After the elk, we traveled on through Forest Service roads, past the old Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness (WTH Idaho???), and emerged out on pavement. We were turning onto the Lowman Cutoff, the highway that splits the Idaho Hot Springs Loop in half. Ahh, looking back at our innocent first days of this trip, when we thought we'd be able to complete this whole route in like 12 days. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. We were headed back to Boise.
There was a little climb up to a summit at the northern end of the highway, and then finally there was a blessed paved descent. We dropped 3000 ft in like 10 miles. We were sharing the road with cars and sheer rock cliffs, so I didn't get any pictures. But I can tell you that we didn't pedal at all for at least 20 minutes. It was great.
It was still hot though, and eventually the road evened out and we had to start burning calories again. We were dropping elevation, so it got warmer. We watched the landscape change from the greener ponderosa pines back into the dry, scrubby sagebrush hills of the lowlands.
Just as the afternoon sun was really starting to bear down, we saw the sign we had been looking out for all day, "Kirkham Hot Springs". Though it was 4pm and the sun was really blaring, we changed into bathing suits and went in for a soak.
I have learned remarkably little about the natural or human history of the region on this trip, probably because all the land we've been traveling through is National Forest land. As we have learned in previous trips out West, the Forest Service gives zero effs compared to other state and national management agencies. It is probably because it's drastically underfunded, but in any case the Forest Service managed to put out an informational panel about how hot springs work. There used to be volcanic activity in this region, and 15,000 feet under the ground there is molten magma. Snow melt seeps into fissures in the rock and sinks because it's cold. Then it gets close to the magma, heats up and shoots back up through the rock fissures. Some of the water coming out of the hot springs could be 4,000 years old! That's cool.
At Kirkham, the springs bubble up on the cliffside and run down in little streams, cascading over the rock overhangs. People have excavated little pools to collect the spring water, which is hot bath tub temperature. If you really know what's up, you soak in the hot water then dunk in the river. My extremities tingled as my poor little muscles relaxed and contracted in the temperature gradients.
We still wanted to cover a few more miles that day, so we suited up and continued down the Lowman Cutoff. The high rocky cliffs shed all kinds of rocks from boulders to pebbles, and I did my best to point them out to Travis riding behind me. Well he was following too close for one of them and hit a small rock, which somehow jumped up and sheared a spoke in his front wheel, and shredded one of the bags he was carrying on his fork. Luckily the damage was rideable, but damn anything could happen on a trip like this.
We stopped for the night at the next Forest Service campsite at Pine Flats hot spring. Wow, what a luxurious campground. Not only did this place have a pit toilet, they had real campsites with picnic tables and RUNNING WATER. My camping standards really dropped off on this trip. I have pooped outside countless times on this journey, and after Kelly Creek and I'm thankful for any small accouterments. We ate a bunch of instant mashed potatoes (this IS Idaho), and went down to the hot springs.
These spring gushed out of a cliffside and we soaked in pools about 50 feet above the river below. It was really nice.
Then it was time to rest up, only two days and three giant summits left on tour.