Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surprise Valley

For the three-day weekend, we were planning on going to the Eastern Sierra, but we ended up going to Northeastern Cali instead. We figured that since we had more time off, we might as well try to drive somewhere that would be too far for just a normal weekend. So we decided to visit the Surprise Valley on the Cali-Nevada border just east of Alturas. We've made this trip once before with Julie, a friend of ours, when she was here in Cali working at the Pt. Reyes bird observatory. We really liked the area a lot, so we decided to check it out in the winter.

Surprise Valley
The Surprise Valley painted with the colors of a winter sunset.

Of course, the reason why we liked it so much is because of the numerous natural hot springs that pop out in the Surprise Valley! There is one in particular that is really hot, and perfect for a winter time visit. It is really close to the highway, but very low down in the valley, so it is not seen from the road. Right next to it is an abandoned cement looking house, with another concrete pool. We preferred the natural bottom pool closer to the highway.

Squaw Bath
Sign posted near the hot spring pool.

Apparently the spring is on private property, but the owners posted a sign saying that the public can use it at their own risk. It is apparently called Squaw Bath, after Squaw Peak, a mountain in view from the hot springs. When you sit in the springs, they are very shallow. But the water is so hot, it wouldn't be possible to sit in it fully submerged for so long anyways, so its just perfect that its shallow.

Wild Mint at Squaw Bath
Wild mint grows all winter long, surprisingly!

All around the hot spring, and nearby as well, wild mint grows. It was growing almost like a weed when we were here last November, and we kind of expected it to die off in the winter. But to our surprise, the wild mint of Surprise Valley was in full bloom even in the dead of winter, in the middle of February! Its a hardy plant, I guess. I had no idea.

Squaw Bath
The hot hot hot Squaw Bath.

When we got to the springs in the afternoon, there was already a car there. We had the option of soaking in the cement pool next to the abandoned house, but we decided to wait until the people left instead. After about 20 minutes, they left and we went in. Then we relaxed, with an awesome view of the valley and the surrounding mountains for many hours. When it was nearing sunset, we headed on our way out. The plan was to go camping, since it wasn't going to drop too far below freezing that night.

Snow Camping
Our camping set up at Mill Creek Campground.

Last time we were here with Julie, we found a nice national forest campground called Mill Creek just on the other side of the mountains from Eagleville, outside of the town called Likely (yes we made a lot of jokes because of the funny name). We lucked out because there wasn't too much snow, and we were able to drive all the way to the campground. We set up our tents (Nicole and Marcel were with us this time) and then got cozy in our sleeping bags. It was actually pretty warm inside the tent all night (it stayed above freezing because the water bottles didn't freeze) even though it was below freezing outside. The next morning, we packed up and stopped for a cup of coffee at 'The Most Likely Cafe' in Likely. It was like stepping back in time when you stepped inside the cafe. It was a real diner from old times, complete with metallic vinyl booth seats and padded bar stools. There was even an old milk shake machine! And coffee cost $0.75! We will eat there next time we pass through.

Here is a picture of the cafe in Likely where we got coffee, from taken by somebody else who also stopped by. Its taken in summer, of course.
The Most Likely Cafe