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In our first trip to Baja when Micah was 2 and a half and Moxie was just a little baby, we rented a car out of La Paz with our friend Abby and we drove to find Hot Springs.

2 year old Micah
2 year old Micah

We had heard that there were some outside of the small town of Santiago – and, well, you know us and hot springs, right? Like bees to honey, baby. Bees to honey.

On that trip, we wandered around and found a hot spring that was nice. It was perfect for kids – low water, divided by large stones between what was “Caliente” and what was “Frio”.

from 3 years ago
from 3 years ago

We sat together with a couple of local guys in the “Caliente” section and were startled by these little fish that were nibbling at our feet – PIRANHAS!!!!

 baby Moxie!

baby Moxie!

“Fish therapy”, the locals called it, and we got a good laugh out of that.

The next year, we went to the Oasis hot springs and we loved it, but this time, we felt like going back to Ticklefish. Mostly because we thought Ticklefish would be easier with the kids and also because we remembered FREE camping there. Free camping + hot springs = unbeatable.

So we headed on over and down through Santiago.

It’s a really charming little town, perfectly delightful.

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Then we went duly past the zoo, out and along the very long dusty road until we got there.

It wasn’t free. Damn. The guy at the gate was charging 50 pesos/per person for camping/day use, OUCH… but it was dusk so we didn’t have a lot of options at that point. No way were we driving at night.

We were in this tiny space, surrounded by trees and brush. Lovely.

DSC_0029After the big open beaches though, we got a little freaked out, feeling kind of claustrophobic. Still, it was lovely. The people in the camp site next to us were these bright eyed attractive young people who didn’t wear much on their taut  and slenderbodies, and had two kids. The two kids didn’t talk that much – they just kind of silently sat there – but the bright eyed attractive parents sure  made up for their kid’s lack of enthusiasm. They sang songs and played their guitar – kumbaya! – and danced ecstatically around their fire and stuff…and all that basically had the effect of making me want to crawl into our own camper, turn off my my hearing aids and call it a night. I think we watched an episode of Star Trek with a roll of cookies though.

Anyway. The next day, we trooped on over to the hot springs and were shocked to find that they had been flooded out – it was all one little lake. The neat little sections designating different water temperatures were utterly gone – it was just all one. We went out to the big rock where we remembered the “Caliente” section being and were rewarded by feeling some spurts from the source, but man, that was it!

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The kids playing in the water were cool – very interested in the kids and in Pugsily. I had a thrilling “Proud Parent” moment when Micah swam right up to the big group of kids – all alone! – and started using every ounce of Spanish he could muster. One kid started teasing him, “Micah/Jamaica!” and Micah just shrugged and kept on at it, trying to make friends. It was that weird moment that perhaps every parent experiences? Where you SO FRICKING PROUD of your kid for having the guts to go up to a group of kids and just START TALKING IN THEIR LANGUAGE, and then feeling my heart in my throat as he gets teased and feeling torn between busting in, all mama-bull, and letting it work itself out. OH GOD, WHAT DO I DO NOW????

I let them work it out, it ended up being just fine – it usually is, isn’t it? And my pride in Micah just about shot me off onto a nearby cloud where I could spot some unicorns hanging out.

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"help!" - yeah, she had a massive poop going on...
signing “help!” – yeah, she had a massive poop going on…

After a while, it didn’t seem to make sense to continue to hang out there. The kids were tired, the hot springs weren’t hot and the camping site wasn’t free… so we thought we ought to just split and find a beach.

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And well, that’s exactly what we did.

More Info:

Ticklefish Hot Springs: “Chorro” – it’s completely inaccessible. You need to walk over lots of large rocks to get to the pool area. The campsites are clean and tidy. Pit toilets are available, up a small hill and a short flight of stairs. It costs 50 pesos/person for camping and day use of the pool.

