Hot Springs on a Hot Holiday
As the early summer sun reaches its peak the surrounding trees aren’t enough to keep cool. With the windows completely rolled down the car curved with the swerving mountain roads and near the dead-end of the 173 there is a short bridge with dusty dirt and desert brush on each side where a few cars have room to park. According to the offline google map to the side of this highway is where the trail begins. Not expecting how long it would take I drank the last quarter of my water bottle and set off toward the Deep Creek hot springs.
The thin desert trail twisted along the rocky ravine floor and then up and down the sides of the hills. Wearing simple running shoes I may not have been the best equipped, in terms of footwear, for this trail, but mostly it seemed to work out. As my elevation continued to rise, the hill beside the trail became ever more steep and the trail more or less disappeared due to erosion I had to lightly hop over rocks and carefully place one foot in front of the other to avoid slipping. In the times when my mind was a bit more unfocused, like if a great joke would come up on the podcast I was listening to, I stepped too far to the left and my foot broke off the loose gravely rock and I fell side ways onto my right hip and both hands. Luckily I was not cut up badly, but the rocks did peel off some of my palm skin – ouch.
With dusty and slightly bloody hands I had a feeling of ‘blah’, I questioned whether I wanted to continue? Would it all be worth it? Well… yes, whatever I would find, it would be worth continuing because I would get there. This wasn’t something that I willing to give up.
For the next hour and a half I continued to hike along the dusty trail, walking up and down the hills and eventually reaching a peak with a kind breeze. Even though there were no trees nor tall bushes for shade I simply had to stop and rest for a minute take a deep breath and flutter-fan myself with my outer shirt. Looking around at the scenery it was so different from just a few miles up river. The only color on the ground came from the dark green from the leaves of the random scatter of bushes, the rest of the environment was a washed out sepia tone, like I walked into a 1960’s Western.
Continuing down the final stretch I looked down the hill, the downslope of the trail got so intense in one section that a rope cable was tied to a bush to help hikers safely make their way both down and back up. I would make the argument that there should be a longer rope/cable going up higher because the ground is so unstable and there is hardly anything to walk on other than the sand and absolutely nothing to stabilize yourself with. I fell on my ass many more times than I will admit just because the ground just crumbed underneath my feet.
When I finally found my way to the hot springs I was so relived, looking around the flowing water I could breath in the fresh air from the trees and bushes that grew with in this oasis. There were more people than at Aztec Falls and many of them were camping out for the weekend so finding a spot next to the water was a bit more difficult. I felt a little awkward trying to find a direction to look as well at first because people there were generally early 20s and older and, therefor, people were not shy about walking around completely naked. Junk was hanging out on both guys and girls, stuff that you don’t want to look at (because of cultural relativism). Even with that I still enjoyed my time the cool water. For a while I just floated around the shallow rocks and got my dead foot skin nibbled on by the mini fish that live in the river.
It is around this time that I was joined by a group of friendly ladies who started chatting with me and offered me wine, which I didn’t drink since I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stay and I didn’t want to be drunk while walking back on the crazy trail. From that point on I felt more comfortable talking to people who were all there, whether they were clothed or not. Over the course of the next few hours I swam a bit more in the c
I swam a bit more in the cold water, relaxed in the actual hot springs, jumped off an about 10 ft tall rock, and continued to float around in between rocks. Plus a fun thing to do while trying to relax in some of the boiling hot springs, other than watching the glittering sparkles float in the water, is to search for cultural artifacts. Scattered around the concrete sealed are flakes and even a couple worked flakes and arrowheads.
Once the sun passed behind a few of the mountains I decided that it was perhaps time to leave since it was at least a two hour walk back to my car and then another one and a half hours to drive home. Since it was still really hot I pulled on my shorts and tank top after climbing straight out of the water and dipped my entire over-shirt into the river and put it on right after. It stayed damp for a decent amount of time and made the walk back more bearable. Going up the path that caused me so much trouble before was not much easier, and I had to stop several times to catch my breath, and I’m not even out of shape. Without the rope the climb was especially difficult, it reminded me of walking on sand dunes – but a little bit easier – walk up two steps and slide back one.
Especially after my clothes completely dried off the heat was getting annoying, almost unbearable, I had no water and had to continue walking uphill without much if any shade. With about half way to go, and the most difficult part behind me I passed a group of people heading down to the springs. We had a short conversation about the path down and the hot springs themselves and one guy said that he was impressed that I went on my own, “eh” I say, “it’s pretty normal”. They also brought up adventure passes; how it doesn’t matter where you are in the national forest, if you park you must have one. Worried that I got a ticket I said goodbye and thanked them for the water bottle; it must very much-needed.
That was my second wind and even though I stopped a couple more times in the shade of tall bushes I made it back to my car without any more incidents or falls and I didn’t even get a ticket, I guess the park rangers were being nice since it was a holiday weekend. Prior to heading back home I drove back through Big Bear stopping next to the lake and then grabbing a cider and playing some pool at Sandy’s Sports Restaurant. It was a relaxed place and because it was Monday unlimited pool play was free.
Overall, the day was amazing. Tiring, but great. Even though I went alone I was glad that I went, though I do wonder what could have happened if I talked to people more. ‘You’ll never know unless you go’ is something I try to live by, even though it’s not always super easy.
What are some of the best places to go on hot days? Where should I hike next?