February Hot Springs

WHUFU Trip: 395 | 0

Thursday (Feb 11) 

I get on the road a little before noon – pretty good for me – return library books and pick up a salad and sando, and I’m on the road!

Topaz Lake from the Lodge Dining Room

Diesel in Carson City – $1.89/gal – I never thought I would see gas at such a price again in my lifetime. Life sure ain’t as predictable as it seems day to say – it’s enough to make me wonder if I should be worrying about a President Trump!

Steak and eggs for $5.99 at Topaz Lake – one of my favorite stops. As always quite a nice little steak and a spectacular view of the lake and Antelope Valley.

It is still winter. Pretty much every campground between Reno and Bishop is closed for the season, I didn’t want to drive as far as Bishop on the first day. It took some drama – a cracked phone case and a cranky interchange at the Mammoth Lakes Information Center, but I did find a place to hole up for the night. All in all I had a pretty nice night sleeping in the Canyon Lodge parking lot!

Canyon Lodge:  

just a parking lot, but they left me alone. Turns out where I parked was the employee parking area, so about 7AM I was surrounded by groggy 20-somethings on all three sides, going to work at the lodge.

tonight:

just a parking lot, but they left me alone. Turns out where I parked was the employee parking area, so about 7AM I was surrounded by groggy 20-somethings on all three sides, going to work at the lodge.

Not much to say about my evening. I put up the opaque screen on the sliding door window because this seems like a place where I might need privacy. I guess I thought I didn’t need that much privacy, because I did not put up the windshield screen. I’m glad. I think that helped me blend in. Anyway, I parked, settled in, ate my Newman’s salad, and wifi’d off Personal Hotspot till 11-ish. As almost always on the first night, I slept poorly. After a tossy-turny night, I found myself wide awake at 5 am, so I read until I finally dozed off again — for a little while :-/

Friday 

Pretty much at the crack of dawn I hear cars and car doors slamming and general activity all around me.  Turns out that I was, as noted above, in the employee lot, which was a busy place!

Overall, it worked out very well. The Lodge employees didn’t give a hoot about me – at least some of them must have heard my heater running and so must of had a hint there was someone inside. Even though they didn’t care, I was uncomfortable hanging out in the daylight with all the workaday activity going on about me, so the net effect was to get me started on the day MUCH earlier than usual! I was drinking my coffee at Looney Bean by 8AM.  Quite a shock to my system!

called "Hot Tub" in one book, "Rock Tub" in another
I spent a long time at Looney Bean, and even so I was on the road before I usually get up! I took a little jaunt down the Benton Crossing Road where the hot springs are, and since I had sooooo much time on my hands I had quite a nice adventure exploring on foot and soaking. I soaked in a hot tub called Hot Tub in Touring California and Nevada Hot Springs. It is the first one on the left off of Benton Crossing Road. I had it all to myself on a beautiful sunny day!

Then southward. I still have time on my hands so I took the long way – Old 395 down the hill to Bishop, very pretty. Ate at El Rancho, my usual Bishop stop, where I had my usual order of machaca (or chorizo) con huevos.. Bishop has gotten pretty expensive. Machaca con huevos was $11! The other smart thing I did was drive pff the main road for a couple of miles to the Manor Market. It’s a very nice independent market on Line Street, the street that turns into 168 the road up to the lakes, I stocked up on quality picnic food for what I expect to be three days and nights of no decent food choices.

I’ve decided to stay in one of the Inyo County campgrounds tonight. There are a bunch of them south of here. They are all pretty similar – strips of land leased from the LADWP (Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power), along one of the picturesque little LADWP creeks. From north to south, the ones I was interested in are:

  • Tinnemaha – $10 – south of Big Pine – sounded nice from the description, but I missed the turnoff so I didn’t see it.
  • Taboose Creek – $14 -further south of Big Pine – nice enough but pretty busy, and annoyingly, you can ONLY pay be credit card – strange.
  • independence Creek – $10 – Right past the western edge of Independence. This is where I stopped, very pleasant.
  • Portagee Joe – $10 – in Lone Pine, not as nice as the others I looked at, but would do in a pinch.

Independence Creek Campground:  

Real good find! I thought these county parks were spendy, but $10 seems like a pretty good deal to me right now! On one of those little "creeks" LADWP sculpted out to constrain "their" water. Wide open sagebrush on one side, a column of willows and cottonwoods following the creek on the other. Very quiet and pretty today.