The weird thing about hot springs is this: we dread other people being there, we hope and pray that we’ll be alone. Our hearts sink when we see another car round the bend of a road, or, if we round the bend of a trail and see a head (or heads) rising out of the water. I say that it’s weird because honestly? If we talk to the people that are soaking, we invariably like them. They seem to always be cut from the same cloth that we are – which makes sense, I suppose – us all going out in the freezing boondocks to sit like we do in undeveloped hot springs. We are bound to like each other once we get going.

We didn’t talk to anyone new this time at the Hot Springs, any of the Hot Springs. We shied away from others arriving, waiting until they had left again before we got back in the springs. Others did the same for us. We were grateful.

Mikey and I packed the kids up – Mac-Q in the Ergo, Moxie in the Kelty (- Mikey tends to prefer it on account of the metal frames), Micah on his own two sturdy feet. We headed around to Crab Cooker, which is an easy walk from Shepherd’s.

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I love the walk – have you ever read Clan of the Cave Bear? The entire walk there is set from something like Valley of the Horses. I always half expect to see the Ayla/Jondolar or the Mammoth Hunters to come around or something, clad in rugged fur-wear (cool boots!), brandishing bones or archaic stone tools.

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Anyway. I digress! We walked along, gulping down the view and hoping that the hot springs would be empty. It wasn’t. But the super nice red-headed, long-bearded young man in it was super nice to jump out, dry off and head out, leaving it all to us. What a nice guy.

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This was the second edition of the book I recommended in my last post:

Lo! It’s Crab Cooker! And here, new models!

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I really can’t say much more about this. It was perfect. The air, the sky, the water temperature, the company. Absolutely everything. I thought the sky might part and the angels descend upon us because, really, that was a slice of some delicious heaven.

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Later that day, back at Shepherd’s,

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the sun was curling itself up and slipping out of sight. All of us were back in the water, full, relaxed, deeply happy in that way that makes you really quiet. We sat there, all 5 of us and watched as the stars came out, one by one, then dozens by hundreds by thousands. The entire sky, completely filled with nothing else but the magic from the universe that surrounds us.

Our skin curled and wrinkled from being the water for so long, but we didn’t want to leave. Not the kids, not Mikey, not myself. We watched as the Milky Way unfurled its gleaming light above us, felt the power and mystic beauty that lies throughout and within all life, the cells in our body singing to the light of the stars.

Those stars…a night sky that begins at one’s feet. Undiluted by not even one man-made light.

Pure. Whole. Strong.

And we forget this – I forget this – forget that we are essentially all made of stars, that this is healing for us, has something to it that can help our hearts and minds. The universe is made of love, and it’s light shines through the stars.

How can we forget this? Why do we forget this? Am I the only one?

Because when I was in that water with my beloved and our kids, the necessity of the stars hit me like a ton of bricks, went straight through me and out of my eyes in the form of tears.

 

 

 

 

We arrived at Shepherd’s Pool in the late afternoon, noodle-like relaxed from the hours spent at Travertine Hot Springs. The road to Shepherd’s was familiar. It was good to see the markers we have come to know so well.

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Moxie and MacQ slumbered in the cab of the truck as we pulled up to the hot spring. Mikey set up camp quickly, and as the last of the people that had been enjoying the hot spring left, Micah and I quickly stripped in the freezing night air and slipped into the perfect warmth of the water.

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The sky was darkening, the clouds above the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada were heavy in their snow-laden glory, eager to spill their crystalline froth. If they weren’t already. It was hard to see.

Micah and I sat together in the water in silence.

Some moments are so perfect, I can hardly bear it. This was one of them.

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The next morning came slowly.

Mikey and I had planned to set up a tent for ourselves and have the kids sleep in the camper, but with it being so cold, that idea flew out the window. All of us were in the camper. I think the word for that is… cozy? Or we could say squashed like sardines in an overstuffed can? Yeah, that’d work too.

