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another quest in search of a hot bath

In Yosemite Valley I heard rumours of hot springs around Mammoth Lake and so I quizz Doris and John for further information. The critical clue I already have at my disposal is a green church marking the turn off on the highway. John, however is able to furnish much more specific directions and a reasonable map printed out from software he has l but even this doesn’t stop me getting lost.

I leave June Lake mid-morning, intending to have a relaxed day covering the thirty odd miles to the springs. Finding the green church just south of Mammoth Airport is no problem and I stop after the turn off to stock up on drinking water at the county animal refuge. However, as I continue the tangle of gravel roads leading in every direction over the flat landscape confuses me.

The green church marks the turn off from Highway 395.

The green church marks the turn off from Highway 395.

I am just so excited to be in the desert!

I am just so excited to be in the desert!

Typically, I am trying to find the most obscure and distant of the springs in the area and I cycle in circles for a while flagging down passing cars for advice. A surprising number of people are in exactly the same situation as I am but luckily there are enough locals to put me right and I eventually find my way down a bumpy sandy road winding its way down a shallow canyon to a steaming series of creeks and pools just as the shadows are starting to lengthen in the afternoon.

Several large pools with muddy algae-covered bottoms have been roughly dammed up to supply a more refined concreted tub. I test the waters and find that the tub is rather too luke-warm for my taste, whereas the siphon pools are several degrees warmer.

When I arrive the place is deserted but while I am checking out the source of the hot water, further up the canyon, a car arrives back at the baths. Since I am planning to spend the night here I assess the newcomers carefully and find they only barely pass my security criteria. The fact that one of them is a woman is the only factor that reassures me.

A steaming stream.

Investigating the source - a steaming stream.

Investigating the source.

Investigating the source - getting closer.

Coming out of the ground.

Hot water coming out of the ground.

The couple makes some overtures of friendship before stripping off their clothes and jumping in the tub. I am happier opting for one of the slimy muddy pools, both for the sake of privacy and for the warmer water. I sit on a flat rock as wads of green algae float to the surface and drift away but I am happy soaking by myself in the hot water. Eventually I decide I should address myself to setting up camp for the day and emerge from the pool. I manage to dry and dress myself just before the arrival of another vehicle.

This battered pick up truck and its the occupants in no way pass my not-very-stringent security assessment – these two guys look like they spend most of their time in a seedy bar and the rest of it driving around in the bush in decrepit vehicles, with a crate load of tinnies, hunting and causing general havoc. They stop to chat and I am polite and friendly but don’t encourage a lingering conversation. They soon go and settle in by the side of the tub with the others and I desperately hope that they aren’t all up for an all night party. It is Monday night – but then none of them appear to be gainfully employed.

I push my bike up the canyon to a place where people obviously have camped before – large groups of people, it seems. I disappear into the bushes and hope that the people at the springs will forget my existence. I sit watching until first the car disappears and then the two men get back into their pick up truck. The men alarm me considerably by heading in my direction but they continue past where I am sitting, still screened by brush, and drive up and over the hill on a bumpy gravel track and disappear. The only thing to do is to forget all about them – but I do keep my bear spray close to hand for the evening.

Looking down towards the springs from my camp site.

Looking down towards the springs from my camp site.

Evening sky over the springs.

Evening sky over the springs.

Evening light on the grass - the desert is just so beautiful.

Evening light on the grass - the desert is just so beautiful.

Sunset.

Sunset.

I set up my tent and cook dinner before returning to the pools. There is no such thing as too long spent soaking in a hot spring and so, as the last light disappears and the temperature falls, I get back into the pool and lie under the stars until I start to fall asleep. I fall into my sleeping bag, so relaxed I can barely move but during the night a wicked wind springs up and I wake to my tent flapping frantically, as the poles twist and flex, like a living creature trying to escape a snare. I try to sleep through the commotion but it’s hard to drop off again.

My tent is hidden up among the rocks on the hill. This landscape seems very Australian to me.

My tent is hidden up among the rocks on this hill. The landscape seems very Australian to me.

In the morning, the wind is still strong and bitterly cold. I cook breakfast and pack my belongings onto my bike wrapped in all my warmest clothes. I am about to set off down the road with ice-block hands and feet but the warm waters lure me back to them. I strip in the frigid air and submerge myself in the pool. I sit watching storm clouds gather over both mountain ranges. The occasional tiny flake of snow swirls around my head before melting on contact with the water.

Pretty skies at dawn, too.

Pretty skies at dawn, too.

This photo does nothing to convey the icy chill in the air.

This photo does nothing to convey the icy chill in the air.

It’s very comfortable where I am but the weather doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon and it eventually occurs to me that I should get going before I get stuck out here.

This weather looks like it could turn nasty.

This weather looks like it could turn pretty nasty.

The Inyo Mountains are shrouded in cloud, too.

The Glass Mountains are shrouded in cloud, too.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. harold | November 17, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    what a beautiful place… did you use any filters on your lens when taking the photos?

    harold

  2. julie | November 17, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    The desert is so beautiful, isn’t it. I love the grasses, too, their washed out colour and textures. I have been planting grasses all day in my garden, transplanting little ones that are seeding everywhere to a new area that I am developing above the creek. All local plants. It is hard to get them going at this time of the year as we have had nearly two weeks of days over 30 degree and it is only early November. We are all bracing ourselves for another horror summer. Your photos are truly stunning and your descriptions captivating. I’ve been out of touch with your website for a while because I have been incredibly busy. Lots of love Julie xxx

  3. anna | November 19, 2009 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    hi harold,

    It was a really really beautiful place. No filters – just crazy desert colours.

    xx

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