Friday, August 8, 2008

More Uncharted Shilling

Heise Hot Springs Magic

As I climbed the sodden cedar stairs, I felt, oddly, tall. The worn banisters and handrails felt stubby and short. Miniature. Near the top, they're worn. Grooved. Carved with scratches; deep, rounded, long, crosswise and with the grain, as if tiny glaciers once flowed higgledy-piggledy down the rails.

Two little boys, arms strung like Ys from rail to rail, finger the grooves. “Maybe somebody made these with their fingers,” one said to the other. “I wonder who made them,” the other said.

Then I remembered.

I did.

Without the aid of limeflower tea and a petite madeline, memories flooded back as I stood there on the stairs, behind the little boys waiting for their turn to go down the water slide at Heise Hot Springs. Like Marcel Proust in his famous novel A la Recherce du Temps Perdu, I rediscovered those long-lost memories. As Proust wrote, “the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory . . .”

Okay, so the vicissitudes weren't exactly rendered inocuous. But at least rendered more vivid.

There were Heise disasters:

As a little boy, emerging from the dressing room after a swim with my rear end rubbing against the inside of my coveralls, because someone stole my underwear from the dressing room.

There were Heise jingles, played incessantly on the radio Mom listened to while we waited for the bus:

“The Heise Hot Springs Magic will cast a spell on you (ching!)” The ching was some kind of chime, fitting with the records of Captain and Tenille and the Carpenters that old Bob Zeil played on KID – AM radio.

And Heise parents:

Dad sitting in the pool's snack bar, watching us through the windows, swimming. He got our attention. He thought he was telling us it was time to go. We thought he was telling us he'd buy us more tickets for the water slide. Merry moments of miscommunication ensued.

And Heise flowers:

Hollyhocks. Hundreds of hollyhocks, gathered like spears jutting out of the ground, abuzz with bees. Just like the hollyhocks at Grandma Spiers' house on Second Street, lining the rickety wooden fence on the alley.

As we swam at this hot pool, squeezed between the Snake River and cliffs of the river canyon in the panhandle of Jefferson County, Idaho, I wondered what memories my wife and I were creating for our children. As we drove home, they poured out:

Sunburn, first and foremost. The itchy, hurty kind that hurts if you scratch it but drives you nuts if you don’t. Also, the camp host paraded through the RV campground with a dead skunk on the end of a pitchfork. Not sure if he was just taking the shortest route to the trash pile or parading the skunk and odor through the entire camp as a share the wealth gesture. Liam eating the water slide up, going down again and again, then demanding to be taken out to the diving board so he could jump off. Sometimes we call him our chicken heart. But in many ways, he’s quite brave. Our route to the pool was entirely a Bat Route, all back roads, only a few miles on a state highway.

And those carved rails. Standing there in line behind the little boys, with Liam beside me, I remembered how we carved them. From my ankle I took the elastic bearing the metal disc, stamped with the number matching that of the canvas bag we put our clothes and towels in at the dressing room. I wrapped the elastic around my fingers, grabbed the disc, and rubbed it in one of the grooves.

It fit perfectly. I scraped the disc through the groove, and a little sawdust collected on its edge. The little boys watched. They took their elastics off their ankles, carved with their discs. “Cool!” the older yelled.

I smiled. I'd passed on a memory.

Getting there:

The boring way: From Idaho Falls, travel east towards Wyoming on U.S. Highway 26 for about 20 miles. Just past the community of Ririe, watch for signs pointing off to the left for Heise. From the highway, follow additional signs to the hot pool complex, nestled in one of the largest cottonwood tree forests in the world.

The Bat Route way: From Rexburg, travel south on the Old Yellowstone Highway out of towm to the Archer Highway – watch for signs pointing to Heise and Archer. Once on the Archer Highway, simply follow this winding farm-to-market road through the community of Archer – past Big Jud's restaurant – and Madison County's Twin Bridges campground on an island in the Snake River. Shortly after passing the campground, another sign will direct you to the left (east). (Note: Continuing south on this road will take you into Ririe, a community of less than a thousand, which is worth visiting just to get a feel for isolated, small-town America). Again, follow the winding road through farmland, across the river again and then down to Heise.

What it's about:

Heise Hot Springs features two small hot pools, one large pool, a 350-foot water slide, campgrounds that border on the Snake River and a pizza parlor. More information and rates are available at

In the area:

Cress Creek hiking trail, a popular nature trail that takes hikers on a two-mile jaunt up the hillside to the north of the Snake River, for views of the eponymous creek and, from the top, the Snake River Canyon below.

NOTE: I do apologize this is kind of a repeat of a previous post. But it's now been Unchartedized and, I think is a bit more coherent. Or stupid.Just visit us at In a few weeks, that is. We're still tinkering.

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