Mac and I ended up on the small convertible sofa and Mikey and the kids were above us in the overhead bed. Pugsily on the floor. The furnace was on and it was fine. It worked out. It worked out better than we thought it could have because when we went outside, we were stunned to find that everything had frozen over – the water in our portable toilet! Our drinking water, frozen into a solid block of ice! You name it, it was frosted and frozen.

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Even the cow patties

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Amazing how even poop looks great when iced over, huh?

Think then of what actually beautiful things looked like:

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And then the sun came

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And the kids woke up

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And the coffee was hot, the water was waiting.

Life can be perfect.

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Go!

Here are the coordinates:

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And our trusty book:

From Manazanita Lake, we drove to Reno.

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Through huge meadows full of snow, heavy sky. Trees. The air felt blade-cold, like it could slice through you if it wanted to – but it smelled so sweet from the trees, it didn’t seem cruel.

 

When we arrived in Reno, little city in the big desert, we went straight to load up on food for camping in the boondocks – and water, propane. Everything we’d need. No more – our budget is pretty tight; no less – we are staying warm and fed!

 

Then hit the road again.

 

Since Garmin led us on the dance through 395 (business, not freeway!), the sun was hanging low when we were finally looking at Reno from our rear mirror. Mikey wasn’t keen on setting up in the dark again – and I wasn’t too eager to hang out with the kids in the freezing weather while he popped the camper up and all that. It’s kind of like plucking splinters from under your nail. You know you’ve got to do it but boy, talk about no fun! “Stop, Moxie!”, “Don’t push Mac!”, “Micah, get out of the snow!” – run, chase, run, chase, kid falls, SCREAMING ENSUES, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo MOXIE!”

 

So when we saw the blinking light for the Topaz Lake Casino RV Park – $20! Showers! $3.95 all-you-can-eat-spaghetti! – we were like, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, yeah.

 

And it was cool. Sure, it was camping in a parking lot, but we did get nice long hot showers in RV shower area, the bathrooms were really clean and that $3.95 all-you-can-eat spaghetti was delicious. The next morning, I took the kids back to the Casino for breakfast (- $1.99 biscuits and gravy!) and I gotta say… I was surprised at how much I liked it all.

The waitstaff were awesome – a bunch of sweet/stern/sassy Grandma types, old men kept coming around to stop and say hi in non-creepy ways (- one old guy, literally with his cane, gave each kid 25 cents, “don’t spend it all in one place now!”). The food was good, the gravy was peppery.

 

Mikey broke down camp while I was enjoying those biscuits and gravy with the kids and then we hopped in and took off for the Long Valley and all of the hot springs therein.

First stop? Bridgeport.

 

Now, the last time we were in Bridgeport, it was busting at its seams with tourists right off of their buses. The last time we were in Bridgeport, we’d had fish and chips or something like that, and snickered our share at the bright colours that the tourists favoured in their clothing selections. The straw hats, sandals, pale legs gleaming in the sun. We thought it was really funny, like we were somehow above that. Ha. Ha.

 

Anyway, this time? Bridgeport was a different town.

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The lady in the local store (- white bread: $3.99; regular/nice grain bread, $6.99!!) said the campground by Buckeye Hot Springs was closed and that the road to Buckeye might be closed as well.

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We shrugged and decided to skip Buckeye and go straight to Travertine since that was sure thing: an incredibly lovely hotspring, definitely open, and on the way to the hot springs by the town of Mammoth.

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Travertine:

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Makes me think if you were an atheist, you’d believe in God after soaking here. It’s like transcendent bliss, man.

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After 3 hours – which felt like 30 minutes – we were ready to go. And what was unbelievable was that we’d had 3 hours to ourselves ( – one guy came briefly by, dipped in and left – but he doesn’t count since he was so fast and my back was to him so it was like he wasn’t really there, right?), and then just as we were leaving, people upon people, car after car, truck after truck arrived. When we pulled away with our own truck, Myrtle headed towards Mammoth, there were probably 20 people there.

 

We were so lucky.

