Day 21: Chico Hot Springs

The Corps split on Labor Day. Jim and Paul rode bravely through a cold rain to the gates of Yellowstone. I held back and spent a rest day at Chico Hot Springs. Tania and I saluted Jim and Paul’s bravery by raising cold cans of Olympia while soaking in the 105 degree water.

Chico Hot Springs is in the Yellowstone River Valley at the base of Mount Emigrant (elevation 10,900 ft). The Montana WPA Guide relates a legend that the explorer Jim Bridger spent the winter of 1844-45 here, uneasily co-existing with Crow Indians. Gold was discovered in Emigrant Gulch in 1862. In 1864, a team of settlers arrived, and according to the Guide “their attention was drawn to a lone pine with 18 to 20 elk horns around its base, so strongly embedded that they could not be removed. In December of that year Jim Bridger and one of the settlers met at a primitive hotel near Bozeman. When, during the swapping of stories, the ring of elk horns was mentioned, Bridger asserted that he had placed them there 25 years before.”

Miners built crude vats to bathe and wash their clothes in the hot springs. In 1876, one of them tapped the 112-degree water and ran it under a greenhouse so he could grow vegetables. Percie and Bill Knowles built the original hotel in 1900; Teddy Roosevelt and Charlie Russell were among the guests ferried in by car from the train station at Emigrant. In 1910, Percie and her son Radbourne re-opened the hotel as a sanitorium under the direction of Dr. George Townsend. By the 1940s the Hot Springs was more of a dude ranch and gambling hall.

The present owners have restored the 1900s-style architecture and Craftsman furnishings, and what we saw is a beautiful example of an early 20th century health resort. It’s affordable; a room with shared bath can be had for as little as $49. The restaurant is not cheap but it’s sophisticated, friendly, and has an excellent chef. You can get a massage and ride a horse if you want to, but all we wanted to do was lie around. I will make the ride tomorrow, hopefully after this storm blows through, and Tania will chase me in her rental car; we will all meet at Canyon on Tuesday afternoon.