A spring that breathes? – Afton, WY

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With scenic Idaho and its famous potatoes in our rearview mirror, we crossed into the northern part of Wyoming’s Star Valley for a 4-night stay in the little town of Thayne.  Our plan was to visit Grand Teton National Park (60 miles to the north) on a weekday during our stay, to avoid the busy weekends there.

While checking in, the RV park owner suggested we visit Intermittent Spring – also known as Periodic Spring – located near the town of Afton, some twenty miles south of Thayne.  It piqued our interest, as it happens to be one of only three springs of its kind in existence.

On our drive to the spring, we discovered that Afton’s other claim to fame is the “elkhorn arch” located there, evidently the largest in the the world!

We drove under the arch that spans the main street (Hwy 89) through town.  It’s 75′ wide, 18′ high and adorned by over 3,000 antlers.  Elkhorn arches are somewhat common in Wyoming, but this baby makes the more famous one in Jackson look tiny by comparison.

Intermittent Spring is about five miles east of town, at the end of a dirt road.  The scenic drive on the way there featured beautiful rocky ledges protruding from hillsides along the road:

From the parking lot we walked about 3/4 mile to access the spring, and our early arrival was rewarded with a peaceful trek devoid of other humanoids; we had the whole place to ourselves – just the way we like it 🙂

Fireweed lined the creek

The water from the spring flows 1/4 mile down the narrow-walled canyon to Swift Creek:

View from Swift Creek looking up toward the source

Imagine this water periodically stopping for 12-18 minutes

If not for the beautiful setting and soothing gurgling noise of the water we would have been disappointed, for it only flows intermittently beginning in late August and continuing through the winter.  During those months, the rare geological feature starts and stops the water’s flow every few minutes at regular intervals, a phenomenon thought to be caused by underground siphoning:

How the spring “breathes”

Unfortunately we could only imagine what it would be like to see the water flow stop, but this beautiful and relaxing place was totally worth the trip.

Intermittent Spring

The cement cap where Steve is sitting was placed over the mouth of the spring to prevent rocks and debris from falling into the water

This fascinating oddity is only known to occur in a couple of other places in the world, with Periodic Spring being the largest by far – a fact that Afton is very proud of.

Looking 1/4 mile down from the source of the spring

After taking pictures and enjoying the peaceful spring, we started back down and spotted the trailhead for Swift Creek Trail winding up the side of Swift Creek Canyon.  We hiked up 2.5 miles, enjoying another perspective of the spring from our high vantage point along the way.  We also crossed a hillside with a variety of wildflowers still in bloom – a bonus treat!

Intermittent Springs

Looking down at Intermittent Spring from Swift Creek Trail

A happy hiker!

This rock ledge reminded me of Angels Landing at Zion NP

The trail was a moderately difficult out and back affair, and we were happy that we crossed paths with only about a half-dozen folks along the way.

On our way back we noticed a lot of people heading toward the spring far below

Completing our hike, we were shocked to see a packed parking lot as dozens of people had arrived to visit this popular place.

Sherry, I use the “Pacer” app on my iPhone to track and record our hikes.  Steve prefers “Walkmeter

Betsy was snuggled in near a big tree at Flat Creek RV Park.  Definitely not a “resort”, but we really liked our site at this small park.

A Wyoming sunset over Salt River Mountain Range


Next up:  Revisiting Grand Teton