Remembering The ava Hot Springs, Idaho, of My Youth
It was The evening, of June 21st, the longest day of the year. It was a pleasant evening, the sort that lends itself to an evening drive; so I decided to make the thirty minute trip to Lava Hot Springs, a quaint little resort town in Southeast Idaho situated at the bottom of Fish Creek Summit along U.S. Highway 30.
As I meandered the street browsing the shops, and visiting the sunken gardens, I ended up at the hot pools. I knew the woman who was on duty that evening, and we started reminiscing about Lava as we remembered it in years past when we were kids. We reminisced about the two swimming pools that used to be in Lava—the Old State Natatorium and the Spa Plunge.
The State Nat, as it was referred to, was owned and operated by the State of Idaho. It featured two pools, an open-air pool, and an enclosed pool for winter swimming. The Spa Plunge, or “The Spa,” the name by which it was widely known, was an open pool, and was privately owned and operated. The soaking pools, that today are called the “Hot Pools,” were known in the old days, as the “Mud Baths.” They are also owned and operated by the State of Idaho. The Porteuf River dissects the town. Everything on one side of the river is state property, everything on the opposite side is private property.
The woman I was visiting with mentioned that one of the things that stuck in her mind about those vintage pools were the rings that hung out over the waters; a feature that seems to be a rarity in pools today. As I remember them, those rings dangled over the water a big leap away from the diving boards. They were close enough together that so as to get one in each hand.
Swimmers would use the diving boards to get a running flying leap to grab the rings, and if they were successful in catching them, they would pump them like a swing to see how high they could go, and then let go and drop into the water. Some of the more acrobatic swimmers would position their hands in the rings, roll themselves upside down straight of back, with legs in the air, and then dive head first into the pool.
Both of those old pools were either destroyed, or rendered inoperable with the 1962 flood of the Portneuf River and were replaced with a new Olympic size swimming pool in a new location farther away from the river.
When I was a youngster during the 1940s I used to go to Lava to spend a week at a time with a cousin of mine who was about my same age. His mom and my mom were sisters. This aunt and her husband owned and operated a grocery store in Lava. I would ride to Lava on the old Bear Lake Stage, a bus company that operated out of Montpelier, Idaho. They ran a daily route from Montpelier to Pocatello, stopping in all the small communities along the way. In addition to carrying passengers, they also offered a freight service for small freight items between the various communities (a sort of forerunner to UPS and FED-X).
My visits usually occurred during the school summer vacation, and winter Christmas vacation. In the summer, it was swimming in one of the two community pools, or wading in the Portneuf River; and in the winter, it was sleigh riding down one of the village streets.
The community of Lava Hot Springs is built on the side of a mountain. There was one street in town that was used exclusively for sleigh riding. I would guess that it was a little more than a quarter mile from the top to the bottom; long enough for a good fast run on the snow packed street. My memory is a little foggy about this, but I think that particular street was blocked off to motor vehicle travel in the winter time. It also crossed Main Street at the bottom, so there were stop signs on Main street giving the sleigh riders right of way to cross Main and continue down across the river, and part way up the hill on the opposite side. Fortunately, I don’t think there were any accidents . I’m told this kind of sleigh riding is no longer allowed in Lava today, however.
In those days Lava had a different face. Instead of being resort oriented, as it is today, I remember it as a more traditional small town with grocery stores, car agencies, farm implement dealerships, cafes, a dry goods-clothing store, a movie theater, and a drug store (which featured an old fashion fountain where one could order everything from a fountain coke to malted milk shakes, to root beer floats, ice cream sundaes, ice cream cones and banana splits). The typical kinds of businesses one saw in small towns of that era.
But as it was with most small rural towns following the end of World War II, Lava fell on hard times and had to re-invent itself into the resort town that it is today. There is much more I could write of my memories of Lava Hot Springs, but I’ll save them for another time.
If anyone from outside Southeast Idaho reading this blog happens to be in that area of the state, they should make it a point to stop off in Lava. It will be well worth their time to do so. Take a dip in the swimming pool, or soak in the hot pools, tube down the Portneuf River, meander the streets and visit the quaint little shops, and visit the interesting museum.
If memories of the past interest you, perhaps you’d like to read about the adventures of Buddy Crawford in my book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures. The trials are the trouble he gets himself into from his mischievous ways; the treasures are the lessons he learns from his escapades. You can receive a free copy of the book by clicking on the “free download” button at upper right of this page. Happy reading. 🙂