write this – I dreamt of being on one of those mountainsides, doing absolutely nothing other than being in the moment, and breathing along with the trees.