Late July, 2012 – From Darby, Montana, we met up with our friends and joined them on their annual trip to their favorite fishing hole tucked away in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana’s Big Hole River Valley.
They had often told us how beautiful this spot was, but it wasn’t until we stood there gazing at the mountains and feeling like we’d walked into the photos of a coffee table book that we really understood their affection for this place.
The mountains were still decorated with snow from last winter and the lazy, wandering stream reflected the trees and skies from every angle.
We weren’t really there for the fishing, but the opportunities for photos were endless. We found a spot for the fifth wheel in a meadow and felt like we were settling into a private oasis that was all our own.
In nearby Jackson, Montana, a tiny town that is really just a handful of small buildings on the main drag, we discovered a unique community built on special, natural hot springs. These hot springs are very hot, and we discovered they provide hot water and heating for many of the buildings in town.
We wandered into the Jackson Hot Springs Lodge where there is an inviting swimming pool filled with water from the hots springs. The water flows in one end and out the other, and provides an awesome place for a warm soak in between.
A gal testing the non-chlorinated water in the pool told us this a favorite place among locals in the wintertime. Big Hole is one of the coldest spots in Montana and winter temps hover around -20 F. But the hot springs still gush water at about 135 F. The water cools just enough before it reaches the pool to be very soothing.
We were told the folks in town tend to live longer than most people, and kids just love the pool when the decking is covered in snow. When they pop their heads out of the water in January they can mold their quickly freezing hair into mohawks, antlers and funny shapes.
At the old fashioned Jackson Mercantile we noticed a photo on the wall of a big beautiful ketch under sail. The clerk told us her husband had been one of the lavish yacht’s builders years ago in Seattle.
It was called “Venturosa,” was a whopping 103 feet long, and had been built by a millionaire as an anniversary gift for his wife. (Gee, I’m happy just going out for dinner!). Tragically, she fell ill before it was finished and never set foot on the boat — in fact, she never even knew it existed.
Back at camp, our friends Bob, Cole, Christopher and Todd had caught a bucketload of fish, and Bob’s wife Donna Lea fried them up into a delicious feast. This brook fishing was pretty different than the fishing we had done off our boat in Mexico — there weren’t any 3 foot long fish in the bucket today — but the end result was just as tasty, if not moreso.
There are lots of trails to explore in this area, and Mark snuck out at sunrise and often disappeared again around sunset to capture whatever he could find on camera. I joined him a few times and we were treated to some gorgeous views. In the evenings we got to enjoy the scenery all over again as we reviewed our hundreds of shots on the computer.
One day our friend Todd and his dog Bandit led us on a trail to a spot he’d found that was particularly scenic. We returned several times, finding a perfect, classic spider web and a delicate stalk of grass bent over by the weight of dew drops, as well 360 degrees of beautiful views.
A happy week in this tranquil paradise quickly slipped by. It seemed that time had stood still. However, we eventually emerged from these scenic woods, said goodbye to our friends, and continued down the road, ready for a new chapter of in-town exploration in Dillon, Montana.