Awakening from a pleasant night's sleep which was far warmer than I'd had in Lone Pine, I feasted on some granola bars and packed my bag for a day hike. My plan was to find a secluded area to celebrate Halloween night, as there were far more people at the hot springs than I'd anticipated.
After chatting with my neighbor for a while and trying in vain to get photos of the deafening low-flying jets from the nearby naval base, I decided to check out the area. First up were the bathrooms, and Nip's art of the local wildlife, which definitely gave them some character.
I spied a Vanagon in the distance. Either that vehicle's more capable than I give it credit for, or those were some pretty determined drivers!
The main area, where I'd soaked the night before, was shaded by palm trees, and had a very nice lawn planted and maintained by the camp host, Lizard Lee. The contrast between this shady, cool oasis and the unforgiving desert was remarkable.
Naked people were everywhere, which made capturing photos without them a unique challenge. Showering, soaking in the pools, washing dishes in the sink (plumbed with hot and cold running water from the springs!). I don't really mind other people's nudity, and after all, it's expected at hot springs, but the people here took it to another level. I saw quite a bit of nude hiking, bicycling, and one highly memorable gentleman riding a motorcycle wearing nothing but a bathrobe, which seemed to be an ill-advised idea to me. To each their own!
This was the "Sunrise" pool, named for its nice early-morning views:
This is the Crystal pool I enjoyed. Of all the pools, I think it's the nicest, with shade, a perfect temperature, somewhat shielded from the wind, and just plain pretty. It was amazing to think that for everything I saw, somebody had to haul the materials all the way out here.
Of course, there were regulations. I didn't hear any drumming during my stay here, but apparently it's enough of a problem that they had to make a rule about it.
After a while of soaking up the atmosphere, I decided to get on with my search for solitude before the day grew too hot. A sign informed me it would be 3/4 of a mile to Palm Springs, and the route was well-traveled, packed dirt. As I arrived, I discovered why - there were a ton of people camped here too! Camping equipment spilled from oversized trucks and cluttered up the landscape. Damn. I wasn't able to find the "volcano" pool. The Wizard pool looked nice, but with no shade in sight, I wondered why it was so popular.
One more spring to check out, but this one was more of a trek, another 2.5 miles up the road. After Palm Springs, the road turned into a nasty, sandy wash. I was happy I'd decided to check it out on foot instead of taking the bike. Some riders go this way, aiming for Steel Pass and the Eureka Dunes, but some parts were definitely above my skill level, especially fully loaded.
I stopped to take a break. The sun was scorching, and I hunted for shade. There was no vegetation within a mile taller than my waist, but the wash had carved away the surrounding banks a good four feet, so I hid from the sun as best as I could, downed some water, and had a small snack. It was dry. Very dry.
As I continued, I saw a landmark in the distance. Somebody had carved a peace sign into the side of this big red hill.
Just when I thought I would never arrive, I found it! Inside a chain link fence designed to keep out the mules, was the upper springs. These two pools were completely undeveloped, surrounded by reeds and a couple of palm trees. This one had a significant amount of slimy algae, and was fairly cool in temperature.
The pool next to it was much hotter, and was smaller, with room for maybe two people.
I stripped and had a nice soak in the hot water for several hours. I hadn't seen a soul since I left Palm Springs. I felt a bit awkward skinny dipping in broad daylight, but I figured I needed to get used to the idea somehow, and the water was perfect to relax in after my hike.
The return trip was fairly uneventful, other than the fact that I was an idiot who only brought a liter of water, so I was running pretty low. As I passed Palm Springs, a nude old man with huge beard shouted to me that there was going to be a big party there this evening, "even bigger than the one at the lower springs", and gestured to an empty card table they were setting up for the event. After rehydrating myself with some of the water I'd foolishly left in my tent, I wandered to the communal area, where a large number of people had gathered for the potluck party, many of them in costume. This was the most clothing I'd seen since my arrival.
My neighbor introduced me to the others, and we chatted for a bit. One of the women asked me what I thought of all the guys "Donald Ducking it". "What's that?" "Oh, you know, when they wear a t-shirt but no pants, like Donald Duck!". We laughed. There were certainly a lot of guys doing that. I can't imagine getting sunburn would be pleasant...
A group from Maine, calling themselves the "Mainaiacs", had even brought and carved pumpkins!
Also, there was lots of food!
The sun began to set, and I went back to the tent to grab my headlamp. On the way back, I heard what sounded like somebody trying to break down a fence, and decided to check it out. What I found were these troublemakers!
They were absolutely fearless, and they seemed to be trying to get into Lee's camp area. Maybe they were expecting to be fed? The lighter brown female came up to me and I tentatively tried to pet her. She seemed to enjoy it, pushing against me, and then turned around. I know better than to stand behind anything with hooves, so I moved to the side and scratched through her dusty fur. So much for "wild" animals! They sure were cute though. I wanted to pet the baby's gigantic, comically fluffy ears, but every time he'd come close, the others would shoo him away from me.
Back at the party, I ate and shared stories with the others. Everybody I met seemed amazed that I was out here by myself, on a bike. It made me proud of my accomplishment. After it grew dark, I spun poi a bit, which a few people seemed to enjoy. The Mainiacs invited me along as they went back to their camp for more booze. They had apparently packed a van full of liquor, costume pieces, and food. I ended up wearing a Rastafarian wig and getting a bit tipsy.
We went for a walk up to Palm Springs, to see what was going on there. After more alcohol, food and conversation, we soaked in the Wizard spring. All in all, a great way to spend an evening!