Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wild Mint All Around

This past weekend, we went on an epic road trip with our friend Julie, who I met many years ago in Prague. She was one of my class mates when I was getting my TEFL teaching certificate there. After we graduated, she went on to teach in Cesky Budejovice for a wile, and I went on to teach at a small school in Prague for the rest of the summer. Now she's working at a bird observatory on Point Reyes, so close by to where we live, so we got together for a weekend of natural hot spring hopping. We wanted to go to a place we've all never been to before, so it was an adventure for all of us, so we busted out our hot spring guide and decided to go north.

Hunt Hot Springs
Two stone and concrete hot pools built up on bedrock exposed by the Pitt River.

The only easily accessible hot springs up in the far north of California are in the southern Cascade range, in the Alturas region. We drove many hours, starting our journey Friday night. We left later than expected, but Julie drove late into the night. Finally, we were nearing the first spring on our list: Hunt Hot Springs near Big Bend. But we weren't sure of the camping situation there, so we camped in the national forest near Round Mountain that night.

The next morning, we finished the drive all the way to the springs. On the way, we saw Mt Shasta in the distance! It had its own cloud formation above it, so the peak was obscured. But then the road dipped down between some ridges, so we couldn't see it anymore. Soon we drove through the small town of Big Bend, and over the Pitt River. There were what looked like scattered gypsy camps near the far edge of town, and an uncanny amount of old refridgerators. Next we were on a forest road, looking for a small rough dirt road that we were supposed to take all the way to the springs. After a few minutes we found it, but it was in no condition to drive on! It was all muddy and had deep ruts. Some of them were so deep and large, not even a huge truck would be able to get through. Consequently, we parked the car on the side of the road and started to walk the rest of the way. According to our book (which said the road was do-able by most passenger cars, and was really out dated, obviously), it was only another 2.5 miles to the springs.

Jenn 11.12.2010
Setting up the tent in the national forest.

So there we were, walking through the forest, on a forest 'road' with our bags full of towels, and other supplies. On the way we saw forest cows, who were more afraid of us than we were of it, and they ran away. We also walked past a Native American cemetery, which was marked in the book, so we knew we were on the right track. All the way, we were avoiding stepping in mud and falling on our ass. The road took us through a mixed pine and deciduous forest. All of the leaves were turning bright fall colors.

Suddenly it seemed the road came to an end at the Pitt River. As we got there, we noticed an old man walking with a bucket. He was coming from a field of grass we saw on the other side of a fence marking private property. Then we saw another hobo camp on an elevated part of the river bank nearest to us. We tried avoiding the hobo camp, and walked down to the river where we saw steam coming out of numerous springs. Then we saw two concrete pools immediately to the left. We felt the water temperature in them and they were hot! Jackpot! The old man caught up to us and we asked him about the springs. He recommended the ones farther down the river bank, which we didn't see yet. He told us he came to fix the ones we were standing next to because a land slide broke one of the walls. You could clearly see where the landslide occurred, because the steep hillside had a bare dirt strip. Since he pointed us down the river, we went to check it out.

Hunt Hot Springs
Having a good time in Hunt Hot Springs.

Just a short way along the river bank were four pools, also made of stone and concrete which held spring water from a few sources. The highest pool was really hot! It spilled over into the second pool which was a perfect temp. That pool spilled into the third, and it was a little cooler. The fourth pool was even cooler, and had its own source. Those cooler pools would be perfect for summer, but it was still chilly out, so we got into the second pool. Just as we were climbing in, another guy (who seemingly came out of the blue) arrived and started taking his clothes off to take a dip with us. So there we were, sharing the small tub (the only one of suitable temperature) with a naked guy.

At first he was kind of quiet. He either didn't speak or he spoke really quietly. We tried to strike up conversation by talking about the springs we were at. We asked him all about what he knew of the area, and eventually, he started opening up. He told us he was a local, who grows 'food' in the area, and takes construction jobs here and there. He was currently working for the new owners of Big Bend Hot Springs Resort, which is a private resort just in town, but currently closed. Then he told us about the school system in Big Bend and how the school has a large swimming pool that is heated by the local hot springs and a school chef who makes $40,000 a year!

Hunt Hot Springs
The Pitt River flows right next to the pools.

Back on the topic of the springs themselves, the man also told us that the campsite where the hobos were at is usually always filled with 'permanent-camper' types. Being there so long, they don't even have a toilet, so its getting kinda unsanitary. And after all that, he started complaining about how many people are showing up at the springs now, and how its driven the river otters away, which used to swim right by the springs. Well, we felt kinda awkward, not sure if he was openly complaining to us about us, you know what I mean? We were, after all, some of those people who keep showing up. But what the hell? Why not - its not like he owns the springs or something. That kind of brought up a dilemma I've been thinking about lately. About the idea of loving something to death. If you enjoy hot springs, or any other thing in nature, do you tell others about it so they can enjoy it too? Or do you hide it and keep it a secret in an attempt to selfishly preserve it? I don't know. I guess I tend to tell others, but only if they are interested. You won't find me writing a book with precise directions to all the hot springs, but (like I already do) I like blogging about it so others who are already looking for information can learn something if they are interested.

Well anyways, he stayed for a pretty long time, and after he left, we lingered for a while and then decided to leave too because we wanted to try and find the other hot springs that we read had wild mint growing all around like weeds. But they were still pretty far away, near Alturas. When we got back to the car, we scraped off as much mud from our shoes as we could, and continued on our way out of Big Bend, back to the main highway. Along the way we got some really yummy coffee.

Wild Mint
Close-up of the wild mint growing all around.

Well, eventually we got to the springs a few hours later. According to our book, they were right off the road, and we should be looking for a pull off and a small dirt area where there was parking. It was getting dark out when we found it, but the road to the small paring area was also pretty muddy, so we pulled off as best as we could on the side of the road. Once we were all ready, we started to scour the valley for steam rising, an indication of the spring location. But we couldn't find any steam. I started getting nervous that we drove all they way there and we wouldn't be able to find the springs. So we started to walk around the area, following all the trails we found. One trail took off into the sage bushes, which gradually turned into lush grass. The ground became soaking wet with flowing water and it felt warm on the bottom of my feet. Now I knew we must be getting close and at least on the right trail. We kept walking until we got to a rocky area, and suddenly, popping out from the ground in all directions was tons and tons of wild mint, carpeting the entire area. Then we saw three shallow pools with a bubbling small waterfall feeding them. We had found the famed Eagleville Hot Springs! But still, the pools weren't steaming, so we hoped that they weren't going to be too cool. I put my hand under the waterfall and contrary to what I expected, it was scalding hot! So was the first pool. We decided to get some snacks and beer and jump in. We were the only ones there.

Eagleville Hot Springs
The hottest pool at Eagleville Hot Springs.

The pools were literally on the side of the road, but not visible. Plus the traffic on that road was very sparse. We were pretty happy to be soaking in the pools after driving for so long. And I really enjoyed the wild mint. I picked a large bunch of sprigs and put them in the car. We made plans to make mojitos later. I think it was one of my favorite hot springs I've went to so far because of the mint. I don't know why, but they mint made me really happy! We munched on it and smelled it and it was so relaxing and refreshing. We were really bummed when we had to leave to find a camping spot for the night.