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You can be lucky too – here are the coordinates:

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And for more info on camping and getting there from wherever you are (- and to a whole lot of other hot springs), get this book:

(and what do you know?! that’s Travertine right there on the cover!)

Mono Lake lies just over the Tioga Pass, nestled in an enormous valley that separates Yosemite and Nevada. It is a well-kept secret, a hidden pocket of astonishing natural splendor. Nature on promenade. It is the love child of Montana and Bolivia.

We stumbled into the area a few years ago by way of the The Hot Springs Guide and fell madly for it. Granted, it’s hard to not love a place that packs as much of a punch as this region. I think if we did not travel on the Pan Am Overland as we are planning, we would move to Mono Lake and start our Inn there. It’s just that beautiful.

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We went last weekend, ostensibly to test the new/old Grandby ’88 Four Wheeler Pop Up Camper we purchased. We had decided that since we were only going to be there for the weekend – which, coming from the San Francisco Bay Area really means we are only going to stay at the hot springs for two nights, one day – we were going to stay at the spring that is easiest for all of us. It’s not too hot, not too cold. Goldilocks-just-right. Usually with fewer people than the Travertine Springs, it is on public land which means you can free-camp right in the area.

Getting there, we took the most direct route, Highway 120, passing through Yosemite. Normally, you have to pay $20 to enter the Park but as our daughter has Down syndrome, we receive the Access Pass and travel for free. Thanks, Moxie!

leg stretch/bathroom break in Yosemite
yogurt too.
This whole part always takes a long, long time and with kids, we invariably hit the “when will be there?“, “are we there yet?” hump. Then we reach the Tioga Pass, up and over and down, down, down.
it really IS  a long, long way down
When the road finally levels out, Mono Lake is in front of you, glimmering all aqua-like in the sun. That is, if it’s sunny when you reach that point.

On the right is the famous Tioga Gas Mart and the Whoa Nellie Deli. Note: the gas here is expensive but it’s there. The food from Whoa Nellie is a little on the pricey side but it’s also on the gourmet-quality side. The market carries anything you might have forgotten – with the prices that will make you wish you hadn’t. Great, clean bathrooms.

We were hungry but since we are on a tight budget, we didn’t go to Whoa Nellie – we turned left and went to Nicely’s.

$28 for a table loaded with complete meals for all of us. We were stuffed full and pretty happy. Ready to hit the road again to Shepherd’s (GPS Coordinates HERE). 395S. You have to pass the road to the
town of Mammoth Lakes (isn’t that the coolest name? Ever?) – so if you really did forget things, or if you want to stock up, this is the town to do it. They have supermarkets, camping stores, all of it.
Turn left by the green church off of 395S. It’s called Benton Crossing.
the green church. Benton Crossing.
Head down the graded road, then the dirt road.

Turn right, before the BIG tree on the right (not the little tree on the left – forget the little tree on the left, okay?). Head down, down the road. Note: high grade clearance vehicle would be a must in bad weather, but a regular car could/should make it easily.

When you see the water stuff, you are THERE! That simple!

***
After we arrived, we popped the camper up to air it, dived into our swim gear. All of the springs are clothing optional – we were opting to wear ours just then, especially as a family parked RIGHT NEXT TO THE SPRING and were sitting in it. This is a huge, big bad no-no within Hot Springs Culture – right up there with peeing in a pool. One of the worst, rudest things you could do. We were pretty pissed off. And guess what? Our darling 4 year old son made sure to tell them all, “MY MOMMY AND DADDY DON’T LIKE THAT YOU CAMPED HERE – CAN YOU MOVE PLEASE?”

Yep.

They got defensive, “we have kids” Mikey shot back, “so do we, younger than yours, but you just don’t do that”, then they went with, “we’re only here for a day,” I said, “yeah, us too but we still wouldn’t park there” – I may have chewed them out a little on their complete and total lack of manners and consideration, they may have gone quiet… then I may have just taken my baby girl and stepped into the hot springs with my back to them. May have.


