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GRANITE HOT SPRINGS

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In the mountains near Jackson Hole is a steamy oasis called Granite Hot Springs. It is off the beaten path, 10 miles off to be exact, but people who know it seem to love it.

The idea of snowmobiling into the backcountry south of Jackson and then jumping into a natural springs pool will probably capture your imagination.The idea appealed to Deseret News photographer Ravell Call. He went there with his family and found the excursion invigorating and fun. We think you will, too.

Here are the details.

The springs are in the Gros Ventre Mountains near Hoback Junction. In winter you can get there only on a snowmobile, in a dog sled, by cross-country skis or snowshoes. You can drive to the springs in the summer.

Admission to the pool is $5 for adults, $3.50 for children 2 to 12. In winter the pool is open daily from 10 a.m. to one hour before dark. During summer it's open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Facilities include an unheated changing room and toilets. The pool closes one week in the spring and one week in the fall. It's best to check on snowmobiling conditions before you go. Call (307) 733-6318.

"People who have never been there before wonder how they can get out in the cold in their wet swimming suit in the middle of winter," says Peggy Puchi. She and her husband are the concessionaire for the springs. "The water temperature is 112 degrees in winter. By the time they've been in the pool for a while, their body temperature goes up. They have about 20 minutes to get dressed before they even begin to feel the cold."

The pool is the least crowded right after 10 a.m., she says. She also suggests that you bring your own food and water, and, of course, your own bathing suit and towel.

Getting there

The road to Granite Hot Springs takes off from Highway 189/191 about 10 miles east of Hoback Junction. Look for a Forest Service sign that says Granite Creek Recreation Area. "It's about a 10-foot sign at the Granite Creek bridge. You can't miss it," says Puchi.

Turn north and follow the road about 1/4 mile to the parking lot.

From there you must either take a snowmobile, a dog sled, cross-country skis or snowshoes into the springs. The distance, one-way, is about 10 miles.

You may, of course, use your own or a rented snowmobile.

Or you may prefer going with one of five snowmobile outfitters in Jackson that have commercial permits for Granite Springs.

Their $115 per person tab (that's for a single rider) includes transportation from your hotel, continental breakfast at the outfitter's office, lunch (either at Granite Ranch - a wilderness lodge on the way, or a pool-side barbeque), admission to the pool, the snowmobile and appropriate clothing. Prices for second riders range from about $60 to $80. Prices for children are often discounted even more.

The outfitters are:

Cache Creek Snowmobile Tours, 733-4743; High Country Snowmobile Tours, 733-5017; Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours, 733-6850; Mountain High Adventures, 733-5251; Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Tours, (800) 647-2561.

Dog sled

Even more exotic is gliding over the snow-covered landscape in a dog sled. Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours offers half and full-day excursions.

The half-day tour takes you to Granite Ranch where you eat lunch. The full-day tour continues to Granite Hot Springs for a soak in the pool.

The company has an office at Hoback Junction next to Balsam Root General Store.

The price for the half-day tour is $125 per person. The price for the full-day excursion is $225 per person. That's two people per sled plus a guide.

If you're so inclined, you can learn the basic commands of mushing and try your hand at driving a sled.

"People love it," says Mike Fox, a partner in the company. "These are all Alaskan sled dogs, which means they love to run."

They lope along at 12 mph or so but can hit 25 mph if they're in a real hurry, he says.

Summertime

In summer you can drive to the springs. The road is gravel, however, and sometimes bumpy. "Some people don't like to take their RVs over the road," says Dorothy Neckels, information assistant for the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

"There's Granite Falls and high cliffs surround the area. It's gorgeous. It's one of my favorite places to send folks out to camp. And there's good fishing in Granite Creek."

There are two Forest Service campgrounds near the turnoff from the highway and one near the hot springs. Prices are $7 per night per site. Half the campground sites are first-come, first-served. The others are reserved. To make reservations call (800) 432-2267. The reservation fee is $5.

A number of hiking trails lead into the Gros Ventre Wilderness Area from the Granite Creek recreation area.

For a free packet of information contact the Bridger-Teton National Forest Visitors Center by calling (307) 739-5500 or writing P.O. Box 1888, Jackson, Wyo, 83001, Attention: Visitor Information.

If you're planning on hiking in the area, you should pick up a Buffalo and Jackson Ranger District map at a Forest Service office.