Sunday, March 07, 2010

Winter Hot Springs Success

When Nicole and Marcel flew to Oakland for a short vacation this past weekend, we headed out towards Mammoth Lakes to show them the hot springs that we'd been telling them about. The Sierras had gotten a lot of snow, so we weren't sure if the gravel road to the hot springs would be open or not, but we figured that we should at least try. Heading out Thursday morning, we planned to get to Mammoth Lakes before sun down. But for some reason, it was slow driving over the Sierras, and we only made it to Bridgeport, CA before the sun went down. No biggie. It was in my plans that in case we didn't make it to Mammoth Lakes before dark to set up the yurt (on its maiden voyage) we would stop in Bridgeport and stay at the Victorian Hotel, an old hotel that was once in Bodie, a gold rush ghost town up the mountain from Bridgeport. Somebody actually transplanted the building down the steep mountain road in 1886 down to the small town of Bridgeport and made it a hotel. Its pretty small, and totally looks like an old west hotel but with somewhat fresh white and baby blue paint. Oh yeah, and its haunted!

The Victorian Hotel in Bridgeport, CA.

There are natural hot springs near Bridgeport, the most famous one being Travertine Hot Springs, just a few miles out of town. We were there once before, and a local told us he knew people who worked at the Victorian as maids. They said it was haunted. The maids regularly saw ghostly figures wandering the halls, and would feel hands grabbing at them while they cleaned up the rooms. The most freaky was a story of how a maid was putting fresh sheets on a bed, and as she finished, she saw a heavy imprint on the bed, as if some ghostly or unseen figure was sitting down on the bed! Me being me, I could not resist these stories and wanted to go stay at the Victorian very badly! But to my dismay, the hotel was closed until the following month. Winter is a very dead time for Bridgeport, I guess. We were forced to keep driving in the dark until we got to Mammoth Lakes, about an hour and a half later.

View From Hot Tub Hot Spring
Mammoth Lakes and the nearby valley covered in deep snow,

There we found a Motel6 since it was very dark out by now and freezing cold to set up the yurt. And there was a lot of snow in the valley, so we wouldn't be able to set up the yurt anyways. Once we got settled at Motel6 and ate some horrible Domino's pizza for dinner, we drove out to the green church and looked for Hill Top Hot Spring, which was supposedly still accessible, although you had to walk about half a mile through the snow to get to it. We found the pull off on the side of the road and parked. There were already a few cars there that night, but it was getting late, so we figured we'd go and check it out and maybe they would be leaving soon. We took our flash lights and went on the short walk through the snow (it was flattened down by many footprints) to the hot spring. We didn't see anything in the dark except for a break in the white snow due to the melted area around the spring, which was steaming. The people in the hot spring didn't mind if we got in (although it was a bit crowded with all of us in there, about 10 people) so we went right ahead. Except the people in there kept the water kind of cool, but after they left we turned on the pipe that let in the hot source water and let the pool heat up. We had an awesome view of the stars at night. Just after we left the hot spring, the moon came up. Low on the horizon, it was HUGE! It looked so strange, and lit our way back to the car, after soaking for about 2 hours.

Walking to Hot Tub Hot Spring
Walking through the snow to find Hot Tub.

The next day, before we left Mammoth Lakes on our way to Bishop, which is farther south, we got the idea to go snowshoeing to one of the hot springs we've never been to that was not currently accessible from the road due to heavy snow, mud, and ice. We parked the car off the side of the road again, and got ready with our towels to go to Hot Tub Hot Springs. We figured it would be about one mile to snowshoe, but when we got there, it looked like the road (although closed further down) didn't have too deep of snow on it, so we left the snowshoes in the car, figuring it was okay to walk in our boots the whole way. Bad idea. We started walking down the road, and then got distracted, straying into the valley, covered in pristine snow, and with all of its snow drifts. We would take a few steps, being able to stay on the thin crust of ice which was barely holding us from falling through, and then suddenly drop to our waist, deep down into the snow until we hit solid ground. At first it was scary, but then we realized that we only went waist deep, so it didn't matter. Actually it was kind of fun because the drop was shocking at first, but it was easy to lift one foot out and keep walking on top for a while.

Hot Tub Hot Spring
We found Hot Tub Hot Springs!!!!

We finally found the hot spring which was given away by all of the steam coming out of a small exposed area in the snow. No body was there, but we did see a red truck in the distance, which somehow drove through the snow and mud. We were excited to find it and quickly got in. The water was pretty warm/hot (slightly above 100F), and the hot source water was continually flowing into the cemented pool carved out of travertine via a PVC pipe. We had breakfast there, and finished our coffee which we hiked in with. What a nice way to start the day! We also took the time to verify a survival tip that Nicole had learned about. Apparently, if you ever find yourself in cold weather and you fall in cold water to the point that you're soaking wet, you should strip down naked and roll in the snow. The snow will dry you off and actually help you stay warmer than if you kept your cold and wet cloths on. We tried rolling in the snow to see if it worked. I'm not sure that it did anything actually! It just made for a lot of laughter, watching rolling naked people in the snow!

Hot Tub Hot Spring
Romy, Marcel, and Nicole in Hot Tub.

After spending about an hour and a half in the hot water, we ventured back into the snow to go back to the car. This time, we followed the road, and had no snow sinking encounters. We were next headed to the Bishop area to find a place to set up the yurt. However, I'll skip that because you can read about it in the next post. After the yurt maiden voyage, on our way home, we ended up stopping in Bridgeport on Sunday afternoon to show Nicole and Marcel the Travertine Hot Springs. When we got there, the road to the springs were very pitted and in some spots muddy, but nevertheless, it was easily trespassed by the Daewoo. There was only one huge old RV parked in the parking area, and the people looked like they were inside, so we knew we were in the clear to get the hot springs all to ourselves!

Travertine Hot Springs
Me and Nicole at Travertine Hot Springs.

When we got there, we had a great view of all of the surrounding mountains making up the Sierra Nevadas, and there were even local snow storms that we could see rumble over the mountains. One of them got really close, and it actually started snowing on us while we were sitting in the hot water! They were very isolated, and the whole time it was mostly sunny with little fluffy clouds.

Travertine Hot Springs
Romy sitting in the hottest pool at Travertine.

After we soaked for a while, a few more people came and shared the hot springs with us. They were skiers from Mammoth and one local guy, who confirmed that the Victorian Hotel was haunted, and told me it would open in late March/ early April. You bet I will be back to stay overnight! We decided to go check out the other two pools at Travertine. One was a small hotter pool lower down the hill from the main set of pools we were at, and it had wooden benches. The other was a mud pit which was even hotter, but we didn't go in, because it looked like more of a hot mud bath than a hot spring. We didn't eat lunch yet, and it was getting close to dinner time already, so we decided to leave and go grab some dinner in Carson City, about an hour and a half north on Hwy 395. Even though we were told that the hot springs east of the Sierra would all be inaccessible due to the snow, we ended up being able to go to three of them, so I would call that a success!