There is nobody else here, I have the pick of the spots. Even though I know the sun doesn’t set until 5:30-ish, it has already dipped behind (near) Mt Whitney at 4:15, so I can sit out in the open and take in the majestic, vast valley for over an hour without my usual worry about shade and sun glare.

little footbridge over Independence Creek at sunset
Very warm all day. Now that the sun is behind the mountain it’s getting cold … in a good way!

The campground is very close to the edge of Independence, and this must be the industrial edge of town. There are occasional loud bangs that sound to me like then the dumpster truck grabs the dumpster in its prongs and shakes the f— out of it. Not ideal for the image of getting close to nature, but whatever it is it stops at 5.

Looking north up the valley you can see for a long, long way – probably not really all the way to Bishop, but it seems like it. After dark that means you can see the headlights and taillights of the trucks and cars blasting up 395 for an incredible distance.

Saturday 

epic relief map at Interagency Visitors Center

What a beautiful spot in the morning. Gurgling brook 12′ away, clear, endless vistas. I also have phone bars.

There is a nice enough sounding diner in Independence, but I press on to the Lone Pine Bistro because it has wifi. Turned out to be a great spot. Good wifi, nice apple fritter, a roast beef sando to go that was really good as it turned out,

Next stop the Interagency Visitors Center, one of my favorite places! Main attraction is an epic relief map of the whole region from Reno to Los Angeles.

Then the very, very pretty drive through the Panamint Range to Death Valley.

Stovepipe Wells Campground:  

Finally staying here after driving past so many times. Quite hot even in mid-October. It's not open in the summer it's so hot.

Just a big parking lot with a bathroom at one end. there is also a store and oh glory, a nice bar (and restaurant) across the road.

tonight:

Saturday night in February. It is (unseasonably?) hot: 77° at 4:30. Approaching from the west, it is a 4,500' drop and many (18?) miles of road in a more or less straight line from the pass to the edge of the valley floor, which is here!

Coming down, it appears crowded and unusually busy from a distance, yet there are plenty of spaces when you get right down to it. I am very stoked to be here.

student ghetto at Stovepipe Campground

My nomination for “Camping event most like Burning Man“. The weather this evening is the incarnation of mildness. The campground, which is after all just a large gravel lot graded into the northwest part of Death Valley, has lots of tents, way more than can set up in the official tent area in the brush around the edges. So there are tens of tents set up out in the middle of the parking lot, most with a modest mid-sized sedan parked next to it.. There are a couple of large groups: college students on I’m guessing a field trip and young boys who appear to be from some kind of institution. There is a real nice party vibe. I’m just sitting here typing, and constantly folks shuffling past, shoes noisy on the gravel.

The college kids all went off in a group out the northeast corner of the campground. Leaving the next day the signs reminded me that there are sand dunes nearby. That would ahve been pretty rad, walking the sand dunes by moonlight. Note for next time ….

I had a nice beer and interesting conversation in the very busy lodge – the reason I made a point of being here on Saturday. Now that I am back at the campsite, I am loving the busyness quite a bit less. It is actually pretty noisy and bothersome as a matter of fact.

Sunday 

Busyness is even more annoying this morning. The noise of car doors shutting has been more or less constant since sunrise. A never ending stream of 12 year old boys is walking back and forth from their jamboree to the bathroom.

It has become clear that making a point of being here on Saturday night is an EPIC FAIL. There are so f—king many people that every task of the day is a small drama. Getting coffee at the general store is a six person line.

There are some nice fields of yellow wildflowers along the road. I find out later that if I had taken the 2.5 hour detour to Badwater I would have seen an epic, once in a decade (not since the last big El Nino) bloom. Not just yellow, but carpets of purple flowers and white flowers. Oh well, I really enjoyed the flowers I did see…

I press on to the Visitors Center to ask my questions. There is congestion in the parking lot, then another line. Then onward a few hundred yards to hang out at Furnace Creek. I always enjoy the holiday vibe here, not to mention that it’s a mini hot spot for phone bars – a decent 3G (not 4G!) connection for about a half-mile radius.

This is the only time I will have phone bars from Saturday morning in Lone Pine to Monday afternoon when I reach US 95 at Amargosa – a coupla hundred miles square of phone bar-less emptiness. I pick up a little All Star Game news, fire off a few useless Facebook comments, and learn that Justice Scalia died. I really disliked that man, both for his personal style and even more as a hypocritical windbag of a throwback Justice. Without the benefit of network talking heads, my own analysis is that this is pretty awesome for the judicial health of our nation – a 4-4 tie except when Kennedy goes with the good guy and gals. Also will turn up the heat on this issue in the election, which I believe will be good for the good guys..

the mighty Amargosa River
Oh well, back to all about me!  I decide that I am on top of my schedule enough to take the side trip to Dante’s Point. It’s pretty fun, but very cold and very windy up there! Thirteen miles each way. It chewed up about an hour, putting me at Tecopa at 5 instead of 4. Probably shoulda not done it, I’d rather have gotten here at 4.

