Friday, August 20, 2010

Tranquility Base: Challis Hot Springs

Part of the Post Register's weekly series, "Uniquely Eastern Idaho."

CHALLIS -- It’s seven o’clock in the morning and a quarter-mile up the dead-end road from the Challis Hot Springs two does are nibbling on the grass and eyeing a photographer to make sure he doesn’t get too close.

This is the very picture of tranquility.

“I used to call my sister while she was fighting the traffic on I-5 (in Seattle) and I was watching the ducks and herons,” says Gretchen Amar, manager of the bed and breakfast and the campground at the springs. “She made a lot more money than I did, but I was happier.”

Indeed, if you can’t find some peace and quiet here, you can’t find it anywhere.

Hidden between the Salmon River a quarter-mile to the west and foothills to the immediate east, Challis Hot Springs was developed in the late 1800s and is still owned by descendants of its founder. There are two large pools for soaking -- a cooler one outside and a hotter one inside -- and the grounds are made for sauntering.

Robert Currie Beardsley homesteaded the place beginning in 1880 and eventually found a bride named Eleanor when he went to New Orleans for the World Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884. Yes, she came back with him to Challis and stuck around even after Beardsley drowned in 1888. The development of the hot springs as a destination eventually took decades.

The hot springs went through a number of owners over the years but have been back in family hands since Bob and Lorna Hammond bought it in 1951. They still live on the property but it’s owned today by the Hammonds’ daughters, Mary Conner and Kate Taylor. It’s usually Amar who greets guests, cooks breakfast and oversees the 11 employees.

In the spring, Marine recruiters from all over the Northwest come to the hot springs for a retreat, and Amar has developed a soft spot for them.

“It was such a shock to realize they were my sons’ age,” she says. So, she cooks breakfast for all 200 (some stay in the B&B, but most camp). The B&B has eight rooms and there are 26 RV sites with hook-ups and another 10 tent sites, all down by the river a short walk from the guesthouse.

Summer is the busy season at Challis Hot Springs, but it’s open year-round. Challis doesn’t get a lot of snow in a typical winter, and there’s less at the springs since the ground is warmed by the geothermal activity just below the surface. Amar says a lot of spring visitors seem to come from Teton Valley, where the winters can start looking a bit stark by March.

There’s an octagon-shaped building near the guesthouse where breakfast is served, and it also happens to be idea for gatherings of up to 35 or so. In the summer, a brook quite literally gurgles just off the octagon’s patio and wildflowers bloom against the hillside. Tranquil. There’s little doubt that Robert Currie Beardsley would approve.

Special thanks to Brantley LaComb, whose historical outline of Challis Hot Springs was invaluable.

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