A little tense there, no?

But they had a 12 year old girl and she was in love, LOVE, love, LOVE with babies (and horses – you know that stage) and she was cooing and oohing and ahhing Moxie and that eventually broke all the defensive/hostile tension right up and while I wouldn’t call us “friends”, I’d say we were all pretty friendly with one another in the end.

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Up at the crack of dawn the next morning, we raced back to the Springs. Our time alone.

It’s one the sweetest things. Best little nuggets of life.

 
 

The water is absolutely perfect. A little on the warm side, but it’s not as hot at the Hot Tub or Crab Cooker (both are very close by). It’s the best spring around for kids. And pregnant ladies who can’t stay in the tub for more than 10 minutes because, you know, that boils the baby.

There is something so satisfyingly primal about the way the springs are at dawn, with the steam rising from both it and all the other hot springs in the area (and there are many). The broad sweeps of land untouched as yet. Those soaring mountains, kissing the sky.

It’s all so peaceful. Even the kids are still in that moment.

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We took the short walk after breakfast over to Crab Cooker. The path to Crab Cooker is the one right in front of Shepherd’s – no mistaking it. It’s the only one.

 

It was hot. Warning: bring your sunscreen when you come out here. And/or wear thin, long-sleeved gear, good for preventing burns. And hats.

Hopefully your baby isn’t like mine, throwing them at the first moment she can.

Turns out both kids wanted to walk, so we let them

The path is easy and fairly smooth. When it’s not, you just call it “physical therapy” for your child.

Then, you are there and glad you came.

Testing the Grandby ’88 Four Wheel Pop Up Camper

This is how a four wheel pop up works. You park your truck. Your husband goes around and fiddles with the snaps and then he pushes it up or something and your truck suddenly has a home on it! It’s amazing. This is the view from your home-on-wheels if you are by Shepherd’s Hot Spring:

It comes with a mini kitchen inside – a stove, sink, water faucet and an icebox/fridge. We opted to not use the stove or sink for this trip – we need to test those features out fully first (remember: this is an ’88 and we bought it off of Craigslist). We did, however, use and like the icebox. Next time we won’t use dry ice – it froze everything pretty solid (we now know what potato-salad flavored ice cream would taste like).

My One True Darling set up his kitchen outside, shielded by the truck

isn’t he handsome? and there he is, cooking for us all…. sigh.

The couch area folds out to a double bed. The top also flips out to make another double. We thought the kids would sleep on top but we hadn’t thought of a good guard rail for them yet, so we had the boys on the top shelf and us girls on the bottom double.

While we laughed about how our standards are so low that anything would probably seem totally luxurious to us, it really was awfully comfortable.
My only complaint was that the whole place shook worse than a Tokyo earthquake whenever anyone moved. I am deaf and so of course sounds don’t bother me (at all, haha) when I take my hearing aids out – movement on the other hand, can keep me up all night. I was up pretty much all night.
My One True Darling said that we can easily fix that with jacks. I hope he’s right.
We developed a short list of what needs doing or what we’d like to add/implement in the near future:
– a changing room
– door mat
– clothes line
– portable toilet
– awning
– porta-shower
– hand vacuum
– small broom
This, added to a fixed cover.
Overall, it’s an amazing thing. One of the things that I liked best about it is that you can just pull over, get in back, lay out the beds and sleep. You can do it in the dark – no need to rush from site to site in order to set up while light.
Stay tuned for more testing.

More Photos: for those of you that like ’em:

ready, set? everyone has their eyes closed and is looking away? SHOOT!


…and a little cloud porn..

Today we are hitting the road for the hot springs, where we will remain till Monday. We will be testing out the Pop Up Camper,and of course, soaking in this.

 
 

…or maybe this?

 
 

…or how about this one?

…or maybe this?

..so many hot springs, so little time

In any case, I’m sure we’re getting well soaked.

Have a great weekend

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