The drive was more interesting than usual because the Amargosa River is actually running!

Tecopa Hot Springs:  

Odd place. Separate bathhouses for men and women, nudity required. Camping is available in glorified parking lot across the road overlooking the settlement pond.

No potable water, must drive a couple of miles for that. Really interesting salt flats area at the edge of town. In the last couple of years a pair of restaurants have opened. And breweries!

tonight:

This place is starting to get popular. Every time there are a few more rules. But every time I manage to have a pretty sweet stay notwithstanding. The place I used to park is now for big RVs, the good spots down in the trees are taken, but the cool stoner dude at check-in said it was OK to park right along the edge, so that's where I happily am, listening to the frogs bellow.

So many changes:

  • There is a new cafe at Delight’s (stoner dude is not impressed).
  • Check-in has moved from the office to the entryway to the pools.
  • Ever more rules about where to camp.
  • There is an alleged brewery down the road. This I gotta see!
  • The pools are open all night!

my alkaline parking lot, note wind-smushed tent at picnic table
Desert driving frazzles my nerves for the first day or so when I’m not used to it. it’s late enough and I’m tired enough that I don’t do my usual hike over to the alkali flats. As noted, there is alleged to be a brewery two miles away. So, after hanging out to the last gasp of the really spectacular dark orange sunset, I hopped into the van and took off – highly unusual for me! I make a point of never driving again after I am settled. … and I would have been better off to have stuck to that – my hopes for hops were dashed! The brewery does indeed exist, BUT they were closed for an employee party, so poo on them and the whole idea of them!

Back at my spot I bounced back to my normal good mood quickly – ate my sando from Lone Pine and drank my Safeway red wine, then went to hang out with the guys at the men’s tubs. It’s not nearly as crowded as I thought it would be. Then it occurs to me that a segregated-by-sex hot tubs place is probably NOT the ticket for Valentine’s Day!

Monday 

It’s very windy this morning. Come to think of it it’s often very windy here. The first time I slept in my truck was here, because it was so windy it was impossible to set up my tent. Anyway, this particular parking spot on the edge turns out to be the best ever; my favorite of all, with it’s amazing sunset vista and the sound of the bullfrogs all night.

I did my morning soak, there was a talkative old dude there this morning. It’s funny, I learn a lot from locals when I talk to them, but I a send out a ‘leave me alone’ vibe and mostly avoid getting into conversations. I guess I’m just a snob.

hot pool in the alkali flats outside Tecopa
I had brought my mug and a dollar with me and so returned with a cuppa their joe … good thing as the day turned out. I am caffeinated and having a grand ole time typing away in the shade of my van here at noon-ish before I start the driving day.

First fifty or so miles I am retracing yesterday’s drive. Right out side Tecopa I stop at the alkali flats. Turns out there is a swimmable natural hot pool here! Cool thing to know about for the future.

Back through Death Valley Junction, then instead of blasting straight on to US 95 I decide to take the short detour to Ash Meadows.

Ash Meadow NWR:  

very remote, no camping nearby, not like the NWRs I'm used to. Lotta driving to individual cool little habitats tucked away, one big pond and a couple of really beautiful cold springs.

tonight:

The road is very washboardy in spots.

This place has really upped it's game since the last time I was here. There is a new Visitors Center with very state of the art exhibits, and a new boardwalk to the beautiful freshwater spring.

There is a lot of dusty and bumpy driving through dusty and boring terrain, but the reward is a couple of enchanting freshwater spring areas, I went to the one called King’s Pool last time. It was pretty amazing, but getting to it requires driving yet more dusty and bumpy gravel roads (Point of Rocks Road). So I eschewed that side trip this time and went to Crystal Spring, also very awesome but with the advantage of being right behind the brand new Visitors Center. on a brand new boardwalk.

Coulda been a yet another resort...

There are some real interesting exhibits, turns out the area was this close to becoming a luxury resort community back in the 80’s, but the discover of a unique desert pupfish in the beautiful springs gave the feds the ammunition to stop it, then the area became the wildlife refuge four years later. e locals against the feds,A perfect resolution from my p.o.v., but there are the kinds of things that embitter the locals against the feds.

I had hopes of eating at the wifi cafe in Beatty, but that was a FAIL. It was closed, and it was too late in the day anyway. Good thing I still have leftover chicken and potato salad from Bishop.

