As we descended the Tioga Pass, our next next destination was uncertain. But the sun was setting behind us and it would soon be dark so we needed to make a decision, soon.
We told the children that we could drive through Death Valley - or we could shoot straight through Las Vegas and arrive in Zion National Park the following day. If we opted for Zion - we would have the ability to also squeeze in a trip to Bryce Canyon. If we opted for Death Valley, we could take the children to several of the stomping grounds where their parents fell madly in love during geology fields trips some 25 years ago. Sadly, we didn't have the time to do the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce. So we put it out to a vote.
The kids were unsure what to do, until I told them that if we opted for the Death Valley route, we could also drop by the naked hot springs just outside of the park. They were bewildered by that prospect and unanimously asked, "The naked … WHAT?"
The naked hot springs.
At least that's what I call them. And I'll never forget the first time I visited them, as a 20-year old South Carolina exchange student. It was my first semester studying in California, and my wonderfully awesome hippie class of geologists from Sonoma State University loaded in to a dilapidated van and drove the ten hours south to map the outcrops of the Tecopa Range.
Several of my conservative friends in South Carolina had warned me about moving to California - what they had dubbed "the land of fruit and nuts" in more ways than one. But I didn't really understand what they meant … until after a full day of mapping and scaling up and down talus slopes, we drove to the small town of Tecopa and all of my classmates jumped out of the vans and quickly explained to me the protocol at the hot springs while they were shedding their clothes at warp speed.
The men and women were segregated to gender-specific pools, but clothing was not allowed on either side. You had to shower before you entered, and tie back long hair so it didn't touch the water. Both the men and women's springs were divided in to two smaller pools. On one side was the "hot" pool, where there were steps leading in to an enclosed tub with a gravel lined floor. The roof was completely open to the stars and along the wall were bars for stretching, and a bar also transversed the top of the pool so people could dangle, or do chin-ups if they so chose.
In the nude.
The hot water flowed through a small pipe to another pool, which was at approximately 5-8 degrees cooler at around 95 degrees, was considered the "cool" pool. After a long day of hiking, there really is nothing better than kicking off your boots and everything else - and soaking in this open aired environment which feels like it is straight from heaven.
Suffice to say, our children hesitated nary a second before they all yelled in symphony, "WE WANT TO GO TO THE NAKED HOT SPRINGS!"
And so we did. But first, we had to find a place to spend the night. With our trusty AAA guide book, we found what sounded like a great camping site. By the time we arrived it was pitch black so we had no idea what to expect. (This photo was taken the next morning!)
We set up our tent in the dark, and quickly climbed in and dozed off to sleep. In the morning, we awoke to the sounds of a babbling brook cutting through our campground…
And the sight of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains.
Oh, I so love it when things work out so much better than I could have ever planned! (This photo is in case they ever form a quartet and produce an album.)
Our kids love water so much - all they wanted to do was play in the brook for a few hours…
While we served up breakfast - and ate the tomatoes from Aunt Kathy's garden that made it across the great state of California.
We then drove along the scenic I-395 and made a stop in Bishop, California at the famous Eric Schat's bakery.
Loading up on sheepherders jalapeño bread, we continued on to the base of Mt. Whitney.
Towering at 14,505 feet above the desert floor, this is the highest point in the contiguous United States.
A short distance later, we drove in to Death Valley National Park where the temperature never dropped below 105 degrees. They call it Death Valley for a reason.
As we drove through this desolate and gorgeously exposed landscape, the feelings rushed back to me, as to WHY I had chosen to stay in California to study geology.
There truly is no better place in the United States to learn about earth science than here - where you can see geologic processes happening - real time.
I can't even count how many camping trips I took to this place during both my undergraduate and graduate studies, but I'd guess I've spent no less than 100 nights in a tent, in and around this national park.
We showed the children the Castle of Clay, where Charlie and I, together - and separately - camped with Dr. Tom Anderson's class. Sedimentary Petrology - quite possibly my all-time favorite class, despite my less than stellar moments spent on the Bonanza King. Oy.
We showed the children the Crow Bar, where in the fall of 1991, Charlie asked that I please consider staying in California for another semester, instead of moving to Idaho for my second semester of exchange study. Oh, the memories that this place holds for me!
There was the time I put $5.00 worth of quarters in to the juke box and played the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" back-to-back. I didn't do it to be obnoxious, I really did love that song. But after hearing it for the fourth time straight, I realized maybe I didn't love it quite that much. You can tell by the way I use my walk - I'm not going to have many friends anymore. Thankfully, the wonderful waitress who was working the restaurant side, when we arrived with our children, didn't recall that fateful night.
Instead of showing us the door, she loaded us up with crayons and Connect Four.
I remember sitting on this bench outside the Crow Bar - and telling Tom Anderson that I'd come to the conclusion that California was the place for me to be and I had every intention of finishing my degree at SSU.
We drove the children past the Charlie Brown outcrop - a pyroclastic geologic feature that is unparalleled. What we see here, are the results of volcanic explosions that resulted in layers of ash being deposited. The black layer - is essentially obsidian (volcanic glass) - that was so hot, it melted the ash layers below it, and those ash layers which were deposited above it.
While the kids enjoyed all the road-side stops we made (that's an absolute lie), they were most intrigued with our arrival at the naked hot springs. But first - we had to show them Badwater, to Henry's sheer DELIGHT.
Earlier in the day they had seen Mt. Whitney - the highest point in the US; now they were seeing Badwater - the lowest at 282 feet below sea level.
It was 116 degrees and the ground was so hot, the soles literally MELTED off both my and Carolyn's Keens. As we were walking across the salt flats, our soles started to flap.
Sans soles on our shoes, we arrived in Tecopa.
And everyone promptly retreated to their gender specific pools and rapidly stripped down. There are no pictures of that, but if there were - you'd see kids laughing like mad and having the absolute time of their lives. Until other people arrived and the kids suddenly became very self conscious and nearly died from embarrassment. "MOM, STOP TRYING TO DO PULL-UPS ….. PLEASE!" they whispered through clenched teeth.
We stayed the night at a small campsite, directly across the road from the springs. The brook flowing through this campsite had a water temperature of 95 degrees. How awesome is that?!
As Charlie sipped his morning coffee, their embarrassment had worn off and the children got up and asked if they could go back to the hot springs, again.
It turns out the only thing they like more than playing in water, is playing in water … in their birthday suits. It's quite freeing, really.
Yep … this is how we roll in the land of fruit and nuts!