Hot Pots: Mother Nature’s Hot Tub

There are places where the waters of a hot spring – normally so scalding hot that you’d die if you went in – intersect with a cool river. The confluence of hot and cold creates pleasant waters in which to bathe, called a hot pot (not to be confused with the delicious Chinese stew). It’s as if nature created a hot tub just for us to enjoy. If you’ve never bathed in a hot pot, then put it on your bucket list.

Your best bet for experiencing a hot pot is in Yellowstone National Park, the vast wilderness that spans Wyoming and Montana. The park is an epicenter of geothermal activity. Of all the known geysers of the world, Yellowstone has two thirds of them. And there are many hot springs and rivers, so naturally, Yellowstone has many hot pots.

There are only a few hot pots in Yellowstone, however, that are officially sanctioned for swimming by the park. The most popular is Boiling River, the combination of the Boiling River hot spring and Gardner River, because it’s very near the main Yellowstone highway.

Unofficially, there are many more. But these unsanctioned hot pots can be dangerous.

Hot springs, obviously, are hot. Hot enough that people have died swimming in them. Water comes in contact with either the earth’s mantle or magma, heating it up to temperatures unsafe for humans (and when the water becomes hot enough to build steam pressure and erupt, it’s called a geyser.) Over the years, 20 people in Yellowstone have died from the scalding waters of hot springs, and many thousands more have been injured.

In 1981, one man dove head first into a 200 degree Fahrenheit hot spring, trying to rescue his dog that had fallen in. He died from third degree burns. In 2000, three park employees walked through the park at night with no flashlights, and seeing a hot spring and mistaking it for a stream, they jumped in. One of them died and the rest suffered extensive burns… I could keep going but you get the idea.

If you dive into an unsanctioned hot pot, you do so at your own risk. Follow the recommendations of park rangers and stay safe. And never go into an unmitigated hot spring. Only go into one that has combined the cooler water of a river or lake.

By Sean Sullivan