Tonight’s stop will be Bailey’s Hot Springs. I stayed here once years ago, and have good memories of it.

Bailey's Hot Springs:  

funky little place, needs a LOT of maintenance, but their wifi was pretty good.. They have three private bathhouses:

1 - pleasantly warm,

2 - hot (> 100)

3 - very hot. (> 104)

So if the one you want is in use you're outta luck until whoever's inside has had their fill.

The pools seemed hotter to me - the medium seemed like 104 and the hot like 107-8 ... your mileage may vary.

another desert sunset from another alkaline parking lot

I had to wait a while for the hottest tub, but other than that I’m having a pretty good time. The hottest tub was to me, very hot, like the Dome Pool at Sierra or just a notch below the Meditation Pool at Harbin – that is the hottest water I’ve ever been able to stand being in.

Tuesday 

I’m up at 9-ish, very good for me. All three tub keys are open for my choosing, so I hit medium then the warm.  Warm is actually hot enough.

I backtrack to Beatty for breakfast, to that wifi cafe. Very unusual for me to go backwards, but it’s the choice between a ten minute drive to breakfast at a good sounding spot or an hour and a half drive to an average sounding spot. I enjoy Gema’s Cafe, a couple of earnest and eager to please Hispanic ladies. They had good wifi.

As I’m driving north I notice on the map a possible alternate route. I have just enough phone bars to ask Maps about it, and it turns out to be only a few miles and 15 minutes longer. I will miss Goldfield (interesting) and Tonopah (kind of depressing), but I will see entirely new countryside. Let’s do it!

It’s fun. There is a well-constructed stone ghost town called Palmyra right on the road. If I kept on this road it would be the back road to Lee Vining, the road that runs alone the north side of Mono Lake that you can see from 395. There are great views of the mighty Sierras over here. Same view I had for two days last Thursday, but it’s great to see it again.

I rejoin 95 North, and soon enough (desert time – actually another 80 miles!) I am Hawthorne., home of some kind of really gigantic military ammunition dump. Shop at the Safeway, eat a little at the McD’s to download podcasts, then onward to Walker Lake to find my campsite.

Sportsman's Beach Walker Lake:  

Pretty, spectacular view down the length of Walker Lake. You can hear the neverending semis on US 95, but they are pretty far up the hill.

You come to the main campground first. I find out later this is the only unlocked bathroom. It's nice enough, but the sites are not level. After you wind down a few more hundred feet, past the boat ramp, there are more camp sites, a couple of which are nice and level. If only the bathroom door was unlocked...

tonight:

Pretty, spectacular view down the length of Walker Lake. You can hear the neverending semis on US 95, but they are pretty far up the hill.

You come to the main campground first. I find out later this is the only unlocked bathroom. It's nice enough, but the sites are not level. After you wind down a few more hundred feet, past the boat ramp, there are more camp sites, a couple of which are nice and level. If only the bathroom door was unlocked...

I am pretty sure you could camp almost anywhere along here, but I go to the ofificial site, Sportsman’s Beach.

Walker Lake sunset
Every night except the night in a parking lot I have been able to see vehicle lights 6,7, 10 miles away. I sometimes time it on my phone timer, and a particular set of lights is visible for 8-10 minutes. The vista you get out here in the great desert really are different!

It is almost full moon, and the moonlight is very bright. It is so mild that I take off for a fun little moonlight walk. I bushwhack down to the shoreline and head right (west), because I remember that the boat launch is down there somewhere. I had a fun little mini-adventure. As it got later there would be times where there were no trucks on the highway in seeing or hearing distance, then the silence would be magical.

Wednesday 

Cloudy and just beautiful here looking over the placid lake.

Wow, just two hours after I wrote that word “placid”, it’s still beautiful, but not placid any more. The wind is noticeably rocking the van. Being mellow in the lawn chair is no longer an option. I do have phone bars, so I check out the weather forecast and see that there are high wind advisories all the way to Reno, and rain/snow for the next couple of days for the whole region … so … time to pack it in and go home!

Home is really only about two hours away. Fallon is one hour away, so I batten down the van, head up the hill and north to Fallon and a nice breakfast. Fallon is the intersection of US 50 and US 95. I’ve never before gotten off the highways and explored, but I did today, and gosh, this place is a dusty, gritty armpit of a town! They seem to have not heard about wifi. The only place in town I could find that had it was McDonald’s, so I had a hot fudge sundae to chase my sausage and eggs (hmmm) and stocked up on podcasts for the trip home.